News Column

Students sharing Petaluma history

June 23, 2014

By Kerry Benefield, The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

June 23--Students in a special education class at Petaluma High School have turned to technology to share a bit of their town's history while also sharpening their public speaking skills.

About 20 ninth through 12th graders in Karen Tamborski's special day class picked an element of Petaluma history to focus on, creating a report and "word cloud" of terms that appear most frequently in their work. Students then recorded themselves talking about the key words and why they chose them.

Visitors to the Petaluma Historic Library and Museum can then use their cell phones to call and access a short audio tutorial from the students themselves.

"I chose 'croprobbers,' " one student said in the exhibit. "Before cattle were domesticated, they would eat farmers' crops. I eat meat and beef cattle gives you strength."

Petaluma High School librarian Connie Williams said students worked with primary historical documents to determine the importance of agriculture, industry, eggs and dairy to the town's history.

"Using primary sources and primary documents is an incredible way to get them engaged," Williams said. "They take a document or image, look at it and observe it, write down what they see and they reflect on it -- they put their own context to it."

"I chose the word 'cream' because cows produce the cream I love to drink," one student said.

The school has used programs from Guide By Cell, an audio guide company, at the student-run Petaluma Wildlife & Natural Science History Museum and for literary projects.

For the students in the special day class, some of whom have more academic and social challenges than other special education students, learning to be comfortable speaking in public can be the most valuable part of the assignment, said Petaluma High Principal David Stirrat.

"It can be hard for kids," he said. Allowing students to get comfortable in a less threatening environment -- speaking into a phone -- is a good first step, he said.

"It's a safe way to do it in an effective manner -- to communicate what they learned to someone else," he said.

Solange Russek, a museum board member, said she has been inspired by the interactive new display. Museum officials hope to incorporate more of that technology in future exhibitions, she said.

"They are also showing a new high-tech way of enjoying a display and being educated about it," she said.

"They have enlightened us with the phone interpretation," she said. "That is something we are going to pursue."

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press or on Twitter @benefield.


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Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)

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