Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Create Your Own Traveling Teaching Trunks

Select Artifacts
By Nina Kendall

Looking for a new activity for you class? Try a traveling trunk. A “traveling trunk” is a collection of artifacts and sources that can be used to teach others about history.  Students examine artifacts and investigate collections to better understand an event or a historical period. The 'trunk” or collection comes to your classroom when you can’t make it to a museum or historic site.  Many museums or historic site have trunks they will lend for a small fee. Of course, you can make your own traveling trunk as well.

The Histocrats did. We all have and use trunks to teach. Whether we teach elementary school or high school, we use them in class. From colonial hornbooks to railroad ties, we each have a unique collection of objects to teach with in our classrooms.  Our trunks reflect similar themes but different approaches to teaching.  When you make it yourself, you can customize it to your curriculum and student population. We encourage you to pick a topic and create a trunk of your own.    

Now you might be thinking high school students don’t want to work with artifacts. You would be wrong. I have had students argue over who gets to work with various artifacts. In fact, I would make the argument that the secondary level is a great age to use artifacts. Traditional activities put activities like “show and tell’ and field trips in elementary school, when you are learning to be careful, observant, and cautious when handling materials. Yet secondary students who have mastered all these skill rarely get an opportunity to handle and examine objects or go on field trips. Traveling trunks bridge the gap by putting artifacts and other objects in the hands of those prepared to handle them.

Are you ready to try making a trunk of your own? Try these tips to help you get started.

·         Select the topic you want to build your trunk around. Think about what unit you would like to your students to participate in as more engaged learners.

·         Think about objects that would help you teach this unit and how you would use them.  Ten objects would allow for the creation of small groups in any classroom.

o   Do you want all the objects to be the same?

o   Do you want students work with several different objects?

·         Establish a budget for yourself in collecting your objects. Set aside a small part of organizing and storing your objects.

Traveling Trunk
·         Brainstorm where you might find your objects. Be creative. You may find some at home or may be free items that are recycled or found in nature.. Others objects may be found in souvenir or gift shops on your travels.

·         Organize, inventory, and label your collection. You will need a way to monitor your collection.

o   What will you story your collection in? Anything can work. We have seen people use trunks, baskets, and old suitcases.

o   How will you pass items out? A collection of small items could be stored in individual plastic bags.
You are now well on your way to creating your first traveling trunk. We hope you enjoy your trunk as much as we do our trunks. Share your success stories and pictures of your trunks @Histocrats. Happy Teaching!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Wrenching Pain of History

By Jeff Burns

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.  - Maya Angelou
Throughout the year in my US History classes, I tell lots of stories and include lots of unpleasantness as it arises.  My students often tell me that I ruin their day or dispel their childhood truths.  However, in January or early February, I usually get to the day in class that is the most depressing and silent day of the year, because I normally set aside a day to talk about lynchings and racial violence of the Jim Crow era.
Why?  I was never exposed to any of this information in school, but I think it is a necessary part of the study of history to study the bad and the good, the depressing and the uplifting, and good history and good citizenship both demand the full story, warts and all.
(Caveat:  I do teach mostly Advanced Placement and Honors students, juniors.  A teacher has to be aware of the maturity level and responsibility of their students.  My students are mature enough to take college level courses, hold jobs, and operate vehicles capable of mayhem and death.  They should be able to handle a major, if disturbing,  fact of  our country’s history.)
It starts as any other day, with no foreshadowing of the day’s subject.  I usually start by projecting seemingly benign images that I have lifted from lynching photos, like these:

Fort Lauderdale, FL, 1935, Rubin Stacy

Marion IN, 1930, Smith and Shipp
I ask questions like: What do you see?  When and where do you think this was?  Why?  Describe the crowd.  What kind of mood do you think they’re in?  Where do you think they are and what are they looking at?  Answers usually include concert, fair, speech, fireworks, etc.  Then I reveal the whole picture.  (You can google them for yourself.)  The result is always dumbfounded silence.  Then I read a couple of excerpts about specific cases and show a few more pictures before continuing the discussion of Jim Crow and racial violence.  Of course, the lesson’s not complete without showing the video ( or playing the song) of Billie Holiday performing  “Strange Fruit,” and examining the lyrics.  It always makes for a powerful discussion, and it is a powerful frame for the modern civil rights movement.  However, I have to stress again that it can be a very painful experience, and it has to be managed well.  It’s not for every student or every teacher.

Checkout the Histocrats' Bookshelf  for books on this topic.