Visual Reflection: Park in Every Classroom Retreat

Visual Reflection: Park in Every Classroom RetreatI was lucky to be invited to join a gathering of National Park Service sites from the northeast for a week-long retreat to learn more and to think more about how to connect park spaces with schools and students as authentic learning experiences. I came away from nearly a week of sharing, presentations and discussions with a head full of ideas that my partners at the Springfield Armory Historic Site and I will be mulling over in the weeks ahead.

I used a new tool at Visual Thinkery called Storyline to get some basic “aha” take-away moments down before I forgot … particularly with school about to start … but also, with the free Write Out project coming soon in October, where park and public spaces are seen as resources for learning for schools and educational organizations. I layered some basic-takeaways with photos I took while at the Delaware River Gap Recreation Area, where the PEC retreat took place.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

 

Uncovering Stories and Spaces with Write Out (in October)

Write Out sign 2019 smallThis coming October, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing, the National Writing Project and the National Park Service are once again joining collaborative forces to offer Write Out — a free, open, online, connected learning experience to explore public spaces (not just national parks and not just rural wild spaces) for teachers and students.

As the updated Write Out website explains, the central theme of this year is all about stories and spaces:

Making Stories of People, Place, and Perspectives

Beginning October 13, 2019 Write Out will be a free two-week series of activities where educators, National Park Service Rangers, and youth they work with, are invited to:

  • explore national parks and other public spaces, including rural and urban settings, whether on-site or online
  • create using a variety of media, including text, image, video and others
  • connect to learn about using place-based learning as a critical cultural and environmental lens

Bookending the October 20th National Day on Writing, Write Out consists of activity cycles that include prompts that invite participants to write across a variety of media and curricular areas, facilitated online meet-ups, curated resources, and Twitter chats. Participants take part in as many or as few activities as fit their schedule. Additionally, through collaborative online possibilities, participants will be invited to share their creations, write, learn, and connect with the larger community.

You can sign up for information about this free event at the Write Out site and look for more details and activities on Twitter with the #writeout hashtag.

In case you are wondering, I am part of an amazing team of Write Out facilitators — from writing project and classroom teachers to National Park Service rangers — working to develop all sorts of activities and sharing possibilities for students and teachers, all in hopes of surfacing place-based learning and uncovering the stories of those spaces.

I hope you will join us with Write Out this October!

Peace (in open spaces and beyond),
Kevin

What To Do When Your Classroom is Filled with Guns

Scott and Kids in front of the Organ of Muskets

Yes, my blog title was designed to be provocative. Thanks for following it here.

I am a few years into a partnership between the Western Massachusetts Writing Project/National Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site/National Park Service, and this topic of guns is often on my mind. The Armory, after all, as one of two main arsenals of our United States government for decades (the other was in Harper’s Ferry), is all about guns and weapons of war, and we use the Armory Museum itself as our classroom for summer camps (one just ended) and professional development courses for teachers (another one is planned for the fall.)

Reconciling the use of a building housing devices of violence with the rich history and the amazing primary sources it provides as windows on the past is one I still grapple with, although I continue to find the partnership to be fruitful and collaborative and informative at all levels. Still … guns. They’re everywhere in our learning spaces.

Here’s what we have done to try to balance or mitigate these two often conflicting ideas when we have worked with middle and high school students at our summer camp we run at the Armory itself (and also, some of these are how we work with teachers to use local history in their classrooms):

  • We focus on the engineering design and innovation of manufacturing. We don’t ignore that what was being built here at the Springfield Armory was designed for war. But we pivot to the ways that innovations at the Armory transformed our Pioneer Valley, and the entire country, as the Armory’s work influenced other elements of the United States government operations.
  • We focus on the workers — from explorations of how immigration patterns during WW2 helped the Armory expand its workforce to meet the demands of war; to the role that women played when men went off to war, and the generational impact that had in the years following the wars; to the racial divisions that often played out at the Armory as a microcosm of the United States itself.
  • We use the stories behind the weapons — either from the manufacturing side or from some of the guns on display that have been personalized by the user, with engravings of tales and years and battles, and humanize the soldier on the battlefield, not glorify the guns they held. The object as holder of stories is a powerful instrument of learning.
  • A deep look at Shays Rebellion — when farmers and former soldiers of the Revolutionary War rose up in protest over taxes and marched to the Springfield Armory with a plan to take the guns — allows us to make connections to the present ideas of community protest, and the fuzzy line between right and wrong, and acceptable and unacceptable use of force, and the role of the federal and state government in the lives of its citizens.
  • We use creative writing to push the idea of guns in the museum in other directions. For example, one prompt was to design a “gun for good” by creating a patent design, with labels and explanations, for a gun-delivery-system for something positive. Campers designed guns that sent forth ice cream, money, technology, music and, my favorite, new homes for the homeless of Springfield. Another prompt had them designing their own museums, using the Armory as a mentor text. And yet another was to design a board game about the Armory, with history as the springboard for play.

Four years into my partnership with the Armory (which began two years before I even came into the mix with other WMWP colleagues), and I still feel a bit unsettled by the weapons part of the museum. It’s an entire wing of weapons, including grenade launchers and machine guns and other advanced killing technology. Cases and cases of them, all tied to history, of course.

Manufacturing at the Armory

Even as a former soldier (infantry sergeant, National Guard) who was once trained on many of the modern weapons in the cases, I always encounter my own internal resistance to bringing young people in there. I am strongly in favor of gun control legislation and abhor the political work of the NRA to influence politicians to thwart any kind of reasonable measures to protect lives from guns.

Hopefully, by finding other ways to connect to the history of the Armory, we bring the importance of the building and the site to the surface for city kids who might not otherwise be aware. For some, the guns are what brings them to camp. This is the reality. Our job is to the show the toll of guns, and the role they played in America’s wars, but also to use them to tell the stories of the people behind them.

Peace (I mean it),
Kevin

Springfield Armory Camp: Exploration and Inquiry at a National Historic Site

We just finished up our week-long summer camp for inner city students (middle and high school) at the Springfield Armory Historic Site. It was a blast, and we wove in writing with inquiry and history and a sense of place.

We

  • explored the art of mapping as a representation of time of a place — using historical maps of the Springfield Armory site itself on a walking tour
  • learned about how to closely “read” historical images that are part of the Armory’s curated archives
  • wrote into the day every single day on a variety of prompts, ranging from designing a board game based on the Springfield Armory to seasonal poetry
  • inquired about Shay’s Rebellion with primary source materials at the Armory, the site of the uprising and the firing on Shay’s men by the militia protecting the Armory
  • heard of Pearl Harbor and the way WW2 changed the Armory and Springfield forever, and then examined how different voices (Americans, Japanese, and Japanese-Americans) told different stories of the event
  • worked to understand design and engineering with a Lock Plate Activity that replicated the experience on the Armory manufacturing lines
  • explored immigration from many different angles, including the heritage of campers and the roots of many immigrant workers at the site

Yesterday, we had more than 40 family members join our campers at the Armory, for a celebration of writing and to explore the Armory Museum with campers. It was another great year of camp, as the video diary attests to.

And because Ranger Scott Gausen could not be there for the last day, we had campers do some writing for him, and sketch out his picture. His beard is a main facial feature, as you can tell.

Ranger Scott Sketch Collage

Peace (in explorations),
Kevin

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