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South Jordan Journal

American Revolution play engages student learning

Aug 11, 2023 10:16AM ● By Julie Slama

South Jordan Elementary fifth-grade students in Patricia Gotberg’s class dressed in their finery to showcase an original play about the American Revolution. (Patricia Gotberg/South Jordan Elementary)

Mercy Otis Warren shared with students about her published political satires during the American Revolution — at a time women were expected to be silent. That outspoken, self-taught woman became one of the leading female intellectuals of the Revolution. 

Her representation by fifth-grader Madison Pitre was one of many Revolutionary leaders portrayed during South Jordan Elementary’s play, “The American Revolution.”

The American Revolution was an epic political and military struggle from the years 1765-1783 when 13 of Britain’s North American Colonies rejected its imperial rule. During the play, there were scenes that illustrated King George’s unwillingness to listen, the Boston Tea Party, the midnight ride of Paul Revere, the creation of the Constitution, the Redcoats, and conclusion of the election of George Washington at the Constitutional Convention.

For Madison, it was fun to learn about the time through drama.

“We each had individual appearances by scene so if you were the Red Coats or in the Boston Tea Party, you had costumes to signify who you were,” she said. “Our George Washington has a big coat and a special hat. I got an umbrella and gloves with my fancy dress. I learned more about the war, who was part of it and Mercy. She was one of the first women who took an interest in history and politics and spoke out about things. Even though she had some good ideas, she was a woman and had to rely on the guys to make it happen.”

Her classmate, Zac Petersen, was George Washington.

“I was sitting down pretending to write down what the others were saying with my feather (quill pen),” he said. “I learned he didn’t write the majority of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson did. When it was passed, George Washington didn’t sign it because he was in New York with the army.”

Zac learned how to perform in a play.

“We didn’t use microphones and we couldn’t yell, but we had to project loudly,” he said. “Some parts like mine were long, but others were short, but we worked together to learn our lines.”

The play from script to costume was an original production by their teacher, Patricia Gotberg.

“It’s really a love of education and a love of history,” she said. “Children learn more through interaction with the activities instead of just reading it.”

This is the second year Gotberg’s class has put on the play.

“We added a few more characters, including Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren and another British soldier,” she said as her class of 25 students were in the play. “I changed some parts in it. I’m always tweaking it. I’m not really a drama person, but I found a love for it.”

It also was a way for her students to learn more in-depth about the Revolution and those who were part of it.

“As we’d read through it, we’d learn. A character would be introduced, say Ethan Allen, the leader of the Green Mountain Boys, and then we’d learn what he did and why he did. They were engaged and started making connections. You can tell them all kinds of stuff, but until they really live it, they don’t tie it together. It was neat because as they were practicing the play for their performance, the students would relate what they learned and pipe up saying, ‘he did that’ or ‘that’s who she was.’ We experienced a lot of those a-ha, light bulb moments,” Gotberg said, adding they also learned about key figures by making trading cards of American Revolutionary leaders as they have for other time periods they studied.

Fifth-grader Ruthie Mortensen portrayed Betsy Ross, who narrated the play.

“The play taught us about the Revolutionary War in a fun way to learn,” she said. “I liked learning that King George was really stubborn, and the colonists were really good at fighting back.”

Her classmate, Bentley Vanderveur, portrayed Samuel Adams.

“He was a really big part of the American Revolution so I’m glad I got to portray him,” said the first-time actor who said it took him about three weeks to learn his 20 lines. “It was scary being in a play at first, but then once I got used to it, it wasn’t scary anymore. I’d like to be in another play next year.”

While he, too, learned more about the American Revolution from the play, his favorite part was the discussion of peace.

“I liked what they did to make sure everyone agreed,” he said. “It was a good to learn about everything this way. I want to go see where the all the American Revolution happened now.” λ