Sunday, August 09, 2015

Visiting the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City



Before leaving New York on my trip this week, I had a half day to essentially do anything I wished in New York City. The 9/11 memorial and museum were not completed when I was in New York City in 2008 when I was here last so I decided to spend my day visiting this historic site.

Everyone of this generation has their own 9/11 story. My was as a teacher who had just started teaching in a new school district. I had just started my career at Liberty Public Schools a couple of weeks earlier - I'm still here after 15 years by the way. I was teaching on the third floor of what was then Liberty Junior High. During the passing period in the morning the teacher next door mentioned that something crazy had happened in New York - a plane had crashed into a building. Of course then more details unfolded throughout the day and significance of the events began to soak in. I didn't have a personal connection to anyone who lost their life that day but I will never forget the overwhelming feeling that night that things would never be the same again, for any of us. I wasn't sure exactly how things would be different but just like Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK, this would be a marker in each person's timeline that denoted the separation between pre 9/11 and post 9/11.


I got on the subway and arrived at the museum early. It opened at 9 am and I think I bought my ticket at around 8:50. It wasn't really crowded when I entered the museum but it progressively became more crowded throughout the morning. I opted not to rent the device to listen to the self guided audio tour for $7. The same content is available on the free 9/11 museum app. I tried to download it at the museum but the wifi wasn't fast enough - or I wasn't patient enough - to let it completely download. I walked the museum without the audio tour and never felt like I was missing out on anything but I'm sure it would be benefit all for some. I tend to read a lot of artifact tags and in parts of the museum there were video and audio clips included in the exhibits. 


The museum had two really powerful elements for me - the wreckage from the towers and the way in which the personal stories of the victims were shared. I have seen pieces of the towers in other museums but when see the steel that absorbed the impact of the first plane and the crushed New York City fire department truck it becomes real in new way, or at least it did for me. The first part of the museum was largely about the building itself and objects from the towers. 




One powerful display in the first part of my museum experience was a wall made up of about 3,000 blue squares - each representing a person who lost their life on 9/11. The quote in the middle of the wall reads "No day shall erase you from the memory of time". The display explained that each square depicts a different shade of the blue sky that morning and each of the squares is a different shade of blue. It represents the idea that each of us may see the same thing - like a blue sky - and yet each of us has a different way of describing and experiencing it. I thought this wall had a powerful meaning both artistically and emotionally. 





The second part of the museum for me was the area in which each person who lost their life has their picture displayed on the four walls of the room. In the middle of the space is an enclosed room in which each person has a video with a description of their life, a picture and a family member telling a little about the person. The videos are on a continual loop. This was very powerful. To see all the faces and then pause to listen to a couple of these stories was moving to say the least. 


The final part of the museum for me was the area in which the events of 9/11 are described with video accounts, artifacts from that day and wreckage from when the towers fell. We have all seen the video clips many times but seeing the plane hit the towers still hits me. I was also especially struck by the items recovered from both the towers and the planes.
There were several times during visit when I got a pit in my stomach and felt very emotional. The museum was somewhat crowded at this point - tickets are timed but not everyone spends the same amount of time in various spaces - and yet almost no one spoke. There was an occasional child asking a parent "why did this happen?" Followed by a parent struggling to find words to explain. I also noticed many people from other countries which reminded me that this was not just an American tragedy, it impacted the rest of the world as well.





Perhaps the most emotional experience for me in the museum was a small area in which people could sit and listen to some of the phone calls made from Flight 93 - the United flight where people knew what was happening and quite a few made phone calls to loved ones saying that the plane had been hijacked, they loved their family members and hoped they would see them again. Of course it also goes on to describe how these passengers decided they must try to regain control of the plane and in the struggle it crashed in Pennsylvania. As I listened to those phone calls made from the flight I started to cry in a room full of strangers. I wasn't the only one but at that point the humanity of what I was seeing was too ugh to hold inside. I am actually on a plane as I type this blog post on my way back home to see my family. Looking out the window and thinking about what those passengers must have felt knowing what had happened earlier that day in New York and thinking about their loved ones is difficult. 


I left the museum feeling somber and trying to process what I had just seen and experienced. As I type this almost 10 hours later I am still reflecting on the day. After leaving the museum I visited the two reflecting pools located on the footprints of the towers. I looked up and saw the newly constructed Freedom Tower, a symbol that time moves on.
I think the museum and memorial are both successful in their attempt to both tell the story of 9/11 and honor the memory of those who,lost their life that day. It will continue to be a watershed moment for all Americans, even those who were not alive at the time and that is important. The 8th graders that I teach today have no personal recollection of experiencing that day and it difficult for me sometimes to remember that fact. I am glad that I visited the site today and I encourage everyone to visit if they have an opportunity. 




Exploring New York - Google NYC Offices, High Line Trail, Chelsea Market, Flatiron Building and Freedom Tower




This past week I was in New York City for several days doing some brainstorming work with Google. The only other time I have visited New York was back in 2008 so I was excited to explore some parts of the city in my share time this week. I have a separate blog post on the hotel at which I stayed – The Jane Hotel – and my visit to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  In this post I wanted to share a couple of pictures and thoughts on some of the places I visited.




Twice during my stay I visited the High Line Trail in the evening.  The High Line is an elevated area that at one time was a rail line and in recent years has been converted to an urban walking trail with lots of great art and plants.  The trail itself is very cool with wildflowers and tall grasses on both sides as you stroll through the heart of New York and see the skyscrapers around you.  Several places in the trail have statues, unique places to sit and at numerous locations there are little restaurants and vendors selling items like ice cream sandwiches. 





I walked the High Line at night both times I visited and it was very popular, almost what I would consider ‘crowded” but to a native New Yorker it would probably be considered spacious. It was sunset on the first night I visited and I took quite a few pictures of the sun setting over the Hudson River.  It is a great collision of nature in an urban setting.







Just below the High Line trail, literally, is Chelsea Market. Chelsea Market is an eclectic collection of cool food and art shops in a historic building.  I walked around the bought a half price gourmet cupcake (it was close to closing time and it was delicious) as well as some fancy doughnuts. There was a great area in which a large collection of individual artists each had there own area to sell specific handmade items. My favorite was a gentlemen who had taken bike maps of the city of New York and then screen printed a picture of a New York City street scene in black ink on top of the map.  It would be a very cool framed print.






One of the items on my “must do” list for this trip to New York was setting the FlatIron Building.  You have probably seen the Flat Iron Building in pictures – it is the iconic tall, almost flat building in New York.  I have always wanted to see it in person but did not get a chance back in 2008 to see it.  I had a little bit of time one night to walk over to the Flat Iron around 7:30 in the evening.  I wasn’t sure what the light would look like when I got there since it was getting later in the day but I thought I would take a chance.  Luckily when I got there the light from the setting sun was still hitting one side of the building.  I thought it made an interesting shadow on the side of the building and I was able to take a few pictures that I think turned out well.  It was interesting to find angles to take pictures of the Flat Iron building with both showed it’s size and the unique flat shape.  I was happy with the pictures that I took and hope next time to maybe get over there in time to see what photographs would like at sunrise.








On my visit to the 9/11 Museum on my last day I took a few pictures of the relatively new Freedom Tower.  It is an interesting building to photograph because at different times of the day it can have a pretty intense reflection from the sun.  A couple of the pictures that I took include an area of the building that had a bright reflection.  Some of the pictures I took of the Freedom Tower are from the area around the 9/11 Memorial that includes trees.  It seemed a little unusual taking a picture of this huge skyscraper framed by trees.



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

iMovie Session at Liberty eLEADS Conference

Today I'm doing a quick professional development session on using iMovie at the Liberty eLEADS Conference.  Teachers will be creating a very quick intro video for their upcoming school year.

I put together just a couple of resources here for future reference.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Day 23 - One Last Sunrise at General Washington's Mount Vernon




So today is my final day as a Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellow.  It has been a rewarding and satisfying experience.  I'm sure I will do a reflective blog post later when I have time to get settled back in at home and look back at the last three weeks.

Several of you have asked about the project I've been working on.  The project is essentially done and I'm doing a few modifications here and there before it is ready for prime time.  The lesson I created is a two day lesson for middle school students which teaches some fundamental concepts in archaeology while exploring the Slave Cemetery Survey site at Mount Vernon which is an active archaeological site.  I will definitely be giving it a test run with my own 8th graders in September this fall. I will be posted it once it is ready.  I think it is a very interesting way to both teach Mount Vernon and he tools used by archaeologists.

I am actually writing this blog post at Reagan National Airport in DC.  My flight was scheduled to be gone already but we have a 5 hour delay due to mechanical issues so I've been hanging out and working on a couple of items in the meantime.  I was surprised to run into Denver Brunsman, Associate Professor of History at George Washington, at my gate waiting for a different flight. Denver and I visited last week at Mount Vernon so it was nice to chat while we were both waiting for flights.



My last big activity at Mount Vernon was watching the sunrise one last time before leaving. If you've been following the blog you know that I love to get up early, walk to the piazza at the mansion and watch the sunrise.  It is an amazing view, the Potomac stretched out in front of you and sun rising just off to the left above some trees on the property.  I typically get up at around 5:30 on days that I want to see the sunrise and then reach the mansion a little before 6:00 AM.  It is not crazy early, about the same time that I get up during the school year, but since it is summer without any pressing engagements it is always a bit of a mental struggle to ask myself if I really want to get up to see the sunrise.  

I haven't done it every day here at Mount Vernon - probably about five times in the three weeks that I was here. I have also done it the past over the years staying here for various teacher workshops. Each day is a little different, and some days might be a little bit more dramatic than others. They all look a little different based on the clouds.  Today was a beauty. Probably one of the best I can remember ever seeing here. Mother nature giving me a tip of the hat perhaps on my final day. One can believe it so, right? 



I took all the pictures this morning with my Nexus 6 phone. Usually I bring both my phone and my camera but I actually forgot my camera back at the house this morning. I have developed several places that I like to take pictures. There are a couple of angles that show just the Potomac, some that include the house and some that are from standing on the piazza behind the chairs and looking out on the scene through the columns.  The mansion is currently undergoing some significant renovations right now so I took a couple with just the side of the mansion and the landscape. Some are panoramic and some a traditional. No one else was out this morning on the lawn except for a couple of workers on the mansion getting a head start before the heat of the day hits.

I waited until I took plenty of pictures after the sun peaked out above the trees and then walked a little in both the lower and upper garden for the last time on this trip.  The sun was just clearing the trees in next to the upper garden when I walked through the gate from the bowling green.  The sun was shining and when I did some postproduction on the photo in Snapseed this afternoon it came out really nicely. I also took some pictures of some flowers.







My morning was a perfect way to say goodbye to Mount Vernon for this trip and I can't wait to come back again, to sit on the General's back porch.

Day 22 - Visiting Friends in DC, Air & Space and the National Building Museum

Today was my final full day here in the DC area while participating in the Mount Vernon Life Guard Fellowship and I made plans to visit a few old friends who live here in DC. 

Marty and I at his "office" at Air and Space on the Mall

I got into DC early and met Marty Kelsey at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Marty taught in the Liberty School District for years and we have attended many technology conferences together. He took an incredible job offer to work at the Air and Space in their education department this past fall.  He is one of the hosts of a great show named STEM in 30, which can be viewed online. I have been following his blog and his Facebook account as he describes what is truly his dream job. He was able to have me meet him at the museum earlier than the public opening.  As he showed me some his favorite artifacts it was hard to believe that this is where he works on a daily basis.  It was awesome to see his office and hear some stories of cool things happening in the museum. I am so happy for him and can't wait to see the amazing things he will be doing in this position.






Next I met up with a couple of old friends from Cable Impacts (formerly Cable in the Classroom). I have known Kat Stewart and Frank Gallagher for almost 10 years and we have worked on a variety of projects over the years with video, online election games and digital citizenship.  Frank and Kat took me to lunch at Charlie Palmer Steak. We had a great lunch (pictures included below since it all looked so good) and laughed a lot over lunch.  I always enjoy catching up when we have a chance.

Frank, Kat and I at lunch




After lunch I walked just a couple of blocks to one of my favorite buildings in DC - the National Building Museum. It is an incredible building dating back to 1887.  It was the home of veterans pension offices for the early part of its career but it has an enormous courtyard in the center.  Today it has a variety of displays and exhibits on architecture. It has hosted some very interesting events in the past - currently it is an event called "The Beach". The museum has boxed off a portion of their large courtyard and added nearly a million clear plastic ball - essentially a huge ball pit. You can buy a ticket to enter but at $16 and a line waiting to enter I opted just to take a couple of pictures from above. I also think it has the most amazing gift shop of any museum in the world.  It has awesome gifts relating to not only architecture but also design.  Several publications have also named it one of the best gift shops.

The Beach at the National Building Museum

When I returned to Mount Vernon it was time for one more dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn. The Mount Vernon Inn is the onsite restaurant here at Mount Vernon and the food is fantastic. After enjoying the meal with another Life Guard Teacher Fellow here at the house, Marcia Motter from Nevada, I began to pack for the return home.  The biggest challenge would be fitting all the books and items that I have accumulated over the past three weeks here at Mount Vernon.  In the morning I will be able to enjoy the sunrise from General Washington's piazza.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day 21 - Video, American History Museum and Sunset at Jefferson Memorial



Today I worked a little more on my archaeology unit and then did a quick film session for the Mount Vernon education staff. They wanted to record a little segment in which I speak to how the experience of being a Mount Vernon Life Guard Teacher Fellow has been for more over the past several weeks.  We filmed it at DeVos House which has a really cool so fireplace so.....what else would we do on a 100 degree day in July? That's right, we fired up the fireplace for a little ambiance. Zerah Jakub, Manager of Educational Research and Outreach at Mount Vernon, took a picture of me getting ready for the video shoot.


In the afternoon I went in to DC specifically to see the new innovation wing of the Smithsonian American History Museum. The new innovation wing opened up on July 1 so it is basically brand new.  The layout of the space is very modern with many interactive displays, video boards, etc.  I took a few pictures of the displays.  I didn't read every tag but it is very interesting display.






The section on advancements and improvement in agriculture caught my eye right away because on the huge screen of rotating pictures I instantly noticed a sold house picture from Nebraska native Sololmn Butcher.  Butcher is one of my history heroes - a person that decided to take pictures of all the sod houses on the Nebraska plains that were disappearing.  He died thinking that in many ways he had failed since his photographs weren't generating a ton of response.  I think he would smile knowing his photographs are being featured in the Smithsonian today in a high tech exhibit.






After the Smithsonian I walked to the Jefferson Memorial and took in the sunset from the memorial.  The Jefferson Memorial is a great place to take pictures at sunset because you have the water and the Washington Memorial as features you can include in your photograph. I especially love taking panoramic pictures of the sunset from the Jefferson Memorial.




Tomorrow is my last full day of the fellowship.  I will do a little packing, catch up with a couple of old friends and start to get ready for home.

Day 20 - Lesson Plan Writing, Gardens and Archaeology

My time as a Mount Vernon Life Guard Fellow is coming to a close, just several more days and I will be heading home.  Much of my time the past couple of days has been spent on writing my archaeology lesson plan.  Saturday and Sunday I spent a lot of time struggling with how to write my lesson plan.  My goal all along has been to create a two day lesson for middle school classrooms to expose students to some of the basics of archaeology and incorporate some of the findings from archaeological sites here at Mount Vernon.  I had planned on doing a "basics of archaeology" activity the first day and then have students divided up in groups to explore one of five possible sites here at Mount Vernon but when I began writing the activity for day one it seemed to long and wasn't specific enough to Mount Vernon.  Sunday I changed course and decided to design the entire lesson around the Slave Cemetery Site. I have the most knowledge of this one from volunteering at the site while here and there were compelling ways in which to teach some of the fundamental archaeology concepts while explaining the history of the site.

Slave Cemetery Archaeology Site - Mount Vernon

I did have several meetings today scheduled as well.  My first meeting was a visit with Jaclyn Jecha, Manager of Library Education Programs Mount Vernon, about the Missouri Teacher Weekend Program. I was a attendee at last fall's Missouri Teacher Weekend workshop here at Mount Vernon and she wanted to ask me about my perceptions of what worked with the scheduled activities last fall - my answer : EVERYTHING! It is a great experience over four days in which Mount Vernon brings in terrific speakers, organizes tours and activities and provides an opportunity for teachers to learn more about Washington that they can bring back to their classrooms. The deadline for applications for Fall 2015 just closed this week.  It is a great experience that I suggest all Missouri K-12 teachers look into in the future.

After lunch I headed over the archaeology lab here on site at Mount Vernon.  I had been working on my lesson plan and wanted a chance to ask one of the archaeologists a couple of questions on topics I was including in my lesson plan.  Eleanor Breen, Deputy Director of Archaeology at Mount Vernon, was in and was very gracious with her time in answering my questions and providing me with some images from the site that I could use in my lesson. This is truly one of the amazing things about being here onsite as I work on the lesson. One minute I am in the library working on the lesson plan focusing on the site and then a couple of minutes later I am in the archaeology lab visiting with an archaeologist who works the site and asking questions to make my lesson more complete.

I had a couple of questions about one specific artifact found at the site last year, one of only a couple artifacts that are not prehistoric. The artifact is a glass disc found at the site.  It would have had a brass button around it and been used as a cufflink. The disc has a coral design on it and an almost identical disc had been found at the excavation of the House for Families slave quarters here at Mount Vernon.  It is a very interesting find and of course can can lead to many discussions. I was able to see it up close and hold it.  




Next I had an afternoon meeting with Dean Norton, Director of Horticulture at Mount Vernon. Dean is the man when it comes to anything related to flowers, gardens or landscape at Mount Vernon.  I wanted to ask him a little about his role in the archaeology of the Upper Garden which took place several years ago here at Mount Vernon. The goal of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association is to make the estate as realistic as possible to what it appeared like at the time of Washington's death in 1799. The upper garden had been restored to be a beautiful garden but wasn't accurate so they recently spent five years doing an archaeological study of the upper garden and now have it as accurate as possible.  Dean is also one of the authors of The General in the Garden, an amazing new book about how Washington planted his flower and vegetable gardens at Mount Vernon.

After my meeting with Mr. Norton it was back to writing my lesson plan.  It is getting closer to being done.  The toughest part is decided what to put in and what to leave out since I have so much great material.