Our last blog post described our commitment to intentionally introduce our students to the classroom beyond the traditional walls of our school building and use God's awe-inspiring creation to provide them with interdisciplinary learning opportunities.
So what does learning like this look like?
Welcome to Valley Forge, where General George Washington trained the continental Army during the Revolutionary War's winter of 1777-78. 12,000 men trained there and 2,000 of those died due to starvation, cold, and disease amidst brutal and harsh conditions.
And last week Thursday WSCS's fifth-grade classes spent a day attempting to survive Valley Forge, recreated at our own Brian Dyk Nature Preserve right on our school property, thanks to teacher-"Generals" Zandee and VanderVennen; Janet Staal, Blandford Nature Center's educational consultant; and a small army of parent volunteers. You can read of this experience at Blandford's blog as well.
The fifth-graders had already spent time learning about Valley Forge in their classrooms, but experienced Valley Forge as soldiers in groups building shelters (using tarp and rope), drinking tea (melting snow over a fire), tracking animals (soldiers' next meals), and cooking fire-cakes -- a rather tasteless combination of flour and water -- over campfires.
Reading and talking about surviving such conditions is one thing; facing those challenges brought learning to an entirely different level.
Students used math skills to measure and mix ingredients for campfire cooking. Reading about the actual Valley Forge while waiting for our tea to cook - tea that might warm and nourish us - brought historical events to life.
Students recognized the importance of teamwork. Of the 13 colonies, Benjamin Franklin had declared, "Unite or die!" - and students quickly realized they would have to similarly unite as a team to survive the elements.
With temperatures last week in the low teens, students more personally understood the difficulties faced by the Continental soldiers.
As they glimpsed the soldier's passionate quest for independence - to the point of leaving trails of bloody footprints in the snow - they considered how easy it is to take for granted what so many people have struggled to obtain.
We read George Washington's prayer while the "troops" gathered in front of the preserve, and reflected on how he called on Almighty God to watch over and protect the troops during that difficult winter.
We pondered God's hand in history.
While fresh in their minds, students completed free-writes of their Valley Forge experience. These are just some of their observations about their learning experience at Valley Forge:
"When we started mixing the fire-cakes the drum sounded. We all ran with our fake stick muskets to meet George Washington and Baron Von Steuben."
"Baron Von Steuben came and trained us to be better soldiers!"
"I can't believe that the soldiers could live through that for five months!"
"These fire-cakes are even better than my mom's!"
"I learned that soldiers had to suffer."
We're happy to report that our fifth-graders survived the brutal winter at Valley Forge! Survived, with a much richer perspective of the experience these early patriots faced, a deeper understanding of the price of freedom, and lungs full of fresh, crisp, winter air from their outdoor classroom.