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War of 1812 comes alive in learning center

War of 1812Fort McHenryFrancis Scott KeyGamingNational ParksBenjamin L. Cardin

Charlesmont Elementary in Dundalk chose Sept. 14, the anniversary of the bombardment of Fort McHenry, to launch its War of 1812 interactive learning center. The students held a flag ceremony and demonstrated how they are mastering 19th-century history with an assist from 21st-century technology.

The school's one-stop resource center offers materials to engage children and adults in the history of the War of 1812. The computer lab, a project of Maryland Public Television, the National Park Service, Friends of Fort McHenry and the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority, features interactive role-playing games and provides educators with lesson plans and electronic field trips.

"You don't just push buttons and watch guns shoot," said National Park Service Ranger Vince Vaise, chief of interpretation at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine. "There are decisions to make and priorities to set. You have to plan the logistics and allocate your soldiers, ammunition and food. If you screw up, a British flag will go up over the fort."

On Friday, a Junior ROTC color guard in modern military garb and red berets stood beside re-enactors wearing the signature red of the 1812 fife and drum corps, as students solemnly unfurled a replica of the flag that flew over the fort 198 years ago.

"It is a full-sized replica, not an inch off," Vaise said. "The original is just too fragile to use. But this one allows kids to hold history in their hands."

Vaise reminded the children that they were looking at the image that inspired Francis Scott Key to write what became the national anthem, and that they were standing on the very ground where American troops were encamped during the Battle of North Point in September 1814.

"You are on the battlefield where, 198 years ago to the day, almost to the minute, the British gave up," Vaise said. "On this day, Francis Scott Key looked through spyglasses and saw this huge flag."

It took most of the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to handle the 30-foot-by-42-foot flag. With one hand on the 15-star banner and the other on their hearts, the students recited the Pledge of Allegiance and softly sang the national anthem.

Del. John A. Olszewski Jr. asked the children to think about their heritage every time they see the flag and to tell the story at every opportunity. Sen. Ben Cardin reminded them of the crisis Marylanders faced.

"The British were winning," Cardin said. "They had burnt our cities and thought they would take back the Colonies. But the people in this community said no. Maryland stands at the forefront of this war."

In the new resource center, the students demonstrated their familiarity with the historical components, as they used the technology to establish a timeline for the war and to replicate the battle during a game called Hold the Fort.

"They are working with paintings, drawings and maps," said fifth-grade teacher Kelly Martin. "It helps them make connections. They are living here in the middle of history."

Students said the game was interesting.

"I liked how the soldiers used their weapons," said Hunter Taylor. "I also learned how hard the generals' many jobs were."

His classmate, Isis Bold, empathized with the officers. "If you didn't take care of your troops, they would leave you," she said.

Zachary Tarleton added that he liked to simulate firing cannons but understood the reasoning behind the learning center.

"It will really help me in history," he said. "I am actually getting to see what happened in the war."

To see more War of 1812 classroom resources, go to http://warof1812.thinkport.org

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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