Saturday, October 22, 2016

Historical Wanderings

Hello, colleagues! I have returned from my East Coast trip and am still processing my vacation! I was lucky enough to have one of my sisters move to Eastern Pennsylvania. She is close to Philadelphia and Washington DC, two cities I have never visited. It is rather embarrassing to admit this as I am an American history teacher! Our district has a modified year-round schedule (nine weeks on, two weeks off), so we get a two-week break in the middle of October. It is the most fantastic break in the schedule! Flights tend to be relatively cheap, so my husband and I were able to fly directly to Philadelphia round trip for less than $300. Trust me; this is a steal.

We spent a day in Philadelphia, two days in Washington DC, and a day at Gettysburg. It was an amazing experience! I appreciated these places more as an adult because I could provide context for myself - I knew the magnitude of these places and felt honored to be there.

As I walked around, I asked myself (and talked about it out loud to my husband and family) if I could imagine bringing my students to PA and DC. One of my colleagues takes students to different locations around the world - taking them to the East Coast would be easier, right? It can't be that hard, right?!

While we toured, I saw many school groups out and about. The common thread through each set of students: they were loud and were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. The teacher in me (and my husband) wanted to yell at them for their disrespect. I also wanted to talk to their leader and ask what on earth they were doing. But as I thought about it, I wondered if I could do any better with my students. Could I get my students to care about these places? If so, how? What does it take to get students to connect to the past?

What stood out to me was:
1. The teacher had thirty or more students with them at any given time. Often, it was more than fifty.
2. The teacher had the students move at their individual pace
3. The teacher often stood to the side away from the students

I decided that if I took students out east, it would be a select group of students (preferably twenty or less). I would not attempt to take all kids because one person cannot adequately monitor nor connect with a large group of students. Secondly, I would not just watch my students; I would guide them through the exhibits and locations and would guide them with a purpose. I'm not sure I would give them a handout, but I would have tasks for them and activities that help them connect. Students relate to others through feelings and emotions, so they have to have some context to understand the magnitude of why they were there. Third, I would pick select locations based on what my students study in the classroom. For example, I would skip the Vietnam Memorial as we only study early American history. That is a memorial that the tour groups seemed to struggle with the most - they ran around, talked loudly, and Snapchatted while I watched a woman leave a gift for her deceased father while sobbing. There was no connection between those kids and what was happening around them.

In the end, I had a fantastic trip. I was able to see some incredible locations, learned some new things about history, and get some great photos. I am incredibly grateful for my journey out east. I am also thankful that I was able to see those tour groups so that I will think carefully about classroom field trips in the future.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
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