Rich Horton, fellow team member on the RR&R grant, works on his computer checking our PowerPoint presentations for the National Association of Interpreters. Rich had asked me to help him present our work with the participants on the Rivers, Road and Rails grant before submitting the application. We were both elated when we received the acceptance letter. Both Rich and I enjoy sharing stories about the experience.
Description: From canal fever to John Henry, steel drivin’ man to ribbons of road travel, the â€œRivers, roads and Rails Projectâ€ provides American history teachers with content training, historical thinking skills and best pedagogical practices to make history come alive for students and improve their academic achievement. This three year, U.S. Department of Education funded project, is being carried out by a partnership between Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Valley National Park and Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association. An image filled overview will provide a backdrop for participants to dive into sample activities that reflect the place based education philosophy of the project.
Summary: Images and activities invite participation in building understanding of history as discovered along the Ohio and Erie Canalway reflective of the work of this U.S. Department of Education funded project for teachers.
1. Given a PowerPoint presentation, participants will observe and hear an overview of the Rivers, Roads & Rails Project.
2. Using images and presentation of the railroad era of John Henry, participants will create an impression of who John Henry was and learn of how teachers have used these images in their classrooms.
3. Given the music and lyrics of the canal era of Ohio, participants will create an art piece, or diary entry, or news article that reflects life along the canal.
4. Given a variety of historical images from around the Ohio and Erie Canalway, participants will choose an image and write a paragraph that shares a story that they think the image is showing.
Our presentation was scheduled for 9:00 on April 10. We met before 8:00 to check out the room and verify our equipment. We had time for a quick breakfast with the participants held in November Lodge at the CVEEC. There, we saw fellow team member, Jennie Vassarhelyi. Jennie told us how happy she was that we were presenting. Then, she cautioned us that many people who attend the conference are naturalists, and they might choose to be outside. "Don’t feel bad if the room isn’t filled," she said.
We told Jennie that we were prepared to give 100% even if we had only one person choose our session. As it turned out, we had twelve attendees the first hour and eighteen the second hour.
Rich began the session with an overview of the three-year grant authored by Mark Tebeau, Ph.D., primary investigator, in collaboration with CVNPAand CVEEC. Rich did a great job representing the grant. He listed the goals of the grant on his first slide:
To improve student achievement by improving expertise and instructional skills of American history teachers through
– content training
– historical thinking skills
– best pedagogical practices
In the historical relationship between people and place!
Then, Rich gave the themes and time frame for each year of the grant; year one, 1770-1850 Rivers, 1850-1930-Rails, and 1930-present Roads.
I had the second part of the program. I talked about our work with the steel driving man, John Henry. It was so much fun for me to guide the attendees through the same work of our participants. To begin, they filled out the sheet about John Henry. Many of the people in the room knew about John Henry; only one person had never heard of him. I shared responses from our participants, and we laughed at how we come to know a subject. Then I shared the pictures that Ardath Nigro’s fourth-grade students drew of John Henry at the beginning of their study. The participants really enjoyed those drawings. We listened to the Smothers Brothers sing â€œJohn Henry,â€ and then, we listened to Bruce Springstein sing. Finally, we listened to an old-time version.
I explained about the gandy dancers, and the way they would have sung the song, as reported by Scott Nelson Reynolds in his book STEEL DRIVIN’MAN. As a culminating activity, we all wrote songs about ourselves to the tune of â€œJohn Henry.â€
One of the participants in our session sang, â€œWhen Karen was a little baby, Sitting on her Mama’s knee, She picked up a bonnet and a big hoop skirt, said, â€˜I’m gonna be someone else, Lord, Lord. I’m gonna be someone else.’â€ Karen works as a historical interpreter for Hale Farm and Village.
Another participant, Dan Best, retold the story of trying to shoot blackbirds with a rubber bow and arrow when he was a child. His daddy gave him a real talking to about that, and respecting nature and its creatures had its genesis at that point.
The final part of my presentation was providing the truth about John Henry, according to Scott Reynolds Nelson. Of course, I had to give the caveat that our history expert, Dr. Peter Rutkoff, Kenyon College professor, â€œDon’t hesitate to question Nelson’s findings.â€
Rich distributed lyrics from the canal era. Working in groups, participants read the lyrics, and then they created stories, letters, journal entries, or advertisements based on the lyrics. My song was "Our Fairyland" by Captain Pearl Nye. The song was three pages longs with 21 verses. Each verse told about a canal town along the way from Akron to Portsmouth. In addition, Captain Nye had included bird song and sights from nature. He mentioned "the largest vine in the world" and a tree so big it would "jar your heart." He described bird song and frog chorus. One naturalist from Summit County loved that song. She said, "Where else will I find the canal towns as well as bird songs? It is perfect for what I’m doing."
The culminating activity was a writing assignment based on photographs. The time flew by, and I could hardly believe the two hours were over. Our attendees didn’t want to leave. They hung by talking about how they planned to use what they’d learned in our session. Howey told me to go to the Smithsonian website for more versions of the John Henry song. Dan Best slipped me a piece o paper that said, "Check out modern re-write "The Day John Henry Died" by the Drive-by Truckers. One woman gave me a big hug.
Rich and I left happy. We enjoyed sharing the grant and the accomplishments of our teachers. It was great, also, to see other people respond to the activities we’d created for the RR&R grant.
Going home, I reflected on how much I had learned in my work with the RR&R grant both professionally and personally.