Thursday, October 24, 2013

“I’ve never been so excited for a school year”

In my 9th grade class, I started off with a brand new unit this year - a unit centered around place. Why does place matter? Through field trips, writing assignments, presentation opportunities and literature of our area, my hope is that students realize that place is important and teaches about history and ourselves, while also encouraging them to become “responsible global citizens.” The work we are doing will also prepare my students for a service learning opportunity in the spring, a trail maintenance day in collaboration with the Appalachian Mountain Club. My colleague, Kristy Duris, and I are also planning a 9th grade hike on the A.T. for our students and their parents.

Field trip to The Frost Place, once the home of famous poet, Robert Frost
Our field trips have been to The Frost Place in Franconia, NH, along with several historical sites such as the First Ski School of America in Sugar Hill. My students reflected on this experience:

“From our visit to The Frost Place I think I have developed a different perspective about poetry. Seeing how this was just a hobby at first but became his way of life was intriguing. He turned his passion into his job. I think that it is important for everyone to strive for this. Doing what you love is the only option if you strive for happiness.” -Carter

“I felt somehow connected to Robert Frost as I was walking through his house. I liked that in one spot there was a picture of him hanging on the wall, and where you would stand to look at the photo is where he is physically standing in the photo itself. Being in the house made me feel more connected history.” -Jayci
Place-based field trip to historical marker, "The Iron Furnace"

“The trip to the historical sites impacted the way that I look at where I live. I used to think that there was nothing to do around here, but this trip showed me just how much there is to do if you want to be in the wilderness and do different kinds of actives. It definitely showed me how cool this place can be.”  -Brandon

These responses only prove the importance of getting students outside, and connecting to their community. While surrounding the First Ski School historical marker, our class was writing in our journals when a photographer from our local paper took our picture and asked what we were doing. She thought it was great that students were being exposed to these landmarks.

Hike and nature journal field trip
The TTEC program has fostered collaboration amongst my colleagues, schools in different states and my community. I’ve been working with a member of my department to create rubrics for a research presentation (this will be a summative assessment for my 9th graders) that other people in our school will be able to use. The 9th grade Science teacher will incorporate a mini unit centered around place to tie into my curriculum. Kristy and I are working with the AMC for our trail maintenance day. We also presented about service learning and reflection to our colleagues at a staff meeting to share resources and encourage others to create service learning opportunities.

Thanks to Sue Garcia and Rebecca Neet (from the TTEC program) for the opportunity, my husband and I presented our “Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail” lecture to their 4th and 5th grade students at Undermountain School in MA. What a fun experience for me going into an elementary school. I found it entertaining that most students “questions” turned into them telling us stories about a time they went hiking…My hubby and I never tire of sharing our experience. We want students to be prepared and safe when hiking, realize that hiking with a dog is a big responsibility, reflect upon what material things you really need in life (since everything you need when you are hiking is in your pack), living with the rhythms of nature is a life changing experience and a simple way of life, and it is the journey that matters the most.  My husband and I also share our A.T. lecture several times a year at the AMC (for the last 5 years), so hopefully we will continue to inspire more people to get outside and give back to the A.T. hiker community (volunteer work, trail magic, etc).

Place-based assignments that have worked well so far are:

  • My A.T. Reads project: for every extra choice book a student reads, they need to write a reflection/critique and then they earn 100 miles on the A.T. - if they read an extra 22 books a year, they make it all the way to Maine. I have a chart that hangs in the back of my room that monitors the progress
  • Literature Circle for A.T. choice book - my students are reading a book about the A.T. Some of the titles they chose are: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, Called Again by Jennifer Pharr Davis, Blind Courage by Bill Erwin, Walking with Spring by Earl Shaffer, and Just Passin Thru by Winton Porter. We will have a class literature circle to discuss a summary, connections, themes, emotional responses, quotes and critiques of the books. This will prepare my students for their hike on the A.T.
  • Writing marathon at historical sites (See Plymouth State University’s guide)
  • I also used this for an A.T. writing marathon by showing students a slideshow of pictures from the A.T.
  • Using George Ella Lyon’s “Where I am From” poem. After creating a list of favorites from childhood, students created their own poem using the same structure and repetition. Then each student shared their favorite line and we combined these for a class “Where we are From” poem. We organized and punctuated this (this was an effective poetry lesson!).
  • Reading stories, especially haunted ones about our area in NH.
  • Reading and discussing why people write.
  • Listening to “Granite State of Mind”, the Jay-Z parody and analyzing biases.

Like Sue Garcia said at our summer institute, “I’ve never been so excited for a school year.” Not only am I passionate about what I am teaching, but I have supportive administration and colleagues to encourage and help me.  I feel really lucky, like my students, “to live in such a beautiful area” (from a student reflection) and have access to the A.T. and other amazing places right out my door.
My husband and I presenting our Appalachian Trail lecture to our TTEC colleagues, Sue Garcia and Rebecca Neet's 4th and 5th grade classes at Undermountain School in MA

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