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Tips From Teachers: Bringing History Alive

Take your kids on these exciting NorCal excursions to enhance their classroom learning

Northgate High School AP U.S. History Teacher Meg Honey shares easy and educational field trips for parents and studentsWelcome back to school!

The Bay Area is full of fantastic experiential learning opportunities that will enhance your child’s social studies curriculum and give your family a great day of discovery. When young people are able to experience history, the classroom lessons come alive in meaningful ways and offer deeper understanding.

Using the California State Social Science Standards, I have provided some exciting excursions for children in elementary, middle, and high school. Do you have an aspiring Indiana Jones in your family? A child who wants to know more about the Civil War? A son or daughter who wonders what life was like in our community 100 years ago? Our region is a treasure trove of places to explore. The author, Pearl Buck, said: “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” Happy searching!


Elementary School Excursions

Fun With Local History

Students in first and third grade examine their own community and study local history. Walnut Creek offers two fantastic venues for learning about Contra Costa County history: Borges Ranch and the Shadelands Historical Museum.

Join Ranger Bylin on the 4th Saturday of each month for a free tour of Borges Ranch // walnut-creek.orgThe Borges family settled in Walnut Creek in 1899, and their ranch is on the National Register of Historic Places. Join Ranger Dan Bylin on the 4th Saturday of each month for a free tour of the home and ranch. While you’re there, say hello to the sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs that also inhabit the ranch.

Early fall is the ideal time to visit Hiram Penniman’s 1903 redwood framed house, now known as the Shadelands Ranch Historical Museum. Tours are offered Wednesday and Sunday 1-4 p.m., and children will enjoy exploring the different areas of the home and property while imagining what life was like at the turn of the century.

Questions to discuss after your visit:
-What was challenging about living in Walnut Creek at the turn of the century?
-What did the Borges and Penniman families do for entertainment?
-What kind of chores were required to keep the farms and houses running? 


Miwoks and Immigration

Fourth grade students’ Social Studies curriculum centers on California History. Angel Island and the Oakland Museum of California offer young scholars of California history an in-depth look at the story of the Golden State.

Once home to Coastal Miwok Indians, Angel Island has a rich history as an immigration station known as “the Ellis Island of the West.” From 1910-1940, the island processed hundreds of thousands immigrants. The island’s visitor center provides information and a film about the immigrants who came through Angel Island. Young people will learn the difficult journey stories of these immigrants and can examine the poems many carved into the walls. Biking, fishing, camping, and hiking are a few of the other activities to enjoy.

Questions to discuss after your visit:

-Why did so many people want to immigrate to the United States between 1850-1950? How were immigrants treated once they arrived in their new country?
-What was the Chinese Exclusion Act?
-If you had to immigrate to a new country, what items would you take along on your journey?


Kids can learn about California's immigrants at the Oakland Museum of California // museumca.orgThe Oakland Museum of California also offers fourth grade students an opportunity to learn more about California’s immigrants. The museum’s Gallery of California focuses on theme of Coming to California and showcases photographs, artifacts, and artwork representative of the immigrant experience. The museum is home to more than 1.8 million objects and offers a variety of educational tours and activities.

Questions to discuss after your visit:
-What makes California such a desirable place to live?
-What images, artifacts, or exhibits were the most interesting? Why?



Middle/High School Excursions

Ancient Egypt in San Jose

The history comes to life at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum // egyptianmuseum.org6th grade students discover the mysterious culture and history of Ancient Egypt. The incredible Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America and offers visitors an up close and personal experience with burial practices, pharaohs, gods, and daily life of the Ancient Egyptians. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday and students can download an interactive tour on their MP3 player before visiting!

Questions to discuss after your visit:
-What was the purpose of offerings? To whom were offerings made?
-What was placed in canopic jars?
-How did the Ancient Egyptians use their natural resources?


“Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” runs from December 14 through February 8 // wclibrary.orgThe Civil War: A New View

Students in 8th and 11th grade examine the Civil War in depth: its causes, effects, leaders, and significant battles. The Walnut Creek Library is hosting an exciting exhibition through a partnership with the National Constitution Center. “Lincoln: The Constitution and the Civil War” runs from December 14 through February 8 and “offers a fresh and innovative perspective on Lincoln that focuses on his struggle to meet the political and constitutional challenges of the Civil War.”

The Walnut Creek Library is presenting six companion events along with the exhibit, and these events include lectures, music, Civil War reenactments, and visits from scholars.

Questions to discuss after your visit:
-What were Lincoln’s views on slavery? Why didn’t he try to end slavery immediately?
-Did President Lincoln abuse his Presidential power during the Civil War? Why or why not? What is a writ of habeas corpus?
-Did Southern states have a constitutional right to secede from the Union? Why or why not?


Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill showcase some contraversial murals // kqed.orgThe WPA in San Francisco

San Francisco is home to several Works Progress Administration murals and gives high school juniors a chance to see President Roosevelt’s New Deal funded projects in person. The Beach Chalet on Ocean Drive and Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill showcase some of these beautiful murals.

Students will be interested in the controversial nature of some mural images: intended to represent an idyllic California, artists included images of angry workers, socialist symbols, and radical political views.

Questions to discuss after your visit:
-What were some of the controversial images present in the murals? Why would an artist during the Great Depression include such images?
-Does the mural “tell a story?” If so, what is it?
-How does the mural inspire or inform its audience?



Meg Honey teaches AP U.S. History and AP Art History at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. She also serves as a lecturer in the Single and Multiple Subject Credential programs and in the Master of Arts in Teaching program at Saint Mary's College of California. Honey completed her Master's Degree in United States History at San Jose State University, and her research interests include: the Civil Rights Movement, 20th Century California History, and Feminist History. Honey and her husband, Kevin, live in Walnut Creek with their daughter, Carson.


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Added: 2017-03-07

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