I begin by asking the kids what historic sites they have visited in the state, the country, even the world. I know that due to our Pioneer Village field trip earlier in the year, everyone has previous experience with at least one historic place. In today's lesson, I'm excited to "take them across the country" to spend time in a famous National Military Park. They will document this trip in a travel journal as they practice the standard of W.5.3 writing narratives of real or imagined experiences.
As I write down their responses on the board, I try to list them in order of distance. This is a nice idea, but doesn't work out as I imagined and isn't that important. Once the list is complete, we have a quick word about each place and determine what part(s) of history are experienced on such a trip (Brainstorming Historic Places).
I begin by showing them the three travel journals I kept as I traveled at various times in my life: Journals from US Road Trip; Novgorod, Russia; Central Europe. I review the journals more thoroughly when it comes time for them to write their own, but it's significant to introduce this real life activity from the beginning. Kids sometimes think we assign writing to keep them busy. Really, we just want them to become so comfortable in the skill, that they eventually initiate writing on their own.
It's time to present the trip. Because we've been intensely studying the Civil War, they are already tuned into the fact that they'll probably be visiting a battlefield, so I give them an added hint, "2013 was the 150th anniversary of the battle that took place there in July." After some quick figuring, and a few guesses, a student hits the bullseye: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
In groups, they will travel from Scottsdale, AZ to Gettysburg, PA taking a route of their choosing. This will be a road trip- no planes or trains allowed. On the trip, the groups will note major cities and other details such as the latitude and longitude of places of interest along the way ("Trip Notes" on Smart Board).
Each group is given a United States map and I allow them to trace their route right onto that map. They are given the freedom to decide exactly how they want to get to Gettysburg, and that's often times not the straightest or most efficient route. Part of my objective is to bring a sense of excitement to the activity that will give them the desire to actually take such a road trip when they're older, and allowing them choice can do just that.
They spread out around the room, and begin their journey (Another group makes decisions). I require them to keep a travel log as they make their way, and this will be completed by each student individually (Notes on the Journey).
Before they begin their journal, they plan the trip. I have tried both ways: allowing the kids to start "driving" and make decisions along the way OR setting their trip beforehand. The second choice has proven the most successful method of traveling with a group of kids. There are less arguments because everyone already knows the route, and they just move through the states. Having said that, I enjoy when they make small deviations...take roads off the interstates, etc. I don't want them to be restricted, but a little restriction is better than groups deciding to splinter because they can't get along, etc.
Within their groups they determine the kinds of things they want to see. In their hand is the Journey to Gettysburg direction sheet. They are required to record the latitude and longitude of at least one location in each state they are traveling through, and this can be the coordinates of a city, historical site, natural landmark, etc. (More Travel Logs)
Using a highlighter or marker, they trace their basic route. BEFORE they actually put marker to map, I must be called to the group site to verify that everyone is ok with the decision. Tampering with the map without everyone's ok is a surefire way to get the roadtrip off on the wrong foot.
In the front of each student's journal (spiral or composition notebooks work well) is a smaller United States map. Each member of the group marks out the same route as they have on the large U.S. map, which is another safeguard against arguments about the "agreed upon trip" that could occur.
In their travel logs they are taking notes about the places they move through as well as writing down the latitude and longitude coordinates (Writing Travel Logs.) I want them to get as creative as they can through the extras such as weather conditions, emergency road issues, running into other people they know at a rest stop, etc. I've seen all kinds of fascinating ideas come out in these travel logs over the years.
These notes will be the basis for the journals they'll put together on a day in the near future. For this reason, they'll need to have as many details as possible collected. Another idea I've tried in the past has been for them to "write as they go." All I can say is experience has shown me that it's not a productive use of time.
A quick presentation of the route they've taken from Scottsdale, AZ to Gettysburg, PA is done in groups with their maps (A Fabulous Journey to Gettysburg). Although they've kept detailed notes, no travel log reports at this time. I tell the kids to creatively decorate their United States map with their names, add some fun details from their trip, and be sure that their route is clearly marked so the class can see it (Discussing her journey using the map).
Everyone's taken a unique route, and it's fun to see the different ideas come to life (Maps, Notes, Travel Log, Illustration). I hang these maps around the room.