How This Site Came Together

The idea for this site blossomed in January of 1998 as our second graders studied biographies.  In February the class continued with the study of Black History Month.  We then moved into March with a study of Women's History Month.  An in depth examination of Harriet Tubman grew from these roots.

Our project began with the book, Wanted Dead or Alive: The True Story of Harriet Tubman by Ann McGovern.  We read the story aloud as a group but each student had his or her own copy to follow along with, reread, and refer to.  Many students went on to read independently from other biographies  and web sites about Harriet Tubman's life.

The children began by thinking about the kind of person Harriet Tubman was.  They discussed and listed character traits along with events in her life that illustrated these traits.

An example:

A Woman of Character

In the chart below, list some of the words that you think best describe Harriet Tubman's character.  List things she did during her life that show why you chose each word.

Words That Describe Harriet Tubman Actions That Show Harriet Tubman's Character
1. kept her word when she said that she was going to come back for her parents
2. clever when she pretended to read a book when the two marshals were looking for her.
3. strong when she lifted two barrels for her master
4. risked her own life when she stood in front of the door so the overseer would not hurt the slave
5. never showed she was scared when she was running away
6. brave when she said no to an overseer
7. never gave up when her two brothers said they wanted to go back home but she kept going
8. hard working worked very hard in the fields and all around the plantation

"Wanted: Dead or Alive"           Using Information Creatively: Reproducible 1
Copyright 1993 by Scholastic Inc. 

During the week that they were writing their character sketches, we visited the Planetarium at the Hudson River Museum to see the program, "Follow the Drinking Gourd."  (We learned the song with Mr. Vollinger, our music teacher, for the elementary spring concert.)

We discussed important dates and events in Harriet's life, and as a group chose what we felt were the ten most important ones. We took our choices to the computer lab and created a time line.  We worked in pairs using Kid Pix.

We went to a Theatreworks presentation of "Freedom Train" at Marymount College in Sleepy Hollow.  This show brought Harriet to life for the children.  With more information and a clearer understanding of her life, we challenged them to attempt to write a quiz about Harriet. We believed this would be a meaningful way to share their knowledge with others and to inspire other children to learn about Harriet. We worked as a group brainstorming, discussing, and researching questions that had one correct answer, as well as two incorrect ones that were somehow related to Harriet's life.  The children remembered visiting an Abraham Lincoln site that used this quiz format.  They really liked it and were anxious to try one of their own.

At the conclusion of our study, we met as a group to choose the most important person in American history that we had read about. 

Who is the most important person in American history that we read about?

Ideas to think about:

  • The person is well known.

  • The person helped people who were in need.

  • The person overcame personal obstacles to do what he/she did.

  • The person's accomplishments have affected you.

We limited our choices to Harriet Tubman, Thomas Edison and Martin Luther King, Jr. because all the students had read these three biographies.

We used the decision making process from Dimensions of Learning available from ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).  As a group we discussed and weighted criteria for making our choice.  After serious discussion and debate the group chose Harriet Tubman based on the matrix below. 

Who is the most important person in American history that we read about?


Harriet Tubman

Thomas Alva Edison Martin Luther King, Jr.
1 The person is well known *
2 The person helped people who were in need. ***
2 The person overcame personal obstacles to do what he/she did. ***
1 The person's accomplishments have affected you. ***
TOTALS 16 10 14

The red numbers represent the importance the students gave to each criteria. The red asterisks represent the extent to which each person possessed each criteria. We weighted the criteria by assigning each an importance score.  0 = the alternative does not possess it at all; 1 = possesses it a little bit; 3 = possesses it totally;  2 = somewhere between 1 and 3.  Quality points are the black numbers and the totals are at the bottom.  The final step in the decision making process is to ask if you are comfortable with the decision.

*Since we were working with second graders, we used a simplified method.   We asked the children to think in terms of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd with the highest number being the most important.

As a homework assignment, the children were asked to think about the group's choice and either agree or disagree.  Their task was to write at least one supporting statement for their opinion.  One student stated, "I think Harriet Tubman was important because she helped lead slaves to freedom.  She saved a lot of slaves.  She risked her life for them.  That is why Harriet Tubman was important to us."  However, we really knew we were successful in stretching the children to think about this period in our country's history when one student offered the following statement: "Harriet Tubman was not the most important person in American history because Lincoln would have freed the slaves anyway."

That week we received our weekly update from Blue Web'n.  The pick of the week for that week was Puzzlemaker. We decided that our web site really needed something for children to take from it and that making crossword puzzles would be a great culminating activity.

The final step in the process of creating our web site came in putting all the pieces together. We felt the background would really set the tone and therefore was a crucial piece. We chose a quilt because the station masters used quilts to let the slaves know that the station was safe. We chose bare feet as navigational tools because many slaves escaped on bare feet.  Mrs. Hongell created the teacher links and class activity page to make the site useful for other teachers to use. We saved the two Drinking Gourd sites just in case NASA decided to get rid of them.  We felt they were too valuable to lose.

With all the pieces assembled, links checked, and files sent to our server; we staged a mock journey on the Underground Railroad. On the morning of April 8, the children read a note on the classroom chalkboard saying, Class Trip Today. "Harriet Tubman" arrived at 11:30 and led the children from their classroom to the computer room. The journey was a short one, but along the way the group looked for signs that we were safe. We used quilts that had been placed at five different locations as signs that it was safe to go on. As we neared the computer room, an unsuspecting eighth grader became our final guide to freedom. The quilt hanging over the computer room door let us know we had made it. One of the children exclaimed, "We are in Canada!" as we entered the room. The children logged onto the computers, went straight to the Internet, and were truly ecstatic!

The children made a few suggestions about changes in wording, and during the next few weeks we made a few minor modifications. Writing this page is our final step. It is intended as a journal about the project and hopefully, it will serve as a road map for those who wish to replicate the effort.

We believe this was a valuable learning experience for the children and for us as well.  We created two other web sites in 1999. Charlotte's Web was based on the book of the same name by E. B. White. Vietnam, A Children's Guide was based on Angel Child, Dragon Child by Michele Maria Surat. Last year we worked on a children's biography of John D. Rockefeller, who lived in our community and contributed much to our school. In 2001 we created a site about Benjamin Franklin

We'd love to hear from you. You can reach us by e-mail at:

Mrs. Taverna-Second Grade Teacher
Mrs. Hongell-Computer Teacher

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This page was last edited on November 12, 2005.