Nolan Elementary School students learned that seeing, swimming, driving, reading, keeping warm, keeping safe, and enjoying the freedom of living in the United States of America are some of the many things that Benjamin Franklin helped with.
“As an educator, he was an individual that you are overwhelmed at his multi-curricular talents,” commented Nolan teacher Becky Leary.
David Mitchell of Crossville, both educated and entertained students in a program brought to the school by Nolan’s PTA Cultural Enrichment Committee. Mr. Mitchell used several props, stories, and music as he talked and interacted with students.
“Even though he talked about information on several of the sophisticated inventions Franklin created, the actor managed to engage the children by starting with their own common experiences (such as swimming and reading) and using humor to add to their knowledge,” said Rebecca Clark, Nolan’s lead music teacher.
“I thought he did an amazingly good job,” echoed Nancy Gill, Nolan’s librarian.
One point Mr. Mitchell repeated many times was Franklin’s emphasis on reading.
Franklin’s parents taught him and his 16 siblings to read, but they could afford to send him to school only 1 ½ years. Yet he never stopped reading.
“I could open a book a travel all over the world,” he said. “What a marvelous gift this is – reading. Don’t ever take it for granted.”
The same curiosity that drove Franklin to books also spurred various experiments and inventions.
Students were surprised to learn Franklin created his first invention when he was a boy who enjoyed swimming and wanted to keep up with ducks who kept passing him in a stream. He studied their flat, webbed feet, got some scrap wood and made what has evolved today into swimming flippers.
We wear them on our feet. Mitchell demonstratd how Franklin wore them on his hands by inserting thumbs thru holes drilled in the wood ‘flappers.’
In addition to reading, Franklin loved to write. When his father took him out of school, he apprenticed young Franklin to an older brother to learn the printing trade. When his older brother refused to publish Franklin’s stories, he wrote by moonlight, changed his handwriting and submitted articles under the fictitious name of “Slilence Dogood.” Those were very popular and published often until Franklin’s brother discovered who was really the author and punished him.
Franklin then fled to Philadelphia, which he adopted as his hometown. There, he started the first library (so everybody could borrow and read books), started the first fire department, renovated the police department and ambulance, and helped improve many more areas of life.
Franklin also continued to write. He and others found the old “Farmer’s Almanac” boring so he started a similar publication called “Poor Richard’s Almanac” that included silly and satirical stories as well as wise sayings. It quickly became one of the most popular publications in colonial America.
Nolan students recognized many of Franklin’s proverbs written over 250 years ago, such as “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” and A penny earned is a penny saved.” They laughed at some of his funny sayings such as, “Three people can keep a secret…if two of them are dead.” And, “Fish and visitors both stink after three days. Then, you want to throw them out.”
Students learned why Franklin created some of his inventions.
· He got tired of switching glasses to see far and near, so he had glasses made with half the lens for seeing far off and half for reading. Bifocals are still worn by people today.
· As Postmaster General, he wanted to know how far it was from one post office to another, so he created a gadget called the Odometer to measure distance. Automobiles still use an odometer.
· Since a fireplace did not radiate heat, Franklin invented a stove to spread heat throughout a room. It was first called the “Pennsylvania Stove” but is now known as the “Franklin Stove”
Franklin also loved to study weather and once chased a tornado while riding on a horse, putting him among the first storm chasers.
Mr. Mitchell brought a small static electricity generator to demonstrate one of Franklin’s most famous experiments using a kite during an electrical storm. A few students delighted their peers by showing how static made their hair stand on end.
“The program really made history come to life for the students as they saw and heard things that they had seen in books,” said Nolan teacher Suzan Russell.
Mr. Mitchell explained that while Franklin’s creation of the lightning rod was his most important because it saved buildings and lives, one of his favorites was the glass armonica. That was the very first musical instrument invented in the United States. It involved using specially made glass bowls spinning on a rod. Students’ eyes widened and mouths opened in amazement when Mitchell played a beautiful melody on a glass armonica that he’d made to Franklin’s specifications.
Mr. Mitchell ended each program with a stirring account of how Franklin helped the 13 colonies win freedom from England and then helped draft the Declaration of Independence. His work to free the colonists resulted in a bitter relationship with his son, who had sided with the English, but Franklin never regretted helping his country win its freedom.
“What a privilege it is today to be an American, to live in this land that is so free and full of opportunity,” Mitchell said. “That freedom was won by so many brave men and women…even unto today.”
Students were told to be curious, explore, experiment, read, and most of all, to not give up. “You can be anything you want to be,” he said.