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River Center program offers window into past

BY KATHLEEN FOX kfox@paducahsun.com

A new hands-on program for local students provides a perspective on regional history through an interactive look into the past.

The River Discovery Center in March debuted the Mound Builder program, which is geared to fifth-grade students and based around Kentucky's core content curriculum. Students learn about the ancient inhabitants of the region called the Mound Builders through artifacts, rope making, pottery, basket making, animal pelts and other items from the historical period, according to E.J. Abell, director of education for the center.

She said the civilization that lived near the Mississippi River between 1,500 and 3,000 years ago was named for the burial, ceremonial and residential mounds built for the ruling hierarchy.

The program reflects the center's mission of education about the river, its history, environment, commerce and impact on daily life.

The field trip to the center includes architectural digs set up for students to find, collect and document their findings. Abell said the experience of the dig provides students with a real-life application to what they have been taught in the classroom.

"The content is tailored so kids can understand and learn about the ancient part of the heritage of the (Mississippi) river counties," she said.

Abell emphasized the benefit of a field trip with lessons tied into the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) core content standards implemented in 2011-2012.

The education touches on a variety of subjects including history, social studies, mathematics, science, geography, government, civics, culture and societies.

Lisa Prewitt, Concord Elementary School fifth-grade teacher, said she has seen student learning span past the expected subject and used the example of teaching about local economics through the center's gift shop.

"Kids normally remember things so much better when they use their hands and can see and touch what they are learning about," she said.

The instruction also has implications for students interested in a career in science or archeology. For other students, the application of scientific method will be useful in other classes and in taking tests, Prewitt said.

"There isn't anything I don't like about it, but I really like the hands-on activities," Concord fifth-grade student Jonathon Burgess said.

Tina Hayes, director of elementary instruction for McCracken County schools, said all fifth-grade students in the county will go through the program because it's a beneficial review tool going into test time.

More than 250 local students have participated since March, and it will expand with additional offerings during the 2014-2015 school year, Abell said.

The River Discovery Center at 117 S. Water St. is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday from April to November.

Contact Kathleen Fox, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8651 or follow @kathleendfox on Twitter.

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