Thursday, February 14, 2008

Saying goodbye to my baby

When I was teaching 5th and 6th grade in a Christian school years ago, I couldn't help but notice how much all the kids hated history. While I understood their pain, it also made me kind of sad. I, too, was a former history hater, having come to love it late through the efforts of a truly gifted professor at Ball State. That man could make it seem as if the Battle of Hastings was happening right outside on the Quad; I practically felt the need to duck under my desk to avoid an onslaught of arrows.

(Incidentally, he was the one who also taught me, in a completely secular context, that Jesus Christ was the founder of the organization that came to be known as the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicism is a faith, he said sternly; everything else is a denomination that was founded by a person. Yes, I was nineteen years old before I learned that. I know. It's either through the failure of our public school system or -- let's be honest -- my total lack of focus as little high school ninny. At any rate, this professor was always quite clear in telling us that he was not only an agnostic, but also of Jewish heritage, so I was impressed by his impartiality.)

Anyway, to help my students enjoy history more, I kind of invented a little history bingo game that I called HISTO. I culled different important facts out of their history text and turned them into questions that the kids had to memorize. Then I wrote out standard bingo cards with the answers to the questions. On two Friday afternoons per month, I'd arrange with the school cafeteria to send us up a couple of gallons of apple cider and a huge vat of popcorn and we'd play HISTO for silly prizes like a package of notebook paper, or an automatic pencil or whatever else I could purchase cheaply with my employee discount from the school bookstore.

Not surprisingly, history grades began to go up. The kids started being interested in reading biographies of famous Americans (we were studying American history the first year I did HISTO, natch) instead of those deplorable Goosebumps bumps that were just gaining in popularity at that time. I was really stoked.

When we joined this homeschool group the year after we began homeschooling, I knew I wanted to take up with HISTO again someday, but Aisling had just started first grade and there wasn't much history to be done with her at that age. I definitely knew that I didn't want to start it up until both girls could participate, so I waited until Aisling was a fourth grader (Meelyn in sixth) before I started HISTO Indiana History.

HISTO Indiana History was a labor of love. About fifteen kids played that first year. I used it as an actual history course for my two instead of just as entertainment. I combined it with fiction and non-fiction by Indiana writers, as well as a number of Indiana field trips. We went to the cathedral in Vincennes, Indiana, to the Wilbur Wright Birthplace in Henry County, to the Levi Coffin Home in Wayne County, as well as to James Whitbomb Riley's childhood and adult homes, the Benjamin Harrison Home, the Indiana State House and some other interesting places.

We played three rounds of HISTO Indiana History. The three rounds consisted of seventy-five questions each, which the kids had a couple of months' worth of time to memorize before we played. They loved it. They loved it! Everyone brought in some sort of snack to eat and I made sure that there was a festive party atmosphere: Above all, when the kids, who were a bit unsure about this whole HISTO thing and the memory work at first, went home that first day, I wanted them to be shining with happiness and saying to their mothers, "History is FUN!"

From then on, it was much easier for the students to devote themselves to the memorizing, since they knew that they were going to have two hours of HISTO to play in just a few weeks. At Round 2, they all earnestly assured me that two hours was not nearly long enough, so we increased it to three.

Meanwhile, I was having a wonderful time writing questions. I trolled through history websites and library books and read about Indians and dinosaurs and Revolutionary War battles and the fascinating Carl Fisher. But even better, I found websites that allowed me to trace Indiana's Catholic history back to the early eighteenth century when the first Mass was celebrated in the territory that later became known as the state of Indiana. I was thrilled to be able to share our common heritage with the kids, to teach them about the people who came here as explorers or pioneers or railroad laborers; to tell them about the circuit priests who kept the faith alive for the people living in a wilderness that didn't know a beautiful church or welcoming parish hall the way we do now.

The next year, we moved on to HISTO Roman Empire, which ran to five rounds. This year, we're doing HISTO Ancient Greece. I know that's backtracking a bit, but next year we'll move ahead in history to do HISTO Medieval Period. From that point, we'll either keep moving ahead in history (HISTO Renaissance, HISTO Brittania, HISTO American History) either until Meelyn and Aisling graduate from high school, or I can't take it anymore.

However, there's now a whole new group of students in the fourth-to-sixth grade age range. I started wondering if any mothers in the homeschool group would be interested in doing this activity, because I'm going to be too busy to do it myself. Someone would have to volunteer to organize it all -- to find a place to meet, to set up some dates and times. There would also have to be someone willing to coordinate all the field trips, because let me tell you: When I did HISTO Indiana History, I did the whole dealio mostly by myself. I wrote questions, I made bingo cards, I telephoned different trip was an enormous amount of work, too much for one person. Honestly, I look back and I have no clue how I did it. All I can say is that it is easy to do things when you have a white-hot passion for your subject matter.

So I sent out a message to our group e-list, and sure enough, I found a coordinator, my darling friend Gloria. She agreed to take it on (she may be kicking herself by now, because I just sent her an email detailing the first FOUR things she needs to do, all of which are pretty involved and important). So far, there are fifteen kids signed up, and I imagine more will come along before this school year ends.

It will be a great pleasure to see HISTO continuing with this younger group. I've told Gloria that I'll be there for her in an advisory capacity, plus I am providing all the bingo cards, study questions, caller's cards and even card markers for the group, so she won't have to worry about any of that -- the distribution of the study binders will be the most onerous task she'll have to face.

I am very excited to be passing this baby along.


must said...
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Kbg said...

Gloria will be a great organizer for this...she is very good at this sort of undertaking and will do you proud!

I am so happy that it is going to live on (and on and on and on hopefully) is SO WORTH IT!