What an experience this trip to Chicago, Springfield, and Madison was for me!  I was able to see and visit things that I have had an interest in since I was a child, such as Abraham Lincoln and Frank Lloyd Wright.  Spending time with other professionals who do what I do – teach American history, was refreshing and informative.  The trip was well-planned, organized, the sites were fascinating, and the speakers were outstanding.  Three of the most important things that I reacquainted myself with was that field trips are good, participating in hands-on activities can make what is being learned more interesting, and having educational fun while learning helps to better assimilate information and the learning process.  These ideas will be incorporated more fully into my classroom, while all of the knowledge and experiences of actually being in these historic places will enrich my teaching and bring my excitement into my classes.

While those are things that I need to remember with my classroom, sometimes the everyday realities set in.  Orchestrating field trips will be challenging for three main reasons: 1)  working within a team, teachers don’t like to give up their class time due to the ever-looming CSAPs, 2) planning travel logistics for 120-130 students is challenging, and 3) budget cuts and financial restraints make field trips cost fairly prohibitive.  On the less gloomy side, as 8th grade team lead, I planted seeds with my team about the idea of doing an integrated field trip that can bring in math, science, language arts and history for the upcoming school year.

Being a technology geek, a big part of the trip for me was to see technology in action.  Three perfect places for that were the Lincoln Presidential Museum, the Chicago History Museum, and the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.  These three sites were extremely engaging and drew people into their exhibits.  The Lincoln Museum offered costumes and props for children to experiment with and to participate in creative play.  The pictures on the wall of pictures at one exhibit allowed the viewer to click on buttons to learn more about the who, what, when,where, and why of the individual that was being viewed.  Other parts of the exhibit may have been motion-activated to turn on voices talking about topics such as slavery, the war, and politics of the era.  The Chicago History Museum had some great exhibits but the work that has been done with their website was the most important thing that I can use in my classroom.  The interactive maps, the Chicago stories, and the Encyclopedia of Chicago are all fabulous resources that anyone with the Internet can use.  The Museum of Science and Industry was a marvelous, interactive building of wonder.  If I lived in that community, I would be an annual membership, so that I could experience all of the exhibits and the opportunities for learning.  A person would be hard-pressed to be bored in that environment.

Another valuable aspect of the trip was the Chicago Art Institute.  I spent an additional  two evenings there, as the visits were free and I wanted to see more.  Seeing paintings up close is always a much better way to understand and “see” the artists’ work.  I have been in dialogues with my school’s art teacher on working out some type of art salon in which students will paint pictures in their chosen artist’s style, do research on the artist, and then, in character, talk about “their” art with visitors.  I spent some time trying to find books relating to American artists from colonial days to reconstruction and finally came across a book that shows children of all ages and from different walks of life, depicted by various American painters.  I am hoping that students can relate to seeing children their own ages but in a different time and that these can become conversation starters for classroom discussions on American history and trying to get students to think through “old” eyes, rather than looking at historical things from their modern, twenty-first century eyes.

I bought  a lot of varied books, maps, and “props” that I plan to incorporate into my lessons.  Seeing the books first hand is much better than reading a blurb on Amazon or some other website.  I took lots of photos and movie clips that I will incorporate into powerpoints and slide shows.  So many students don’t travel outside of their own town let alone out of state which is why it’s important to bring multimedia into the classroom and “show” students historical places and cities.  I feel a lot more comfortable and knowledgable from the books I read leading up to the Chicago trip, as well as visiting all of the sites to teach students about the history of the labor movement, progressivism, and Abraham Lincoln.  Here’s to a great upcoming school year!  Many thanks for the experiences that this trip offered!

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