“Last spring I participated in the Teacher’s Institute of Philadelphia course at the University of Pennsylvania, designed so that teachers can gain expertise in a content area. I took a course called ‘American Literature and Painting, from 1840’ taught by Dr. Peter Conn. It was fabulous. Our assignment was to create a curriculum unit to fit what we teach. My unit is called, ‘Settling of the West: Expansion, Emigration and Extermination.’ I focus on the four things responsible for the movement westward: The Oregon Trail, The Gold Rush, The Homestead Acts, and the Transcontinental Railroad. I also focus on the paintings of Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, George Catlin, and Frederic Remington, and I have downloaded about 300 images from ARTstor. Nancy has also attended the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s VAST summer program for teachers, which involves techniques in “reading” art in the classroom. “I teach the kids to read these paintings, and they are assigned to portray these artists and other pivotal historical characters. The paintings are primary sources, and we discuss the iconography of the West and some of the reasons people were willing to pick up and leave everything behind. With the hardships they had to endure traveling west, why did they do it? Well, there was an economic depression in 1837 and cities were becoming g crowded with many European immigrants – so many people looked to the West. That’s some of what I share with the students. “My husband and I drove cross-country in a little Camaro in 1975, and that was tough enough – I can’t imagine doing it in a covered wagon and without roads! But there are so many stories from the Oregon Trail. The kids are going to read first-person accounts. In one family the parents both died on the trail and the children were taken in by a missionary couple in Oregon. Then the missionaries were killed by Native Americans, and we have first-person accounts from the young girl who survived the massacre, Catherine Sager.” Nancy’s final project with her students will be to create a “museum” for their work. Students will take on the roles of Frederic Remington, Lewis and Clark, Catherine Sager and others, and will become a living part of the museum. “Since I’m not currently teaching classes, this project will at first be a pull-out for students from grades four through seven. We’ll focus first on the gifted students who need enrichment, and then I’ll take referrals from teachers. We’ll meet regularly and the museum will ‘be open’ around the first week in December. The museum kids will set up in the afternoons during parent/teacher conferences. The students will download video segments from Discovery Streaming, and then create and edit a short movie as an introduction to the museum. Students will also create a museum backdrop and costume.” Nancy has applied for and received a grant from the Marci Resnick Teacher Fund through the Philadelphia Writing Project to finance these activities.
(L-R) Brad, Emilio, Benjamin, Delia
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