Huck Finn Re-enactment
On a cold and rainy Saturday morning, at 8:30 a.m., at the Lawrence, Kansas, Kaw River access point, a black, 4x4 pick-up truck pulled up to a supportive crowd of people braving the elements. The crowd was made up of University of Kansas ASL students hoping to make conversation with the Deaf onlookers, KSD students who wanted a little pre-prom party, anxious school administrators, and concerned family members (three generations from both the Marsh and Milner families). On the trailer that the truck was hauling sat a 1,500-pound log raft, built with similar specifications as found in Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
. The raft (10x12) was not as large, but it held a wigwam and a box to hold a small fire. There was a handcrafted rudder and stand, and two oars hewn from logs and tree branches.
If the elements weren't bad enough, the next obstacle made the crowd's hearts sink. The water level was approximately two feet below the anticipated level that was tested only two weeks before. The last ten feet of the boat ramp was mud and the angle had flattened out. As Kester Marsh, English teacher, and Kevin Milner, wood-working and AutoCad teacher at the Kansas State School for the Deaf, inspected the end of the boat ramp, there was a question of whether the trek would even take place. That's when the ingenuity of Ken Milner, Kevin's father and KSD employee, took over. "We all became Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers for a moment to figure out a back-up plan and if we all would be safe." A second 4x4 vehicle was acquired, and the 5 strongest, bravest men stepped forward for the task.
The trailer was lowered as far as it would go into the river and mud, allowing the truck to stay on the concrete ramp. Then the men stepped up to the trailer, and with a concerted effort, they all heaved the raft off of the trailer and into the chilly waters. Kevin and Kester then reeled the raft back to shore with a hand-made grappling hook and loaded it up with equipment and food made by students.
Kevin and Kester, playing the runaway slave, Jim and the adventurous Huck Finn, set out on the raft with a canoe tied onto the back, as in the novel.
Everything worked perfectly for about 3 miles. Then they came to a place in the river where it became very wide. Due to dredging of the river for sand, it makes the river wider and shallower. The raft got stuck three times on the bottom. The third time was too much. It wouldn't budge on any of the four corners like it would the first two times. As Tom Sawyer did, Kevin and Kester were bound to do it "by the book." However, after a half-hour of numerous tricks like shifting weight, poling, and towing the raft by the canoe (comical, I know), the two adventurers gave up. All the equipment was loaded onto the canoe and the rest of the trek took place by canoe. "Huck would have done the same," thought Marsh. "He had too much common sense!" However, Huck and Jim were on the Mississippi River in June while the river was at flood stage. Marsh actually found the raft washed up on a sand bar in his hometown of Eudora two weeks later! He, a friend, and their children took a journey by foot through a forest of Cottonwoods to attach a note to the raft for anyone who finds it further on down the river. "Please call (913) 791-0575 if you find this raft, and tell us where it is!" It could, ultimately, wind up in the Gulf of Mexico, as Jim, Huck, and Tom Sawyer would have after stealing Jim out of slavery.
Three deer approached Marsh and Milner on a large sand bar. They saw many geese nesting on the banks, dozens of Great Blue Herons feeding in the shallows, Painted Turtles sunning themselves on logs, jumping Carp, feeding Channel Catfish with their tails brushing the water's surface, and a colony of about 300 barn swallows, which carved nests in the side of a dirt bank.
Around one o'clock in the afternoon, a steady rain started and was accompanied by a brisk, cold wind. Kester was worried that Kevin was having the beginning stages of hypothermia since Kevin did not have a raincoat and was wearing sandals. They pulled up onto a sand bar and started to collect firewood. Kester had to dig about one foot down into some logjams to find dry kindling and squaw wood. With one match to spare out of a whole book, the duo successfully started a fire that brought Kevin's core temperature up, dried out both of their clothes, and cooked them a fine, nineteenth century meal and hot coffee for the journey ahead.
With seven tough miles behind them, only three of them on the raft, Marsh and Milner were confident they could complete the task without any more fiascoes. At 4:00 p.m., the team sailed under the Highway 1 bridge at Eudora, around the corner, and into the muddy Wakarusa River, fiercely throwing their arms, shoulders, and hips into every stroke. Even though they were going upstream, they were moving faster than Morel Mushroom hunters were, walking along the banks. They didn't care how tired, wet, and sore they were; they just wanted the arduous journey to be over. After seven hours on the slow-moving Kaw, they weren't free from slavery or abuse, as were Jim and Huck--they were free from pain and the harsh spring weather!
Star Schools Project
The Kansas State School for the Deaf is one of the original schools to participate in Star Schools training. It was the intent of the two teachers in this project to teach their students using a Bilingual approach. Another goal of the teachers was to create a deeper love and understanding of literature. The third goal was to educate Deaf/Hard of Hearing students about the greater world at large through exposing them to history, science, math, computer research, video technology, web page design, AutoCAD, angling, sewing, cooking, and wood working. Also, by learning about the local history of Quantrill's Raid, John Brown, the Civil War, and "Bleeding Kansas," they were able to make connections between their own lives and the novel.
All the students who read the novel in class picked and researched a hands-on project that covered many of the disciplines taught in other classes in school. The catch was that they had to make everything from scratch, or at least make it look authentic. Three junior boys designed and built the entire raft using only hand tools.
One student designed the raft itself. A second student designed the rudder and oars. The third student designed a wigwam to hold and protect a fire from the elements, yet protect the raft from the fire. All three boys worked together on the construction of the raft and its implements. Another junior, a girl, created a meal (deer stew and applesauce) from family recipes dating back to the 1800's. Yet another junior (girl) made outfits for the teachers to wear on the trip (overalls with characteristic patches, long-sleeved, flannel shirts, and rope belts). A senior girl made authentic fishing poles from tree branches.
A third junior girl's project was to figure how long the trip would take. She had to incorporate the weight of the raft, the supplies, and the occupants, the water speed, taken daily/hourly from the USGS (United States Geological Survey) web site, and a simple drag coefficient. A senior boy's project was to figure out if the fish caught on the trip were safe enough to eat using data from state parks and the USGS.
Another junior boy's project was to capture all of the projects' activities with digital cameras and on film. His documentary was captioned and was shown to the entire high school and middle school in an effort to promote school-wide literacy.
The wood working and AutoCAD teacher asked his students to keep a journal of all work completed and all tools used each day of class.
The English teacher assigned a project notebook with these five sections: 1) project requirements and rubric. 2) Copies of all web sites visited/researched. 3) Any information used specifically for that individual project (photos, maps, charts, graphs, relay conversations, glossary of terms, etc.). 4) A chronological, technical paper explaining all the steps and tools required to complete the project. 5) A list of all web addresses used. All of the technical project papers are published on the KSD web site.
In the English classroom, Bilingual education took place through discussions of literature, characters, vocabulary, themes, and dialect studies. An opaque projector was used on a weekly basis to translate and retell paragraphs and dialogue straight from the novel. Students would take turns around the room reading from one to three or four sentences at a time and then signing them in ASL. The class would then discuss what was translated in error or what was missed. Once all the translations were performed and discussed, each student would rewrite/summarize from memory the entire passage.
Each student picked a theme they wanted to focus on throughout the entire novel. The themes picked were these: superstition, role of Southern women, contrast Huck and Jim, choosing between morality and immorality, reality versus illusion, slavery, mob mentality, nature, friendship, and money. For each reading assignment, every student wrote a summary and main idea of each chapter. In addition, they were to write down evidence of their specific theme and page numbers. These notes would be used later for a thematic, expository research paper, due at the end of the fourth quarter.
Two vocabulary words were required of the students for each chapter of reading. Whichever words they did not understand, they were to write it down, then look it up and provide a definition. These words were used for weekly vocabulary tests. To study for the tests, the students would write sentences using their vocabulary words on the board. Then, after the teacher helped them correct the grammar, each student would sign the sentence in English word order. Following that signing, the student would sign the same sentence in ASL. This was to emphasize the difference in languages/codes, and to accommodate
students who were used to seeing and signing English codes that can be found somewhere on the continuum between spoken and written English, and ASL. After all the sentences were signed, each student drew a picture of their words and displayed them on the door from which the whole school could see and learn. This also helped to accommodate students who were more visually oriented than reading/writing oriented.
The reading of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took place from February to April. Really and completely comprehending the content and literature components of this novel takes time. The projects were initiated several weeks after the reading started. The Float trip was on April 24th, so all of the projects except two were completed in two months with no classroom time given, except for research (two days). The documentary film and web site were finished one month after the float trip. These students will never forget their experiences here. Let's hope that they become better readers and develop a stronger love for English and for English literature.