Historic Preservation & Education at Home: Distance Education and Museums
“…Educators and children are some of the most flexible and resilient members of our population--because we have to be!” Sue Cowan, a fourth grade teacher at Belmont Station Elementary, explains that the transition to distance education during the quarantine provides an opportunity to explore new, creative ways to teach and learn. Belmont Station principal Lori Mercer praised the Loudoun County Public School community for their commitment to the continuing education of their students by “rapidly learning new means of delivering instruction, translating plans to digital formats, and, in time for our kick off of new learning on April 15, preparing new lessons to be delivered remotely.”
(for more information about LCPS Continuity of Education Program and other information regarding responses to COVID, visit lcps.org )
Museums, like schools, are also deeply embedded in their community and are mission driven to promote education. There is a long history of cooperation between museums and schools beyond the occasional field trip that includes a variety of educational programming. Museums, through their collections, can provide primary source material that physically represents theoretical concepts. Historic places and objects tell compelling narratives that make history relevant and interesting. Because of the centrality of physical objects to the nature of museums, it is difficult to navigate socially distant ways to fulfill our mission.
In the upcoming weeks, I hope to use this platform to highlight the creative ways that educators in Loudoun County are conducting distance learning and to provide resources for others. As a result, Loudoun Museum is inviting guest bloggers to contribute to this developing story! More information about submitting content will follow at the end of the blog.
For this week’s blog, I wanted to highlight a program I participated in at Belmont Station Elementary School and use it as inspiration for an educational activity for teachers (and parents acting as teachers) to use in their homes. In Fall 2019 I was invited by Sue Cowan to come and speak with fourth graders and introduce the concept of historic preservation in preparation for their Virginia Preservation Projects.
Cowan provided the following description of the project:
Since the 2016 -2017 school year, the Fourth Grade Team at Belmont Station Elementary School devotes about eight weeks to our "Virginia Preservation Project" as our yearly Project Based Learning Activity. The idea was the brainstorm of that year's Fourth Grade team of teachers. Abby Shaffer, current Team Lead, who was part of that original group, says of the project, "incorporating historic preservation into our history lessons is so important because we are teaching the children the value and significance of historic places. If we want these places to be remembered and honored, students first need to learn about the importance of preserving them".
Each year we invite students to explore a variety of pre/historic sites in the area we now call "Virginia" ranging in time periods from thousands of years ago to the 20th Century. The purpose is to trace continuity from the past to the present and to foster a sense of respect and even reverence for what has come before us, and an awareness of how the past contributes to who we are today.
From exploring the range of sites--some well preserved, some that are "lost", and many in between--students gain insight into the benefit which attention to our past brings. Many students grow from the project, yearning to preserve more historic sites and more of our heritage.
Students each choose a site that interests them, research it, then choose the kind of project they will create in order to help preserve the site and educate others about it. They additionally choose if they work collaboratively with another student- or two, or independently on their project.
After weeks of research and project creation, students share their work with the community. Students create a display board, a visual creation such as a website, slide presentation, video, letter, 3-D printing model, flyer, article, etc, and provide an oral presentation to viewers of their project. Other educators in the school contribute to the culminating "Preservation Showcase" with musical arrangements, slides, and technological resources.
I was honored to be invited to attend the Preservation Showcase and see the result of the student’s hard work. It was clear through the amount of research, time, and effort put into these projects and their presentations that the students felt passionate about their historic sites and the concept of preservation. This passion inspired me to think about how I could further explore these topics with local students. While attending historic sites might not be practical or possible during this time, the topic of preservation and interpretation can be explored at home through material culture. Attached here is an activity that introduces these concepts by inviting learners to critically think about the everyday objects in their own homes and act as conservators and curators of their own collections.
Educators from schools, museums, and elsewhere have developed creative solutions to adapt to this new environment. One of the most inspiring aspects of this transition is the willingness of organizations and communities to share their resources.
Loudoun Museum wants to provide a platform to highlight educators in our community that have creatively adapted to the changing times. If you have created unconventional lesson plans, adapted your home into a school, nailed how to make a Zoom conference call a fun interactive lesson, or otherwise made the best of this strange situation- we want to hear from you! Upcoming blog posts will feature these educators and their experiences, helping us stay connected and educated throughout the quarantine.
To submit a story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Distance Education Blog Submission.