A Living History Event
The Underground Railroad
The sharing of a summer visit to Pennsylvania and seeing some exhibits on the Underground Railroad led the Voyagers to an interesting discussion, "What is an "underground railroad?" A railroad in a tunnel? A subway? A quick investigation of the development of the steam locomotive and the laying of requisite track led to the comparison of the Underground Railroad to the "Iron Horse" railroad. As part of our preparation for the New Orleans Thanksgiving Feast, we decided to tie our investigation of slavery and the railroad to the early 19th century period of New Orleans history. We could build a "steam" locomotive to bring participants into "New Orleans." The met the challenge with great excitement and our locomotive took shape. One Voyager said, "I can't believe this started out as just a bunch of wood." Another remarked, "I'm so proud of our train." And, "I can't believe we made a train." A train, which for us, was a symbol of a far more important Underground Railroad.
CARS, BUSES AND TRAINS--OH MY!
This month the Explorers expanded their understanding of public transportation, moving from the metro bus to trains. Our research began with the story Little Train, by Lois Lensky. We learned that the steam engine uses coal to heat the boiler that creates the steam. We also learned the names of key roles in the operation of a train: the Engineer, the Conductor and the Fireman who loads the coal; and that signals are used to communicate along the tracks and between the Engineer and his team. That's when the fun began! We read the story version of the song, Down By the Station by Will Hillenbrand, a fun adventure about a train that takes animals to the zoo.
Next thing we knew, somebody turned over the tables, added some chairs and BAM! a train was born! We named our train Liberty, after the train the Voyagers were building for the Thanksgiving Feast. Our train took passengers to Antarctica, the North Pole and back to the Explorer class, with lots of adventures and friendly faces along the way.
In the afternoons, Wes and Leon worked on their train projects: trains built out of cardboard boxes and Maker Space materials, with the plan to wear them in the "New Orleans" style parade on feast day. It was an All Aboard and Full Steam Ahead kind of month!
Building up to the feast, we focused on bringing alive varied aspects of New Orleans by exploring regional music, geography, different accents, new vocabulary, and of course new foods! Tales from the South introduced us to the bayou, pirogues, gators, gumbo, and Mardi Gras.
Reading familiar and new versions of classic folk tales offered opportunities to share thinking, make predictions, offer evidence, and to compare and contrast what we knew. Adding music to the stories added another layer of interest and drama. Wherever possible we immersed the children in the sounds and images of Cajun country. Listening to stories read in thick Cajun accents added to the authenticity of the tales and captivated the ears. The glossaries of terms and the the non-fiction introductions led to discussions of geography, history and more. Where is Louisiana? We looked at the map of the Mississippi River to locate the Louisiana region from where these stories originated. Why did they speak French there? Why did people leave their homes and move south? Did they have to leave their homes to choose the religion they wanted? Important discussions of their questions touched on civil rights and why people fight for their rights. Some of our stories begged for cooking. We discovered that cast iron is heavier than it looks, that most of us were daring enough to try the cayenne version of our cornbread, and that many of us really wanted to try that hot pepper!
There is more we are curious about and plan to continue our study of the area and its cultures as we lead up to a culminating Mardi Gras celebration.
With curiosity sparked by Little Stevie Wonder’s childhood experience of racism while on tour in the South, the Investigators began their study of the Civil Rights Movement, specifically, Ruby Bridges' experience desegregating schools in New Orleans.
The Investigators slowly studied Norman Rockwell’s The Problem We All Live With. Their observations were rich and they developed quite a few questions and theories about Rockwell's intended message. Reading a biography of Ruby Bridges offered historical context that allowed them to return to the painting with concrete information to answer questions and evaluate their previous theories.
Finally, The event SPECTACULAR!
We want to send a heartfelt thank you to the teachers and parents who worked so enthusiastically on the feast. And also to each of you for your joyful participation. It made for a very special day!