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Youth Cast Votes “For” Bicentennial Of The War of 1812!

Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine

National Park News

The War of 1812 is getting more animated with Cast Your Vote! – an online learning game that highlights the causes of the War of 1812 and gives people across the U.S. the opportunity to act as Congressmen or women in deciding whether or not to declare war against Great Britain.

“Many people don’t know that the War of 1812 was the most narrowly declared war in our nation’s history,” says Tina Orcutt, superintendent of Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. “This online resource will help people understand why.”   

A collaborative effort, Natchez Trace Parkway, Boston National Historical Park, National Capital Parks-East, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve and Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine contributed to make the game possible.

Eduweb built the game with direct input from park staff. “We got ideas from historical research and from the old game show, Hollywood Squares, but Eduweb made it all come together,” says Vincent Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry. Eduweb designed a number of fun learning games such as “Design an Air Racer” for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and “Wolfquest” for the Minnesota Zoo.  Online learning and computer literacy are hallmarks of today’s school system.

“What makes this game so cool is that it brings together 21st century technology to teach what happened in the early 19th century. It makes it fun, engaging, and relevant,” says Jim Bailey, a ranger at Fort McHenry. 

Students of Patterson Park Public Charter School arrived at the fort on Monday, May 21, for the national public debut of the game.  Before their visit, the class listened to the perspectives of four of the eight avatar characters. When they arrived, students engaged with park staff dressed as the remaining characters. 

“We usually don’t do first person but in this case it worked, and by representing different people from diverse backgrounds we could incorporate multiple points of view,” says Genevieve White, seasonal ranger. Following a lively question and answer session with a “Boston merchant,” “Henry Clay,” a “frontier woman,” and an African-American “sailor,” the students were joined by Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes.

A current member of Congress, Sarbanes brought a modern relevancy to the events of 200 years ago. “One calculation you have to make when going to war is the impact on families,” he said. “Are the goals you are seeking when going to war worth the sacrifice?”

“Today we discuss the threat of terrorism and our involvement in Afghanistan. We listen to economists, experts and people like you who come to testify,” Sarbanes said. After weighing the pros and cons, students cast their votes at various computer stations.  In addition to voting, students could leave comments behind like a blog. One comment read, “I don’t like war but we can’t let the British bully us and push us around.” Another commenter wrote, “If we don’t take a stand now, the future would be worse.”  Finding information, evaluating its reliability, debating the topic and defending one’s position are all part of a new educational process called Common Core.

Common Core curriculum standards are designed to be relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers where there may be no “right answer.” Instead, students are graded on how well they evaluate sources and articulate their answer. 

“Cast Your Vote totally fits with Common Core,” says Rae Lynne Snyder, teacher at Patterson Park Public Charter School.  “The students listen to different perspectives, process the information and then have to be prepared to defend their position.”

“In one way this is new, but in another way it isn’t,” says Vaise. “Good historians have been doing this for years and any park interpreter worth their salt should incorporate multiple points of view and different perspectives.”

In Cast Your Vote!, every vote counts. The computer code was written to tally all the pros and cons for a public reading on June 18th at a special ceremony at Fort McHenry. Those who leave their internet address will be notified electronically. After June 18th, the vote tally will renew itself daily. “This is a legacy project” says Orcutt, “As opposed to a special event that comes and goes, Cast Your Vote will be used throughout the bicentennial and after.”

 “When visitors enter any National Park it is like engaging in a civics lesson – this was really the case today,” says Vaise.


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