The past two years the Lowell Area Historical Museum has had a pilot program where students from one classroom spend two full days at the museum. This school year is the first it has been opened up to additional classes. Third grade classes from Murray Lake Elementary School participated in the program during the month of February.
A Closer Look at Museum Life
Students from Lowell Area Schools (LAS) visit the Lowell Area Historical Museum or participate in programs throughout their elementary years in the district. First grade students get a brief glimpse of what the museum is about and all second grade students learn about pioneer life when Grandma’s Trunk visits each school. Other opportunities include a Past vs Present Tour and maple syrup program with 2nd graders and Native American Life, Fur Trade and Pioneers, which takes place at Heidi’s Farmstand in the fall for 3rd grade students. Fourth grade participates in a Michigan history program along with WIttenbach Wege Center.
This two-day program is a unique look at the museum. “The students get the opportunity to learn deeply about the history of their community. They make connections to the past that stay with them going into their future.” says Lisa Plank, Executive Director of the Lowell Area Historical Museum. “The program is designed to give each student opportunities to engage with artifacts and topics that are particularly interesting to them.” This is yet another way for students to discover that history isn’t boring. Students are also able to see areas of the museum where artifacts not on display are stored and not open to the public.
Three third grade classes from Murray Lake Elementary each visited the museum for two full days. The additional time allowed for a more detailed look at artifacts in the museum, how pieces are collected and categorized, and learn more information about items of interest. One class at a time came to the museum and was divided into three groups as they participated in various activities. Smaller groups within one class allows for more attention to detail and the ability to allow students to make some decisions on what they will learn during their visit.
Teachers worked with museum staff and volunteers in advance to decide which tasks and learning points for their classrooms would coincide with their curriculum. Each class worked on a timeline activity, created a Lowell settlement map, learned how curators care for artifacts, went on a scavenger hunt to find lesser known items throughout the museum, and had a lesson on fur trade. Students were also able to choose an artifact they wanted to learn more about. Museum staff researched the items and the following day students were able to write exhibit labels for their item.
This two-day, hands on experience allows students to experience the museum and not merely visit it. They are able to understand the importance of keeping historical artifacts and records so the past is not forgotten. Spending more time learning about items throughout the museum also gives them a better idea of how Lowell started and what life was like decades ago along the same streets they see today.
The ability to select something of interest to learn more about and write information which would teach others about the item also gave individuals the opportunity to guide their own learning. After many of the activities, students shared what was learned with others. Being able to explain and teach something to another person is an indication of understanding the topic.
Looking to Expand
The first year adding additional classes to participate was a success. A grant from the Lowell Area Community Fund was used for recruitment, training, and activities with teachers. With activities researched, developed and practiced on classes, the program is ready to grow. Plank hopes the program will be able to be offered to the other elementary schools in the district in the future. Challenges such as funding for additional museum staff and busing students. The museum worked with Murray Lake Elementary to write a grant to the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs for funding to cover teacher training, prep time, busing, and program time.
As long as funding remains available, the program will continue and expand within the district. It’s important to learn about history in order to understand the present and plan for the future. The ability for students to learn about Lowell’s rich history is an important piece in their curriculum.