Our third grade classes went on a field trip to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, this week. To prepare for this trip we had Thomas Jefferson Week in my language arts classroom! All week long, we read about Jefferson, wrote about him, discussed him at Morning Meeting, played games that he actually played when he was a child, and debated his most important accomplishments.
We began on Monday with our Morning Meeting share: “What do you know about Thomas Jefferson?” Then we started reading about his childhood and the major events in his younger years that influenced him later in life. I went to every public library in Charlottesville and checked out every book about Thomas Jefferson that I could find. There were more than enough for one for each child. I ranked the books from easiest reading level to hardest and passed then out accordingly. We discussed use of the index (if there was one) and how it could be used to locate information quickly. I then gave the kids a checklist which they glued into their notebooks. The checklist included the four pieces of information that they needed to locate in the book. They had to write one sentence for each: when was he born, what did he like to do as a child, what major event happened in 1757 when he was 14, and what happened in 1760 when he was 16. I had previously checked in each book to be sure that this information was included. Finally we talked about what a biography is and where information about childhood would most likely be located in a biography (how biographies are organized). Then the kids set off to work. They could choose to either work by themselves or with partners.
When they were finished reading and writing their four sentences, I introduced them to a board game that Thomas Jefferson had played with his family. It was called “The Royal Game of the Goose.” I recreated five versions of it on poster board and taught then how to play. The kids loved it and continued to play it every day first thing in the morning (before Morning Meeting) and after completing their reading and writing assignments each day.
On Tuesday, our Morning Meeting share connected yesterday’s learning to each child’s life: “How is your childhood like Thomas Jefferson’s childhood?” The kids remembered great facts that they had learned. One student said, “I love reading and he did too!” Another said, “Both of our dads taught us to hunt and fish.” Still another shared how his father had died and so did Thomas Jefferson’s when he was a kid. In reading, the focus turned to his accomplishments as an adult. They had to find and write one sentence about the following six things: the connection between Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, why the Declaration of Independence was important, the Louisiana Purchase, why the Louisiana Purchase was important, when he became president, and the connection between Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia.
On Wednesday, the Morning Meeting share was “Why do you think the Declaration of Independence was so important?” The kids, once again, showed that they had retained their knowledge acquired from the reading activity the day before. They shared ideas such as “It gave us freedom,” “We became our own country,” and “We weren’t controlled by England anymore.” The reading activity later in the day was focused on Monticello. The kids were again given a checklist with the expectation that they would write one complete sentence for each item on the list: “who built Monticello, what does the word ‘Monticello’ mean, name three things that Thomas Jefferson invented, when did Thomas Jefferson die, and what was important about the day that he died.” I also read to them what the inscription says on his tomb and why that’s significant (because they are the three things that Thomas Jefferson wanted to be remembered by, and none of them are things he did when he was president).
On Thursday, we went on our field trip to Monticello. We intentionally planned it for a Thursday to give us three days to prepare the kids for the trip, one day for the trip, and one day after to reflect on the trip. Our Morning Meeting share was “What are you looking forward to seeing on the field trip today?” I was surprised at the wide variety of answers that they gave. I was expecting them to say simply, his house or his grave. Some did say those two things but many kids said that they wanted to see the artifacts that Lewis and Clark had given him that are displayed in his house, the polygraph machine that he invented that allowed him to make a copy of everything he wrote, the gardens around his house, the piano and violin that he and his family loved playing, the slaves’ rooms, and his library of books. I was very pleased because their answers demonstrated all the things they had learned over the week.
While we were at Monticello, the kids had such good behavior. I was very proud of them and how they represented our school. They were truly interested in everything they saw and heard from the guide. They had their hands up to answer every question the guides threw at them and later the guide told me that out of all the groups that she had ever given a tour, they were the most knowledgeable, respectful, and attentive group of kids she had ever seen. She couldn’t believe that when we went in the parlor, the kids immediately recognized the game that was set up on the floor. They cried out in excitement, “It’s The Royal Game of the Goose!” Another noticed the piano and said, “It’s the pianoforte!” At the end of the tour, she asked if they knew what was written on his tomb, and the kids all raised their hand excitedly. She called on three different kids and they cried out in order, “The Declaration of American Independence, Religious Freedom for Virginia, and Father of the University of Virginia!” The tour guide just stared at then in amazement and I was so proud that they had remembered all the things we read, wrote, and talked about.
While in the house, the tour guide showed them the dumbwaiter that Thomas Jefferson had build in the dining room to bring bottles of wine up from the cellar below. I told the kids to pay careful attention to the dumbwaiter and how it worked because they were going to have to make one for Challenge Friday the next day.
The day after the field trip, the kids drew one thing they saw at Monticello and wrote about at least one thing they saw, learned, or liked about Monticello. We will send these to Monticello. Then we built dumbwaiters for Challenge Friday, but I’ll give more details on that in the next post!