Pick a Card

pick a cardA few weeks ago, I shared this fabulous hands-on education activity from Monticello. Today, I’d like to share another educational gem, this one from the Princeton University Art Museum.

Every spring, the Art Museum hosts a free Family Day for the community. It’s packed with activities, performances, refreshments, and a scavenger hunt. This year’s scavenger hunt involved one of the niftiest little card decks I’ve ever seen. The cards are the brainchild of Brice Batchelor-Hall, Manager of Student & Community Outreach.

Each card in the 30-card deck features a piece of art from the museum’s collections. During the scavenger hunt, kids used the cards to locate specific pieces of artwork in the galleries. Every time a kid correctly identified an artwork, a museum volunteer would reward him/her with a duplicate card.

matched cards

Later (and this is my favorite part), the two sets of cards could be used to play the game, Memory! But instead of matching two red apples, you’re matching two Masks of the Oculate Being. Or two slender vases with wisteria design by Gotō Seizaburō.

memory gameThe cards came in a stylish little clam shell carrying case too. Nice!

case

What a great way to introduce kids to art and simultaneously familiarize them with museum collections, connect them with volunteers, AND provide an opportunity for further fun at home. Not to mention the decks are super stylish (design credit goes to the talented Lehze Flax) and completely transportable. They can nestle in a purse or backpack, ready to pop out when your children need a quick diversion. But how many diversions also open the door to discussions about art, history, design, color, line, creativity, and a whole host of other concepts? Perfect. Simply perfect.

If you wanted to get literary with it, how about a deck of famous book characters? Historic writing implements? Iconic objects in your public library? Ooo! All the foreign edition covers of the first Harry Potter book!


All objects shown are from the collections of the Princeton University Art Museum. Photographs are by Bruce M. White and are ©Trustees of Princeton University. Many thanks to the University Art Museum for letting us share!

Lipogram Fortunes

lipogram fortuneNo one can predict what wisdom a fortune cookie will reveal. Except in this case. We can say with absolute, 100% certainty that this fortune will not contain the letter O. Because hidden inside this cookie is a carefully crafted lipogram fortune.

The lipogram fortune cookie activity is always a crowd-pleaser at Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary group for ages 9-12. First, we introduce the lipogram – a type of writing in which the author leaves out a letter (or letters) when crafting a sentence, paragraph, or story. Then we write fortune cookie fortunes that cannot include the letter O. Here are a few pearls of wisdom, future predictions, and unusual directives, all with nary an O in sight!


Making beds creates happy parents everywhere.

Beauty is great, but brains are better.

Never give up.

Rain will fall where it never falls.

Life is filled with crazy bananas!

Washed feet are always appreciated.

Beware the lizards. They bite.

Quick! Buy all the chunky peanut butter in Alabama!

Surprise hug the dude sitting nearest the exit.

There will be an alien kidnapping.

Marble will crack and the universe will be put in small terms…beep…beep…beep…shwee, shew, whee!

The future that lies ahead isn’t paved yet.

Saturday night is finally live.

Rip up this paper immediately.

Read this!

Be clear and direct – a Giant Space Laser can be disabled with the right steps.

Buy bad cheese.

Ye with withstand danger.

Child, eat the asparagus in the plate because it is amazing!

Never try being smart in class.

Leave this Chinese restaurant.

Be safe in life, but carefulness is an inadequate skill.

Have a nice day.

Beware jumping chipmunks.

Falling is a bad idea.

The difference between happiness and sadness is this: the happy man has a warm puppy.


We do the lipogram activity early in the program. Later, it makes a triumphant comeback during our QUEST, which occurs at the very end of the program. The QUEST is super elaborate cross-campus race that involves teams solving riddles, encountering student actors, following maps, and unearthing clues. One such clue is hidden inside a bunch of lipogram fortune cookies.

You may already be aware that you can order fortune cookies with special messages. They say things like “It’s a Boy!” or “Will you marry me?” or “Happy Anniversary!” But you can order custom messages too.

We ordered cookies with 4 custom messages. Each message was missing a particular letter (or two). In the QUEST box, next to the 4 cookies, was a letter wheel and a golf pencil (here’s the letter wheel template if you’re interested).

letter wheelFirst, the QUEST kids had to recall the lipogram activity. Then, they had to figure out that the missing letters spelled out a QUEST clue (the letter wheel and the golf pencil helped them keep track). Here’s a solved wheel, pointing the kids to their next destination:

letter wheel solutionI buy my cookies online from Fortune Cookie Planet. They are peanut free, tree-nut free, vegan, and preservative free. 50 cookies with 4 custom messages costs $20 (plus shipping). Another option is to obtain fortune cookies locally, use tweezers to pull out the fortunes, and carefully inset your own message inside. Just make sure you have a few extra cookies on hand. Sometimes they crack apart during the fortune-swapping process!


Illustration of fortune cookie used on letter wheel template is by Coffee Addict on wikiHow.

Hands-On History

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© 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.

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© 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.