I just returned from a trip to Philadelphia to learn more about our history during the Revolutionary War. The trip was part of a History Grant for 5th-12th grade history teachers to help bring history alive in the classroom. What a trip it was! We toured The National Constitution Center, where we toured the Real George Washington exhibition and got to view his dentures made out of bone. We went on an archeological dig at The Independence Park Institute and gained hands-on experience with replica artifacts from a recent dig. We saw The Liberty Bell and where George Washington's house (as President) was located. We even saw part of the actual foundation. Very impressive.
The last day of our trip was devoted to Valley Forge, the place where the Revolutionary War took a turn for the Patriots. It is now a National Park where visitors can enjoy thousands of acres of beautiful rolling hills, reconstructed huts from the soldier encampment, General Washington's stone, resurrected and furnished head-quarters, and an educational facility filled with artifacts and books.
As part of this program, the teachers are creating educational units. I am creating a unit on slavery during this time period. I am fascinated by the fact that slavery in southern plantations is mentioned in our history books but slavery in the north is barely, if at all, written about. This past summer, I read Chains and Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson. These historical fiction books depict the lives of Isabel and Curzon, a slave girl and boy in the northern states during the Revolutionary War. The books, rich with sensory details, paints a compelling picture of this time period and the struggles of the slaves with such compassion and emotion that it's easy to want to jump in the pages and fight for their freedom.
I am using Chains as the starting point for my unit. I want my students to feel as the slaves did and how I do after reading these books. This is an example of how books can spark passion to learn and gain more knowledge, and this is exactly why I am involved in this project. To ignite and to explore and to learn how history is important to all of us. To bring history to life to my students.