Carrie Phillips 2015-04-01 11:04:07
Inspiration for new directions in our work as archivists can often come from unusual circumstances. Such was the case one evening a few years ago when two friends and I were travelling to a monthly Bunco club. The driver, a first-grade teacher at our local elementary school, knew of my work as archives and special collections librarian at Bluffton University, a small liberal arts school in northwest Ohio, and asked, “Do you ever open the archives for grade school groups?” The question caught me off guard, and I responded no, I hadn’t, but that I was definitely interested in hearing more about her idea. What emerged from that conversation became a fun and engaging interactive program that aligned with our state’s learning standards for grade one social studies. Ohio’s New Learning Standards In June 2010 Ohio’s State Board of Education approved what is known to teachers and parents in our state as Ohio’s New Learning Standards: K–12 Social Studies (http://goo.gl/KADf7n). Designers of the standards intend for them to identify the most essential concepts and skills, to foster a greater depth of understanding, to be easily managed by teachers, to show clear progression from grade level to grade level, and to meet the needs of twentyfirst- century students. Each of Ohio’s New Learning Standards has four components: Themes, strands, topics, and content statements. A standard’s theme explains the focus for any given grade level. “Families Now and Long Ago, Near and Far” is the New Learning Standards theme for grade one social studies and includes the following description: The first-grade year builds on the concepts developed in kindergarten by focusing on the individual as a member of a family. Students begin to understand how families lived long ago and how they live in other cultures. They develop concepts about how the world is organized spatially through beginning map skills. They build the foundation for understanding principles of government and their roles as citizens (p. 9). Ohio’s New Learning Standards further develop social studies curricular requirements through strands and topics. Strands are the four disciplines within the social studies: history, geography, government, and economics. Topics are different aspects of content within each strand. For example, historical thinking and heritage are two topics within the history strand. The narrative content statements within each topic articulate the essential knowledge to be learned at each grade level. The second content statement for the historical thinking and skills topic within the history strand was the stimulus for this teacher’s Inquiry about the archives: “Photographs, letters, artifacts, and books can be used to learn about the past” (p. 13). Using the Standards I used this content statement to develop a program that brought four sections of twenty-five first graders to the archives over two days for a thirty-minute program. I borrowed a large vintage suitcase from the university’s theater department (itself an artifact) and used it to hold seven different Items from our archival collections. The items were chosen for their attractiveness and relatability to the lives of first-grade students, and they were packaged separately in appropriate enclosures with colorful numbered tags. A volunteer was chosen to assist me in opening the suitcase, but not before we discussed as a class the suitcase itself as an artifact. Did it look like their suitcases? Might it be from the past? How do we know? The students were very eager to share their ideas. Once the volunteer and I popped the latches and opened the suitcase, new volunteers were selected to unwrap each item. Because the relevant content statement from the New Learning Standards prescribes that photographs, letters, artifacts, and books should be used to consider the past, I selected the following items for the program: A sixteenth-century folio-sized Swiss- German Bible, which was the type and translation used by early settlers of the Bluffton area An early twentieth-century photograph of a man, a woman, and a child in a stroller A Main Street USA postcard sent from Walt Disney World in 1972, together with a present-day photograph of the same view A pair of pince-nez glasses, which belonged to our university’s first president A leather football helmet, together with photographs of our university’s football team from 1905, 1943, and near present day An early twentieth–century photograph of a local first-grade classroom A circa-1905 Kodak pocket camera As the items were removed from the suitcase and opened for inspection, a digital image of each item was projected on a large screen so the children could better see each item. I then asked: What is this thing? Is it something from the past? How do we know? What is interesting about this item? What does it tell us about the past? Do we still see or use this item today, and does it look the same or different than today’s version of this item? During the discussion of the Kodak pocket camera, I asked the class to compare it to my Canon dSLR camera sitting within arms’ reach, and then I asked if I could take a photograph of each class with my “presentday” camera. Lessons Learned After conducting this program for more than three years, I’ve learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t. Examining seven items filled the time well, was unrushed, and held students’ interest and attention. To prevent students from crowding the suitcase, I taped a line on the floor and only allowed chosen volunteers to cross the tape to assist in retrieving an item. I enlisted the classroom teacher to help select volunteers efficiently. Projecting large images of each item onto a screen was helpful for making the lesson visually accessible to everyone. For the most part, the list of items has remained the same; I added the Disney postcard this year as an attempt to address the “letter” requirement of the content statement. This program is just one piece of a larger curriculum plan created by the teachers to help the students meet this content requirement. Other local historians are invited to visit each classroom, and the students take a field trip to a local historic home and farm, in addition to their visit to the archives. Increasing Outreach This type of activity might not have been my first thought, if I’d been looking for ways to increase my outreach potential. However, the classroom teachers and students who attend the program react positively. I’m surprised at how engaged and excited the students were to see my show-and-tell program, and I’m so grateful for the suggestion from one of the teachers to pursue it. Do you have an interest in connecting your collections to new audiences? Consider reaching out to local educators. Investigate your state’s education standards for history and other areas, and look for interesting items in your collections to inspire curiosity in ways that align with those standards. Archivists in higher education institutions could work with teacher education programs to equip future teachers with strategies for using archival resources to meet educational standards. Look for ways of introducing young children to archival materials and institutions; the benefits of these programs may bring great reward all around in the years to come.
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