Tag Archives: homeschooling

A festive lesson plan (via Mental Floss)

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9 Holiday Characters From Around the World – Mental Floss is a quick review of the various other Christmas characters in the western world.  I teach Western Civilization and am well aware of the connectedness of European and American culture.  Given that fact, the variety of the theme is remarkable.

Sadly, Mental Floss is not in the habit of citing their sources on these lists.  Still, universities in this country teach about these cultures in their foreign language departments and may well provide some additional information.  I think it is worth it–this is a nifty cultural lesson.  It relates back to an old theme shared by Sam Weinburg and this blog, among many others, about the challenges of grappling with the familiar and the unfamiliar.

Below, I describe a lesson plan emphasizing these things.  It is written for a classroom, but easily adapted into a homeschooling lesson plan.

Suggested lesson plan (outline):

Introduction:  Have each student describe their family’s Christmas traditions (note, these do not need to be religious traditions, obviously, if you feel more comfortable you can phrase it based on what students’ families do on their winter breaks)–do this by having each free write for five minutes or break the class into small groups and have each share with his or her group, then have someone from each group describe someone else’s family tradition. (It is worth keeping in mind that a student may not have a family tradition for the Christmas holidays because of religion, personal tragedy, or different cultural background.  This does not mean you shouldn’t do the exercise!  This is as important and valuable a learning experience as the others!!!  The greater diversity in your classroom the greater the opportunity students will have to learn from each other!  Also, remember that Santa Claus is almost entirely secular in the U.S.)

Activity 1:  Assign the reading from Mental Floss, provided in the link above.  Ask students to each read the whole article, or break it down so that each student reads one of the descriptions, or make small groups in which they each group reads three of the character descriptions.

Activity 2:  If you haven’t already, break the students into small groups.  These can be the same as the previous activity or entirely new groups.  Unless they all read the same thing, have each student describe what they read.  Then have each group answer these questions (adjust as needed for age or experience):

  1. Which continents do these traditions come from?
  2. What religions celebrate Christmas?
  3. Is there a connection between the answer of question 1 and the answer of question 2?
  4. What do these characters have in common (how they look, how they act, time of year in which they appear)?
  5. How are these characters different  (how they look, how they act, time of year in which they appear)?

Reflection:  For either a brief reflective essay or a brief reflective discussion ask students to answer the following: Why do you think we have so many different traditions for the same holiday?

Santa on the sleigh

From here a homework assignment could be made for further research into the different cultures and the character featured–and other cultural Christmas characters could be added, perhaps even as the result of the student discussion of Christmas (or winter break) traditions.  Ideally, this results in a feast with information about the cultures represented and their winter holiday traditions, such as games, music and songs, etc.  One might also just as easily make the next assignment about the class’s research of itself by having each student share more about their own family traditions and history.

American culture came out of European culture and for all of their similarities this reading helps illustrate the limits of the cultural similitude while nonetheless emphasizing the cohesion in comparison with the rest of the world.  This is an important point to learn from the exercise though it will probably resonate more with older students who have had more history exposure or to a particularly diverse class that is roundly international.  The follow-up exercise options described immediately above will be more appropriate depending on the class age and level of exposure, so adjust accordingly.

This lesson plan is designed to work on the following skills:

  • reading
  • writing
  • oral and aural communication: speaking and listening
  • historical thinking: making connections based on history knowledge
  • cognitive thinking: drawing conclusions based on provided information, cause and effect

If you try this or variant of it, or if you have your own already existent lesson plan, please, share your experiences, below.

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Hey Erika! Remember that blog you write?!?

Why, yes, I remember I my beloved blog.  I haven’t really forgotten, despite appearances.  I’ve just been a bit busy.

Busy with what, you ask?  Well, there was the PBS gig I worked on–I wrote a couple of lesson plans and contributed to a game about the election process; keep your eyes open, because it will be up and running soon.  Then there is this awesome digital magazine, called Rohous, for which I am writing some pieces–hopefully, it will be a monthly gig.  Finally, I have decided to adjunct again this semester teaching History 101 at the Community College of Baltimore Campus–a position I took a mere week before my first class.

Then there is all the usual stuff I do…

BWI Rotary (I’m the secretary and everything-tech-person, as well as being the PR Committee Chair, and schedule all the speakers for our meetings) is in the midst of a major project to provide iPads to our area elementary schools that struggle with rising poverty rates (I’m talking kids who go to school to eat, never mind learn!) and increasing numbers of ESL students in the hopes of combating illiteracy so students don’t fall behind.  And, that’s in addition to the normal service projects and good works we do in our community.

Plus, there’s the homeschooling-mom-thing, which at minimum means I’m driving around, but since I also write a larger part of the kid’s curriculum, I do a lot of that kind of writing and compiling (while relying heavily on various resources–especially credible internet ones).  And, the driving, did I mention the driving?  Driving to archaeology, to the Walter’s Teen Arts Council, to the ice rink, to choir, to soccer, to 4-H (if I can’t get out of it), etc.

Finally, there’s the book… oh wait.  I haven’t touched the book I was supposed to finish (at least, the first draft) at all this summer.  *Sigh.*  …Not to mention all those other writing things I wanted to do.  Well, I’ll try to get back on that wagon.  I have a number of blog posts-in-waiting, that I hope to have up here just as soon as I can get them written.

Stay with me, folks!  Stay with me!

It will be ok… I’m just sure of it.

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Some of the (selfish) benefits of homeschooling

Art class: glass blowing! (She made a glass pumpkin.)

There were a number of important reasons and situations that prompted us to homeschool our daughter.  I don’t talk about homeschooling as much on this blog because it isn’t my main focus and my teaching experience was (and remains) diverse long before we ended up at the conclusion to homeschool.  So, maybe this is just a brief and aberrant soliloquy on some of the selfish benefits I derive from our decision.

Field trip: Visiting the National Mall while the Space Shuttle Discovery was flown in laps around us… and the Capitol.

Some months before we took the homeschooling leap last year, I had decided to quit my job(s) and work as a freelancer from home–yes, homeschooling has slowed my income potential–I write and blog about history and food, travel, sports, drama, and education with an eye towards the historical.  That is my niche.   The rest of my time is divided by homeschooling my daughter, my Rotary club, family–the usual.

So, what are my selfish reasons for homeschooling?  Allow me to run out a list of my favorite selfish reasons for homeschooling, in no particular order:

  • I get to go on cool field trips–some of which even have writing potential–did you get to see the Space Shuttle Discovery flown around the National Mall?  I [we] did.
  • I get to use vacations as school time, not punishable time away from school, as much or as little as  I like.
  • I get to brush up on subjects I have neglected while planning out the curriculum.
  • I get to write lesson plans–something I really enjoy doing and at which I have gotten much better over the years!
  • I get to have the coolest reading lists covering an array of disciplines and literature.
  • I get to attend the niftiest programs, whether they are drama performances, professional development workshops in fields in which I am improving, or student events planned by local institutions (like the forensic anthropology lab workshops we did at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum) and much more!
  • I get to make up for lost time–when I came into my daughter’s life she was already six and I worked jobs that required long hours, was in grad school, or was actually, one summer, working and living in another state for much of these early years.  It is only since we have begun homeschooling that I’ve really been able to spend quality time with my (step-) daughter.
  • Life is non-stop exploration!

Vacation to foreign cities, such as Barcelona, above, is our time, not punishable-time away from school.

My daughter has her own selfish reasons for enjoying homeschooling:

  • She gets to do internships (she logged 66 hours at her archaeology internship this past year).
  • She gets to do the coolest field trips–we even went to New York City.
  • 4-H projects become part of class work–so, she does more of them.
  • She can get her conditional work permit at 14 and is sooooooooooo excited about working at our local ice rink as a skate guard and cashier (she volunteered there last year as training).
  • She gets to practice for her soccer team as part of her phys. ed. “class.”
  • She gets to learn without the bad manners and nasty behavior of her peer group distracting her–this does not mean she has no conflicts with other kids, because she definitely does with her soccer team, with her 4-H clubs, and even at her job, but these (a) do not impede her learning and (b) do not have the social weight of numbers that came with such conflicts at her old school.
  • She gets to rack up tons of fun and different volunteer hours that she can use for her resume!
  • Her education involves so much more than just a textbook, and even in our “classes” which largely rely on  textbook learning, the “textbooks” are often unconventional.

We have bumper stickers on our cars that say, “IF WE’RE NEVER AT HOME, AT IT’S NOTHING LIKE SCHOOL, WHY IS IT CALLED HOMESCHOOLING?”  Behind this sentence is a list of activities: ROCK CLIMBING, FIELD TRIPS, MUSEUM VISITS, MUSIC LESSONS, SPORTS, PLAY PRACTICE, etc.  That’s how we roll and there’s no moss to be found!

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Colonial Foodways, A delicious learning experience

The Lord Mayor’s Tenement–our schoolhouse for the hearth cooking class.

In our area, we are fortunate to have Historic London Town and Garden in Edgewater, MD.  This site is a county-run facility built on top of colonial Londontown, a city built to be the tobacco weigh-station for the colony of Maryland.  Its existence was of short duration as the weigh-station would be moved to Annapolis, MD.  Thanks to the construction of a single brick edifice in a town built of wood, the site became an orphanage until the 1960s preserving it for archaeologists from the Lost Towns division of the county’s preservation board.

Our classroom for the program.

The educational arm at London Town has worked with historians who have compiled a strong package of historical sources that have been used to teach homeschoolers and school groups on field trips.  These programs introduce students to colonial living, practices, clothing and architecture, plus allowing them to literally get their hands dirty in the actual archaeology dig of the town’s tavern.  Pretty cool stuff, really.

Class supplies!

One of the programs offered is called “Colonial Pathways.”  While they have a streamlined version of this for schools on field trips and for families in the summer, we attended the homeschooling program.  The program is designed to complement the curriculum in the Early Maryland Program and it also supports Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum for grades 4, 5, 8, and 10.  The program teaches students about colonially life and trade through food.  The longer homeschooling program begins in the morning and extends well into the afternoon, culminating with a feast of the prepared foods.

More class supplies!

There is also an accompanying packet that challenges students to think about food in their own families and culture to make connections with the past.  This is includes a section about why we should study foodways.  It defines “foodways” (quoting folklorist Jay Anderson) as “the whole interrelated system of food conceptualization, procurement, distribution, preservation, and consumption share by all members of a particular group.”  The packet continues, saying:

Food is used to reinforce ties to ancestral homelands, ancestors and places of comfort ad stability.  Moreover, foodways can communicate many things–belonging to a group (expressing cultural and regional identity), self-identity, emotions, behaviors, and memories.  In addition, food preparation was often a communal affair, and cooking frequently involved many members of a family and community, because of the labor-intensive nature of technologies available to them.  Thus, a study of the attitudes, practices, and rituals surrounding food can provide windows into an early society’s most basic beliefs about its members and the world as a whole.

~ “Colonial Foodways Teaching Packet,” Historic London Town and Gardens

Colonial staples included pork, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, chichen, corn, beans and other vegetables, fruits, and numerous baked goods.  Added to these foods were African crops that came over on slave ships, including black-eyed peas, peanuts, sweet potatoes, yams, cassava, kidney and lima beans, watermelon (thank you!), rice, okra, sorghum, millet, pineapples, chile peppers, and sesame seeds.  These eventually became part of larger culinary experiences in the North America.

Harvesting beets from the garden.

The packet includes information on food preparation, food preservation (drying, salting, smoking, pickling, and jellying), and colonial receipts.  In the activities section, it challenged students to categorize foods with the social classes that would have eaten them and then comparing them with 21st century foods.  It also tasked them with identifying family and community interviews for a sampling of food preferences.  Next, it challenged them to consider food taboos and, finally, it asked about the holiday meals and the “grammar” of ingredients and sequences to “deciphering a meal” (borrowing form anthropologist Mary Douglas).  In the back of the packet are footnotes and a bibliography.

Chopping wood for the fire colonial style.

Using the Lord Mayor’s Tenement, a reconstructed building constructed in its original post holes, as our classroom, the students set to work making a feast:

Chicken on a string (seasoned with salt, pepper, thyme, and cooked hung over the hearth–by a string

Kickshaw (a quiche or frittata) — students made two, one with asparagus and one with kale, cooked in a ceramic pie dish, rubbed with lard or butter, placed inside a dutch oven over the coals (the lid was built like a dish so that coals could be placed on top)

Roasted beets — harvested by the students from the colonial garden

Ginger rice (a Ghanan dish) — Ghanans and Senagalese were brought into Maryland because of their experience in tobacco or related agriculture — rice boiled with oil, salt, pepper and ginger

Apple fritters — fried on a cast iron pan

It was quite a lot of food and all of it was devoured by the students and parents present.  The students were actively involved in the preparation though, for safety reasons, they were not allowed to work directly with the fire.  Throughout the process the educators from London Town continually referenced sources from the colony, hopefully giving the students a direct insight into how this recreation was designed–using historical processes.

The posts for the reconstructed building are built into the original post-holes thanks to archaeological work at the site.

Food is one of those things we share with humans of the past, so employing it in history lessons makes a lot of sense.  Plus, students get to eat their studies!  Hard to turn that down, really.  This is a great afterschool program, too, for schools in disadvantaged areas through collaborations with charitable organizations and historic organizations–learning and eating, how do you beat that?  Food is a really good teacher about historical communities tying into social classes and trade connections.

A brief recreational interlude: the colonial game of quoits (think horseshoes).

The London Town experience is a good one, both for learning history through food and for learning about culture in general.  It is not flawless, however.  Their homeschooling programs are marketed for students ages 8 and up, but they have not done a fabulous job about enforcing those ages.  We made a point of inviting another family to join us to guarantee some student participation in my daughter’s age range.  One other family showed up with a boy who was a very young 8 and his little sister–the parents would not clear out of the students’ space directly impeding the participation of other students, and none of the staff asked them to step back or move away from the table.  That’s very frustrating when you pay for your children and an adult to take a course that places requirements on attending.  Aside from this issue, the concept and program are well-designed for learning history.

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The discovery of mom and daughter volunteer archaeologists

The discovery we made

This is clearly one of the advantages of homeschooling: field trips whenever and however you please.  Today, we visited London Town in Edgewater, MD.  This town is being excavated by Anne Arundel County’s (MD) Lost Towns Project, an archaeological project to uncover the lost towns of MD.  London Town was a town thrown together over night as an official weighing station and quality control for colonial Maryland’s tobacco exportation.  Politics would eventually intervene and transplant the operation to Annapolis, leaving the city to evaporate after only a couple of decades.  The only structure to survive was a brick mansion built to be an inn.  It was inexplicably and foolishly built after the town had clearly lost the purpose for existence; this would become an almshouse and orphanage operating from the 1820s through the 1960s.  The rest of the town, built from wood, decomposed and was lost to time’s forward march.

We went as volunteers, today.  Such opportunities exist Monday through Friday and are announced through a weekly e-mail.  Our visit coincided with an elementary school group, so there was only one sifter available–but what a gold mine it was!  If you have ever visited an archaeological dig in this country, than you have witnessed the carefully laid out grid over the site that is labeled and numbered.  From this, dirt is taken with careful attention being paid to the stratigraphy (layers in the earth) and grid square so the provenance is known (giving us physical location and an earthen layer for chronology–the stratigraphy).  We were sifting through the last batch of dirt from a unit–literally sifting it using a wooden box with a wire-grid bottom hanging from a tripod of plastic piping.  Beneath it, a soft, fine mountain of moist dirt gradually grew.

Our bag of still-dirty treasures

Often this process yields dirt, roots, grubs and stone or clay.  Boring, yes.  We (one of the Lost Town archaeologists, who actually made the discovery, my daughter and I) were far more lucky!  We found glass, ceramic, a large corner of brick or building block, a nail and a small, thin silver disc!  This last was the coolest!  As the students were breaking for lunch, we took our find into the lab located onsite nearby.  Once there, we showed it to the archaeologists and interns.  Everyone was puzzled, but interested.  We continued our volunteer work in the lab.  My daughter began cleaning artifacts, starting with the little disc.

As seen above, we could already make out a “C” with the Roman numeral III on one side, while on the other was a six-pointed star, which I initially thought was a Star of David.  It was exceptionally thin, so our initial hypothesis was that it might be a token of some kind.  After my daughter washed the disc.  She was able to discern thirteen stars around the C III.  The disc was viewed in angled light and a high resolution picture was taken of it to attempt to identify more, eventually yielding “United States of America” around the six-pointed star and a US shield in the star.  It was so thin that none of us present at the time could imagine it being a coin–indeed our example was slightly bent at the bottom.  Operating under the idea that it was some type of token–although, why did it say “United States of America”?–I began searching through an index of American tokens.  A few hundred pages later we were no closer.  On to the internet, where my first set of search terms brought up the answer to our questions: it was a ¢3 coin!

An 1851 Type 1, silver ¢3 coin

We found it through http://www.coinlink.com which told us that the ¢3 coin was introduced because the postal service was reducing postal rates from ¢5 to ¢3.  ¢1 coins were not considered legal tender and so could not be used to purchase postage.  Thus, the ¢3 coin was adopted.  Type 1 ¢3 coins, like the one we found, were only minted from 1851 to 1853, remaining in circulation until 1861, when gold and silver coins were hoarded.  It was designed by James Barton Longacre, had a metal content 0f 75% silver and 25% copper, and is the smallest US coin ever issued in weight and thickness.  In some Treasury records it is referred to as a “trime”.  For the first year, the coins were minted in both Philadelphia and New Orleans–those from the New Orleans mint had an “O” to the right of the III.  After 1851, they were only minted in Philadelphia.  (www.coinlink.com)

A total of 35,510,900 of the Type 1 were minted in Philadelphia–as was our sample–and another 720,000 came out of the New Orleans mint.  Subsequently, Types 2 and 3 were minted from 1853 through 1873.  As of 1865, they shared currency space with the ¢3 Nickel (1865-1889).  They were quickly tarnished and often referred to as a “fishscale,” especially as Type 2 and 3 coins were made of 90% silver to 10% copper (the weight also dropped from .80 grams to .75 grams).  The coin was worth less than the medal it was made of once the gold mines in the west depressed gold and raised the price of silver!  These later Types are also identified by added decorations to the coin, including a laurel leaf and bundle of arrows above and below the III, respectively.  (www.coin-collecting-guide-for-beginners.com)

It was a very cool learning experience!

Washing the artifacts, Xan then grouped them by type

Meanwhile, my daughter Xan became a minor expert on quartz, quartzite and “quartz conglomerate” as she washed and grouped artifacts, identifying bone, ceramics, and other artifact shards.  She got really into her work and enjoyed interacting with the staff.  While this wasn’t her first time at a dig, she found more artifacts and did more activities than in her previous experience.  She’s now asking for a homeschooling internship with the Lost Towns Project!  She could have incredible access to colonial Maryland and gain a really unique knowledge of Anne Arundel County, Maryland.  I love it!  Even if she does not grow up to be an archaeologist, she gets the experience and develops her curiosity for new things and for the past.  In other words, it goes down in my mind as a huge success!  It is a success for experiential learning and a success for homeschooling.

These sorts of opportunities are ubiquitous, though you may not know where to look for them, regardless of whether or not you are homeschooling.  My recommendation would be to check with your local and state governments–Maryland has a lot of useful resources about volunteering with archaeology on its government websites, including the state-sponsored Archaeology Month–and check local historical preservation groups and your local historical societies.  As mentioned, the Lost Towns Project is an Anne Arundel County project.  The other obvious resources are colleges and universities which frequently have classes, field digs and other projects, some of which they open to the public.  It’s a tight community based on shared knowledge acquired from similar means with common goals, so once you find one opportunity, a dozen more will reveal themselves!

Experiential learning and curiosity stimulating--homeschooling at its best!

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Local History in our Cities’ Museums

In the U.S., our cities have certain stories of their past to tell:

  1. Life before the European–the story, told mostly through archaeology and treaties, of the American Indian in a particular region
  2. Settlement–a story that often includes conflict, with the previous inhabitants, the landscape or both; sometimes this is a story of innovations, sometimes a story conquest and often it includes stories of tremendous will and perseverance; this is also told through archaeology and occasionally federal and legal documents–under more fortunate circumstances, it includes first person accounts
  3. Growth–a story that explains how a settlement of a few pioneers became a town and then a city; this is usually a story that builds through multiple phases: first as infrastructure improves and again as local industry develops; occasionally these stories include periods of economic and population regression–sometimes it is how they culminate
  4. Local industry–this story features the prominent (usually) men about town that created jobs and economic growth through commercial means and typically effected politics and society, such as Heinz in Pittsburgh, the race track in Saratoga or the ship yards in Baltimore
  5. Local events/catastrophes/individuals–these are uniques stories and major events unique to the region, from cataclysmic natural disasters to military battles to political show-downs or epic instances of courage; they provide much of the local color and show up in any phase along the way
  6. Prejudice and civil rights–these are stories that recognize the local region’s particular participation in our country’s greater history of having failed to live up to our own ideals, tempered with the stories of courage and risk in which those shortcomings were overcome–most of these stories appear in the past tense, often around slavery, Jim Crow or urban renewal, and with the sense that we have overcome those periods and issues
  7. Sports–these stories can also encompass a wide range of periods and are part of the local lore, trial and triumph; these often include a discussion of prejudice at some point, usually looking at the Negro Leagues or desegregation in sports and the impact on society

These cases are often the focus and model for local museums.  As with historical textbook authors and documentary directors, curators are often knowledgeable about either one particular facet of the museum’s exhibits or are specifically gifted in their field and happen to be at a history museum (as opposed to art, for example).  Thus, it is frequently the case that museums, as with textbooks and documentaries, do not always deal with the method behind the displayed knowledge, nor thus the disagreement that often exists regarding historical interpretations.  So, in the same sense there is often the perception of the provided information as being HISTORICAL FACT as opposed to an interpretation of evidence–often the result of hard research, I am sure–but not reflective of historical method, which is itself an end in one’s historical education.

So, the question arises: how do we use this as curious human beings and as educators?

For the curious:

Whenever we visit these museums, we have two options in our approach: we can simply take in and enjoy–a passive edutainment approach–or we can consider what is missing, what evidence is provided for the assertions, what implications arise, what other interpretations exist or other questions–an active thinking approach.  This is all really dependent on one’s own interests.  While visiting the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh I was really intrigued by a small exhibit that acknowledged the various religious women orders that had been active in Pittsburgh despite a prevalent suspicion for foreign-born Catholics.  The exhibit explained that the nuns earned respect by providing health services for orphans and poor factory workers in the growing steel industry.  An example of each habit was provided and a brief blurb about the order, but little other information or evidence about their accomplishments and relationships in the city.  I was particularly interested because few of the orders had an education–mission which is the stereotypical role, today.

In the sense that the exhibit brought the subject to my awareness it was positive, but that I left with more questions than answers is an outcome for which the merits must be judged by each individual.

For the educator:

These same challenges can be turned into opportunities by educators.  In fact, tapping into the local industry or sports lore may be a really useful way to engage students in challenging concepts surrounding both historical method and content.  Relationships can be fostered between local institutions encouraging students to engage and research the content in the exhibits and learn more about how historians know what they claim to know.  There are, thus, many opportunities not only to engage students with the physical objects of the past, but to engage their attention to the construction of the content.  Local histories are often exhibited in a predominantly positive way, with the darker points of history usually (but not always) relegated to the more distant past, and this also creates opportunities to prompt thought about other perspectives and more balanced understandings of human past and human nature.  (Incidentally, I think it is often the threat of the darker side of history that makes the accompanying sports history that much more appealing and triumphant!  That is unless, of course, there is something inherently unavoidable about the loss, such as the Baltimore Colts packing up and leaving town, or the utter racism that left the Washington Redskins as the last team to desegregate.)

In short, there is opportunity in our local field trip availability that can trigger really useful active thinking–historical thinking, as Sam Wineburg would call it–that we can tap into as educators at all levels.

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