Hands-On History

Monticello 28feb2013 JLooney-0250

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello, photo by Jack Looney.

For me, literacy education encompasses both fiction and non-fiction subjects. I’ve already chronicled some of my adventures in science (check out these posts on chemistry and Rube Goldberg engineering, these projects on butterflies, buoyancy, and creative construction, and this science kit review by our kid tester). Today, however, I want to focus on history and relate a fantastic hands-on experience that inspired me over 14 years ago.

In 2001, I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, happily enrolled in a “Museums and Education” class taught by Professor John Bunch. Part of the class was lecture-based, but another part class involved field trips to various museums and historic sites to get a tour and learn more about their educational programs. Once such field trip was to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in the beautiful mountains surrounding Charlottesville, Virginia.

05-Donor's Event104

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Monticello has a very active roster of programs for adults and children alike, but I want to share one ingenious activity my class was invited to experience during our tour. The activity is intended for elementary school group visitors to Monticello.

The activity begins with the students sitting in groups at tables. Each table is given a recreated “historic pocket” (it could be a leather wallet, a burlap bag, an embroidered linen pouch, a basket, etc.). Inside each pocket are various objects representing items that the pocket’s owner would have used in his or her daily life at Monticello. Students are invited to examine the objects (touching is not just permitted, it’s encouraged!). Then they engage in a discussion with a Monticello staff member to determine: 1) What the objects are; 2) How they were used; and 3) What the objects tell about the person who owned them.

Here’s an image of Jefferson’s recreated historic pocket:

TJ.Pocket

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Pocket contents include:

Brass sealing stamp
Money (both paper and coin)
Ivory Notecards
Folding spectacles
Map of land holdings
Traveling quill set

From examining these objects, the students learn that Jefferson was literate, wealthy, and the owner of the plantation. They’ve learned it by touching and exploring the objects – holding a quill pen, looking at a map, jingling replica coins in their hands.

Even better, the educators at Monticello don’t just offer one pocket. They have several! In addition to Thomas Jefferson’s pocket, students explore recreated pockets representing members of Thomas Jefferson’s family, including his children and grandchildren, and members of the enslaved plantation community, such as Edith Fossett and her husband, Joseph Fossett.  By exploring a variety of pockets, students can compare and contrast the lives of different individuals, and the various roles they played at Monticello.

Here, for example, is the Fossett Family pocket, which represents Edith Fossett, Joseph Fossett, and their children:

FossettFamilyPocket

© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

Pocket contents include:

Clay marbles
Metal s-hooks
Steel striker (use with flint)
Jaw harp
Coin money pieces
Spoon
Nails
Beans
Cowry Shells

Students learn that Edith and Joseph Fossett were slaves at Monticello – Edith was chief cook, trained in French cookery at the President’s House in Washington D.C., and Joseph was foreman of the blacksmith shop. Being slaves, they were not paid for their work. So why are there some small coin pieces in the pocket?

Interestingly, Joseph Fossett received a small portion of the blacksmith shop’s profits, and sometimes took paid work on the side.  Joseph Fossett was one of only five slaves freed in Thomas Jefferson’s will and started a business in Charlottesville.  Using money he earned, he was eventually able to buy his wife and some of their eight children out of slavery and move with them to the free state of Ohio.

ACPS.GirlsInClassroom

Students examine objects in the Grandchildren’s basket, including a family letter, sewing sampler, slate, and ball and cup toy. © Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello.

The pocket activity is only the beginning of the students’ experience at Monticello.  Next, they proceed to the house and grounds, often hearing the names of the people whose pockets they explored. The activity is very flexible and portable. Staff have taken it off site to schools and teacher training sessions.

Depending on class size and time constraints, classes will rotate to different spaces within the Education Center, exploring a different pocket—and new individual—in every room. Currently, the educational staff are taking the pocket idea and experimenting with applying its hands-on, minds-on concept to entire rooms of their Education Center and Griffin Discovery Room.

It would be interesting to apply the pocket activity to literary figures. What would Jane Austin carry in her pocket? Charles Dickens? J.K. Rowling? Why not apply this concept to the sciences? What would Einstein have in his pocket? Marie Curie?

I did, in fact, do a modified version of the pocket activity when I designed this Character Book activity at my library. Not a wallet, and not replicas of historical objects, but the concept is still there! People often ask where I get my ideas (see FAQ). This one derives directly from the pocket activity.

milo

Character Book for Milo, The Phantom Tollbooth

I love everything about the pocket activity. Intriguing students with a bit of mystery, handling and exploring objects, allowing time for the students to postulate the answers for themselves, comparing objects across individuals, and using the objects to launch an educational dialogue about the people, places, and experiences at Monticello. It’s a powerful lesson in history, right in your hands.

This post has made me realize that I’m long overdue in writing about the other ways in which I incorporate history into my literacy programs. While I have a series of 6 classroom programs that feature my library’s special collections (you can read more about that here), I’ve also found ways to bring history to life at some of our special events (including a sign that almost stole the show, this little Medieval herbal bag, and does a 1963 recipe test for fudge count as history?).

I shall get to work on more history posts, posthaste!


Many thanks to Jacqueline Langholtz, Manager of School & Group Programs at Monticello for chatting with me about this amazing program.

All images used with permission of Monticello.

Popping Up All Over

spaceshipsWhen I started Pop Goes the Page, my goal was to share the programs and projects I do at my library, but I also wanted my readers to be able to replicate the programs and projects themselves. I love the idea that children far beyond the realms of my library are enjoying a story time or two. Today, I’d like to share three Pop-inspired programs from around the globe!

First, we’ll visit Zoe Toft and family in the UK. On her blog, Playing by the Book, Zoe describes how she adapted our flying saucer project for Space Dog by Mini Grey (Knopf Books, 2015). Her kids launched their saucers from the second-story window of their house which, in my mind, cliched Zoe as the blue ribbon winner in the “Awesome Mom” category. They also made these incredible space suits from disposable painter’s overalls!

spaceships2Next, we’ll zip over to Canada, where Polly Ross adapted our Cinderella Story dress-making program for her library’s little princesses-to-be. On her blog, Story Time and Other Exciting Things, Polly shares what she learned about running the program, and gives some sound practical advice (having done the program myself, her first suggestion still has me chuckling). Here’s a daring dress designer modeling her stupendous creation:

DSC_0003Finally, we’ll land in North Carolina, where Brytani Fraser used our PVC wands at her library’s Harry Potter birthday celebration. On her blog, The Neighborhood Librarian, she breaks down the entire program, which sounds like it was a total blast. Five activity tables! Movie soundtrack! Spelling challenges for chocolate! Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans! Here’s the wand decorating station – the flowers, the glass bowls, the moss…it’s gorgeous!

wand-stationHave you hosted a Pop-inspired program, story time, or given a project a whirl? E-mail me! I would love to see what you’ve done!


All images used with permission of Zoe Toft, Polly Ross, and Brytani Fraser.

Your Fairy Godmother

fairy godmotherYour fairy godmother has arrived! Yes, this fairy godmother grants wishes. But be careful. You’ll get what you ask for, but it might not be exactly what you expect! Meet Sylvia Jacobson. She’s a sophomore at Princeton University, an Environmental Engineering major, and a creative contributor to Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group for ages 9-12. And this year, she was the group’s official fairy godmother.

At the beginning of the Cotsen Critix programming year, Sylvia asked each group member to make 3 wishes. She selected 1 of the 3 wishes for each kid and, over the course of the program, she would start each session by granting a wish.

Sylvia adapted the fairy godmother activity from a “Wish Night” she used to run at a sleep-away camp (a shout out to Habonim Dror Camp Moshava!). Sylvia and her fellow counselors would ask the kids to write down their wishes without telling them why. Then, on the appointed night, the wishes would be granted to the campers, which meant over 100 wishes total in one night!

The Cotsen Critix were warned that Sylvia was a literal fairy godmother. Not only did she get quite specific in granting wishes, she also invoked wordplay to achieve some truly hilarious results. Here are a couple examples of Sylvia’s handiwork:


Wish: “A pair of UGGs”

pear of uggs


Wish: “Infinity money”

infinity money


Wish: “A pig stuffed animal”

In case it’s not clear in the photo, that’s an elephant stuffed with pigs.

pig stuffed animal


Wish: “I wish we can have a peaceful world”

One peas-full world, coming up!

peas on earth


Wish: “To travel in outer space without any equipment or trouble”

The kid was instructed to travel around outside the area marked “space” without carrying any of the equipment or touching the board game Trouble.

travel around space without trouble


Wish: “To have a 100 dollars”

Rip a 100 dollar “bill” in half and yes! You halve a 100 dollars.

to halve a hundred


Wish: “5 more wishes”

Ah, the classic I’m-trying-to-break-the-system-wish. I’ll admit, this was mine. The fairy godmother, however, was ready for me. She handed me a piece of paper and asked me to write down 5 more wishes. Then, she took the paper from me…and immediately handed it back. Voila! Sylvia had officially given me 5 more wishes.

five more wishesAnd now all the world can see that I don’t know how to spell the word “Play-doh.”

Doh!

The fairy godmother was a huge hit. Almost all of the kids mentioned this activity was one of their favorites this year. Sylvia’s favorite part? “The Critix’s surprised reactions. It was fun to give everyone what they asked for but not what they expected. Also, I loved the arguments each week as the Critix tried to convince me that I couldn’t be a real fairy. I’m still not convinced.”

While Sylvia typically made her visits sporting fabric wings and carrying a homemade wand, on the last day of the program we surprised the kids by having her appear in a full-on, puffy, fluffy, sparkly and splendid fairy godmother costume.

fairy godmother full costumeThe dress was actually an old wedding dress I found in a local thrift/consignment shop called Nearly New. The owners were delighted by the project and gave me a wonderful deal on it. We added some pieces of rainbow tulle to match the wings, and borrowed a tiara and necklace from the University’s Lewis Center costume shop. The results were fabulous.

Make a wish!


Special thanks to the Lewis Center for the Arts’ costume shop and the Nearly New Shop for making our fairy godmother extra magical.