Saturday, October 9, 2010

School Project Extraordinaire

Among the exciting finds during my research phase was the school project entitled, John Dennis Fitzgerald The Real Great Brain.

In 1992, Michelle Horner, teacher and principal, of a one room school in Wawona, California, embarked on an intensive study of John Dennis Fitzgerald.  Michelle had been to a conference on ways to deepen history study called the Madera Method.  The purpose of the Madera Method is
to teach students through reading, writing and researching historical projects and publishing their works.

The project began in January 1992.  They called the Price Library who sent them "a large envelope full" of information.  Working with Bill Coates the creator of the Madera Method, the students whose ages ranged from five to twelve years old, began simultaneous study of Fitzgeralds life and world history in general.  From that sixth month study the class created a fictional journal "starting with his graduation from high school in 1923 until his death in May 1988."

The journal opens with an accurate two page biography of Johns life.  The first entries are nearly accurate to the history also.  As the journal moves on the incorporation of history begins.
August 2, 1923   - President Warren Harding died of a stroke today.  The whole country is mourning his death.  Vice President Calvin Coolidge was sworn in as the 30th President today.  I think the country will like him. (Jesse Horner, contributing student)

Another entry reads

August 30, 1923 - I went to a nightclub in Salt Lake City last night, and I got home really late.  I heard a new kind of music that sounded different to my ears.  I talked to the band there and told them that I play in a band.  I said that I liked the music.  They told me it was called "blues" and was first recorded in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by Bessie Smith.  They sang "Tain't Nobody's Business if I Do"  and "Downhearted Blues".  I think I could learn to like it.

The journal is 272 pages long.   The final entry was written by a student named Eric Wood.  He wrote
 May 20, 1988 - Bi and her sister came over earlier tonight and sat by my bed. I am getting worse and worse.  I hope I last through the night.  I have had a wonderful life.  I was married to a great woman. My parents were so good to me.  I had great brothers and sisters.  I was a famous adult and children's author.  Not many people can be successful writing both kinds of books.  When I die, my pain will be gone.  I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me.  I am going to stop now.  I am so tired, I just want to close my eyes.

Isn't that a beautiful closing entry?

In June of 1992 the entire class/school took a three day field trip to Price.  While there they donated the journal to the library, visited Carbon High School (John's Alma Mater),  the final home of Papa and Mamma Fitzgerald, and held a dedicatory service at the family plots in the Price City Cemetery.  This is easily the most amazing school project I have ever heard of.  Thank you Michelle Horner and Wawona School.


  1. Pretty cool. The last entry makes me curious, though. What was the cause of John's death, if you don't mind my asking? If you don't know, don't want to say, or want to devote a post to it in the future, that's OK, though.

  2. Hi- Great Question. I think I will defer the answer for awhile. I don't want to feel as if I am ending quite yet. Talking about his passing would do that for me.

  3. Hi Carrie, you know, re what Bobbertsan said, it's interesting that he lived until 1988. I remember reading the books in the '70s and I always thought I'd write him a fan letter. I wish I hadn't waited. I'm sure other people must have done so. Do you know of anyone who actually contacted him re his books? Or was he kind of a recluse?