I wore the bracelet to school and showed it to my 5th grade students using the classroom document camera. The text reads CAPT. DOUGLAS MARTIN 4-18-73. I then challenged the students to use their research skills to determine what it was, to whom it referred, and what the numbers meant.
What followed was an exciting hour of real life exploration and discovery! Students used iPads and classroom computers to google the name and found varying results. This led to a classroom discussion about how to validate sources and why it was important to compare results. I watched my students actually use the research skills we had practiced throughout the year and saw them turn an inanimate object into a real human being. They found several information sources about Captain Douglas Martin which they eagerly read aloud to one another. "Did you know he was born in Tyler, Texas?" "Wow! He was a fighter pilot!" "What does MIA mean?" A few students branched out on their own to learn more about the Vietnam War. Together we created a class list of sources (shown below) about Captain Martin and the Vietnam War. To close the lesson, I read aloud the book, The Wall by Eve Bunting.
The following week, students were still making connections on their own with the lesson. I had a student bring in a photograph of a great-uncle who had served in Vietnam and we used the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Page to find his name on the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. Another student shared this Youtube video link featuring a veteran reading the book, The Wall. I made my own connection unexpectedly the following fall while at my husband's United States Air Force Academy reunion. When touring the grounds, I discovered Captain Martin's name on the Heritage Trail Memorial. The memorial became "real" for me in that moment because of the discoveries my students and I had made through our research of the POW/MIA bracelet.
Using an artifact was a great way to foster inquiry and spark authentic student engagement. Students felt a real connection to Captain Martin and expressed a true appreciation for his ultimate sacrifice for his country. This Memorial Day, I challenge you, as classroom teachers, to find a way to make Memorial Day "real" to your students.
This post is dedicated to Captain Douglas Martin and all the men/women who have lost their lives in service of our country. Thank you!
Resources located by students on Captain Douglas Martin, POW/MIA Bracelets, and the Vietnam War: