Lansdowne Elementary students took a writing project to the courts

The defense team: Jacob Beck, CJ Dowd, Alexandria MacRae, and Ryan Neukam

Thursday, May 6, 2010, was an unusually exciting day at the Garmatz Federal Court Building in downtown Baltimore. Seven Gifted and Talented students from Lansdowne Elementary School traveled with their teacher, Barbara Sharrer, to the courtroom of Judge J. Frederick Motz to present their final projects for the novels in the Tripods Trilogy.

The students read “The White Mountains,” “The City of Gold and Lead,” and “The Pool of Fire” in preparation for this project. Their task was to write a closing argument in the trial of the Masters using facts they gathered during their reading. The Masters, in John Christopher’s science fiction novels, were an alien species who invaded Earth, destroyed all modern inventions, and controlled human thinking. Students chose whether to defend or prosecute the Masters for the crime of mercilessly attempting to control and destroy the human race.

The prosecutors: students Shannon Lord, Samantha Benton, and Rayna Moore

After reading the books, students began to learn about the elements of a closing argument by visiting the Web site created by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. This site features a game format to introduce students to strong arguments and includes slideshows for instruction in persuasive writing. The students organized their notes on file cards and used writing guides to develop effective speeches. 

On the day of their court appearance, students were able to view a replica of a pardon issued by Abraham Lincoln that is on display in the lobby of the Federal Building. They then were given a tour of the chambers and entered the awe-inspiring courtroom.  The wood paneling, leather chairs, jury box, and tables for the defense and prosecution added to the reality of their mock trial.

CJ Dowd, Ryan Neukam, Jacob Beck, Judge J.Frederick Motz, Alexandria MacRae,  Shannon Lord, Samantha Benton, and Rayna Moore

Three student “prosecutors,” Samantha Benton, Shannon Lord and Rayna Moore, did their best to paint the Masters as evil and worthy of a guilty verdict. Their opposition included students Ryan Neukam, Jacob Beck, CJ Dowd, and Alexandria MacRae.  Neukam also provided technical support throughout the visit as he filmed the presentations with a Flip Video™ camera.

Judge Motz listened thoughtfully throughout the proceedings and provided valuable insight into his profession. He concluded his remarks with compliments about the maturity and insight that these students brought to their arguments. Several students have begun to think of the legal profession as one they may want to pursue. 

Back row: Rayna Moore, Samantha Benton, Shannon Lord, Jacob Beck, CJ Dowd, Ryan Neukam, Alexandria MacRae, and Barbara Sharrer, teacher. Front row: Vickie Schultz, Bianca Lord, Dawn Brinkley, Crystal Dowd, Rick Neukam, and Rachel MacRae – all parents of the students


Story by Barbara Sharrer, instructional technology teacher, Lansdowne Elementary School. Photos courtesy of Lansdowne Elementary School.
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