School aged education programming at the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum: How can I help you understand why my life was important?

Mill Worker Lowell Massachusetts
Mill Worker- Lowell Massachusetts. There are no photos of mill workers at the Rosamond Mills. They are present only in the ledgers of the company and their stories recorded by the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum.“

I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou

This simple truth is the reason why history continues to be relevant to a modern education as it ever has.

History is the most flawed of all ways of understanding the world. For the most part the facts are widely accepted although from time to time even these are proven wrong or new ones emerge. It is how we use the facts to construct an understanding of historical events that creates the ambiguity that makes history such a fascinating study. The facts we marshal in defense of a particular point of view are as important as those we chose to leave out or ignore. Museums are keepers of the all the facts, including the ones some historians have determined as being irrelevant. Probably the most important work of the museum is to find, preserve and conserve the artifacts, those material items and narratives that underpinned the day to day and the momentous events of an earlier time and place. Helping students to understand what all these dusty photos, crumbling walls, motionless machinery, fragile ledgers and first hand accounts mean is the role of the school-aged education programs at the museum.

When the museum set out to revamp their workshops in 2013, staff and volunteers challenged themselves to think about what would high quality programming look like. It would not be enough to stand in front of students and tell them “how it was way back when”. We had to find ways for students to engage deeply with the early 19th, early 20th century. If our programs were to grab our student’s imagination and require them to think, they had to be informed by Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchy of thinking skills. We needed to design programs that required students to use thinking skills at the top of the hierarchy- creating, evaluating, and analyzing.

Our first workshop began as a simple demonstration, but has since gone through several iterations. “Shawl to sheep-Reverse Engineering” requires the youngest students to work backward from fabric to fleece to understand the basics of cloth production used by the early settlers. Why bother? Is it important? What does a youngster take away beyond the obvious? First, they have a problem solving strategy- deconstruction, that can be applied to other learning challenges. Additionally, they must draw conclusions based on their own observations and put new learning together with prior knowledge to come to new understandings.

Our newest project is a collaboration with the Retired Teacher’s of Ontario. “The Mill Worker Project- Weaving the Story of a Fairer Canada” asks Grade 6 students to research a mill worker, but to also think about their lives in the context of the larger idea of fairness and how Canadians responded to the imbalance of power between worker and labourer? As the museum has been collecting the stories of the mill workers, here was an opportunity for student’s to explore and teach others how these people made the lives of all Canadians better. Now, that they know better, perhaps they will do better.

The museum is looking for members of the Retired Teachers of Ontario to participate in the “Mill Worker’s Project- Weaving the Story of a Fairer Canada”. Teachers will be asked to work with small groups of students to research a mill worker and create a display that will become part of the museum’s historical exhibit, Fabric of a Small Town.

Please contact Gretta Bradley at education@mvtm.ca.

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