Springfield Armory Camp: The Scents and Smells of Learning

Armory Camp: Scent of HistoryOf all the senses that educators tap to help students learn something new, the sense of smell is often the one we use the least, right? Yet, scents provide deep learning experiences. Memories connected to smells are powerful, lingering long after the event. We saw that idea in action yesterday at our Springfield Armory summer camp, where a visitor who does historical demonstrations – Reba Jean — arrived with vials and bottles of smelly substances, and a quarantine sign on the door.

The theme of the day at our camp was immigration, and Reba Jean made distinct connections between migration and immigration (and emigration) and the Influenza outbreak of 1918, when millions and millions of people around the world died from the epidemic, also known as the Spanish Flu. Unless you were in Russia, then it was called the German Flu.

“Someone always wants to blame the other, the ones they don’t know or don’t like or don’t understand,” Reba Jean, who is a historical interpreter at another local history museum, explained, tying the discussion to something we had spent the morning on — the reasons behind immigration patterns and how newcomers are met at borders by those already there.

Yes, this was history — the Springfield Armory itself was a magnet for many immigrants across the globe during the World Wars because it needed workers and because potential workers wanted to help soldiers fight the wars — tied up with modern days news cycles of our southern border.

In the demonstration, Reba Jean had campers sniffing a variety of scents before telling them what it was they were smelling. All of the scents representing ways that people tried to ward off Influenza in the 1918 outbreak, which began at a military base in America and spread to the world when those soldiers were shipped off to war fronts.

Among the scents:

  • Pine oil
  • Vicks Vapor Rub
  • Camphor
  • Garlic
  • Vinegar
  • Listerine (Lister oil)

The looks on the faces of our campers — all middle and high school students from a social justice school in Springfield — was priceless as they closed their eyes to sniff out history in little cups. Reba Jean did a brilliant job of connecting the sensory experience to the topic of immigration, too.

Afterwards, I realized how little I have ever used the sense of smell in my own classroom, but how powerful it was. I could see it on the faces of campers, and afterwards, in reflection, they explained how they found the activity memorable, connecting what they discovered through their noses with historical information Reba Jean was sharing.

Peace (on the winds),
Kevin

Springfield Armory Camp: Messing Around in a Maker Space

Armory Camp: Maker Space 3D ActivityYesterday was our first day of this year’s Springfield Armory Camp – a writing partnership that was first forged years ago between the National Park Service/Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the National Writing Project/Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and Springfield Schools/Duggan Social Justice Academy.

One of our activities was to consider the reasons why Springfield was chose (along with Harper’s Ferry) for a national armory by George Washington and other military leaders, and we used excerpts from a letter by General Henry Knox that explained the rationale — the nearby Connecticut River, the abundance of lumber and timber, the local community of experienced workers and the high plains bluff that overlooks the entire region.

HenryKnoxLetterActivity

We then had our campers work in small teams to create a 3D map of the main elements of Knox’s letter, visualizing how their community was chosen so many years ago to play a crucial role in the country’s history. It was fun to watch them plan out and try to build out these maps, with glue and paper and odds and ends of things. The resulting maps then helped spur some writing and some conversation about the geography of Springfield itself.

Peace (into Day Two),
Kevin

 

Pieces in Play: The Great Outdoors as Game Board

Park Site as Game BoardWhat happens when the outdoors becomes a board game?

Yesterday, in our last full week of the school year (still a few days to go, though), our sixth graders took part in an activity called The Ultimate Game, organized by an outside group. The Ultimate Game turned local recreational parks in town into a huge game board, for collaborative and cooperative activities. This was our first time using this group and I was impressed.

There were riddles, and challenges, and a GPS scavenger hunt component. Teams of students had to work together to find clues, solve mysteries and earn tokens, roll huge fuzzy dice, move pieces on a massive game board, draw on their various strengths, and it all came together so nicely — the weather, the kids, the game — that it has me wondering how to do even more of using the outdoors — field, forests, park sites — as settings for cooperative game design.

We have explored game design throughout the year, from different angles, so this field trip made sense as a way to tie things together.

Along with a six week video game design unit earlier in the year, we ended the year in our ELA class with a short story project in which students wrote a fictional piece of a narrator going into a board game to rescue a person from history. The game becomes the setting. Sort of like Jumanji and Zathura, picture books by Chris Van Allsberg (and both became movies, of course).

In the Write Out project from last summer, we explored and talked about more ways to better integrate the urban, suburban and rural outdoors into curriculum, and I admit, I did very little of it this year until the end of the year.

So I paid attention to the group that led yesterday’s events, watching how they so skillfully set up engaging experiences for success for all students, and used the contours of the landscape and woods and fields for the design of the huge game system they put into play.

(Oh, FYI: Write Out for 2019 will be this coming fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing. Keep an eye out for more details later in the summer).

Peace (outside inside),
Kevin

 

History, Writing, Mapping: Planning a Summer Camp Experience

WMWP Armory Camp promo 2019

The other day, I helped gather together another team of teachers together for another year of offering a free summer camp for middle school students at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site — as part of an ongoing partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, the Springfield Armory and the City of Springfield school district (focused on a social justice magnet school in Springfield).

This will be my third year as main facilitator of the camp — which we call Minds Made for Stories — and the sixth year of the camp itself, which has been funded over the years through a variety of support from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service, and other local organizations. This year, with no grants and with worries that there might be no camp, the Duggan Middle School in Springfield and the Springfield Armory itself stepped up to fund the work, and I am very grateful.

WMWP and Springfield Armory

The week-long camp takes place at the end of June at the Armory itself, and each year, we change the themes of the experience for the participants. We also have new folks from the middle school involved, as a way to provide more professional development to more teachers.

This year, we are using “Seasons and Maps” as our hook, with each day focused on a season and a historical theme (such as Autumn: Pearl Harbor and Winter: Shays Rebellion), while we work different kinds of mapping activities through the week to visualize history (such as mapping out the immigrant journeys to Springfield during the heydays of the Armory as the main manufacturing center for the US government). Our goal is to publish a Zine of student work at the end of camp.

At our planning session, we did our own mapping — charting out each day’s main events along themes, taking on responsibilities, tasking each of us with some different elements, and after two hours, the camp really took shape.

Now I just need to get through the school year (3 1/2 weeks left!) and then it is right into summer camp.

Peace (in planning),
Kevin

 

Write Out: Connecting to the Community’s Conservation Efforts

Town of Southampton Conservation Lands

The other day, I met with two officials from the Open Space Review Committee of the town where I teach (different from the town where I live). We were talking about a grant they have received to gather landowners in town for a few meetings to talk about open space preservation and conservation, and I was curious about how I might dovetail their work with a community writing project with my sixth graders. (I had noticed an article in the local newspaper about the project and reached out)

Ever since the Write Out project last summer, I’ve been thinking of how I might get my students more involved in the wildlife and woods of their small but growing town. (Write Out is an online collaborative learning experience with a focus on historic and natural spaces, stemming from a long partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I was one of the co-facilitators, learning along with others. This year, Write Out is planned for the Fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing)

The after-school meeting was great — they were enthused by the idea of the school in town connecting to their efforts to reach more landowners, and we agreed that my students might be able to do a research project on some of the endangered/threatened species in different areas of the town, perhaps by creating some public informational pamphlets before a community-wide walk scheduled for May.

Town of Southampton

For now, I am perusing the resources — maps, and informational packets, and more — and reaching to the local Audubon Society for help in thinking about the natural landscape of the town. The town sits on top of the one largest natural water sources underground in the region — the Barnes Aquifer — so I want to be able to incorporate that, too. The town officials have offered to line up folks to visit the classroom, to share information and answer questions.

We even talked about resurrecting an old field trip (long run by a retired teacher) to a nearby small mountain — the highest peak in the town — as  a way to connect the research work with another view of the place where they live.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin

 

When You Meet a Typewriter Atop a Mountain

from Towers and Type

This is so #writeout! I heard this story on NPR of a National Park ranger — Elyssa Shalla — in the Grand Canyon National Park who decided to set up a five dollar Goodwill typewriter in the mountains, with an invitation for hikers to write.

People did, including love letters (and a marriage proposal) and the story is a cool convergence of exploring the National Park in the great outdoors, coming unexpectedly upon an opportunity to write, and using old(ish) technology set up in a place where you least expect it.

Check out the NPR story

Check out the Towers & Type project that Shalla has been documenting, with words typed on paper in the mountains of the Grand Canyon

This project has me wondering about how to replicate the idea in other national park and historic places that are part of the Write Out project, particularly as it will dovetail with October’s National Day on Writing.

Peace (typed on the screen),
Kevin

When Your Classroom is a National Historic Site

We just wrapped up a professional development partnership between the Springfield Armory Historic Site and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. I was one of the lead facilitators, and it was such a great experience to use the Armory itself as our classroom as a way to explore history and primary sources. The course was supported through a grant by the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.

After all the participants shared lesson plans and resources and topics — ranging from the role of light rail transportation at the Armory, to the use of the Organ of Muskets poem that was inspired by a visit to the Armory by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to use of The Things They Carried to invite a veteran oral historian into the classroom, to deep research into local history of a community — we asked the teachers to write a reflection. Part of what we are doing is gathering resources for a future website to showcase the potential of exploring local history.

Peace (and thinking),
Kevin

A Write Out Write Up

Write Out Springfield Armory Map Photo Icon(Experience the immigration map created during Write Out)

The Educator Innovator website did a nice overview article recently about this past summer’s Write Out project, focusing on a few folks and giving an overview. I was one of the team of facilitators, and enjoyed the intersections of the outdoors, the historic, and writing/making/sharing/learning.

Read the article at Educator Innovator about Write Out.

#Writeout was a two-week professional development program, sponsored by the National Writing Project through a partnership with the National Park Service. The program connected educators and park rangers with place-based learning opportunities in July 2018. A team of educators from both organizations—educators who have themselves been working on collaborations in their local communities between Writing Project sites and national park sites—designed #WriteOut. Their goal was to help educators make connections between learning, writing/making, and local outdoor and historic public spaces. — Educator Innovator

Yep.

Peace (in the woods and urban spaces),
Kevin

Innovation, Design and History (plus Multi-Genre Writing with Primary Sources)

Innovation and History PD at Armory

Our second professional development session of Exploring HIstory with a Local Lens with teachers at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site last night focused mostly on engineering design and innovation, with a deep look at some of the designs in the Armory archives that worked, and those that did not. (This project, a partnership between Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory, is funded with a grant from the National Writing Project and the National Park Service.)

We were pleased to have the Springfield Armory Curator, Alex, join us, sharing his vast knowledge of the Armory’s history and an understanding of how the engineering design process fueled not only the Springfield Armory’s place in the field of manufacturing and innovation in the country, but how other businesses and innovators in Western Massachusetts grew and expanded as a result of the work being done in Springfield.

Alex showed us a variety of prototypes, and like a detective game, we had to figure out why a design worked and was further developed, and which were not. A coffee grinder in the stock of the rifle? A sword with an embedded whistle? A gun with revolving chamber that might blow up at any moment?

Ranger Scott and the 3D Printer

Armory Ranger Scott Gausen, a fellow facilitator in the course, then had us exploring patent diagrams in a lesson about interpreting engineering drawings, and determining the notion of a patent. We then worked on our patent drawing for a flying machine. Mine became a Rube Goldberg machine that you probably should not build at home.

How to Fly (but don't)

Scott then brought us down to the museum floor, where he made a connection between the innovation practices of old and the new, as he had a 3D printing machine up and running, working on a plastic part that the huge lathes behind the printer used to make.

Finally, after perusing and exploring our state’s new Social Studies standards, I had our participants exploring multi-genre writing through the use of primary sources of Shays Rebellion, which was a farmer’s uprising and assault on the Springfield Armory after the Revolutionary War. We made black-out poems, drew illustrations, wrote journal entries, made newspaper/media products, and I joined in with a rough comic, featuring George Washington and Daniel Shays.

Shays Rebellion Comic Strip

All in all, it was a great professional development session, leading us deeper into the notions of history, stories and innovation. We meet again in January as participants start to fine-tune their project ideas.

Peace (in the past),
Kevin