SCIENCE (AND HISTORY) IN A CEMETERY
Ghoulish, macabre, scary, these are all things your middle school students love, so why not combine their love for things gross into a science field trip and visit a cemetery? Not only will a visit to a cemetery catch the interest of your pre-teen students, they can learn a lot of science (and history by the way) while they are there.
EVERY TOWN HAS A CEMETERY
Every town has a cemetery. By their nature, they are usually quiet, peaceful places with trees and other plants that attract animals. Cemeteries are usually old, so examples of weathering are abundant. This is what makes a cemetery a perfect place for a science trip. You may be able to walk to a cemetery in your town. I write this from Philadelphia, Pa. where cemeteries not only provide us with science, but history as well. If you live within a 50-mile radius of Philadelphia, one of its historical cemeteries could be a field trip destination. Mikveh Israel Cemetery (at 8th and Spruce) is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The site, less than 0.2 acres in size, is a registered historic place in Philadelphia and a national historic site administered by Independence National Historical Park. http://www.ushistory.org/mikvehisrael Christ Church Cemetery is a burial ground located at 2nd Street above Market St. in Philadelphia, and is one of the oldest in the country. It is one of America’s most interesting Colonial and Revolutionary Era graveyards. Its 1,400 markers are located on two beautiful acres. Benjamin Franklin and four signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried at Christ Church Burial Ground. http://www.christchurchphila.org/burial Woodlands Cemetery at 4000 Woodland Ave offers the public some of the nation’s most sophisticated Neo classical houses from the years following the American Revolution. Its University City location once was beyond the western edge of the city. The cemetery is still active today, and retains 18th-century buildings, elaborate Victorian funerary monuments, curving green contours, and majestic trees to preserve a park-like setting. www.woodlandsphila.org Laurel Hill Cemetery, the gem of the city’s cemeteries, is located at 3822 Ridge Ave, Philadelphia, Pa. Laurel Hill has taken the “cemetery as destination” to its greatest heights with an active education department, lots of events, school tours and school lessons. Laurel Hill’s programs are varied and teachers have a choice of lessons on Art or Architecture, Civil War/ Military History, Science and Medicine, Victorian Symbolism, Notable Women, or Culinary History. Special tour topics that relate to units being taught in school are also available. www.thelaurelhillcemetery.org GEOLOGY Cemeteries great are places to observe the uses of rocks and metals, and the effect of Mother Nature on these materials. Granite, marble and bronze are popular materials used for tombstones. At Laurel Hill Cemetery the staff will provide visitors with student activity packets called “I Spy Tombstone Hunt.” These packets focus students on aspects of the cemetery such as the weathering of tombstones, erosion of soil due to location, symbolism used in the cemetery, and history related to those buried in the cemetery. FLORA and FAUNA Hundred of trees and most likely the same number of species of trees can be found at Laurel Hill Cemetery (most older cemeteries have lots of trees). Where there are trees, there are birds and other small animals. The cemetery also provides examples of moss, fungus, insects and larger animals. I have heard that Laurel Hill cemetery is home to several foxes and hawks! A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER Most parents won’t have a problem with signing the trip permission slip, but be very sensitive to the possibility that some might. They may have deep religious convictions that would prevent them from seeing this field trip as anything but educational. You may have to provide a place for a child or two in a colleague’s classroom on the day of the trip. Try talking with the parents first. Make a special phone call to explain. They might just be reacting spontaneously to the idea of a trip to a cemetery and once you explain all the educational benefits, they might agree. Also, be aware that a student might have just had a death in their family, and such a trip might be traumatic. Again, explain to parent and child that this is an educational experience, and try to make them understand that they need to separate the “death” aspect of the cemetery with the other experiences you are trying to share with your students. You might also have to explain all this to your administrator, but in the end, you will see it is worth the extra effort. And keep this in mind: it is usually the adults that have a problem with a trip to the cemetery. The kids love it! Click below for Danse Macabre by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macbre