Fairfield Ledger
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Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018

Students learn Fairfield’s history

By Vicki Tillis, Ledger lifestyles editor | Jan 26, 2018
Photo by: VICKI TILLIS/Ledger photo Mathias Thornton, right, and his third-grade classmates at Pence Elementary School explore the Carnegie Historical Museum during a field trip in December. Here, the students get an up-close look at a collection of Daniel Stephenson coverlets. Stephenson was the only known professional weaver in the pioneer days of Iowa.

Carnegie History Museum is reaching out to local educators, marketing itself as a “nifty resource that needs to be taken advantage of,” said museum curator Mark Shafer.

Shafer, a former teacher himself, realizes a teacher’s time and resources are limited.

“Lots and lots are expected of teachers, and they just don’t have time or resources to do everything they would like to do,” he explained. “A daylong trip to Living History Farms [in Urbandale] is a nice way to learn about history, but — here we are! The museum and the Maasdam Barns are full of local history!”

The museum has hosted fifth-graders during their Lewis and Clark unit — the museum has 75 artifacts mentioned in Lewis and Clark’s travel journals — Shafer was looking for more ways to connect with teachers. During the Fairfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s community showcase for new teachers in August, he chatted with Mindy Hoskins, one of the third-grade teachers at Pence Elementary School, at the museum’s booth, about what the museum offered.

About two months into the school year, Hoskins called Shafer and asked if he could come up with a field trip program for third-graders that would satisfy certain benchmarks the state wants met for social studies.

So, Shafer designed a third-grade field trip that helps teachers check off those social studies requirements.

The field trip curriculum rotates groups of third-graders through four galleries. In the New Acquisitions Gallery in the lower-level of the museum, the students see a hand-drawn 1845 map of Iowa and are asked questions to get them thinking: Why is Fairfield not on the map; it was founded in 1839? Which towns no longer exist? How many counties were there? How is this different from a map of Iowa today?

They also get to look at a 1912 Jefferson County Auto Guide, which includes roads passable by automobile marked in red, blacksmiths, garages and hotels in Fairfield, Germanville, Glasgow, Glendale, Libertyville, Linby, Lockridge, Merrimac, Packwood, Perlee, Pleasant Plain, Salina, Veo and Woolson.

In the Old Settlers Room, a highlight for the third-graders is weighing themselves on the drugstore scales. As the scale registers each student’s weight, it also shows his or her fortune. The student dictates the fortune to a teacher or another adult so it can be rewritten later in the classroom.

The exercise gets the kids thinking about “do you understand your fortune” and “how would the wording be different if written today?”

“It gets them thinking about the old-fashioned flowery language and how language has changed in 80 years,” said Shafer.

In the East Gallery, one of the things the students look at are the woven Pima baskets, and they discuss why the traditional abstract designs were changed to designs of animals and people — how after the railroads came to the American Southwest in 1880, the tourists preferred souvenirs with animals and people designs rather than the abstract designs.

“They changed to meet the market demand,” explained Shafer.

That change, he continued, is an example of how different cultures coming in contact influence each other, and the discussion helps meet a state benchmark.

The third-graders also get to try out the mechanical clown bank in the East Gallery, which brings about a discussion on why an 1880s child would be puzzled by today’s term “scary clown.”

Shafer explained that 100 years ago, clowns simply made people laugh … “that was long before scary movies became part of entertainment. … Today’s child has been robbed of innocence.”

In The Adventure Room, offers a display about the Louden Machinery Company that sparks a discussion on how the products, including hay carriers and stanchions, made a farmer’s work easier.

An old music box and an old organ bring about discussions on 1800s entertainment and a comparison to today’s televisions, computers and gaming systems. As a treat, Shafer lets each student crank the music box’s wooden handle so that the pierced brass disc rotates and plays a tune.

“It’s always fun to see how excited kids get,” said Shafer, adding that he hopes to introduce more hands-on opportunities in the student tours.

“We’re so small, unsophisticated and intimate — you can get close to exhibits — not like in a larger museum,” he continued. “It’s fun stuff to look at, but it’s more fun to take one artifact and build a scenario around it and know that the state’s educational department’s goals are being fulfilled.”

Shafer said teachers who would like to take advantage of what the Carnegie Historical Museum and the Masdaam Barns have to offer can contact him at the museum.

The museum hours are 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The phone number is 472-6348.

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