Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas

A Delicious Celebration in the Classroom

 

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Plankroad-0062As mentioned in the previous post, after reading Plank Road Summer, students in Burlington, Wisconsin, shared their knowledge of Midwestern history at the “1852 6th Grade Fair” held on Grandparents’ Day.  No fair is complete without food, of course.  Plankroad-9999In addition to building plank roads, coloring quilt blocks, and learning about the Underground Railroad, the visitors baked scones and drank freshly-squeezed lemonade.  Inspired by pioneer girls Katie and Florence in Plank Road Summer, one student even provided a taste test of strawberry preserves.

Plankroad-0010

Plankroad-9951

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography.

 

 

Advertisements
Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, county fair, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Generations Celebrate Wisconsin History Together

Grandparents' Day guides at St. John's Lutheran School

Grandparents’ Day guides at St. John’s Lutheran School

Mrs. Rehberger and her students assist visiting grandparents in building a plank road

Mrs. Rehberger and her students assist visiting grandparents in building a plank road

On March 14, sixth graders at St. John’s Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin, celebrated Grandparents’ Day by hosting an interactive classroom fair inspired by Plank Road Summer.

A visiting grandmother colors a quilt block

A visiting grandmother colors a quilt block

The students in Mrs. Claire Rehberger’s class chose their own projects, which resulted in a fascinating variety of activities and exhibits for the older guests.  Visitors to the classroom were invited to build a plank road, make scones and lemonade, color quilt blocks, taste strawberry preserves, listen to a live reading of Plank Road Summer, experience an audiovisual presentation about the Underground Railroad, and play a memory game about technology “Then and Now.”

 

Two grandfathers make scones in the sixth grade classroom at St. John's

Two grandfathers make scones in the sixth grade classroom at St. John’s

Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography

 

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Way of the Road

Last week, I spoke at an adult forum at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Elmhurst, Illinois. I had led a discussion at the church when Plank Road Summer was published; in that book the moral dilemma of whether or not to break the law to help runaway slaves  provided a natural link to a discussion about how we make ethical decisions.

Until I sat down to prepare for this new presentation, I did not see any such obvious connection to faith issues in Plank Road Winter.  I began by considering the scenes involving disaster relief, since that is  a familiar topic to many churches. But as I delved further into the book, I discovered that the entire story is about stewardship, or managing one’s life with respect and regard for the needs of others. Though Hilda and I certainly instilled our own values into the characters and plot, only now do I understand how tightly the idea of serving others is woven into the fabric of the story.

From Papa going back to help the Kreuschers, to the community-wide disaster relief efforts, to a Pullman porter “loaning” money for train tickets home, Plank Road Winter is about using one’s time, resources, and abilities to serve the greater good of society. According to that Pullman porter, this is “Just friends helping friends. It’s the way of the road.” Summer readers will recognize “the way of the road” as the words of Gran Mather, first spoken when she instructed Florence to pull their light wagon off the planks onto the dirt lane to let a heavily-laden wagon go by. According to Gran Mather, “We are to ease the journey of those who are burdened.”

If your reading group or class would like to use “The Way of the Road: Lessons in Serving” or explore other aspects of the Plank Road books, take a look at our page of Resources for Teachers. The free, downloadable materials include a discussion guide on The Way of the Road and an eight-page Teacher’s Guide with discussion questions, classroom activities, and historical notes.  Other curriculum materials include spelling and vocabulary lists for both books and links to websites providing historical background and additional educational activities.

We would love to hear about how readers use these resources to dig deeper into our Plank Road Stories.

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classroom Capers

Florence and Katie pick strawberries: "Look, there's more red than green!"

Watching performances of Plank Road Summer was the highlight of my recent trip to Wisconsin. At St. John’s Lutheran School in Burlington, Mrs. Susan Musgrave’s sixth graders completed a variety of final projects after reading the book. Some chose to build plank roads and tollhouses.  Others researched the Underground Railroad, designed paper ninepatch quilts, or wrote new chapters for Plank Road Summer.

Two groups of students chose to act out scenes from the book, and they gave delightful encore performances during my visit to their classroom.

Then the girls make strawberry jam: "Katie McEachron, 'ee don't know nails from oats!"

Strawberries seemed to be the theme of the day: in the first scene Katie and Florence picked berries and quarreled over making jam.  In the second scene, Katie and Grace Caswell began working on the strawberry patch quilt.

Grace to Katie: "I've a mind to exhibit this quilt at the fair."

I gave two presentations at St. John’s that afternoon; the teachers separated the classes that had read the book from the classes that had not.  At the end of the school day, I called a few old-time dances during a high-spirited and hilarious gathering in the gym.

Everybody joined the dance

Many thanks to the principal and teachers at St. John’s, especially Mrs. Musgrave and her students, for their warm welcome and the fine entertainment.

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everybody Joined the Dance

I was asked to speak about Plank Road Summer at a couple adult and youth Sunday school classes. Since an author never turns down an invitation to talk about her book, and the church was close to my heart, I agreed.  Though we didn’t write our book as a moral tale, we don’t need to search very hard to see faith issues at work.

The 1850s Wisconsin community was facing a moral dilemma–what side would they take on the slavery issue?  When Hilda and I started writing our book, every character in the neighborhood was against slavery.  How could anyone have an opinion other than that?  But as we dug deeper into the issues and laws of the time, we realized that some people in that community would have believed that following the law of the land was the right thing to do.  The law stated that slaves were to be returned their masters in the South. 

This became a starting point for my Sunday morning conversations–what would you have done? Would you have helped the slaves? Would you follow the law? Would you risk a $1000 fine?  We came to understand that the people of the time would have faced an moral dilemma–when the right choice may not have seemed as obvious as it does to us today, 150 years later.

What issues do we have today that are dividing our communities?  Health care, illegal immigration, human rights, political divisions.  We face moral and ethical dilemmas every day, some close to home, and some at a national or international level.

My hope is that as we face the issues that divide us, we can remember one lesson from Plank Road Summer: In the end, everybody joined the dance. It didn’t matter who won the horse race or who was an abolitionist or who was part of the posse–everybody joined the dance.  As a country and as local communities, we need to take time to celebrate the unity we share, despite our differing opinions.  How would our world be better if we listened more, accused less, worked together, and invited everybody to the dance?

Categories: Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Midsummer Eve: Keeping the Fires of Cornwall

During my Valparaiso University semester abroad, in Cornwall I enjoyed reading by the hearth in the youth hostel, hiking along the cliffs, and watching the sea.  I remember standing at Land’s End looking out over the Atlantic Ocean, thinking about the many emigrants who had watched their homeland fade into a gray haze of sea and sky.

I did not know then that my sister Emily and I would write about the Cornish settlers of our own Wisconsin community.  In the tree-shaded Yorkville Methodist cemetery, the pale weathered stones of the pioneers are scattered among the sharp granite markers of their descendants.

In the Plank Road days, Cornish settlers must have sought ways to connect the old ways with the new.  Along with telling stories of the old country, they shared the tastes of home–pasties every day and saffron cake on special occasions–and worshiped together at the Methodist “mud chapel,” singing hymns and carols known for generations.

Other traditions must have persisted as well.  There are no cliffs in Yorkville, so on Midsummer Eve the Cornish pioneers were never to see “a chain of fires on the clifftops stretching all along the seacoast,”  as Gran Mather described the custom to Florence.  Yet lighting a bonfire on June 23 and sharing a ritual for prosperity in the coming year would be one way of honoring the old ways and helping the young people to appreciate the place they knew “only through stories and songs, the land where others shared in the keeping of the fires.”

By the end of the nineteenth century, such Midsummer traditions had died out even in Cornwall, but in the 1920s various organizations were formed to preserve the Cornish heritage.  The motto of the Federation of Old Cornwall Societies is “Cuntelleugh an brewyon us gesys na vo kellys travyth” (Gather up the fragments that are left that nothing be lost).  You can learn more about Midsummer Eve fires and other Cornish customs at the Federation website: <http://www.oldcornwall.org/&gt;

The Plank Road Summer Resources for Teachers include materials related to immigration and Cornish traditions provided by the Wisconsin historic site of Pendarvis.


Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taking the Plank Road to the Classroom

Thanks in part to museum educator Victoria Duhamell, who expressed her eagerness for curriculum materials today at the Westchester Township History Museum, the Plank Road Summer teacher’s guide is up and running.  You can find the guide and other educational links at our Resources for Teachers.

The eight-page PDF includes an overview of the themes and values in the novel, discussion questions, suggested activities in various subject areas, and brief explanations of the history of plank roads and the Underground Railroad in the Great Lakes region.

Many thanks to Wisconsin teacher Gretchen Demuth Hansen and Indiana educator Sherri Nord for their help in developing these materials.

This guide is a work in progress, and we look forward to hearing from educators in classrooms, home schools, museums, historic sites–from all of those who enjoy putting new materials to the test in their eagerness to share the adventure of learning.

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Be a Toll Keeper on the Plank Road

We’re working on teaching materials to go with Plank Road Summer. (Hope to post a draft of a Teacher’s Guide soon – next week? – on the Resources page.)

In the meantime, from those materials, here’s a fun handout, a 1-page activity sheet.

It’s a blank copy of a toll keeper’s ledger page, from p. 153 of Plank Road Summer by Hilda and Emily Demuth.

This worksheet may be reproduced as is for classroom or homeschooling use. It’s perfect to pose some pioneer math problems!

First, you need to create your own schedule of fees for your plank road company. In the book, for instance, the fee at each tollhouse on the Racine and Rock River Plank Road is 5 cents for a wagon pulled by 2 animals.

Now . . . does anyone know what “neat cattle” are?
(* see answer below!)

Click here for the 1-page activity sheet:
Taking Tolls on the Plank Road

* “Neat cattle” weren’t cattle that dressed nicely. It was just a specific term for animals of the bovine persuasion (i.e., cows, heifers, bulls, oxen). Otherwise, the term “cattle” sometimes was considered to include all sorts of “domestic quadrupeds” such as sheep and goats. (At least, I think that’s what “neat cattle” means.)

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.