Hands-On Alabama History: The Conclusion.

From the beginning

1st-Day-of-school-2016s-3 I promise this was from the beginning of this school year. Ignore the wrong dates. I’m a qualified teacher really I am.

To the end.

Last-Day-of-School-2017_MG_8512

It was an absolute adventure.

And my most ambitious and longest school year yet is finally over.

Although we’d finished most subjects, we officially ended it all on May 24, toward the end of a two-day field trip to Huntsville when Ali and I mutually agreed that although we did not go to all the places in my giant Alabama History plan, we were both officially done. Two days later, after she finished her field trip reports on said trip, we were DONE done.

Last Day of School 2017 _MG_8502

We did a total of 36 field trips, some(crazy)how, over her fourth grade year. (Some were multiple trips on the same day, so it’s not quite as insane as it sounds.) The book she wrote about those visits…is substantial.

Alabama-History-Book

It was a remarkable year – one that we all learned more than usual and we will all remember extraordinarily fondly, but also a busy year. And oh by the way, Ali grew just a bit.

Ali-Beginning-and-End-of-Alabama-History-Project

(Noah grew too and also Noah learned to read this year but poor kid – gets overshadowed by our giant history project. Someone clap for Noah! He can read! Hooray!!)

(Okay thank you. Now let’s continue.)

Last Day of School on Ruffner Mountain _MG_8599

I didn’t get all of our Alabama History adventures written about during the year, but Ali’s reports are so much better than mine, so I’ll just let her cover the ones I never got around to:

Arlington Antebellum Home and Gardens: This was our least favorite trip – we went in December and it was really cold that day, so we didn’t enjoy the grounds. The admission price was high, and there wasn’t that much to see. The Christmas decorations were pretty, though, and the “A Christmas Carol” theme was fun. Ali and Noah made the best of it and slid down the very uneven floors in the Antebellum mansion. (The floors were uneven because plumbing was installed post-construction. Makes for a fun indoor slide.)

Arlington Small

Tuscaloosa – we went to the Bear Bryant Museum and the Children’s Hands-On Museum. The Hands-On Museum wasn’t exactly history related, but it was my favorite museum when I was a kid, and I wanted them to enjoy it again. As expected, Noah now asks me to take him back there at least every other day. This was our last field trip with Carla Jean, so it was a delightful, yet bittersweet, final opportunity to enjoy our perfect symbiosis of friendship and education.

Tuscaloosa Small

Southern Museum of Flight and the Birmingham Public Library Maps Exhibit: we took my Dad along to the Southern Museum of flight, which was fantastic, because he was able to teach the kids so much about the planes he’d worked on in the Air Force. Like their inappropriate nicknames and the fact that the switch that drops the missiles is called the “Pickle Switch.” Important information. The kids really enjoyed this museum – they had many planes to play in and several hands-on areas. The education director, Mr. Charlie, was a wealth of information and really fun to make and fly paper airplanes with.

Southern Museum of Flight and Maps Exhibit

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute: This was one of our most important visits, but also ended up being one of our most risky visits. It is definitely geared more toward teens and adults, yet I was brilliant that day and invited friends to come with us. Needless to say, our group of 11 kids ten years old and under were greeted at the front door by a museum curator with strict instructions on how to behave and respect the museum. They did well, considering, but I wished I had left Noah with someone and just taken Ali. It was a grave experience, and there’s so much Civil Rights history that happened right here in Birmingham to absorb. The videos are quite graphic, as are the exhibits. It’s both a vital and painful piece of understanding Alabama’s history.

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

U.S. Space and Rocket Center: Alabama played an important part in the Space Race. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is a fantastic campus (it’s way more than a museum) to learn about and appreciate that impact. They have actual vessels that have been on the moon – that alone is worth the drive. The staff there was extremely helpful and voluntary with their loads of information. They made the kid’s visit so much more fun.

US Space and Rocket Center

The Double Helix Park, EarlyWorks, and The Huntsville Depot – We did a triple take for our last field trip day (maybe that’s why we were so done by the end of it) – we first walked The Double Helix Trail in Huntsville, which is a really excellent .8 mile walking trail in the shape of a double helix. Along the way, you learn about characteristics that are on each genome and how they affect our genetic makeup. They also have an app that you can download and turn the walk into a Scavenger Hunt, which we did and the kids adored.

EarlyWorks is a Children’s Museum in Huntsville that, instead of being a science-based hands-on museum like McWane in Birmingham, it’s a history-based hands-on museum, specifically focused on Alabama History. It was an excellent place to spend an afternoon – the kids loved playing Mercantile, running through the River Boat, and setting off dynamite. Oh and their pile of stuffed dogs is AMAZING.

The Huntsville Depot had a fantastic collection of train cars that could be played on, and even had working buttons and switches that made thrilling noises. They also had a museum of old cars and a train museum. We didn’t make it in time to go into the train museum, but the kids enjoyed the rest of it immensely.

Huntsville Field Trips

Interviews – we didn’t do nearly as many history interviews as I’d hoped to. The fact that all the interviews would be in the latter part of the project (nobody’s still alive from the prehistoric days, after all) contributed to my failure in that area. By the time we got to the end of the year, I was just trying to desperately finish the field trip part of our project. We did have one interview event, however, that was seriously tremendous. Our famous meteorologist James Spann came and spoke to us and a group of about 40 other people who have been participating in our Alabama History project, or that just wanted to come and hear him speak. It was very off-the-cuff, and he talked about all sorts of fantastic Alabama stuff (such as the route one would take if they wanted to turn the four hour trip to the beach into a four day trip, going through every little town and eating at every tiny bar-b-q dive along the way.) He took questions from the kids, as well, which was really fun and quite hilarious. We talked about tornadoes and racism and small-town Alabama and everything in between. He was the perfect person to single-handedly handle the interview portion of our project.

James Spann Interview

And that’s it. I’ll see you again in four years, Alabama History.

If anyone wants the last version of my spreadsheet, they can find it here. I do plan on doing a seminar later in the summer for anyone interested in the details of how we made this year work. I plan on having a curriculum guide written up and copies of my spreadsheet ready to go, so let me know if you’d like to be a part of that.

I mean, I plan to do all that, but it is summer. And it’s been a mighty long school year. So feel free to nag if you don’t hear from me. Until then, I’ll be making like Noah and taking a nice, long, nap.

Last Day of School on Ruffner Mountain _MG_8598

The Super Bowl of Homeschooling.

To a homeschooler, there is nothing more thrilling than standardized achievement tests.

…Okay actually this is way too blanket a statement and is vastly over-applied.

To myself and my daughter and perhaps a few other homeschoolers, there is nothing more thrilling than standardized achievement tests.

I adored them every year when I was a kid. I looked forward to them with much excitement. I loved that my Mom took me to the store and let me pick out whatever snack my heart desired – she said I needed as much brain power as possible to help me to do well during my tests.

(10 out of 10 kids do best when they get to pick out their own snacks.)

And oh, the random snack I chose every year.

946751dd9423f7d34035ffe14e0a2aef

Potato Sticks.

I don’t know why I picked these – I actually don’t remember eating them at any other time except for achievement tests, but they were my standardized snack of choice.

(Maybe it was peeling that plastic seal off that allowed the metal ring to pop off in such a satisfying way. Maybe it was the film of oil on every surface of the inside of the can. Maybe it was the closest thing I could get to Fries in a Can.)

Anyway. Between my beloved Potato Sticks (do they even still make those?), the delight of filling in rows and rows of bubbles, and having a few days in a classroom with other homeschoolers, testing season was the best.

And it thrills my heart to see my daughter find the same joys as I did.

She asks me at least once a month, “How much longer until achievement tests?”

And, with much excitement and glee, they arrived this week.

I of course let her pick out her own snacks. She went with these attractive looking creatures:

512G0G5TH6L

Just as her mother before her, this is not something she normally eats, nor is it something she’s asked me to buy at any other time.

Also? They look like literal dog biscuits. So at least we share extremely questionable standardized snacking taste.

Anyway. She’s taking tests this week, and I’m proctoring tests (for a different grade), because if I’m not allowed to take standardized tests anymore, proctoring is second best. At least I get the joy of seeing other people scribble in beautiful little bubbles.

Right?

As such, I’ll be back next week, fresh off the oh-so-addictive high of helping little minds compare their smarts to all the other little minds out there in the world.

In the meantime, let’s discuss:

1. Did you love/like/hate standardized testing?

2. What unusual snack would you pick out today if you had a week of blissful multiple choice bubbling?

I think I’d go with Potato Sticks. For old time’s sake.

Hands-On History: Sloss Furnaces

Sloss Furnaces170308o-Sloss-Furnacess

Sloss Furnaces, part of the reason for Birmingham’s existence, has always fascinated me – especially photographically. I’ve taken pictures of it for years, but have never truly explored it. I have left it so unexplored that I didn’t even realize they had a gorgeous visitor’s center, gift shop, and museum.

But naturally it was on our list of field trips for our history project, so when we made it to that point in history, I emailed to inquire about a tour. They have a premium tour which includes the opportunity to create an iron mold and watch iron being poured, so I quickly chose that option. Molten hot metal poured with children watching? For sure – we’re absolutely doing that.

We arrived on a gorgeous day – a perfect backdrop for the exciting photos I knew I’d get to take.

Sloss Furnaces 170308-Sloss-Furnacess

Sloss Furnaces was a thriving pig iron producer opened in 1882, perfectly situated in the only place in the United States where all the ingredients needed to make iron lay within a thirty-mile radius.

The tour began, and despite our tour guide’s fantastic mannerisms, I might’ve gotten distracted by all the fabulous angles inside of Sloss to fully pay attention.

Sloss Furnaces170308i-Sloss-Furnacess

I definitely caught some snippets about the terrible working conditions (deafness and death being side effects of employment), but the angles…

Sloss Furnaces170308j-Sloss-Furnacess

We descended down some crazy narrow metal steps to the underground.

Sloss Furnaces170308k-Sloss-Furnacess

I remember clearly that he explained what they used to cart back and forth in this tunnel, but … photographs.

Sloss Furnaces170308e-Sloss-Furnacess

Obviously I need to redo this tour and not be allowed to take my camera along because everything he said was so very interesting and I don’t remember a single word of it.

Sloss Furnaces170308l-Sloss-Furnacess

I am not fit to be a homeschool mom. I am the worst. And I have the photographs to prove it.

Sloss Furnaces170308m-Sloss-Furnacess

 

Sloss Furnaces170308p-Sloss-Furnacess

(This is also Carla Jean’s fault for moving to Colorado because I can’t cheat off of her notes. Which makes me wonder how very much I cheated off her notes last semester…I am really not fit to be a teacher.)

After the riveting tour during which I learned so very much, we went inside the museum and watched a short film about turning Sloss into a National Historic Landmark. Most of Ali’s report (at the bottom) was gleaned from the video. So maybe she was distracted during the tour as well.

Then it was time for the mold making. They gave each of us pressed sand molds and tools for creating our designs.

Sloss-Furnaces_MG_5865_9547s

This was SO MUCH FUN. And made me wish I had more artistic abilities.

Sloss-Furnaces_MG_5851_9533s

After we all finished our molds, they were loaded onto a trolley and carted off to these workers, who were casually maintaining the fire as red-hot iron slag dripped out of their container, as it’s supposed to.

Sloss Furnaces170308c-Iron-Pours

Never have caution signs had such a justified existence.

Sloss Furnaces170308d-Iron-Pours

The best part of my entire month was when they took the vat of liquid iron and began pouring it into the molds. Watching and photographing the splashing fire made me beyond ecstatic.

Sloss Furnaces170308b-Iron-Pours

…And totally creeped Noah out. But did I comfort my kid? No. I was too busy watching volcano being poured.

Sloss Furnaces170308g-Sloss-Furnacess

While we waited for our iron castings to cool a degree or two, we studied the forge’s various collectibles.

Sloss-Furnaces_MG_6212_9894s

Clearly people had been having fun.

Sloss-Furnaces_MG_6215_9898s

My kind of fun.

Sloss Furnaces170308f-Sloss-FurnacessThose eyes…so turquoise. That skull…so melted.

The cart arrived with our creations, and the kids enjoyed trying to find their pieces. (Except one of our kids, who refused to claim his piece, insisting that his would NOT have looked like that.)

Sloss FurnacesIMG_5132

Ali, who had worked hard to write mirror-image letters in her mold, was quite proud of how her piece came out. And amazed at how heavy it was.

Sloss FurnacesIMG_5135

It was a most fantastic field trip, even though I totally failed at knowledge retention. I’ll be sure my report card reflects such.

Sloss-Furnacess

Here’s Ali’s report:

Sloss Furnaces Small