Monday, November 26, 2007

Tracing the Trail of Lewis and Clark

After Philadelphia, we took a few weeks off of big, organized activities, but today we were at it again. We're up to the beginning of the 19th century and we've been reading a lot about Lewis and Clark (and their Newfoundland dog, Seamen). So, I thought maybe we could draw a really big map and mark the milestones of their trip.

We started with some maps I found on the Internet, like here and here and here.

Then we laid out three strips of paper that we got from a friend (they were leftover rolls from a printing press) and taped them both to the floor and to each other.

Then, mostly using the first map as a guide, we tried to sketch out a map of North America, and the route that Lewis and Clark took from Saint Louis to Fort Clatsop and back.

I had printed the map at 150%, and so it measured about 4.5 inches high by about 6.5 inches wide. We decided to scale it from 1 inch to 1 foot. So one of the kids drew the East Coast from Maine to Florida (about 6.5 feet high and about 1 foot wide). Meanwhile, two other kids started from the other side, after we measured the span of the continent (more or less).

None of it came out exactly perfect, but in under an hour we had a pretty good map.

Then we used the Timeline from the PBS Lewis and Clark movie as a guide to marking the landmark events along their trip, with each kid reading a couple and then others marking the actual spots (or as close as we could get them) on the map.

Along the way we talked about slavery, and how it didn't seem fair that Clark didn't free his slave, York, even after York had saved his life several times.

We talked about Sacajawea and how Lewis used ground rattlesnake rattles to speed the delivery of her son. And then about how Clark drew graffiti at one spot along the trail (that can still be seen today).

I asked my son afterwards what he thought of the whole thing and he said it was awesome, so I guess it was OK.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Visiting Philadelphia

All this talk of the Declaration of Independence and the Continental Congress made me want to go to Philadelphia, so we did! Don't you love homeschooling? :)

We drove down on Friday morning, but unfortunately when we got there, the tickets for Independence Hall were all gone. They are free but there is a limited number of them. So, instead, we went to see the Liberty Bell (I wish you could still touch it), the US Mint (where you can see how they manufacture coins that we really use), the Christ Church Graveyard (where Ben Franklin is buried), Franklin Court (where Ben Franklin's house was and which also houses some buildings that belonged to him, the post office he began, and a museum in his honor), and the First Bank of the US (which is now housing a portrait gallery). We also took a carriage ride where we learned that Dolly Madison made peach ice cream, her husband James was really short, and that Jefferson, not Hancock, was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. (Hancock signed big, but not first.)

On Saturday morning, I got up early to go get tickets to see Independence Hall. It was lovely being in the city all by myself :) I had forgotten how much I love cities, and Philadelphia in particular. We also found a yummy deli called DiBruno's, with great coffee and delicious pastries (and European candy and chocolate covered pretzels, and artesanal cheese and meats).

After breakfast, we went down to see Independence Hall and the room where they signed the Declaration of Independence, and wrote the Constitution. I liked it a lot. I think the kids did too. Sometimes I'm not sure what inspires them.

Next door, there was the actual copy of the Declaration that John Nixon read to the crowd in Independence Square on July 8, 1776. That was pretty cool.

Our next stop was the Franklin Institute, a great Science museum up on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (at the end of which sits the gorgeous Philadelphia Museum of Art). It was late by the time we got there, so we started with Electricity... lots of hands-on exhibits to see how electricity works. And then we moved on to the heart, that you can walk through, and see how blood goes through your heart and gets oxygenated. The kids loved it. I think they went through the heart 14 times or so. There were lots of other blood and heart related things to touch and explore. As the museum closed, we went to the Imax theater to see "Dinosaurs Alive!" Sadly, it was disappointing. It was out of focus and didn't really take advantage of the Imax-ness of the theater.

After the museum, we went back to the hotel and then found a great restaurant called the Marathon Grill. It was pretty perfect: nice and loud so we didn't have to shush anyone, and good food that wasn't too normal or too expensive.

Sunday morning we decided to go back to the Franklin Institute. On the way, we found some Black reenactors commemorating Veteran's Day. We talked to them for a few minutes and they told us about a reenactment going on that day about the Revolutionary War. I really wanted to go but everyone else was so geared up to return to the Franklin Institute that that's what we ended up doing. I mostly felt bad that I hadn't thought ahead of time of looking up reenactments... I knew it was Veteran's Day. I should have thought of it. And it was too hard to change plans in the middle.

Anyways, once I made my peace with that, I could see how much the kids were enjoying the museum. In fact, the day flew by and we couldn't leave. We were planning on going by the place where Washington crossed the Delaware, but it was dark by the time we were on the road. So we'll just have to go back :)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bill of Rights Charades

We were talking about the Constitution this week and I really wanted to figure out a game where they could write down the rules for a club or something of that sort, but in the end, I settled on talking about the Bill of Rights.

We sat together in a circle and I asked the kids to tell me some of the freedoms and rights that are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. We went around in a circle and each kid offered one and then we talked about them. At the same time, I wrote down the name of the right on a piece of paper and set them on the floor in front of them.

We talked a lot about the different rights and how they worked and what limitations they had and why they were important.

Then I folded up the papers and divided the kids into teams. They each chose a right and figured out with their team member how to act it out. When they were ready, they perrformed their skit and the other kids how to guess which right they were portraying.

It worked pretty well. It seemed like the kids liked doing it, and got a better feel for what is and isn't protected.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Walking the Freedom Trail

We had such a fun time yesterday. We got to Boston about 11 and before we did anything, had lunch. We parked right underneath Boston Common so we'd be close to the beginning of the Freedom Trail. The visitor's center, which is where the trail starts, also has bathrooms, so we took advantage of those too.

Then we started at the very beginning... there was a woman dressed up in period costume who offered to take us on the tour for rather a large amount of money. We took a picture with her but started off on our own. Our first stop was the Boston State House, or Capitol building. We looked at it from the outside and fussed with our audio tour, and although the information was interesting, it was hard to figure out where you were, so we didn't listen to as we walked. We had listened to it in the car on the way, so we knew that although the front doors are locked (except for exiting governors and visiting presidents), the side doors are open to the public.

We went in and visited the big Memorial Hall, under the golden dome, and also the Great Hall of flags, which has flags from most of the towns in Massachusetts. Then we went upstairs and found the Senate Chambers, adorned with toga-wearing patriots and codfish, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, and the House Chambers, with their voting buttons and leather-clad doors. I think the kids were pretty impressed. Me, I loved that we were allowed to go in and look at it all.

Then we went out and took a quick glance at the statue of Mary Dyer, the Quaker who refused to stop preaching in Boston (and was eventually hanged).

After the State House, we walked along til we found the Park Street Church, where they were said to have kept brimstone in the basement, and where people still give fire and brimstone speeches on the corner. Across the street from Anne Hutchinson's former land (and the former Corner Bookstore), we passed by a monument to the Irish that showed sort of before and after views of a small Irish family in the 1840's (starving, and then prosperous).

Then, it was on to the South Meeting House, where they first spoke of rebellion against the tea tax. Next it was the Old State House, now a front for the T, but still holding the balcony from which the Declaration of Independence was first read to the citizens of Boston, Abigail Adams among them. Right in front of the Old State House is the site of the Boston Massacre, which A. said was "really creepy".

At Fanueil Hall, we made a detour to buy candy for our flagging patriots. We then went up to the second floor where they used to hold Town Meeting, and where they now swear in new citizens. The third floor is a museum with lots of military artifacts: cannon balls and shells, machine guns from WWII, and the like. I can't imagine having brought my kids there by themselves, but in the group, they encouraged each other and showed each other things they found interesting.

We missed Quincy Market, but instead walked across toward the North End. I love this part of Boston, all the Italian storefronts and restaurants and caf├ęs. The best part though was watching the kids weave through the neighborhood scrupulously following the Freedom Trail bricks, except during "flash floods" when they all jumped off the trail.

In the North End, we walked by Paul Revere's house, interesting for its wooden outside and for its short height. We found his statue, and a cool empty fountain where the kids, and M., ran and played. And also a memorial with strings of dogtags to remember those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then we were off to the Old North Church, or as A. calls it the "One if by land two if by sea"-church. We happened to arrive just in time for a short presentation where we heard that Robert Newman, the sexton, climbed 14 floors of stairs to display the two lanterns to let Revere know the British were indeed coming by sea. On the way down the stairs, Newman heard the British at the door and was lucky enough to escape by jumping out the window (now called the "Newman" window). He was still arrested the next day, because he was the only one with the key to the steeple, but was eventually freed due to a lack of evidence.

We walked up the hill to the Copp's Burying Ground where the kids wanted to see the gravestone where the British used Daniel Malcom's gravestone for target practice. It's a really pretty spot up on a hill and also has a nice view of the Old North Church. They all fingered the bullet hole, remarking on the fact that it's smooth and worn (probably by other kids' fingers).

After a bit, we walked down the hill towards the port to see where Revere might have taken his boat. Supposedly, after seeing the lanterns, he had a pair of friends row him across (it's a very narrow bit of water) to Charlestown, right under the nose of a British War ship. The kids wanted to know if he had gotten caught.

We didn't row across, but instead walked across a rather creepy metal bridge that if you looked down, revealed the water way under our feet.

On the other side, we walked through Charlestown up to Bunker's Hill... nobody appreciated my Rapunzel jokes, but that's just what it reminded me of... it's so tall and has a tiny window just at the very top. There are 294 steps, so we were all huffing and puffing on the way up (especially me), but the view from the top was worth it. The kids liked the central cavity best, covered with a grate, but very good for yelling into. They also yelled all the way down, trying to see if the people still at the top could still hear them. There wasn't a lot to do about it, since yelling more didn't really seem very helpful. And I admit, it was kind of fun.

Our legs all felt like jelly now. We took advantage of the bathroom in the memorial's store, and then walked on to the US Constitution.

After we walked by the intimidating "you are now entering a federal facility" signs, we found that the museum and boats were closed. I was amazed to see what looked like a Catalan flag flying next to old versions of British and American ones. The sign though said it was a Tripolitan flag, though the Tripolitan one had five red stripes and four yellow, while the one flying had four red and three yellow. Turns out the Catalan has five yellow and four red... so who knows what flag was there.

One of the highlights of the day came next, taking the water shuttle (part of the T system) from the pier next to the USS Constitution across the bay back to Boston. It was just a little ferry, named Anna, but it was lovely to be out on the water. The kids loved it. It cost a whole $1.70 for each adult and was free for the kids.

And it left us at the T stop in front of the Aquarium, where we then took the subway back to the Common and our car.

It was such a nice day. I think most of the credit goes to having a group of kids, not just my own. Somehow, they encouraged each other and made it fun for each other. It was so much nicer than bringing only my own.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Smashing plates or Historical perspective

Today I wanted to show the kids how different history can look depending on who is doing the reporting. So, one of the other parents and I staged a sort of fight. Here's my version:

M. was scheduled to arrive 15 minutes late. The other kids and parents were on time. As the other kids were getting seated and talking and stuff, my youngest got a sliver (a rock!) in her foot, so I was a bit distracted trying to get it out. Still, I managed to look at the clock and mutter about how late it was getting several times. Some of the other parents, especially the ones who don't know me as well, mentioned later that they thought I was serious about being annoyed at the time.

I also mentioned several times how we needed to leave right after history group so that we could go to a party (which was true), and how we might even leave before anyone else.

When M. finally arrived, the plan was for him to pull in behind my car and then come in the house. He was supposed to be already frustrated at being late. He came in, with an annoyed look on his face, and I said something about him being late, and how we usually start at 1:15. Unfortunately, I'm not a very good actor, so I got nervous and set about introducing the kids who didn't know each other. I would have liked to have said something else to him to keep the tension going.

Then, I looked out the window and noticed that he had parked behind my car. Since we had to leave right after, I asked him to move his car. He gave me a look and stormed out to move it. Meanwhile, my husband went out to create a noise to make it seem like something happened when he moved the car.

When I heard the noise, I called attention to it by saying "Hey, what was that noise?" and some of the kids looked out the window.

Then M. barged back in the house, clearly angry, and went straight for our plates, picking one up and smashing it on the ground, saying "I can't believe you asked me to move my car." He then turned around and walked out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

The kids were stunned. They were looking at me like "What happened? Why was he so mad? My youngest was crying. "Why did he do that?" she wanted to know. I went to comfort her. They all looked shocked.

M. waited 10 seconds and then came back in and we both explained to the kids that it was staged. I then went and got paper and pens and asked the kids to write down what they had seen.

It was hard for them to calm down at first and start writing. They had lots of questions and wanted to talk to each other to figure out what had just happened. Then they finally got down to writing. We helped the littlest kids write down their stories.

When they were done, we asked them each to read their versions, and we all talked about the differences from one story to another, about the different word choices used and how that affected the story, about how history changes depending on who reports it, how M's children had background story (his being stressed about being late) to add, how the kids who were in the kitchen already had heard my back story (my muttering), and more. It was pretty interesting.

I asked them to take away the idea that history books are written by people just like us, that they are not the absolute truth, and that we should always keep a critical voice in the back of our head, asking "Who wrote this? What is their point of view? Is this backed up with other evidence from other sources?"

We ended the discussion by talking about the Boston Massacre and how Sam Adams had manipulated the facts to get people angry and ready to go to war.

My only regrets were that I'm a terrible actor. I got so nervous that I rushed through it too much and didn't say very much. I would have liked to say more, act more shocked, engaged M. more at the beginning so there were more details to report on. I might also have toned it down slightly so as not to upset the littlest ones (though her upset was short-lived).

The kids loved it--after they knew it was staged.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Taxation without representation

Today I wanted to make something come alive about the American Revolution. And I knew I could make them care if we used something valuable for them.

M&M's. That was the key to everything. Still, I fussed about the idea all week, trying to figure out how to make it fit together, never quite sitting down to think about it or write anything down. Last night at 10, it seemed about time. I thought about having them having to buy things and then having to pay tax, but it seemed too complicated. And I wanted to focus on the lack of control that they have about the tax.

Somehow this morning, after four or five sheets of scrap paper with random ideas, I thought of sitting down with 10 m&m's each and having to agree on how to eat them. From there, I thought of having a King and Parliament/tax collector group who would decide how the candy would get eaten. And then it morphed into this:

There are two groups. We had eight kids, so six were colonists and two were King and Parliament (the English). The English went off to a far room where they couldn't hear the colonists. There, they pick a card that describes their "mission", for example, "Your wars cost 40 m&m's". This is the amount of m&m's they must raise by levying taxes on the colonists.

They get three tries to tax the colonists in order to raise the right amount. They can choose between a sugar tax, a paint tax, a tea tax, and a stamp tax. And they can choose how much tax to collect for each thing. They only levy one tax at a time.

Meanwhile, the colonists each put a certain number of m&m's in a small jar in front of them. I choose the amount they have to pick according to the mission the English have. I want there to be enough so the English can collect their tax but not so much that the Americans don't care. Then each colonist picks a card from a small deck. There were six "Have a cup of tea", several each of "Buy a newspaper" and "Send a letter" and "Buy a book" (for the Stamp tax), and also "Buy a pound of sugar" and "Paint your house".

As they're looking at their cards, I go back to England to see what tax will be levied. The King writes it down and hands it to me and I go back to America to read it as a decree to the colonists. They decide whether or not to pay the tax.

If the colonists consider the tax to be obsessive, they can choose to go to war (by majority vote). In that case, they don't pay the tax. But, they have to roll a die with 1, 2, 3 meaning they survive and 4, 5, 6 meaning they die. If they die, they lose their m&m's.

When we played, they always paid the tax on the first round. Then I go back to the English and bring them their tax, let them count it, and then tell them that they can levy another tax. They try to figure out how to get enough tax without angering the colonists.

We played several rounds with different kids each time as King and Parliament. In the second round, the King was particularly aggressive and sparked a rebellion among the colonists. Listening to their discussion was really interesting. They were almost ready to go to war, but one girl didn't want to. Then they thought of sending a letter to the king, protesting the tax. They did so, and the King relented, and ended up collecting all the tax he needed, and avoiding war.

After each round, if the colonists had m&m's left over, they got to eat them. If the King and Parliament raised the right amount of taxes, I gave them bonus m&m's. And then I ceremoniously dumped the raised taxes into the "military's" bowl, and nobody got to eat those. Ah, the cost of war.

Monday, September 24, 2007

French and Indian Wars

We got together for the first time, and it was a gorgeous day so we sat outside. The idea was to come together and impersonate some character or group from the French and Indian War, and explain their motivations and what they were hoping to gain or what they feared losing.

We heard from William Johnson, Jeffrey Amherst, Miriam (from Calico Captive), Marie Jeanne (from The Winter People), Robert Rogers, King George III, and one more personage that I can't quite remember.

It was a little hard holding everyone's attention with the grass and talking and large dog in the middle of everywhere, but all in all, I think it was a success.