Third Grade Historians Take Historical Society by Storm

Loupes and light tables - both used to examine a 19th century map of Washington - were among the tools used by the third graders.

Loupes and light tables – both used to examine a 19th century map of Washington – were among the tools used by the third graders from Two Rivers Public Charter School.

Fifty students, thirteen adults, three activities, one special collections library: For a day in March, the Kiplinger Research Library transformed into an expeditionary classroom as Two Rivers Public Charter School students received a hands-on introduction to circa 1850-1900 Washington, D.C.

While the Historical Society hosts high school and college classes for orientations and research sessions, limited staff resources in recent years have precluded visits from younger grades.  But thanks to a recent Adopt-A-Class donation made by Virginia Howard and Chuck Wolfe, the Historical Society was able to devote resources to scheduling and designing this pilot program for Third Grade Historians, whose Social Studies curriculum includes the Geography and History of the District of Columbia.

The day included two sequential class visits. Each class divided into three teams and rotated through the activities, which were designed to introduce the students to the handling of archival material as well as encourage skills in research, analysis, and interpretation of historical sources. Two team names introduced the students to bygone neighborhoods – Team Swampoodle and Team Uniontown – while the third was a nod to the continuous evolution of Washington, D.C. (Team Adams-Morgan referenced the still-very-much-contemporary neighborhood which experienced the final loss of a hyphen not too long before the students were born).

The students jumped right into deciphering a photographic History Mystery by helping to date¬† a photograph using both analog and digital research tools; exploring the development of the District’s boundaries through Pre-Google Geography; and learning about daily life for teenagers, firemen and foreigners in late 19th-century Washington, through a Time Capsule of diaries, scrapbooks, dance cards, artwork and ephemera.

Students wore gloves while examining a 19th century photograph. The original was accessible to the students; copies were also distributed so that many students could examine the item at the simultaneously.

Students were encouraged to don gloves and pick up the original 19th-century photograph. Copies were also distributed so that many students could examine the item simultaneously.

While the students were excited to help solve a real-life photographic mystery, simply having access to the original material seemed to have just as much of an impact.

While the students were excited to help solve a real-life photographic mystery – dating a mis-cataloged photo and transcribing a tough-to-read caption – simply having access to the original material seemed to have just as much of an impact.

Scrapbooks of news articles offered a lesson in dating sources as well as the fragile nature of archival collections.

Scrapbooks of news articles offered a lesson in dating sources as well as the fragile nature of archival collections.

If this all sounds like a great time, it was! And if this all sounds exhausting, it was! And if this sounds like it took a lot of planning, by both the teachers and the Historical Society staff, well, it did!

For example, while the activities were designed to supplement rather than replace classroom instruction, mapping the activities to specific curriculum points helps to ensure that the field trip tracks with the teacher’s goals. With that in mind, Pre-Google Geography highlights one of the Historical Society’s collection strengths, historical maps, and integrates well with D.C. Social Studies Standard 3.1. (Students use cardinal directions, map scales, legends, and titles to locate places on contemporary maps of Washington, DC, and the local community…. Compare and contrast the differences between a contemporary map of Washington, DC, and maps of this area at the end of the 18th and 19th centuries).

Luckily, the Adopt-A-Class donation covers staff planning time; materials such as worksheets and convenience copies of collections; the purchase of an archival box that went home with the classes and will eventually house a Two Rivers Third Grade Washington, D.C. 2015 Time Capsule; and a certificate recognizing the participants as Third Grade Historians. In return, donors receive a thank you note – enthusiastically handwritten by the students at the end of each session – and a photograph of each class who benefited from the sponsorship.

This pilot program will be further developed – and be able to be offered to additional schools – pending future Adopt-a-Class donations. If immersing students in local history through archival resources is up your alley, please consider contributing, and keep this sort of programming in the queue!

Each class of 25 was accompanied by five adults, including teachers and parents. Add two Historical Society staffers and one volunteer and you have a full house!

Each class of 25 was accompanied by five adults, including teachers and parents.

Add two Historical Society staffers and one volunteer and you have a full house!

Add two Historical Society staffers and one volunteer and you have quite a full house!

Help us transform the Kiplinger Research Library  into an expeditionary classroom for future historians of local Washington!

Help us make the Kiplinger Research Library into an expeditionary classroom for future historians of local Washington!