Making a Difference:
Online History from MISSION US

With MISSION US, they really learn cause and effect. ... MISSION US can take the historical content and put it into some modern-day issues.

Laureen Laumeyer

Fifth grade teacher, Hardin County, and National MISSION US Educator of the Year

If she could, Meadow View Elementary School teacher Laureen Laumeyer would pack up every one of her fifth graders and take them to every historically significant patch of ground in the United States.

Laureen Laumeyer

It is, after all, what she did with her own children, who began to view family vacations as school field trips with their history-obsessed mother.

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But since she can't take her Radcliff students to where American history happened, Laumeyer brings history alive for them with MISSION US, a new interactive online American history game offered to Kentucky teachers through KET.

"I've got a bit of a passion for social studies," says Laumeyer, a Wisconsin native and former Air Force service member who has lived throughout the United States and abroad. She has been teaching at the Hardin County elementary school for nine years.

"My daughter always said we never took family vacations, we took field trips. Summer vacations were just extended field trips for us," the energetic mother of three says with a laugh. "Wherever we went, we found something exciting to see."

For Crown or Colony?

KET was one of 10 public television stations chosen to participate in a MISSION US teacher-training initiative in 2010. The Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky Historical Society, and the Kentucky Council for the Social Studies worked with KET to show teachers the first game in the MISSION US series, "For Crown or Colony?", set in the Revolutionary War period.

Laumeyer's excitement quickly bubbles forth when she talks about how quickly her students internalize the concepts introduced in the game.

"The students take on the personality of Nat, and they have to be a printer's apprentice in Boston right before the Boston Massacre," she said. "So they take on that personality, they live in that time-frame. It helps them to gain a different perspective."

"With MISSION US, they really learn cause and effect," she continued. "You teach them about the Stamp Act, the cause and effect behind it, but until they actually became Nat and saw what was happening back and forth, it didn't really apply to them personally. MISSION US can take the historical content and put it into some modern-day issues."

One student, Laumeyer recalled, became distraught because, in the game, she was having trouble purchasing indigo she needed to dye cloth. A patriot, she was adhering to a boycott of loyalist indigo sellers.

"So the kids are able to take this abstract idea of boycotting something, which didn't have any meaning to them. They couldn't care less what indigo was! But now that they're in that time period, living that life, they can see the purpose of it. They take an interest in the characters' problems."

One of Laumeyer's favorite ways to make history come alive for her students is to introduce them to young people who've made their way into the history books. MISSION US dovetails nicely with that plan, she says.

"In one part of the game, Nat and Constance, the niece of a loyalist, have to find her lost dog Thimble," she said. "Right away, the kids connect to that—another child looking for a dog. They really get concerned for Thimble's well-being!"

Educator of the Year

Showcasing effective use of the resource was part of the MISSION US teacher initiative, and KET nominated Laumeyer for national recognition. Public television station THIRTEEN/WNET, developer of MISSION US, named her the first National MISSION US Educator of the Year, an award that included a trip to New York to discuss her use of MISSION US at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning.

MISSION US will eventually include five missions. In "Flight to Freedom," slated for release in 2011, players will assume the role of a runaway slave as they explore events leading up to the Civil War. This game is partly set in Kentucky. Laumeyer—who unabashedly admits she hit the mother lode for the family field trip when she and her family moved to Kentucky—eagerly awaits the next installment.