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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hometown Heros - A Veterans Day Oral History Project

Photos by Lauren Blair - Craig Daily Press

Historical research, interview skills, video recording, and QR code creation are all engaging elements and tools of learning for students of all ages. When combined, those skills can be used for the creation of a real-world product of value that will last forever! Add to that lesson the interaction between the youth and elders of a community and the value becomes priceless.

Veterans Day 2015 is only six weeks away. There is plenty of time to plan a community project. Although a single class can complete this project, it is a wonderful building-wide service project for a school. In the fall of 2014, the students of Sunset Elementary in Craig, Colorado, partnered with the local Wyman Living History Museum to gather and display oral histories from hometown heros. The oral histories were posted to Youtube and displayed in the museum for access with QR codes. In addition, the school held a ceremony to honor the veterans on Veterans Day and an open house at the museum to teach the public how to access the QR code videos on display.

Here are the steps our school used for the project:

  • Contact a local museum to explain the project and arrange for display. We have several wonderful museums in our community, but chose one with a military display already in place.
  • Contact local veterans groups to get a list of people to interview. 
  • Prepare students by learning about Veterans Day and related history as appropriate for each grade level. We are a K-5 school.
  • Provide each classroom teacher with the name and contact information for a local vet. Be sure to have a few alternates ready in case the contact is unavailable. 
  • Depending on the age of the students and possible relationships with the veterans, either the teacher or a student can make contact with the veteran. Explain the project and invite him or her to class. It was helpful to ask beforehand if the guest would prefer to be interviewed or to simply tell his or her story. Some wanted to know the questions that would be asked ahead of time. The idea is to make the invited veteran feel as comfortable as possible. Be sure to let them know ahead of time that the session will be filmed. Ask each to bring a photograph that can be copied on a color copier and any artifacts they would like to share.
  • Prepare and practice interview questions and techniques. Discovery Education has a link to a valuable resource for interviewing veterans.  The tip sheet in the link has a wide variety of questions from which to choose and makes the preparation simple for the class and teacher.
  • On the day of the interview, the classroom is arranged for listening to a guest speaker with a spot designated for a student to film the speaker. We used iPads for filming. One drawback was the need to be close for the sound to be loud enough on the video. It is possible, however, in iMovie to increase the volume of the sound as well as edit the video after filming. That should be possible no matter what technology tool you are using. It is a good idea to try out the filming and sound in a test situation before your guest arrives. 
  • Make arrangements with the building secretary to color copy the photographs supplied by the veterans as they arrive.
  • Each classroom handled their interview in the way that worked best for them. Some of the guests preferred to tell their story and take questions at the end. Others answered questions throughout the visit. The one common thread in all classrooms was the undivided attention of the students. In each case, the veteran connected with the kids and made a lasting impression. We heard talk about the interviews for weeks beyond the project. 
  • There was one veteran who could not come to the school. He was the only World War II veteran on our list and was actually a prisoner of war. He was the great grandfather of some of our students. Rather than skip his participation, we sent a video recording device home with his family. They captured his interview and returned the device for download, capturing priceless candid descriptions of his experiences so long ago. Sadly, he passed away last spring. How very thankful we were to have preserved his story.
  • One staff member was responsible for uploading the edited videos to Youtube. 
  • Once the video was online, a QR code was created linking to the site. If you are not familiar with QR codes, they are quite simple to create! Here is a link to one of many QR Code Generators. Simply copy the Youtube video URL, go to the generator, click on URL at the top and paste it into the box. A QR code will generate instantly. You can save it to your desktop or print it from there. I prefer to save it and then copy and paste it into a document more than one time so I have spare paper copies of the code. You can also make it the specific size you want at that time. 
  • QR codes are accessed using a tablet or cellphone with a QR code reader. Search the app store for one to download. Here is a sample QR code for you to try. It will take you to the QR code generator site:
 This one is for a QR reader:

  • As the interviews are completed, the QR code. along with the veteran's name, and photograph are placed in a frame for display at the museum. There is a picture at the top of this blog. We displayed them as they were completed in the lobby of the school until the day prior to Veterans Day.
  • All of the frames were then moved to the museum along with a poster explaining the project and directions for viewing the videos.
  • Invitations were sent to all of the participating veterans inviting them to an outdoor flag ceremony and assembly at the school on Veterans Day. They led the outdoor ceremony and were then honored at the assembly. We showed a video that included a few moments from many of the interviews and gave our hometown heros a standing ovation. It was an emotional moment for all.
  • In addition, they were all invited to the museum for an unveiling of the display and a lesson in using QR codes! The public was also invited to the museum. One child from each classroom was on hand equipped with an iPad and ready to demonstrate the technology needed to view the videos. The kids helped people download the app needed on their cell phones as well.
Veterans Day 2014 was one for our students and hometown heros alike to remember! A bit of planning a few weeks in advance resulted in a valuable community project! Here is the sample video shown at our assembly. The videos displayed at the museum are available in their entirety on the same Youtube channel:


  1. What an awesome project! Thank you for sharing. It's a great way to celebrate our heroes as well as preserve their stories!

    1. Thank you! I hope this will inspire many to gather priceless oral histories!