After a little searching, I found The Donner Memorial State Park and grabbed a contact email from their webpage. After my email was forwarded around to the correct person who could help me with what I was inquiring about (doing a video chat with a Donner Party historian), I was put in contact with an awesome person who wanted to help us out and set up a Skype chat!
After many email exchanges and picking a time that worked the best for both us and the historian and park ranger, my students developed some great questions that they'd ask the historians. Unfortunately only one of my classes was actually going to be participating, but the rest of the classes got to hear and see a bit of the Skype chat after it was over.
Donner Party Skype Chat Questions
- Tell us a little about the Donner Party. Is there any cool facts that not many people know about in regards to the Donner Party?
- What do you find most interesting about the Donner Party’s story?
- Why didn’t the Donner Party turn back once they got a warning?
- Why did you become a Donner Party historian?
- Were the Donner Party actual cannibals, or is this something that is still a controversy today?
- Was James Reed really one of the group’s leaders who didn’t listen to the warnings and signs about taking the “short cut”?
- Was the Donner Party the most tragic westward expansion party? Were there any other parties that had experiences like the Donner Party?
- Who was the first person to die?
- If we were to visit the Donner Party Memorial today, what would we find?
- What did they do with the remains of the bodies? Bury them? Were there any left?
- Who all survived? Were there any kid survivors?
- If it snowed 6 feet, how did they walk around their camp? How do you even set up a camp in so much snow?
- Would you want to be someone moving westward if you didn't know about the Donner pass?
- Why didn't the Donner turn back when they got warnings about Hastings Cutoff?
- How do we know today about everything that happened with the Donner Party? Did they keep diaries or journals?
- Did anyone commit suicide, or did they all die of “natural” causes or diseases?
The chat went fantastically well! My 4th period social studies students totally rocked it; it was completely student-led, and they asked the historian and ranger some great and insightful questions. It really was a super cool experience (I think on both the historian and students' end!!) and I really hope to do more of these in the future with other historians in other content areas. As much as I love Google hangouts, that option for a video chat wasn't available for us this time, so Skype Classroom was a good alternative to use that worked out great for both ends!