Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Great Raleigh Trolley Adventure

This has really been a fabulous week, because I got to have another special experience this evening.  The keynote speaker at our summer conference on Teaching Your Middle Schooler, Dr. Candy Beal from NC State University who specializes in middle school education, invited me to join her graduate students on an event she does every year, The Great Raleigh Trolley Adventure.

Those who attended the conference know what a great speaker Candy Beal is.  Tonight I got to see her more in her role as university professor, demonstrating to her students what it is to be an exceptional teacher.

The contents of The Great Raleigh Trolley Adventure is around 20 people in a trolley-style bus traveling all around downtown Raleigh and learning about the history of various sites in the city.  The context of the tour, however, is Candy's belief that teachers need to learn about and be actively visible in the community that they end up teaching in to help demonstrate their commitment to and credibility within that community.  Another contextual aspect to the trip is Candy's assertion that middle schoolers are particularly concerned about two questions:
  • Who am I?
  • What is my place in the world?
Candy says that for most middle schoolers, the latter question about place revolves around four important components of students' lives:  their family, their school, their peers, and their community.  So another point about an activity like The Great Raleigh Trolley Adventure, according to Candy, is to help middle schoolers find a place in their community as "keepers of history" by knowing and understanding the evolution of their area.

I think those are really important points for us all to keep in mind, whether we are parents, paid teachers, middle school volunteers, or homeschoolers.  Another thing that I appreciated about participating in this activity was Candy modeling the importance of teacher as storyteller.  As we zipped around the city in our colorful trolley, Candy was telling us even more colorful stories about the places we were seeing and the people who created, inhabited, and then left them.  It was great evidence for me in my belief that history is not about facts and figures and dates and such, but rather a narrative about events that have happened in our past and why they matter.  But, then, that might have been a factor of a theory I heard in another educational podcast I listened to today:  You don't believe what you see, you see what you believe.

Anyway, it was a fun evening.  I was actually familiar with most of the major historical sites we passed, and had already had an educational field trip there with my son and his peers (one of the great advantages of homeschooling is being able to go study where things took place, rather than doing it in a classroom).  But I really see the value of having visited the parts, then pulling them together as a whole, as we did in this trip.  For example, we have visited Oakwood Cemetery, which is on land donated from the Mordecai plantation, and we have visited the Mordecai House, which was located on the other end of the plantation.  But we have never traveled from the Mordecai House to Oakwood Cemetery and thus gotten a physical representation of how large the estate was.  We have gone to the Joel Lane House and heard all about how Raleigh was established when Joel Lane sold 1,000 acres to the state legislature.  But we have never gone from the Joel Lane House to North Street, West Street, South Street, and East Street, and covered the traditional boundaries of the original capitol city made from those 1,000 acres.

So once again I learned some valuable lessons about teaching middle schoolers from Dr. Beal.  And because she was generous enough to share her insight with me, I wanted to share it with you.

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