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.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 19 - Visiting America's Hangar - Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center



Today I was able to check one of the items off my DC bucket visit list that had been there for a long time - the Udvar-Hazy Center - Smithsonian Air and Space near Dulles Airport. I have long wanted to visit but it can get a little crazy getting out there and you almost have to commit to a whole day - depending on where you are in the city. Since I am staying down at the Mount Vernon estate it was a full day commitment. 

I got up early and started my day on a bus that left mount Vernon at 7:30 AM. The bus took me up to the Huntington Metro stop where I took the yellow line, switched to the silver line which took me as far north as I could go, then jumped on another bus which took me the museum. I knew where I as going and had a very minimal wait time before the bus and I made it to the museum at 10:30 AM. I have to admit, toward the end of my three hour commute I was wondering in the back of mind if it would all be worth it. That being said, the answer is a resounding YES. It also took me 3 hours to get back to Mount Vernon, a total of 6 hours on public transit today.



When I first arrived I found a small locker to store my backpack while taking in the museum. You definitely couldn't fit a larger carry on - I did see some people rolling them around while touring the museum - but plenty of room for a couple of backpacks. The lockers took one quarter but you got it back so essentially it was free storage. 

I wanted to see an IMAX movie about planes so I bought my ticket in advance and while purchasing the ticket also bought a Smithsonian membership. It was $12 but gave me a discount on the movie ticket as well as 10% off at the onsite McDonald's and gift shop. You also get a subscription to the Smithsonian magazine. I think it almost paid for itself by the end of the day. 

I love the air and space museum on the mall but I really enjoyed the open areas to walk around the large planes and really appreciate the size and presence of these amazing machines. You are able to see them at ground level on the floor or via ramps that allow you to get up and see many of the planes from above, in some place four stories high.




The crown jewel for me is the Space Shuttle Discovery. I grew up as a child of the 80's and I loved reading about and watching the shuttle. Seeing it in person is a thrill and was probably my favorite part of the day. I'm sad we still don't have a shuttle in service.





A close second was seeing the Enola Gay - made in Nebraska by the way. It is a beautiful bird in it's own right and I have always thought the B-29 Superfortress was the coolest of all WWII planes. I saw it, or part of it, years ago at the mall site but it is so much better seeing it as an entire plane. I remember there was controversy at one point in the 90's about if the Enola Gay should be on display since it dropped the first atomic bomb. I don't think there is any doubt it should be on display. When I see it I think of the potential hundreds of thousands of American lives it saved when an invasion of mainland Japan was not necessary as a result of Japan's surrender. 




I was excited to see an exhibit in which you could sit in a seat and essentially fly the 1908 Wright Flyer using a simulator. I waited in line about 15 minutes for the free turn at the controls. The computer simulation you were seeing on the screen was Fort Myer here in DC. As I was recently reading David McCullough's "The Wright Brothers" I tried to imagine in my mind what it would be like to fly the flyer so this was awesome. My flight lasted about two minutes. I glided a little too long at one point when I should have been adding altitude and crashed. It was really fun though and I asked the gentleman helping with the exhibit to take my picture. 


Getting ready to fly the Wright Flyer simulator

I took a ton of photos. The space is such a great place to take pictures. There are great views and there is so much color and interesting shapes on all the planes. I have included some of my favorites on this blog post but there are many more (as my family can verify!)




I stopped at the gift shop before leaving and bought two items - a great guide of the museum with color photos and descriptions of all items in the museum and a copy of the new book - "The Ordinary Spaceman" by Clayton C. Anderson. Clayton Anderson is a hero back in Nebraska as a small town kid from Ashland, Nebraska who became an astronaut with 167 days in space. I had thought about buying it when it first came out and considering that it was an autographed copy and I had a great day seeing the shuttle it was a must get. 





Overall it was a great day and I'm glad that I spend the six hours on public transit - during part of which I wrote this blog entry - to see the Udvar-Hazy Center. Tomorrow it is back to working on my finishing up my archaeology at Mount Vernon lesson plan.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Day 17 - Washington at the National Portrait Gallery and New Media at Mount Vernon

Washington - National Portrait Gallery

Today's experiences at Mount Vernon started with tagging along on a field trip into the city.  The Mount Vernon Teacher's Institute had a field trip into DC this morning to explore the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and I asked if there was room for my to join them.  Luckily there was room and I was able to join the tour.

We arrived at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in the morning prior to the opening of the museum to the general public.  Our focus today was viewing and discussing a variety of George Washington portraits in the gallery. Our guide was Briana Zavadil White, Student and Teacher Programs at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.  She did a great job of both teaching us about the portraits of Washington but also giving us some tools that we can use with our students when teaching about art, specifically portraits.

We started by looking at some of the more contemporary portraits in the gallery, including LL Cool J and Bill Gates.  This portion of the gallery was our first stop to discuss some of the elements included in analyzing portraits. Next we moved on to the presidential gallery and an examination of some Washington portraits.

Washington and I at the National Portrait Gallery

We stopped first at the famous Lansdowne Portrait of Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796. When we reached the portrait we were all given 30 seconds to soak in the paining and then we were asked to turn our back to the portrait and our guide asked us a variety of questions about what we remembered about the picture.  It was interesting to both see what each person found memorable and what details we missed.  It provided everyone an opportunity to explain different things in the painting and was definitely a technique I would use in my classroom when teaching art. The painting is much larger than I had imaged it to be. We also looked at a several other Washington portraits in the gallery including The Anthenaeum, an unfinished work by Gilbert which was said to be a very accurate portrait of Washington and the one you find on your $1 bill.

The Anthenaeum - National Portrait Gallery

Houdon plaster bust of Washington - National Portrait Gallery

The rest of the presidential portraits in the gallery were fascinating.  I especially liked Harry S. Truman and found the more contemporary portrait of Bill Clinton to be interesting.  The museum does not currently have a portrait of President Obama.  He will be contacted in the future to commission a portrait for the gallery.

Truman - National Portrait Gallery

Clinton - National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery Courtyard

When I returned to Mount Vernon in the afternoon I had a meeting with Matt Briney, Vice President of New Media at Mount Vernon, and Robert Shenk, Senior Vice President for Visitor Engagement at Mount Vernon.  As a geek I am interested in the way in which Mount Vernon is using newly developed apps, online video and social media to connect with visitors here on the grounds and people like me - teachers who want to bring the Mount Vernon experience into our classrooms located around the country. I found it very interesting and I think they also enjoyed hearing the perspective a teacher who uses their content in the classroom. Mount Vernon has a great visitor app and recently launched a new spy app named "Agent 711" in which visitors are able to interact with locations on the grounds while tracking down a spy mission. I think in the future Mount Vernon will have some interesting opportunities for teachers via the Internet.


It was another Tomorrow I will be zeroing in on creating the content for my middle school archaeology unit.