I begin each year of my teaching with one hope: to inspire my students with history. I want to help our students become the keepers of history in our community. I want them to not only learn the history, but to live it and work in it. Educators – and schools, communities, and parents –do many things to help our students become active learners of history. Among the things I’m trying this year is building a mini-museum inside my Grade 11 Genocide classroom at Waterdown District High School in Hamilton, Ontario.
How does one build a museum inside of a classroom? One of the first steps is collecting the artifacts you will display. Our classroom is collecting letters, diaries, and interviews from family and community members about their experiences in World War II. One of the second steps is to design the area that will hold those artifacts. With support from a 2013 Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grant, my students and I are designing a “Case for History.” We have had classroom discussion, brainstorming, and hands-on sketching sessions on how to design the perfect one. I also had the opportunity to speak about the project with the head curator of museums in Hamilton, Ontario. His advice was that a viewer should be able to walk into the classroom and see one featured item on display." That is the key,” he told me. “One special piece of history.” As my students and I brainstormed what our case should look like, we settled on four key elements it had to have:
1) Room for Text. We hope to design a case that is both beautiful to look at and helps viewers see the information inside – our case will be made of glass and have plenty of room for text.
2) Mobility. Our class knows that we use the space of our classroom - but we don’t own it. Our case needs to be portable so that we can move it, share it, and bring learning with us wherever we go.
3) Security. We realized that we are putting a lot of work into our case, and that as keepers of the history we are collecting, we are giving ourselves a big responsibility. Our case will need to be lockable so that the items inside are safe and will be there for future students and classrooms to use.
4) Accessibility. The case should be accessible to learners and educators of all ages and grade levels. Our case must be at a height and vantage point for all.
I’ll be back here, posting about the innovative ways we’re using our classroom to explore history. Stay tuned for photos, resources, and ideas for how you could start a similar project at your school. And please leave a comment below – what would your “Case for History” look like?
This post is part of a series that highlights the classroom and school work of the 2013 Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grant winners. These teachers are thinking outside the box to transform schools and impact student learning and their projects are helping students worldwide to become more active, concerned citizens.