Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Harrow Strickland, a middle school teacher and summer teaching associate at the National Museum of American History. If you’re interested in becoming a teaching associate, please email us at Thinkfinity@si.edu for more information.
On a random weekday back in April, I was checking my Facebook page when I saw an opportunity to go to the greatest place on EARTH! A K-12 Summer Teaching Associate working at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History was like a siren’s song calling me!
The main focus of my time at the museum was to create something new for teachers. Carrie and Jenny, my colleagues who run the History Explorer program, filtered through my natural chattiness about my classroom teaching to find the one nugget that would become the foundation for my project: a random mention of a novel I use in my classroom suddenly became the focus for building a much bigger and more meaningful set of lessons. The lesson that I created will be posted on History Explorer later this year.
As they sent me different teacher resources to review, I began to realize how much stuff is here, ready, and available for teachers. Not only do they have meaningful objects, but some really smart people have developed creative ways to bring the collection to those of us who can’t bring our students to D.C.History Explorer has wonderful lesson plans found and interactive online exhibitions. I never knew all of this existed and now I can’t wait to share these treasures with other teachers!
The next thing I knew, publishers of the book that I mentioned “Bull Run” were being contacted, and curators were reading the novel to give approval. I was meeting with staff to determine which objects in the vast collection we would be able to use. The first few weeks were filled with rereads, rewrites, combing over with edits and suggestions, and then came the day where the graphic designer presented me with a mock-up of my ideas. (Total nerd moment—you would have thought he’d handed me a box from Tiffany’s, and in my mind it was just like that—only better!)
As I wind down my time here in D.C., I am reflecting on all the things I’ve seen, all the things I’ve learned, and all the people I’ve met. The National Museum of American History is a wonderful organization and the group I was privileged to work with and share office space with are the most welcoming, interesting, and fun people. The curators are knowledgeable and so willing to share. Carrie and Jenny are passionate about making this place and the website accessible for teachers and parents. There are truly Real National Treasures here at this museum and I am thankful I had the opportunity to work with them all.
This has been the adventure of a lifetime for a small town suburban teacher. I’ve experienced living in an amazing city and working for the most incredible organization dedicated to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” James Smithson, the founder, was a wise man. I think he would be pleased to find the people here at the museum are carrying out his mission in 2010. I am so proud to be a tiny part of that mission and will be forever changed for the better by this experience.
Endnote: This summer, Harrow developed a suite of learning materials called “Voices of Bull Run.” The core learning experience focuses on actively reading the historical fiction book Bull Run by Paul Fleishman, then working on one or more assessment projects. Targeted toward 5th through 8th grade students, “Voice of Bull Run” will be available in mid-fall 2010 on Smithsonian’s History Explorer.