Tuesday, September 11, 2012

American Pageant: AP US History

Sometimes when things come easy there is not much pride in the outcome.  Unless you challenge yourself and push yourself just beyond your comfort zone, it is easy to feel a false sense of pride in your accomplishment.  I want my children to feel a sense of pride not only in the outcome of their efforts but pride in their efforts.  To do this, they need a push. 

I am pushing this year.  When Grace finished her personal reflection about our neighborhood at night (from Moving Beyond the Page), she did so with a big smile on her face.  That night at bedtime she told me she is really proud of that piece of writing.  This is growth and learning and self awareness. She set a new benchmark for her writing.  She raised her own bar.  
Grace is signed up for an AP US History class that begins in two weeks.  The class is taught by a retired high school history teacher who is passionate about the subject.  When I saw this class offered, I thought of Geoff from The Big Dig and how amazing it would be to take a class offered by someone with this level of passion.  Grace agreed.  
The text is the standard AP text used in high schools, American Pageant Vol 1 and 2.  It is hard.  Although this class is offered to children 12 and up, the reading level of this text is unlike anything I remember in high school.  We are reading it together.  Every day we sit for at least 20 minutes and partner read.  I read a bit, she reads a bit.  We look at the maps.  We stop frequently and analyze a paragraph.  We examine key issues.  Based on our current reading rate, it will take three days to complete one chapter.  I assume two chapters will be assigned a week plus the corresponding homework.  She can handle writing  on her own, but to write a coherent essay she must first have a thorough understanding of the material.
I cannot imagine homeschooling a middle school or high school child prior to the age of the Internet.  In just a few minutes I had the study guide for chapter 1 and sample essay questions ready to download.  When we complete chapter one we will take a day and she will add all the key people to her Book of Centuries.  She will also begin a file on her  iPad either using Powerpoint or Notability where she will answer the essay questions and record the vocabulary to be memorized.  

Because we have been doing Story of the World for the past two years, she has an understanding of the events leading up to the “discovery” of the New World.  We have analyzed why countries want to expand their zones of influence.  She knows the driving themes of religion and trade.  But we are in the 1500’s in SOTW, which is mostly about European History.  Our country’s history is not something she has a working knowledge of.....yet.

To give her background information we are watching lots of videos on youtube, Netflix and Amazon.  I love that the iPad is such a powerful learning tool.  Our home has wireless which gives them access to the Internet.  Greg’s iPad has 3G, and it will be the one we use when we have downtime waiting for a class outside our home.   Her work is completely portable.
I have been thinking of all the great local trips we can take this year.  Living in New England give us access to so many resources.  We can go to Boston.  We can go to Saratoga and Gettysburg, Philadelphia and Virginia.  Chapter 1 of American Pageant explains the populating of the continent by Native People long before Europeans sought a new route to Asia.  It explains the rise in communities made possible by agriculture.  We learned how different Native Americans adapted to make use of resources introduced by the Europeans, such as horses which migrated to the plains and were domesticated by Native Americans to make the hunt for buffalo more efficient.   We read too how the need/demand/desire for sugar began to shape the history of three continents: Europe, Africa, North America and the devastating effect it had on Native peoples.  
The Mashantucket Pequot Museum must be visited now that this information is fresh.  The museum has beautiful interactive displays of the polar ice caps and the land bridge that allowed people to cross from Asia into what is now Alaska.  It focuses primarily on the tribes of CT, but the history will literally jump from the pages of American Pageant and bring these words to life. We have a date set for this day trip!
I hope Grace feels the pride that accompanies this kind of challenge.  This is asking much of a soon to be 12 year old child.  This is pushing her out of her comfort zone and into a place of uncertainty.  I hope that when this class begins in two weeks, she will get caught up in her teacher’s passion and hopefully this will be just the beginning of her foray into the history of this great country in which we are blessed to reside!

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