Wrap-up Post

Posted: July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

I want to start off by saying thank you to Matt, Jonathan and Scott for three great trips with this grant.  The amount of planning required for these is incredible and the fact that the trips have such few hitches is amazing.  Thanks again. 

I would have to say that the places we visited and the presentations we attended will have a direct impact on my classroom for next year.  At Corwin International we are an International Baccalaureate (IB) school and as part of the Primary Years Program (PYP), our curriculum is teacher created where 6 week units are created by the teachers and taught utilizing higher level thinking skills via the inquiry process.  This trip to New York had material that applies to all six units we teach in fifth grade at Corwin.

The first unit we teach is a unit falls under the category of “How we organize ourselves.”   In this unit we teach the US Constitution as compared to other ways countries around the world organize themselves.  The material presented at Eleanor Roosevelt’s house will greatly help.  In studying our Bill of Rights, we will contrast it with the United Nation’s Universal Bill of Rights, and use the video presentations to talk about world conditions concerning people’s rights. 

The second IB unit we teach is “How we express ourselves.”  The key novel we use for this unit is From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.  The setting is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  My students have a hard time imagining all of the places the two main characters visit in New York and the museum, but with the pictures I took, they should be able to visualize the story better.  In addition, I thought of some unique art projects based on the art I viewed (and took pictures of) at the museum.  These lessons will be included in the unit.

The third IB unit is a unit on “how our world works” where we emphasize physics.  While not a social studies based unit like the others we teach, I was able to gather some great materials at the Museum of Natural History that will add to this unit.  In addition, the terrific units developed at the Baseball Hall of Fame on the physics of the game will be utilized as well.

Our fourth IB unit is “How we share our world” which is a unit taught as a yearlong unit rather than a 6 week unit.  Lessons are presented throughout the year with the students required to perform a public presentation of their yearlong findings.  We are working on food justice issues and examining how food is distributed.  The lesson plans I am working on for the fulfillment of this course tie-in directly to this unit.  They are based on the unique restaurant culture of New York and the book, Appetite City.   We will look at how the restaurant business impacts our daily decisions about food in terms of what’s available and what we eat.

The fifth IB unit is “How we view the world” and we have students apply higher order thinking skills to study the Civil War.  Through the Museum of New York, we gained a great deal of information that will enhance this inquiry based project.   The books we use in class give a good description of slavery and its effects, but the notebook containing the DVD will be a valued resource and greatly impact our study.  In viewing the DVD’s, they had an emotional impact on me, and they can’t help but influence my students.

Our last unit is on courage.  We utilize the novel, Letters From Rifka about a Polish girl and her family immigrating to America.  Rifka fails the medical exam at Ellis Island and has to stay on the island until her scalp condition improves.  Her family makes its way to the city and leaves Rifka behind.  Rifka lives for almost a year withy the nurses, caregivers and doctors of the island before finally joining her family in the city where she ironically lives in a crowded tenement as opposed to the spacious Ellis Island facilities.  Perhaps the best day in New York was the visit to Ellis Island, and I loved the behind the scenes tour of the facilities.  The tour we took ties in directly to the setting of the book, and I will be able to bring the book to life based on our exclusive tour and the plethora of picture taken.  In addition the story of Eleanor Roosevelt and her courage by defying the Klu Klux Klan.


Fort Ti and Saratoga

Posted: June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

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We had a good day touring Fort Ticonderoga and then later the Saratoga Battlefield.  When someone asked what Ticonderoga meant, I thought it was named for a nearby pencil factory, but I was wrong (rare of me as I am seldom wrong) it means the land between two waters.  Oh, the Native Americans and their penchant for using one long word that means a whole bunch of words.  Anyway, guide, Jim, did a good job presenting Fort Ti by starting with the Battle of Carillon.  However, he should have had us go to the lower level of the museum to view the portion of the fort dedicated strictly to that battle.  It gives a real good understanding of exactly what happened.  The young guides could have been asked many more questions as the taller one had been working at the fort for the last ten years and was a wealth of information.  Before visiting the fort, I had no idea just how massive the fort was.  I teach about Fort Ti as part of the Revolutionary War, and have great stories about Ethan Allen, but no real way to actually explain a fort at this time.  The pictures taken yesterday will help immeasurably as I teach this section to my students.  I know that every time I have a slideshow of the setting for a novel we are studying or a specific historical event, it breathes life into what we are studying.  Imagine if students could actually visit the fort on a field trip themselves.

Jim, our guide, dressing up to enliven the group

Later in the afternoon, we toured the Saratoga Battlefield.  This seemed to be Jim’s expertise as Jim was livelier (heck, he even dressed as an elf to get us to pay more attention) and more animated and focused as he told some real good stories of various personalities during the battle.  My students will absolutely love the story of Morgan and his revenge on British officers for the brutal whipping he received during the French and Indian War.  Jim also explained the wheat field and the final portion of the battle very well.  Saratoga is such an important battle, but is hard to grasp as so much happened.  In fifth grade we teach the overview of the battle and explain the importance of victory for the Continentals as France would then enter the war against Britain.  Now, with the new information from Jim, I will able to spend more time on Saratoga and present it in more depth.

I really do take issue with Jim and his comparison of Benedict Arnold and Timothy McVeigh.  To compare the two to evoke an emotional response is comparable, but to then say that if some people want to honor Arnold then why not McVeigh “because he was a war hero too” is ridiculous.  The two are not comparable that way.  First of all, McVeigh was an enlisted man and not a major general like Arnold.  McVeigh was a war hero earning a Bronze Star for his effort during Desert Storm in the Gulf War, but did not lead thousands of men into numerous battles in the fight for Independence.  McVeigh was reprimanded by the army for wearing a T-shirt purchased in support of the Ku Klux Klan.  In high school, McVeigh hacked into government computer systems.  McVeigh was convicted of detonating a truck bomb in front of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6. It was the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to September 11, 2001.   McVeigh sought revenge against the federal government for the Waco Siege in which he had hoped to inspire a revolt against what he considered a tyrannical federal government. 

Benedict Arnold, a major general, was bellicose towards others and demanding, but did much for his country prior to his betrayal.  Jim presented Gates as extremely innocent and was just trying to tell Congress of the victory and not slighting Arnold in the least and that the young teen age officers took great offense and rile Arnold.  Gates was much more cunning than this and did slight Arnold and gathered all the credit for the victory himself.  We must remember that Gates is the same general that lobbied the Continental Congress to demote Washington and place him as Commander-in-Chief of the army. If Gates were trying to supplant Washington, one would think he would not elevate a lesser officer’s achievements over his own. Of course Gates took the lion’s share of credit for the Battle of Saratoga.  Jim also mentioned that Benedict Arnold was communicating with the British in 1779 long before he was insulted.  No, the insults started at Saratoga.

To further prove his point, Jim told how Congress tried to court-martial Arnold because he was government wagons to move his own personal belongings. However, he was acquitted in most formal inquiries. Congress investigated his accounts, and found that he owed it money after he had spent much of his own money on the war effort. Frustrated and bitter, Arnold decided to change sides in 1779, and opened secret negotiations with the British.

It is obvious Jim cares little for Arnold, but he should maybe think of a better example than Timothy McVeigh to compare to Arnold.  Arnold was not a terrorist, and he did not kill unsuspecting and innocent people in a devastating bomb because he was angry at the government’s actions.  Arnold issues had to deal with how he was treated by other officers and Congress, and not some imagined threat against white Americans.  Turning a fort over for capture by just opening the gates and letting the enemy inside may be traitorous, but it is not the appalling and horrific terrorist act of bombing people.

It was nice to have Paul’s sister, Mary, along with us for the day.

Hutch, I know you were also shocked at much of what Jim said at the commemorative sculpture to Benedict Arnold.  I would like you to also offer some remarks regarding what was presented.


Posted: June 16, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Today was a whirlwind tour of Seneca Falls the home of the women’s right movement, Stanton house, M’Clintock house where Memorial Day started, Seward’s house, Harriet Tubman’s house, and a barge ride on the Erie Canal in Rochester, New York.  We made it to Syracuse, New York in time to check into the Sheraton Hotel and hunt down a decent restaurant.  Most places were closed or were closing so we settled on the Cosmo Café.  I won’t do another food post so let’s just say it was food; we ate; we paid the bill; and then we had a few at the hotel. 

I really enjoyed Seward’s house.  Ever since I read Doris Kearns Team of Rivals, I have been a big fan of William Seward.  When touring the house, I had the impression that he was very much like a president in decisions he helped make and did make as well as the diplomats he entertained at the house and in his house in Washington D.C.  He assumed he would be president in 1860, but his ultra-abolitionist stance was viewed as too radical and would cause the South to succeed.  Lincoln was the compromise candidate, but even his moderate views along with choosing abolitionist Harry Hamlin as his running mate caused the South to succeed anyway.  Lincoln chose well in selecting Seward, perhaps the sharpest politician in the country at that time, as his Secretary of State.  I know that in basic psychology that friends usually seek people with about the same IQ as themselves.  Great friends rarely vary by a few points on the IQ scale, and it is no wonder to me that Lincoln, rough around the edges, but extremely sharp –minded, and Seward would be such good friends.  It is also no wonder that arguably the best lawyer at the time, Edwin Stanton, would also be close to both as Secretary of War.

Seward’s respect for Lincoln was evident in the places of prominence he displayed the bust of Lincoln and the pictures and drawings of Lincoln in Seward’s home.  Our elderly but energetic guide sprang alive when talking of Seward’s accomplishment n the Alaska Purchase.  I did not know the exact details of the purchase, and enjoyed the displays in the room as well as the newspapers at the time showing their contempt for the decision.  I find it interesting that Seward is given credit for this although it happened during President Johnson’s watch.  I think it was viewed so negatively at first that Johnson was happy to give credit to Seward.  Years before, John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State really drafted the Monroe Doctrine but is given virtually no credit.

The next room was dedicated to the assassination attempt on Seward by a man named Powell.  The guide told the story fairly accurately about the conspiracy, but fell short (according to James Swanson’s terrific book Manhunt: the 12 Day Chaseh for Lincoln’s Killer) when talking about the attempt on the Vice President’s life.  She told it as if George Adzot was gong to kill the Vice President, but that Johnson was out of his room so Azdot left.  Swanson tells that Johnson was asleep in his room at the hotel, and Azdot was at his door at the agreed upon time, but got cold feet at the last moment and left.  I also know the Constitution was different then in terms of succession for the presidency and the Secretary of State figured in the succession more prominently that he does now (even though he/she is now 4th in line).

The barge ride on the Erie Canal and through one of the numerous locks on the canal provided the best type of first-hand knowledge that just can’t be found in books.  I do not usually teach much about the Erie Canal and did not realize just how important it was.  I am amazed by the fact it is still used a great deal today.  I will now expand our chapter of westward expansion with a further explanation to my students of exactly how important it was; how the lock system works; and how it was constructed.

If anybody knows the exact succession to the presidency in 1865, please let me know.


Posted: June 14, 2010 in Uncategorized



Today we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York along with the Fenemore Art Museum and the Farmer’s Museum.  It was a slice of Americana.  Nearly a year ago, Paul and I drove out here on our way to Boston with Paul’s 14-year-old son and his 14-year-old friend, Tyler.  On July 4th, we stopped to visit the Hall of Fame and then ate lunch at a nearby restaurant.  Tyler insisted that we eat hot dogs, and later apple pie with vanilla ice cream. “What could be more American than being in Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame, eating hot dogs, ice cream and apple pie all on July 4th?” he inquired of us.  Nothing I suppose. 

The typical Americana house

This return trip brought these memories flooding back to me as we spent the morning touring the Hall of Fame.  As I observed the United States flags displayed prominently on the front of nearly every home, and the red, white and blue bunting that lined the numerous ballparks as we entered Cooperstown, I wondered about Tyler’s last part of his question- “Can anything be more American than this?”  Is there an image of America that is portrayed by the media, textbooks, or through storytelling  that leads us to believe this vision at Cooperstown is America?  In a sprawling country of nearly 300 million that is so vast and has diverse and has multiple ethnic layers,why is it that we have this image?  I don’t think it is necessarily true in the areas of New York City that we toured with Ed O’Donnell or where we come from in Pueblo, Colorado, or in Fairbanks, Alaska.  

Folk Art- Americana

Although we have a varied country, it seems as though we are strong in our myths about America.  I think many people would agree that when they first viewed Cooperstown, in its idyllic setting, that this is what America is all about.  The myth is strong, but the reality is that any city is the United States is representative of American, we just don;’t think of it that way.  Santa Fe, Taos, Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Cheyenne, Grand Junction are all Americana, but not what one would think when asked to describe America.  THis myth of Americana is also powerful in another way in that the idyllic setting is usually associated with a white community.  The numerous Chinatowns and barrios are also part of our unique fabric, and one doesn’t say when visiting one of these places, “Hey Americana!”  The myth of Americana is strong.

The lesson plans were great, and I think we will use the long distance learning option.  In addition to the history lessons, I just may use the physics and math components as well.  I thought the lesson were easy to follow and well planned.

We also visited the Fenemore Art Museum where I really liked the black and white Magnum photographs especially the World War II photos. 

Hiroshima, Japan after the Atom Bomb

Italy, 1943

Normandy, France D-DAY

 The Farm Museum was real interesting.  The blacksmith shop was the highlight of this tour.  I really would like to obtain a video of a blacksmoith in action so my students can see how it was.  The pharmacy shop was also interesting as the person there showed us how pills were made, and how leeches were stored and used.

Dim blacksmith shop

Farm Museum

The sign said a part of Americaana

I thought Hutch. but he doesn't smoke

Sagamore Hills

Posted: June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Today we visited the home of one of my favorite Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt.  My Uncle Bob first got me started by reading  The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt  and Theodore Rex both by Edmund Morris.  The first biography deals with perhaps the most interesting part of T.D. Roosevelt’s life, the years leading up to his presidency.  I was amazed at exactly how much Roosevelt had accomplished and yet was such a young man (age 42) when he assumed the presidency.  In fact The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt ends right as Theodore hears about the assassination of President McKinley.  Theodore Rex then tells about his seven plus years as president, and while interesting, the book does not come close to Morris’s first in terms of action or compelling story.  Morris was to do a third part of the biography dealing with Roosevelt’s last part of his life, but it has yet to be developed.

I purchased another book highly recommended by my uncle, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey: the River of Doubt by Candice Millard.  The book is about Theodore’s exploration of the Amazon River and its tributaries in 1913-1914 after being defeated by Woodrow Wilson for a third term as president.  It is highly recommended and we all know Jonathan is a genius and he highly recommends it as well.

I admire how Theodore was so sickly in his youth and basically just applied mind over matter to will himself into shape and lead a very vigorous lifestyle with African safaris and various adventures out west.  He was probably one of our best read presidents.  He used to devour about a book a night except during his presidency.  However, he still read a great deal during that time almost averaging a book a night.  Through the reading one and the tour one comes away with the impression that Theodore was a natural leader of men who actually enjoyed the limelight and pressures that come with being a leader.  In fact, he seemed to thrive on the lifestyle. 

I am also impressed with how Theodore had the attitude towards Congress and politicians that you are not gong to outsmart me.  He kept digging the Panama Canal knowing that the Congress would continue to debate the merits of the project ,a he said that while the debate continues so does the digging.  He had a touch with the common man and had a way of speaking that was less flowery for the times but spoke directly to the people.  His distant cousin would also adopt this straight talk and use it to help communicate to America during WWII.

Aside from food investigations, we are attending workshops and touring museums to learn about history.  Yesterday, we attended a workshop on Slavery in New York.  One of the key tasks was to find an artifact of some sort and describe it then develop inquiry type questions that lead students to deeper answers.  The object I chose was “Uncle Ned’s School.”  The artist created this in 1866, and knowing that date is, perhaps, the key to the sculpture.  I had several key questions to help guide students in an inquiry based lesson.

  • What is the artist trying to say about slavery? Reconstruction?
  • Why is the date the sculpture was created important to understanding the work?
  • Why is it titled “Uncle Ned’s School?”
  • Who is teaching whom?
  • What does this statue tell you about Uncle Ned and slavery? Reconstruction?
  • What does this statue tell you about the little girl and slavery?  Reconstruction?
  • What about the little boy laying down?  Why is he in the sculpture?
  • Is the book symbolic, and if so how?
  • Why is Uncle Ned shining shoes?
  • Whose shoes do you think they are?
  • Does this have any symbolism?

In some discussions with teaches, the book was viewed as a focal point where Ned who represents the former enslaved and the little girl who although enslaved represents youth and the future.  The book is seen as the path to a better future and it is through learning that one can be free.  Ned it seems is shining his own shoes as he is barefoot in the sculpture.  This would indicate that he not serve others and can look after his own needs.  As a slave a personal shoe shine may not have been necessary, but now symbolises getting prepared for a whole new journey.

In the afternoon we toured the Natural History Museum.  It is an awesome pace.


Sylvia's cornbread

Jonathan does it again.  After the Natural History Museum, Jonathan, Paul and I traveled to 125th Street in the heart of Harlem to eat dinner at the famed Sylvia’s.  People back in Pueblo were awfully nervous about us three venturing to Harlem and eating dinner.  It was a superb experience.  The people servicing us at the restaurant from the bus boy, to the cook, and the waiter were the most helpful and friendly of any this whole trip.  The waiter, who had a deep, deep baritone voice reminiscent of Barry White, allowed us to loiter a bit as we waited on one of Jonathan’s old friends from as far back as elementary school. 

While waiting, we nibbled (practically devoured) our sweet cornbread (best I ever ate), and visited while Jonathan and Paul drank their sweet tea.  After a long wait, Jonathan ordered the grilled catfish with the macaroni and cheese and black-eyed peas; Paul ordered the Sylvia’s world-famous ribs and fried chicken combination with collared greens and mashed potatoes; I ordered the smothered pork chop with macaroni and cheese and collared greens.  Jonathan let me sample the catfish, and it was great, but the star of the show was the house made macaroni and cheese.  It was perfect!  That’s all there is to say.  Paul’s chicken was real good, but the ribs were good, but not outstanding by any means.  My pork chop was super, but I also thought the macaroni and cheese was the star of the plate.  We engulfed our dinner in no time flat.  Jonathan’s guest arrived late and ordered the exact meal I did. 

Jonathan's catfish


Paul's ribs and fried chicken

Mark's smothered pork chop

Jonathan and Paul declined dessert, but I asked our very efficient bus boy if he had to choose between the homemade southern banana pudding or the coconut cake which would he choose.  Without hesitating he answered in a somewhat playful but defiant tone, “The coconut cake, anything else you want to know.”  

I laughed and asked him to tell me if he would pick that same homemade coconut cake over their peach cobbler.  He replied that if your going for the best dessert then go for the peach cobbler – no doubt.  I was not convinced by his little game of telling me the truth so quickly and confidently. Next, I asked our waiter the same questions.  He responded exactly the same way so I ordered the peach cobbler.  Wonderful will be the word for that. 

Peach cobbler

I rate Sylvia’s a triple.  Paul and Jonathan join in with your ratings.