8th Graders Get Their Hands on History

If I had to sum up the 8th grade year in one word, I would call it a year of "rEVOLUTION." It is a year where the students are “evolving” their capacity for critical thinking. They begin to see cause and effect, to see the connections between historical events, and are able to bring their previously developed imagination into their capacity to think in a real and meaningful way. It is also a time where hormones and feelings are swiftly shifting who they are. To meet this inner transformation, we study the “revolutions” of the world. We begin with the American Revolution and then quickly move to the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Human Rights Revolution, covering topics as vastly different as the birth of the steam engine to the civil rights movement to the concentration camps of WWII. These topics help the students to see outer manifestations of the strength, perseverance, and will needed to overcome difficult situations and follow ones dreams. These historical stories and biographies from the different time periods also demonstrate that there is always a little help given when it is needed most, if one knows how to look.

Last week, the 8th grade took a trip to Boston to bring American history to life. Earlier in the year, we biked through the Saratoga National Historical Park, and now we have visited three more parks - The Minute Man National Park, The Lowell Mills Historical Park, and The Freedom Trail National Park. We walked on the North Bridge where the infamous “shot heard round the world,” as it was immortalized in Emerson’s “Concord Hymn,” was fired, sparking the American Revolution. We learned some grim history that we otherwise would not have known without speaking to a ranger directly. We imagined the stand-off between the minute men militia and the redcoats and the tension that electrified the land before the first shot was even fired.

In Lowell, we learned about the experience of the young women, some of whom were about the same age as the students, who left their homes to become a part of the Industrial Revolution. Although we will not study the Industrial Revolution in the classroom until January, this experience gave a real feeling for what life was like during this historic period of American history. The class worked in groups to gather information and answer a few questions. Later in the evening, they worked to turn this into creative writing. One group wrote a poem, bookended by quotes from some of the Mill Girls. Another group created a skit with a background rap to answer the questions. The third group created a bluesy song to portray the feelings the Mill Girls must have felt. This learning could not have been gleaned in the classroom alone! The teamwork generated a palpable excitement for the learning that made their work shine.

Our second day was spent taking the train in and out of Boston where we walked the Freedom Trail. The class spent time on a scavenger hunt in the Granary Burying Ground, looking for the grave sites of famous historical figures, some of whose biographies we learned about in school - Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and Crispus Attucks. Before we left this site, we sang a round together, titled, “Buryin’ Ground.”

As we continued along the way, we saw the site where Benjamin Franklin attended school before taking the ferry across the Charles River to Charlestown. We visited the USS Constituition and then climbed the 294 steps to the top of the Bunker Hill monument. After a visit to the Old North Church and Paul Revere’s House, we had a bit of free time for lunch and shopping in Quincy Market. The trip was complete by witnessing a number of new American Citizens pouring out of Faneuil Hall with their certificates and flags, US history in the making!

While every class may make a different trip in 8th grade, they all have a similar element for the students - bringing history alive! These first hand experiences give a new context for what we learn in the classroom and help the class bond together through their shared experience. One student commented that she learned more on our trip than she would have in the same amount of time in school. These intensive immersion trips can be powerful when the students take on the learning as their own using their imagination to live into the experiences of the past, learning visually and experientially. What a fantastic trip!

#experiential #middleschool #history #8thgrade #boston

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