Students explore ancestry in "Suitcase Stories"

Students create digital suitcase stories to show their family history.

Student project

Each fall at the Village School, second-grade students embark on a project to learn about their family history. After reading about immigration in their social studies books, students visit the Museum of Tolerance for a tour titled “Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves.”

Next, students are asked complete family research as homework. Some students ask their parents; others contact grandparents. One student whose grandparents live out of state interviewed one pair of grandparents using Facetime and interviewed the other pair via phone.

Once research is complete, students learn how to construct a paragraph from their notes, creating Suitcase Stories” that describe where their ancestors originated, what heirlooms their ancestors brought when immigrating, and what objects THEY would bring if they were to travel to a distant country. The stories are posted on a bulletin board outside the classroom.

To share their work beyond the classroom walls, students used Pixie to create a digital version of their project. They used the paint tools and stickers to illustrate the five components of their story, and using their writing as a script, recorded narration for each slide. They exported their work as to video and we collected all student’s stories onto DVD and posted them to our school website. A perfect project for families to share with the relatives over winter break!

Watching the DVD’s at home, students were excited not only to see their own projects but to hear friends’ stories, too. Most of all, they were fascinated to find out which countries their friends’ ancestors had come from. One student said, “They were really good!” and her big sister added, “So cute!” Another student shared, “I think it was a fun project to find out about where your ancestors are from. The DVD is a cool way to share the projects.”

This project lends new insight for parents, as well. “I was very interested to see how the differences in the children’s perspectives came out through these stories. There were lots of similarities of course (I would take money, clothes, family pictures, etc.) but also really individual details, such as ‘wigs and buckets!’ Their personalities also came through, too; not just in their choices, but also in their style of talking and presenting their story. I really enjoyed learning something new about my daughter’s friends.”

Jayme Johnson

by Jayme Johnson

Jayme Johnson is the Director of Academic Technology at Village School, a PreK-6th grade independent school in Pacific Palisades, California. She is a Google Certified Teacher and a Tech4Learning Innovative Educator.

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