Monday, February 7, 2011

Victory at Yorktown!

As we're gearing up for our second (and final!) field trip on Friday, I realized I never posted about our first one to Yorktown! There were many times over the past few months where I intended to, but it just never happened! So, here goes....!

While I was in school, I never liked history (no offense to any of my former history teachers reading this!!) I always found it a little pointless and the battles all but thrilled me. After teaching about the Revolutionary and Civil War last year, though, all of a sudden I found myself wanting to know more and more about certain historic events. Now, I'm still definitely not a history buff (that would be my brother, History Boy!), and still find a lot of history boring and pointless, but I do have a new-found appreciation of certain time periods and events. I think the biggest reason for my change of attitude was realizing that I am currently living in the birthplace of America! I spent 5 years in college in Newport News and didn't spend any time visiting or learning about this historic area. As I learn and teach about Jamestown and Yorktown, I'm amazed at how truly privileged we are to live in this area and how much we take it for granted! Needless to say, I think it's a terrific opportunity for our students to take a field trip to Yorktown Victory Center, which is where we went on December 6, 2010.

Before I talk about the trip, the last thing I would like to point out is that, although I fully support this field trip and think teaches my kids way more information than I could ever get through to them, at the time, I was not particularly pleased with it. First of all, since our field trip was in early December, it was FREEZING! Virginia experienced an extremely cold winter this year (compared to our normal winters, I should say!) and this just happened to be one of the weeks that the average temperatures were in the 20s-30s. When I describe the trip in a minute, you'll see why this is an issue! Secondly, the timing of this trip happened to be smack dab in the middle of our unit on Jamestown. If you've ever tried to teach Virginia history to a 10-year-old... or anyone, for that matter.... you'll learn that having "town" at the end of both Jamestown and Yorktown makes them easily confuse-able and I had to make sure and emphasize at least 15 times throughout the day that Yorktown was significant during the Revolutionary War, NOT Jamestown where the Indians and colonists lived! But, aside from that, the field trip was most excellent.

After getting all the lunch counts taken care of, last minute bathroom stops, and making sure I had all the necessities (band-aids, flash cards, stickers, emergency contact list and candy), we loaded the bus and headed 20 minutes down the road to Yorktown. (Note: 20 minutes on a bus with 45 excited 4th graders feels like 20 hours.... avoid at all costs!) When we got off, we were divided into our classes and each assigned our tour guide. The guides at Yorktown are AMAZING and I was so impressed with her patience and enthusiasm with the students. Since all five 4th grade classes were on the field trip, we each had a different schedule to stagger the use of the "exhibits." My class got to do the classroom portion first, which I was pleased about because it was able to hold their interest and they hadn't gotten crazy/restless yet! In the "classroom," the kids were broken into 4 groups and each given a question and a bag of artifacts. It was their job to collectively use the artifacts to answer the question. Our guide and an assistant guide were in there to bounce around from group to group and guide the students in their discovery. Although a lot of what they learned included useless trivia (the soldiers in the Continental Army used a "tooth key" to get rid of decaying teeth), kids were also introduced to the terms "credit," "cash crop," and "barter," which were important for our unit at school. After they found an answer to their question, each group was called to the front to present their findings and artifacts to their classmates. Overall, I was VERY pleased with how well my kids did (both behaviorally and academically) at this activity... always a good feeling!

Alexis and her classmate examine artifacts to explain how colonists took care of health needs. You can ask me why the person next to her has his shoe off, but I will not be able to answer! Oh, children! :)

After the classroom lesson, it was our turn to tour a colonial farm/lifestyle. We started in a typical one room, wood floor house where the guide explained that kids usually only had 1-2 outfits, they took a bath once a year, and their education was mainly on the farm. My students were quickly turned off from the idea of living life without video games, so we moved on. Our next stop was in the smokehouse where we saw dried, salted meat hanging from the roof, a slave's bed, the fire and a live turkey meandering around. The kids were fascinated, but the man working this station was not the most exciting or kind, so we got the heck out of there before he had a chance to experience true 9-year-old curiosity. :) We then headed to the tobacco shed. The kids learned way more than they could ever possibly want to know about the process of drying the leaves and grinding them and trading them and..... (I was dealing with an uncooperative/self-decided-non-medicated child during this stop, so missed half of the demonstration. The kids liked it though!)
Some of the kids got to act out plantation owners, bartering, supply and demand, etc.

Finally, we trekked over to the 'battlefield'! I was glad this was last because my kids had heard about it through the grapevine and were most excited, so I was able to use it as leverage! (Thankfully, their ignorance kept them from realizing that a) they would obviously get to see it because it was part of the trip we had paid for, and b) there was no way I could only take the bad kids away because I had no other chaperones!)  After our guide talked about the qualifications of being part of the Army, the living arrangements, and some more about the medical care in the field, the highlight of the trip had arrived. The students hurried over to their platoon leader and he talked to them all about the offensive styles of the Continental and British Armies, pros and cons of a musket, bayonets, etc. Then, he loaded his musket and fired! After the kids recovered from the blast and regained their composure, he led them to an open area and taught them how to march in rows and follow his orders. It was a little sloppy, but hey, they're 10. :)
Complete fascination.
"About Face!" was the hardest one for them to get, I think....
As soon as this was done, we made our way to the busses and headed back to Palmer. The bus ride home was a whole lot quieter since the kids were worn out from being in the cold! (I made the other kids play "I Spy" so that they would stop annoying me!) Back at school, we had lunch in the classroom, watched some Magic School Bus and then had Music.

For homework, I asked students to write down 5 facts that they learned on the trip. Unfortunately, hardly any of the things they wrote down were actually important (ex: they use a tooth key to pull out their tooth, kids don't take baths, the musket has very bad aim, etc..). Fortunately, I could tell by their facts that they had a really good time! :) 

Let's hope the Virginia Living Museum on Friday doesn't disappoint.... stay tuned for a post about it! (I guarantee it will be written this month!!)

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