Jackie Collier, a teacher at South Laurel Middle School, kneels in her uniform at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park.

Thanks to her summer adventure, teacher Jackie Collier now knows just about everything one can about 19th century military cannons. In a flash, she can tell you about how the weapon works, the physics behind it, who is part of a cannon team.

“I would feel comfortable being on a cannon team now — though I hope I don’t ever have a need for that,” she laughed.

Collier spent her summer in Brownsville, Texas, where she worked as a teacher ranger at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park, the site of the first battle of the Mexican-American War. Her assignment was to develop a physics-based lesson plan involving cannons. In addition to being used for students visiting the park, her work will be posted online later this year and be available to teachers all over the country.

Collier learned about the program while surfing the Internet.

“For the past three summers, I worked at Oak Ridge National lab,” Collier explained. “But the Tennessee program ended. So I thought, ‘OK, what am I going to do this summer?’”

Intrigued by the work and the prospect of summer in Texas, the South Laurel Middle School science teacher went through an application process. After learning she’d been accepted, the Colliers, including their four youngest children, got ready for the six-week sojourn near the Rio Grande.

Collier said learning about that time in history was fascinating. The Mexican-American War lasted from 1846 to 1848 and resulted in the United States increasing in size by one third. Mexico became half its size.

“The sad part is nobody knows anything about this,” she said. “The park works really hard in having its spot in history.”

Collier said the park was equally interesting.

“It’s a very somber place, as any battlefield is,” Collier said. “You know people died there for what they believed in.”

Conveying that history in the area — which still has a very large population with Mexican heritage — is dealt with gingerly.

“It was quite an experience,” Collier said. “Getting to learn the ins and outs of the park service is really amazing to me. It’s amazing how equal, how balanced they try to be. It’s like, ‘We’re not going to make a judgment on this — good, bad or ugly. We’re going to let you make your decision.’”

Ultimately, Collier enjoyed the hands-on experience.

“Getting to be in a different element than the classroom, getting to be outside doing things, that was really cool,” she said.

The teacher also enjoyed being the student.

“It challenged me to see if I could really do this,” she said.

Staff writer Tara Kaprowy can be reached by e-mail at

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