Man and Machine Animate Gettysburg Battlefield

By Ethan S. ’16

Led by Mr. Berner, history teacher extraordinaire, and Dr. Beeghley, the school’s new instructional technology coordinator and Civil War buff, the junior and senior classes took a field trip to the Gettysburg Battlefield to learn more about what happened there during the Civil War. Most of us either are taking or have taken an American history course as part of the Upper School curriculum, so it was interesting to get up close to where that history actually happened.

 

Dr. Beeghley runs a website dedicated to Civil War history, and he was able to reel off stories at will. As we started our day on top of Little Round Top, he set the scene for the battle: Confederate troops regrouped at Gettysburg because it had 12 roads leading to it and Union troops followed them. The fighting started July 1, 1863, and the second day of battle was especially fierce. The Confederates launched an attack on the relatively lightly guarded Union position on Little Round Top. Dr. Beeghley explained that if the Confederates had won the skirmish, their cannons would have had a direct shot at Union headquarters from the hill, potentially altering the outcome of the battle. He waxed poetic on the bravery of the men who fought there, tales of soldiers fighting to their last breath and refusing to run. The most amazing thing was that he could recall all of these stories, in minute detail, off the top of his head.

It was only down to a serendipitous logistical problem that Dr. Beeghley even made the trip that day. He was just filling in for our intended chaperone, and ended up animating the history for us in ways none had imagined when we set out that morning.

Country Day’s embrace of technology continued during the field trip. The week before, students were given access to a folder of pictures taken at the Battle of Gettysburg. Using Google Drive and school-provided iPads, everyone was able to have a whole gallery of 19th-century images to enrich their experience at the battlefield. The technology helped us to see not just a bunch of rocks with explanatory placards; the pictures allowed us to visualize the carnage and travail those rocks bore witness to.

This year’s junior and senior field trip to the Gettysburg battlefield was not your average lecture. Instead, the battlefield came to life thanks to the knowledgeable Dr. Beeghley and the portable libraries on our iPads.

Mesoamerica: Fifth Grade’s Neohistoriography

It sounds patronizing to describe T.J. O’Gorman’s fifth-graders as tech-savvy, kind of like saying the Pittsburgh Steelers have fielded some good football teams over the years. Suffice to say it was an impressive show, seeing the kids synthesize their work on Mesoamerican history into projects ranging from massive-yet-meticulous Minecraft construction works to green-screen, newscast-style presentations. Minecraft is a multiplayer game in which students collaborate to build monuments and other structures in a common, virtual world.

After several weeks of learning the history of cultures such as the Aztecs and Mayans, O’Gorman’s students spent about a week putting their projects together and while O’Gorman usually assigns partners or groups, this time he gave the students free reign to work on their own, or in teams of two or more. Watch the video above to see these collaborations in action.

“I let them choose their partners and topics because I didn’t want to suppress any creative potential by assigning partners or imposing other limits,” he said. “This is by far the most expansive thing I’ve done with technology and I wanted the results to be as expansive as the technology allows.”

Louise B. ’21 combined the low- and high-tech to take expansiveness to a new level. She decided to work solo “because I know iMovie pretty well and had a good idea of what I wanted to do,” said the remarkably poised fifth-grader. Rather than let the lack of a green screen restrict her to filming at school, Louise just fashioned her own out of green construction paper, hung it in her basement/studio and got on with filming. “We had tons of green paper so I thought I’d try it and it worked pretty well,” Louise said.

Explained O’Gorman, “All students were required to collect research, create a storyboard and then complete a project. In all, students could choose to use a variety of iPad apps to create a video. Some students App Smashed up to 5 or 6 apps to create their movies.

“Others entered a Minecraft world and created replica buildings found in Mesoamerica. These students not only needed to make a ‘physical’ building, but they were also required to tell the story behind the edifice.

“Finally, some students decided to use a Google app called Mindmeister. It’s a mindmapping app a lot like Prezi. Students made detailed presentations that flowed across the screen smoothly and included links to websites and videos.

“All technology was used with the intention to have students have a deeper learning experience.

“I think what they did is incredible,” O’Gorman said.

Two Days of Bonding Over the Civil War

Communications Department Intern Chandler S. ’17 and eight of her fellow upperclassmen joined Head of School Steve Lisk and Upper School American history teacher Todd Berner for a two-day trip to the Antietam National Battlefield in early August.

“I definitely didn’t think the trip was going to be as much of a bonding experience as it ended up being,” Chandler said. “I figured we’d go and come back and that would have been fine because the trip itself sounded cool.

“It was just nice; everybody talked and whether you were a freshman or a senior didn’t matter.” Chandler didn’t walk into the experience a blank slate; she loves history, and the Civil War in particular. “I’m familiar with the generals on both sides and all the main battles, and obviously I knew about Antietam,” she said.

“But I had no idea how much I didn’t know until Mr. Lisk started talking. He would get chills talking about certain aspects of history,” she continued. “I’d never seen it before, but he’s obviously in his element teaching.”

The group rode in two vans and traversed the 3,000-acre national park guided by an audio tour. Antietam was the first major Civil War battle fought in Union territory, and the single bloodiest day in American history. Robert E. Lee withdrew his forces to Virginia and Union General George McClellan could claim victory, albeit a decidedly pyrrhic one: More than 22,000 soldiers, split about evenly between North and South, were killed or wounded on September 17, 1862, and the war would continue for almost three more years.

Where the audio tours ended, Lisk was just getting started, Chandler said. “The program would end and we’d get out of the vans and he’d go into more and more detail. We’d ask questions and have discussions and wouldn’t leave until no one had anything left to ask about. We literally spent hours on the tour after the ‘official’ audio tour ended.

“It’s mind-blowing that he could talk about so many different things and just be at home doing it. It’s obviously what Mr. Lisk is passionate about.”

A Feast of Revelations

“One fact I learned that is very gross is that colonial people only took showers or bathed themselves 10 times a year! I take a shower every single night, and to think that [back then] people took a shower not even once a month? Eww!”

Sixth-grader Katie S. no doubt speaks for all modern fans of bathing, but, as she and her classmates learned over the course of their six-week research project about our 17th– and 18th-century forebears, we wouldn’t be the April-fresh citizens we are today had those colonists not blazed a ripe trail and founded a new nation.

Sue Ziemer’s goal with the unit extended beyond just teaching a history lesson, however. “Six weeks is a long time to work on something if it’s the first time you’re doing it,” she said. “A crucial part of it is learning organization skills, how to break work down into smaller chunks.

“I want them to see that what seems unmanageable at first, they can accomplish, and that it feels good when it all comes together,” Ziemer said. The ultimate feel-good moment came with a feast of colonial fare that the students prepared for lunch Thursday. (Todd Berner, who, as of presstime neither teaches nor attends sixth grade, took particular relish in carrying on that most American of traditions: helping himself to some of that delicious-looking food that was just sitting there.)

Beyond discovering the timeless appeal of cornbread, Ziemer’s students unearthed other, far more intriguing facts — about bathing habits, for example — in the course of their six-week inquiry.

To wit:

“I personally think that taking out the garbage is a mighty task, but children had to work [in the fields] every day for more than five hours.” — Luke W.

“As gold and silver became scarce… the Chesapeake colonies were able to rely on tobacco as a means of currency… . Before, I always knew that tobacco was a rich crop, but I never knew it was used for currency and even had a value [comparable] to gold.” — Ajay C.

“I read while researching clothing that boys up to the age of 4 would wear a dress. I remember this because I can’t imagine my brother in a dress when he was 4.” — Victoria V.

“Fans were not for the heat; they were used because women’s corsets were so tight they felt like they were going to faint.” — Katrina F.

“Colonial children played games very similar to what we play today. I thought this was interesting because a lot of things have changed from then, but the way we have fun hasn’t.” — Libby J.

“In colonial times, everything was simple (if you didn’t count government). In school, children used hornbooks… with a list of numbers, letters and grammatical suggestions. This was something so important, but seems so small, and compared with what we have today, it seems miniscule. Simply learning. No binders or lined paper, just learning.” — Carly C.

 

Down in the Mines!

Text and photos by Chandler S. ’17

When prospectors discovered anthracite near Scranton in 1860, the Lackawanna Mine was born, along with a brutal determination to get its valuable hard coal out of the ground. Boys as young as 5 were allowed to work as miners and their lives rated below those of donkeys working the pit. The typical miner worked in near darkness under fatally dangerous conditions. To put the relative value of a miner’s life in perspective, if a worker was killed, his family was notified when they discovered the body the company had laid on the front porch. These sobering stories gave us a new appreciation of where we were standing.

The class of 2017 took a field trip to the Lackawanna Coal Mine on Thursday, and despite the two-and-half-hour drive to Scranton, we had a great time! Our grade was separated into groups and taken on a two part tour.

 

First, we visited the museum, whose guides specialized in different aspects of the mine. We did not just learn about coal, but also the unique history of the mine and the people who worked in it. The guides gave us a day-in-the-life-of experience from the start of the tour, and we weren’t even in the mine yet! One guide in particular, Slats, gave us an especially generous dollop of experience. He continually reminded us, rather sharply, to maintain good posture, keep our hands out of our pockets, and that many of us would need a haircut before we were allowed to work in his mine.

The museum sparked our interest, but the moment all of us were looking forward to was yet to come. As Mr. Lisi would say, we soon got to go “down in the mines!” We repeated that chorus until we were home from the field trip, and we never forgot the swooping hand motion and animated facial expression that went with it.

It felt exciting, if slightly terrifying, heading into the cage-like car that took us, backwards, 250 feet underground. As we watched the daylight disappear, some of us, like Caroline F., said our last goodbyes in anticipation that we were being dragged to our death. In all actuality, the mine turned out to be pretty awesome!

The chilly air, dripping walls, and dark unknown were scary, sure, but we soon became accustomed to it and appreciated the awesomeness of the mine. Our guide took showed us around and told us stories of the people who used to work in the mine. None of us really knew how dangerous working in a coal mine was.

To finish the tour, our guide wanted to give us a feel of what it would be like if the lights went out while we were in the mine. What it was like was lots of screams, gripping hugs and hysterically asking, “Who is this?!” Overall, the trip was a unique experience that formed great memories among our class. But, like all field trips, some of the most memorable  memories were formed on the bus ride there and back.

“Down in the mines!”