Teach PA History
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Jim Thorpe : The Greatest Athlete of the Century!

1. Have students compare and contrast Jim Thorpe to a contemporary athlete who plays more than one sport (e.g., Deon Sanders or Bo Jackson). 2. Ask students to design a sports card which illustrates Jim Thorpe and describes his career. 3. In addition to letter writing and creating informational brochures, there are a number of ways to lobby for a cause. Students could pick and explore another lobbying technique–creating a petition, writing a news article to create positive press, creating a web page to build support, etc. 4. Students could research other Olympic athletes from Pennsylvania. 5. Ask students to go to the library and select a book about Jim Thorpe. Ask them to read the book and write a book report. For some samples of children's books relating to Jim Thorpe, see the Student Reference section of this lesson. 6. As a class, create a simple questionnaire exploring or rating the top characteristics of "What makes a great athlete?" Have each student give the questionnaire to five people in the community to complete and return. Tabulate the results together and show students how to make an appropriate graph expressing the outcome of their survey (for instance a pie graph showing the percentage of one characteristic over another, or a bar chart) 7. Jim Thorpe died of a heart attack in 1953. Ask students to write Jim Thorpe's obituary based on the accomplishments of his life they have studied. Then imagine and create an appropriate gravestone/memorial giving testament to his lifetime accomplishments. This extension can be accompanied by a field trip to Thorpe's grave in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

Field Trips

Cumberland County Historical Society
21 North Pitt Street
Carlisle, PA 17013
(717) 249-7610

Learn more about the school Jim Thorpe attended in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Cumberland County Historical Society offers as part of its educational program to home schools a celebration of Jim Thorpe Day on September 13th. It also possesses a number of educational theme trunks–one of which is the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Trunk. This trunk is filled with comparative material artifacts of Native American and middle-class Caucasians: clothing, school supplies, games, tools, and religious icons. According to the program description, "students will scrutinize the intense nature of organized assimilation and adaptation and learn how the Indian school was reflective of national educational policies at the turn of the century." In addition, the Historical Society offers coordination of day-long programs, one which explores the Carlisle Industrial School through images and includes individual name tags of actual CIIS students with biographical information on it. A slide show and hands-on presentation of Carlisle Indian School Pictographs is also available.

Jim Thorpe's Grave
Route 903
Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
(570) 325 - 3673

This would be an excellent site for a small, self-led field trip. You could plan a pre-visit activity in which students imagine and create their own gravesite for the champion. Then they can view the actual gravestone upon which images of his athletic career are etched. In addition, the quote from King Gustav V is inscribed: "Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world." The tomb is said to rest on soil taken from both Thorpe's home in Oklahoma as well as Stockholm where he performed his amazing Olympic feats. Near the tomb is a sculpture called "The Spirit of Thunder and Lightning" with informative panels of Thorpe's life.

Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum
Heinz History Center
1212 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA
(412) 454 -6000

This museum is a wonderful place to further explore sports in Pennsylvania, specifically in Western Pennsylvania. The museum boasts an audio simulation of being in a stadium as well as great audio sportscast moments. It also provides over 70 interactive exhibits, many of which are made for the elementary student. Students can measure their shoe size against the shoe size of Pittsburgh Steeler L.C. Greenwood, for instance, or ride a power boat. The museum also has interesting memorabilia from great Pennsylvania athletes (sports gear, jackets, swim suits). In addition, exhibits force students and adults alike to think about seemingly simple questions like, "What is considered a sport, and what is not?"

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