Saturday, June 6, 2009

Field Trips

On Thursday, I chaperoned my daughter's field trip to one of those colonial villages where people walk around dressed like colonists and we carry a list of 156 detailed questions (euphemistically termed "a scavenger hunt") to be answered in one hour and fifty three minutes. Aside from the fact that history always reminds me that I am glad I live in the present, here is what I learned:

1. We do not live in South Jersey like everyone says. If we live in South Jersey, we live in the northern regions of it because Cape May and its ferry are a long bus ride away. It is twice as long on the way home after the purchase of harmonicas, pop guns, and shrill trainstop whistles. I mean, really, did colonists have trains? Wasn't that more around Lincoln's time? I thought they were big on horses.

2.A bus load of ten year olds, a warmly humid day and the odor of warming milk create symptoms of panic in me.

3.Somebody will get freaked out by the muskets, graves, and villages of cobwebs spun in the rafters. Unfortunately, on this trip, it was me. I even started wondering if the people dressed up as printers and book binders weren't reincarnations of old souls. After that thought, I told the kids it was time to break for lunch.

4. Fifth graders function under watchful eyes in much the same manner as prisoners do. They have their own hierarchy of power, a complicated bartering system, and they communicate silently via their DS's.

5. My daughter has no respect for assumed authority. I was standing there in the drizzle, frantically trying to answer the questions on the scavenger hunt when she said to me,"Mom, just put it down. They never check that stuff. They just put it in the recycle bin."

6. There is always one "career" mother on the trip who spends the entire time texting or consulting her Blackberry while her group scatters into the roped off areas and goes to feed the ducks despite all the warning signs NOT to feed them. Their freedom causes mighty dissension in the more attended groups.

7. My daughter and I have totally different perspectives about field trips. On the way back, I kept asking her and her friends questions about what she had learned.

"Moooommmm," she groaned, "we like field trips because we don't have to do any work." Her fellow inmates cheered this statement.

I do wonder if kids learn anything during these pricey excursions. Maybe I just don't see what they are learning, but I do know the most excitement was conjured during our time in the gift shop. (My daughter spent her entire allotment on colonial candy)

I think history is hard to get across; I couldn't abide it in school. I learned history by reading novels set during certain time periods. I still can't think of the Civil War without thinking of Scarlett, Melanie and the red soil of Tara. So how do you teach kids history without force feeding them?


Bish Denham said...

I think, once the kids get older, maybe even into adulthood, they will remember the time they went on that neat field trip and saw a reenactment of history. Something of what they experienced that day may trigger a desire to learn more later on.

I don't know if there's a way to inspire a curiosity to learn about history, except to say that as long as we don't learn from our past we are doomed to repeat it. Obviously we have not yet learned how to live peacefully with each other as we still go to war and commit crimes against each other.

As for me I always loved history. Particularly ancient Roman and Greek history. I was so into I knew names and dates of battles, generals, kings...all sorts of stuff. I also had some very exciting history teachers who managed, through lectures no less, to connect moments together a way that made it clear how one thing can and does lead to another.

Of course, I've forgotten more than I remember, but I still love history. And I don't think becoming interesting in the Civil War through reading Gone With the Wind is a bad thing at all.

Christy Raedeke said...

My daughter (3rd grade) had a field trip on Friday during which most bus communictaion happened via their linked Nintendo DS handhelds.

Clearly someone needs to come up with a Nintendo "Colonial Williamsburg" game where you have to learn wheelwrighting, metalsmithing, wigmaking, etc. without starving or dying from an infected wound...

Anne Spollen said...

So the field trips are like seeds, Bish? That makes me feel like schools really aren't wasting tons of money. I think you're right on this, too.

We had worksheets in history, and lots and lots of maps. I can't stand maps - really, just ask my husband who reminds me that if I can write a novel, I can surely read a map. I have a kind of map dyslexia. It makes for some truly random moments during road trips.
But yeah, teachers should be able to ignite the kids who aren't lucky enough to have an inborn desire to learn history.

Yup, Christy, those Nintendo DS's. It's exactly like tween texting.

Mary Witzl said...

Ahh....I come to this blog for a big dose of sanity -- and to be entertained, and I always get what I came for! We had those power moms too and I wouldn't have minded flushing their blackberries down the toilets.

I have a sure-fire way to teach history. Look up whatever the subject is that you want to teach on Wikipedia or similar, wait until your kids are in the room, standing near you, then flick off quickly, letting them get just a fascinating peek. If they ask what you were looking at, tell them it was something they're not quite ready for yet. I've taught my kids all sorts of interesting history this way.

And I'm a big fan of Horrible Histories, too. My kids have taught ME a whole bunch of history through Horrible Histories.

Anne Spollen said...

Sanity? That makes me feel great, since that's not a word ascribed to us too often. Just ask the neighbors...

So make history kind of like a forbidden fruit? That would definitely entice my kids. I'll have to try your strategies.

adrienne said...

Last year I went on a zoo field trip, and we had one of those scavenger hunt assignments. We ran around at an insane pace trying to complete it (there was a candy prize involved) and barely had the chance to actually see animals.

As for learning history, I think my kids are doing better than I was. I just crammed for tests and then promptly forgot everything. I did like those epic movies, but that was mainly because we got out of doing boring timelines.

K.C. Shaw said...

I don't remember most of the field trips I went on as a kid, except the amazing one to Biltmore House when I was in ninth grade. Oh, and the zoo. Heck, I don't even really remember the field trips I helped chaperon while student teaching.

I never had any interest in history until college, and then it was only because I happened to take a history course from the most amazing professor ever. I took everything else he taught and ended up minoring in history--if he'd taught more classes, I could have majored. His classes shouldn't have been interesting because he just stood there and lectured (and got testy if someone interrupted with a question), but his lectures were full of fascinating details--but not details for the sake of trivia, details that made everything just come alive. I don't know that you could do that for younger kids, though. I don't think they have the attention span.

(Hi, by the way; you commented on my blog so I dropped by and immediately snorted coke--er, coca-cola--through my nose at the squirrels with lightsabers. Thanks!)

Anne Spollen said...

Those scavenger hunts completely ruin the trips. I asked why the kids couldn't come back and just write a journal entry about what they saw - what impressed them, what was unusual, something along those lines rather than, "How many boats brought iron ore to Cape May in 1854?"

I had English professors like that, KC. I never touched history in college which says a whole lot of bad stuff about my high school.

And I know -- squirrels with light sabers. How could anyone resist? I love that one.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anne,

Thank you for answering my questions about your book. When is the next one coming out?

-Megan Albitt

Katie said...

I loved the line,"her inmates cheered," and "Moom, no one checks this, just toss it in the recycle bin."

Lawsy, I can not answer your question because I detested history and still kinda do - unless I'm watching some delicious period film.

I'm gonna think on this.

Anne Spollen said...

Hi Megan,

Book #2 is due out in February, 2010. Thanks for asking!

I know, Katie. I learned all my history though reading period novels. I guess my real worry is my kids sort of "inherited" my lack of natural interest in history. I have to be really lured.