Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Day 8: Bringing It Home

According to the a information provided by the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, a macroscope is a software tool "that helps us focus on patterns in data that are too large or complex to see with the naked eye." Right now, we feel like living macroscopes. We have returned with so much information that it is hard to organize and process it all.

Yet, our CDC visit is helping us pull it all together. When we arrived, a group of teenagers was just ahead of us taking a tour. Just listening as their guide taught them about diseases gave us ideas for future lessons. We watched the students complete scavenger hunts, conduct problem solving activities, and participate in group discussions.

I need to admit something at this point. When we first put the CDC on our schedule, I wasn't exactly thrilled. It just didn't seem as applicable as the other sites to my subject area. Guess what? They had displays on disease art and disease related mythology that were fascinating. For the history teacher in the group, they had displays relating to immigration and they had timelines showing the CDC's impact on our society. They had displays about food, clean water, and sexually transmitted diseases. They even had a display on biowarfare.
This grouping of ceramics is called Bacteria Diatoms and Cells and is by Eva Kwong.

This is a figure of Shitala Mata, the Hindu goddess of smallpox.

Speaking of biowarfare, did you know that the Mongols catapulted plague infected bodies over the walls of Caffa? Talk about relevant information for our unit! We also found this little display at the CDC (see below). Not only does it discuss the Black Death, it also reiterates what David Short taught us in Ashwell. How cool is that?!

Our last stop on our journey was the perfect location to help us transition from fact finding to planning. Are we finished with our travels? Yes. Are we finished with our unit? No. We are far from being finished. We still have to collaborate on when and how we are going to teach this; however, everything is coming into focus. We are ready to bring it home.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Day 8: Random Travel Observations

Day 8 

Since day eight was a travel day, we decided to share some of the non-plague related things we discovered.

Historic Sites

1. Historic buildings are everywhere. After finding St. Bartholomew's in London, we decided to go to a local eating establishment for lunch. Our server pointed out that we were sitting right across the road from where Benjamin Franklin did his apprenticeship.
2. There are red telephone boxes all over Great Britain. We walked right past a special one that was dedicated to the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes.
3. One of our busses drove right by where Charles Dickens's father was imprisoned.
4. On our way to Cosmeston from London, we discovered that we were only 25 miles and $25 away from Stonehenge. We made a quick pit stop, and you would have too!

This is the Sherlock Holmes telephone booth. This is located on the street where many television shows and movies have been filmed.


1. Contrary to the cliche, London food is not that bad. In fact, aside from blood pudding, I liked everything.
2. They eat potatoes with almost anything.
3. They also like peas and gravy.
4. They eat baked beans for breakfast.
5. Skip the blood pudding. Please trust me on this.
6. As I mentioned yesterday, they do not use paper plates or plastic forks.
7. They do not put ice in fountain drinks. They do not put ice in water, even if someone specifically requests iced water.
8. Pepsi hasn't really made it across the pond; however, all of the restaurants serve Coke products.
9. Belgium chocolates!  Fish and chips!
Noticed the baked beans. The black blob beside the tomato is blood pudding.


1. It rains.
2. It rains.
3. It rains a lot.
4. It was warm (mid 70s) this week, and they did not have air conditioning.
Of course, the rain does help create beautiful landscapes.


1. The cars are tiny. In fact, the side mirrors even folded in on our rental car to help it get through tight areas and to help with parking.
2. There are very few road signs. Also, there are almost no billboards along the roadway.
3. The roads are narrow and curvy. People drive about 80 mph on these roads. They have warning signs (see below).
4. People park along the roads, making the roads almost impassable at times.
5. Hedges line most of the roadways. There is no shoulder to pull over in order to check a map, answer a text, or make way for an oncoming lorry (truck).
6. When we arrived at the airport, flights were being delayed due to potholes on the runway.
7. The tube stations are very clean.


1. Everything is expensive.
2. They take debit cards everywhere except pay toilets and some parking lots.
3. Did you see the reference above to pay toilets? Yes, I managed to get myself in a situation where I had to use one and didn't have any cash.
Most of British money consists of coins. 


1. The word toilet refers to the restroom as a whole, not just the throne. They do not use the terms restrooms or bathrooms.
2. Did you pick up on the fact that some places charge people to use the toilet?
3. They often have a separate faucet for hot water and cold water instead of both temperatures coming out of the same faucet.
4. The toilet stalls are very private. The doors reach all the way to the floor. I liked that.
5. The toilets themselves were often tiny and very water efficient.
6. Sometimes the toilet paper was in a napkin dispenser type thing instead of a roll.
Notice the faucets. One side for hot water and one for cold water.


1. Just about all the furnishings are old. I'm pretty sure that I sat in chairs in some of the restaurants that predated the invention of the fork.
2. The walls of the buildings are made of stone and are very thick.
3. Very few buildings outside of London have air conditioning. None of the hotels we stayed in outside of London had air conditioning.
4. The landscaping is beautiful. Ivy, roses, and all kinds of other plants cover the buildings. Most restaurants and hotels had fresh flower arrangements scattered around.
5. There are very few large grocery stores or big box stores.
Most of the buildings look like this.

This is one of the country hotels where we stayed. No air conditioning.

This a door to the country bed and breakfast. The curtain helps prevent drafts during the winter.

This is a bed and breakfast where we stayed close to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Day 7: Traveling with the Plague

Over the past week, our travels have taken us across England and into Whales. We barreled down tube stations, flew down the interstate, darted down curvy, country roads, walked across bridges, and climbed up crumbling castle staircases. We started in London, traveled west across the country to Cosmeston, headed north to Stratford-upon Avon and Warwick, and then east to our final research site in the United Kingdom, Ashwell. As we traveled, people would ask us where we were going and why. Sometimes they had suggestions; for example, one lady suggested plays that we could have our students perform or read. Another gentleman shared information with us about plague sites he remembered visiting. People were always interested and helpful. Our last destination was no different. Initially, we came to Ashwell to see the medieval graffiti at St. Mary's church where someone had carved notice of the great pestilence; however, as we started preparing for our journey, Coach Williams contacted David Short.

This is route we took.

Short is Ashwell's local historian, and he agreed to meet with us on a rainy Sunday afternoon to share his knowledge. He has taught school groups about the plague and even has written booklets about it. He was kind enough to invite us into his 500 year old townhome, offer us a cup of tea, and share with us his research. He pulled up information on his computer that he had spent hours collecting. For his studies on the plague, he poured through parish records from the period, documenting the names of people who had died and making note of the date of death, the cause of death, and the occupation and gender of each person. What was the point? Trends. By plugging his research into a spreadsheet, he was able to show us how the disease progressed north from London up the Old North Road. We could see how quickly the disease progressed, wiping out whole families in a matter of days. We could see the ages of the victims and get insight as to how they might have come in contact with the disease. He also explained the challenges of reading primary documents. His research came from parish records, often written in medieval Latin and requiring him to search out translations. He shared lesson ideas with us, explaining how he often led students through role playing activities to better understand how the disease was transmitted. He let us view graphic organizers he had made and maps he had collected. He answered our questions, and more importantly, he asked questions of his own. As an educator, he knew how to engage students. As an expert in the field, he could fill in the missing gaps in our own research. He told us stories about the lessons he had taught and warned us about the questions the students usually asked.

Short then walked us over to the church. Tradition holds that outside of the church is a plague pit, and the evidence in Ashwell points that way. According to Short, churches in the UK were originally built on one of the highest points of land (a hill). As graves were added around the churches over time, the grave areas mounded up beside the churches, causing a moat like area around the churches.  This area is evidenced in Ashwell. A mound of land can be seen just to right of the church; however there are no grave markers and the townspeople will not use this area for graves, since they believe it to be a plague pit.

Notice how this area of land is above the foundation of the church. This indicates that it is the site of the town's plague pit.

When we walked into the church, Short showed us the graffiti. It was hard for me to imagine the idea of graffiti inside a church. Sure, students carve on desks and write messages in bathroom stalls, but to carve on the walls of a church? The inside of St. Mary's in Ashwell is covered in graffiti. From the plague's death count to a rather intricate sketch of a drag racer, the populace of the town has made its mark on the walls and columns of the church for hundreds of year. What makes the graffiti even more surprising to me is having the chance to meet the English. They are very proper and polite. Never once did we eat from a paper plate, even in fast food type restaurants. There were no discarded soda bottles along the roadside or wads of gum on the sidewalk, but these people carve up the inside of a church. Crazy. Well, maybe not. Short challenged us to think how a person would react during a plague outbreak. The disease killed quickly, and they did not have a clue as to how it was spread or why so many were dying. They were afraid. Of course, they would seek solace in the walls of St. Mary's. Of course, they would need to express their frustration and fear. Of course, they, after seeing the "great miasma" wipe out whole towns, would make an effort to record what had happened, just in case no one in the community lived to tell the tale.
Short shows us the older graffiti inside the church.

Where does this lead us? It leads us to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Our job is to make sure that our students can face disasters like this in an educated manner. They need to understand the importance of clean water and good health practices. They need to know that diseases shape our government and our literature. This research isn't really about the black death; it's about helping our students have a healthy life.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Upstairs and Downstairs: Days 5 and 6

Day 5
On day five, we learned how the black death impacted the common man. While London provided an abundance of evidence about the plague, it also taught us that we had much more to learn. The next stop on our journey was Cosmeston Medieval Village. To get there, we drove for hours, crossing from England into Wales. We made the trip because Cosmeston Medieval Village is a living history location where life in the year 1350 is depicted by a collection of actors. The reenactments take place on the reconstructed ruins of an actual medieval village. Archeologist and scholars have spent years examining the location to better understand life during that period. Due to the historic accuracy of the site, the village has been used as a filming location for various television shows, include Dr. Who episodes.

Mark Beckwith, otherwise known as Henry Hogg the Swineherd, met us to lead us on a guided tour. Beckwith helped us understand the economic impact of diseases on a civilization. He guided us through the village, explaining how everyday life existed before the 1348 outbreak. He walked us through the village's herb garden and explained how the villagers would have tried to use plants to treat the disease. He even gave us a medieval math lesson, showing us how the villagers, who typically could only read a few words and could not count past twelve, were able to use a rope to do advanced calculations and measurements. He also explained the plague's impact on the judicial system. However, perhaps the most important aspect of his tour was learning how the plague led to the end of Cosmeston. The village was abandoned, not because all of the populace died, but because the citizens could make more money by moving into an area that had more fatalities. The deaths of others in the area meant that the people's skills were in greater demand and that they could earn higher wages elsewhere.
Day 6
On day six, we continued to research the effects of diseases on the social structure of a society, this time focusing on the rich. At breakfast that morning, we conversed with a former teacher from the UK who told us about Pope Clement VI, who chose to hide from the disease instead of ministering to those under his care. Sadly, this practice was common.

The attitude of hiding from the plague was mirrored by the wealthy at Windsor Castle and at one of our locations for the day, Warwick Castle. Also at Warwick we learned the difference between the past and history. History is documented, while the past may not be. History demands evidence, while the past does not. At Warwick, one of the experts stressed how that the Victorians purported a lot of misinformation about the medieval time period.

In addition to visiting Warwick Castle, we also visited neighboring Stratford-Upon-Avon. We were fortunate enough to get a see a play performed that was written during a plague period, Cymbeline. The play reinforces the social order of the day, underscoring the concept of the divine right of kings. Written during a period when the lower classes were demanding more rights; the play by Shakespeare, who was working for the monarchy, reminded the general populace that a prince's bravery and sense of station is instinctual. One of the experts pointed out that Shakespeare was a brilliant poet but a horrible historian. He was an entertainer, not a scholar. Since he was being supported by monarchy, his plays were written to please the people supporting his work. He had a social agenda, just as some movies and television shows today try to influence what we see as socially acceptable. Another thing that was fascinating about this performance was that it was a modern adaptation of the play, so the leading female was wearing tennis shoes. However, Shakespeare's language remained the same. This not only shows the timelessness of Shakespeare, it also demonstrates how humans still experience love, jealousy, fear, and betrayal today.

At the end of day six, we visited Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. We spoke to one of the priests on site who directed us to the probable location of the area's plague pits. After viewing Shakespeare's grave, we drove past the believed location of the Stratford-Upon-Avon plague pits near Welcombe Hills. The contrast between the beauty of the graveyard and the unmarked location of pits show how the plague impacted the population's views of death.
Holy Trinity Church
The monument to Shakespeare above his grave

These days focused more on the social implications of diseases -- the opportunities for social and economic reform that are present in the midst of tragedy. We also saw how government sponsored entertainment tried to reinforce certain ideas.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Stroll Through History: Days 3 and 4

Day 3
If you want to go back in time, England is the perfect place. It's like living in a big, old antique store. According to my Fitbit, we walked almost twelve miles on day 3 (Wednesday), and every step took us deeper into the past.

We thought before we went to the Museum of London that it would be a good resource for our unit. We were wrong. It was a spectacular resource for our unit. Wow! There was so much information that we couldn't even process it all. Luckily, Coach Williams brought the video camera. We will definitely be watching the videos to take notes. I mean, just look at what we saw even before we went inside the main entrance.

According to the plaque, this is a picture of Mary Godfree's gravestone. Church records show that she died of the plague, and her tombstone was recently found. However, the tombstone was not part of her grave. Someone had taken the stone and used it as material for nearby stone wall. Simon Norfolk, one of the excavators where the stone was discovered noted, "Perhaps 3,000 bodies were in this cemetery's dark earth, just a few feet below the comings and going of millions of commuters but here for once it becomes personal and one individual, Mary Godfree, acquires a name." Wow. All of the sudden our research became personal too. These were real people; people who lived, suffered, and died because they did not understand the disease they faced.

Inside the museum, it had several artifacts from the plague, including a bell. What made this bell special was that it was made by Peter de Weston and was used as a church bell. The church would ring a bell when someone died. Well, Peter's wife and son both died of the plague. Peter most likely made the very bell that tolled to announce the deaths of his wife and son.

I could go on and on and tell you story after story, but we'll have to save some of it for our lessons.

I have a question for you. If you are lost in an unfamiliar city, what are you supposed to do? Give yourself a prize if you answered that you would look for a policeman. After leaving the Museum of London we struck out for St. Bart's Medical Museum. We couldn't find it, but we did find the sweetest policemen along the way. This big teddy bear of man spoke with a Caribbean accent and insisted on personally walking us over to St. Bart's and giving us a tour of other local sites along the way. He pointed out a memorial to Sir William Wallace, locations where the television show Sherlock is filmed, and St. Bartholomew the Great Church, which was built in 1123. When we reached St. Bart's Hospital, he even took the time to show us how the front of the building still shows damage from World War II. The time with him was definitely worth getting lost.
In the afternoon, we went to Tower of London and took a tour conducted by a real Yeoman Warder, otherwise know as a Beefeater. We saw various parts of the castle.
Check out this picture of Coach Williams at the Tower of London.

Then, we headed over to the Globe. The Globe is a reconstructed version of the theater in Shakespeare's time where Shakespeare's plays were performed. Theaters like the Globe were actually blamed for the plague. Some people felt that the plague was the result of sin and that plays were sin. Therefore, they reasoned that the plays caused the plague. The theaters were closed down during outbreaks of the plague, and most actors fled to the country to avoid getting the disease.

Day 4
We made it to Windsor Castle! Remember, we tried to go earlier in the week, but things did not go as planned. Windsor Castle is one of the queen's residences, and the castle has housed members of the monarchy for centuries. While the current queen, Queen Elizabeth II, was not at the castle while we were there, we did learn about another queen, the first Queen Elizabeth, who actually fled to this castle to avoid the plague. We got an interesting glimpse into what it means to be treated like a queen.
We spent the rest of the day driving across the English countryside towards our next stop. We saw so many beautiful old homes! We even saw someone thatching the roof of his house with straw. Can you believe that people in England still have houses with a thatched roof? The houses had thatched roofs during the time period that we are researching, so we even got to see history in action while we were driving. That night, we sat down for some serious lesson planning. We are so excited, and we can't wait to share everything we are learning with the whole school.

Lessons learned: Walking twelve miles in London takes you hundreds of years into the past. Policemen are even better than tour guides. It really does rain a lot in England. It takes a lot of straw and really good balance to thatch a roof. Even queens fear death. Planning this unit is so much fun!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Planes, Trains, and Crashed Automobiles: Days 1 and 2

Day 1
Can you see the dent? This happened while riding the hotel shuttle to the airport. We got on the shuttle three hours before the plane was due to leave; however, we almost missed our flight. On the way to the airport, a man in his SUV ran into us. Coffee, hot chocolate, and teachers went flying (on more than just an airplane). We had to stand on the side of a busy Atlanta intersection to wait for the police and a replacement shuttle. Whew! We did make the airplane, and Coach Williams got to smell like hot chocolate for the entire flight.

Speaking of flights, the airport also lost some of our luggage. Yep. I'm not making this up. More about this on day 2.

Lessons learned: Shuttle drivers are the nicest people in Atlanta. Seat belts are great; wear them. We can run faster than we thought. Hot chocolate smells awful after two connecting flights. Teams really come together when the rubber meets the road.

Day 2
The flight was overnight, so we landed in London the next day. After spending more hours than we planned clearing customs, reporting our lost luggage, and getting the rental car, we headed for Windsor Castle.

Let's talk about driving in England. You might already know that the English drive on the left side of the road. Well, this creates a traffic phenomenon called the roundabout. There are even special roundabouts called magic roundabouts. These little traffic gems are challenging to navigate. Due to this, we missed our turns repeatedly and did not get to Windsor until it was closing.

Disappointed, we sojourned on to our hotel and hopped on the tube, determined to figure out a way to learn something related to our unit. To save us some time the next day, we decided to find a couple of our destinations ahead of time. We got off the tube at the Bank station just as all the businesses in the financial district were closing. It was amazing to see so many professionals at once. Suits, ties, and heels were everywhere! I could just picture how cool it would be if one of my students decided to work in London some day because of this unit. We found the Museum of London, walked around the outside of St. Paul's Cathedral, and headed for the river.

That's where inspiration struck. The Thames! This river has always been the heart of London, even prehistoric London. As we walked along the Thames, we were inspired by the ships. Did you know that it is believed that the plague was carried to London aboard trade ships? This same river was also the repository for much of the city's sewage during this time, and there was even a movement during the plague to cast the victims' bodies into the river. Later in history, the dirty Thames also resulted in outbreaks of cholera and typhoid. Engineer Joseph Bazalgette solved the sewage problems within the city of London and saved lives in the process (see the picture below of the monument to him that we found along the river's edge). We discovered that the river is vital to our unit! Think about how much trade policies, clean water, and city planning impact our health. Even though the Thames was not originally part of our study or the day's journey, our nighttime stroll by the river's edge gave us a missing piece to our lessons.

Lessons learned: Driving in England is challenging. London is beautiful at night. Go with the flow; sometimes you can find life's best lessons this way.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Voices of the Dead

It's May, and in May, Southerners go eat among the dead. If you are not from the South, you may not understand the need to pack up enough food to feed twenty men, lay it all out on a table under a shade tree by the cemetery, and visit with your near, distant, and dead kin; but Southerners do it at least once a year. It's called decoration day, and it feeds our soul like fried chicken fills our tummies. We walk around the tombstones and tell stories, allowing our oral traditions to tie us to the past. The stories of those people buried in the graves mark time and shape who we are. The dead people, even the ones from the 1800s, give value to our history and to our lives.

With this background, you can imagine my horror at the idea of plague pits. The thought of someone coming along and collecting my father, husband, or son in a cart to bury him in a common grave is foreign and painful. Yet, that was the life (and death rites) during the plague outbreaks. People did not have the resources to provide a cemetery plot, much less a funeral. The common folk had no tombstones to denote their birth, their death, or their accomplishments in between. These plague pits are scattered all over Europe, with around 30 or so in and around London (check out this interactive map of pit locations). The survivors were robbed of time to grieve; they had focus, instead,  on survival, wondering from day to day if their bodies would be the next ones piled in a cart and thrown in hole.

Why do students need to learn about this? Because humanity lived it. They wrote about it, sang about it, and painted it. The Museum of London has two galleries that our team can't wait to explore. We are going to check out the War, Plague, and Fire section and Medieval London. Both of these should provide us with the information we need to show our students how society copes with death.

The existence of the plague pits also shows how diseases can steal our compassion. While the sick perished during the plague, many doctors abandoned them. However, a few dedicated people stayed to nurse the suffering. St. Bartholomew's Hospital was founded in 1123. During the plague outbreak of the 1600s, several physicians fled; however, the Matron at Barts and her staff stayed behind to tend the sick. The hospital maintains a museum and archives. Our team will go there to see courage in the face of death.

In just two weeks, our team will visit what remains of the plague's dead. We will learn their stories and take those stories back to our students. Our souls will be touched by people who didn't even have the dignity of a burial plot. Yet, hundreds of years later, we will still be listening to their story.