Sunday, March 8, 2015

History Teacher or Hoarder?

By Jeff Burns

The picture above is not a picture of my classroom or my garage; this room is much better organized.  I’m a history teacher.  Sometimes I wonder of that just means I’m a hoarder. I love old stuff, things, junk, objects – or maybe artifacts sound better – and I love using them in my history classes.  Holding, using, and discussing these artifacts brings history to life for my students.

This is real hands on history, and the use of objects can not only enhance your students’ learning, but it can also allow you to check off a lot of the pedagogical demands made on teachers today.    Hands on history promotes:
      Multiple intelligences

Objects can be used singly, in groups, or in themed collections like traveling trunks, in a variety of ways:

      As a hook to generate interest
      To start discussion
      To supplement instruction
      In learning stations
      In museum/gallery walks

But most importantly, objects reinforce the purpose of history; they tell the story. 

The Histocrats have previously blogged about traveling trunks.  We were introduced to the idea through participating in several Teaching American History Grants in which we created our own trunks.  A traveling trunk is a collection of primary and secondary sources related to a theme a topic; they may contain documents, objects, artworks, even videotapes.  While it’s relatively easy to create your own trunk, many museums and institutions offer trunks that teachers can borrow for free or rent, and they can often be shipped anywhere in the country.  To find sources, check with a particular institution or simply search for “traveling trunks.”

My artifacts come from a lot of different places.  The contents of my first trunk, pictured above, came from pre-packaged kits sold by Colonial Williamsburg, supplemented with a few items that I either made or found elsewhere.  The trunk is about colonial life and the objects are sample belongings of a colonial militiaman, woman, slave, and Native American.

Some objects are family artifacts like photos, my grandfathers’ World War I draft registrations (copied at the National Archives – Atlanta where all WWI draft registration cards are stored), my great grandmother’s cast iron  iron and 100+ year old scissors for example.  I’ve purchased some things in antique shops, flea markets, and on Ebay. On a trip to New England, I discovered sealed bottles of various medicines sold in the late 1800s, with the medicine intact, and magazines dating from the 1880s and 1910s and 1920s.  (Because I was flying and because I didn’t want century old medicine sitting around my classroom, I poured out the original contents and replaced it with colored water.)  On Ebay, I’ve found models of various forms of transportation, reproduction catalogs, and an authentic stereopticon with cards (home entertainment device of the 1800s which enabled people to see 3D images).

In other blogs, I wrote about using museums-in-a-book and museum boxes, packaged collections of reproduced documents.  I laminate and use these documents in my collections.

Depending on my objectives, students may engage in one or more of several activities while examining the objects:
      Take Notes
      Answer Specific Questions
      Create Graphic Organizers
      Make Connections
      Make Predictions

After the hands-on activity is completed, what do you do with the experience?  It is essential to debrief in some fashion, formally or informally.  There are many summative assessments that you might employ:

      Use evidence to write an essay
      Develop a character and write a letter, journal entry
      Create a poem, story, dialogue, skit, or other document
      Create a character sketch, a biography, a résumé

And if you’re looking for a project, have students create their own groups of objects as a trunk or exhibit, to explore some topic of family, local, state, American, or world history.

So, don’t be afraid to bring back Show & Tell to your classroom!