Hands shot up as Sparta Community Schools fifth grade teacher Larry Carter asked 100 students what they liked to collect.
“Marbles,” “Seashells,” “Shark’s teeth,” “Stones,” “Mainly Everything,” were some of the excited responses.
None of them mentioned items such as umbilical fetishes, mastodon horns, or a spinosaurus tooth, which were just a couple of things Bob Whalen recently brought into Appleview Elementary School for a Native American artifacts assembly.
Although Native American historical relics were the focus for the presentation, no one complained about the additional rarities Whalen had in his collection.
Whalen said he first started collecting in fifth grade when his grandmother gave him his first piece, a quartzite spearhead. This memory may attribute to why Whalen likes sharing his collection with fifth graders more than most.
“A fifth grade class’s interest is great. They are more in tune to learning,” said Whalen. “They always have good questions.”
Whalen has been doing this presentation at Sparta for over ten years.
Not Just Show and Tell
The presentation kick-started the Native American Cultural Regions unit in Carter’s 5th grade social studies class. He explained that being able to see the relics and connect them with specific tribes offered students a point of reference for future instruction, which aligns with Michigan’s 5th grade content expectations.
“To see the actual tools and ornamentation of native people provides kids with a bit of prior knowledge and areas of reference going forward. The WOW factor doesn’t hurt, either,” said Carter.
The event wasn’t only about giving students a museum-like experience. Many of the items came from Michigan and the Midwest, about which Whalen was glad to share their origin and use. Then students lined up to get a close-up view of the collection.
They even got to touch a couple of the less-fragile pieces.
They also got a chance to ask questions of their own, although there were too many to get through during the allotted time.
“What is the oldest thing you have,” asked one student. Whalen pointed to his 300 million year old petrified fern.
Many students were curious about the umbilical fetishes. Whalen explained the Lacosta-Suix made stuffed, beaded toys for their children, complete with their umbilical cord sewn inside of it. These toys were believed to continue nourishing the child as they grew, as the umbilical cord did while they were in the womb.
Whalen, a twelve-year member of the Sparta City Council, Archaeological Society contributor, and member of several area historical boards, is just happy to share his passion with others that appreciate it. “I like educating them on their past history. What you see here is how we got here today,” he said.
Whalen has brought his collection to a number of other area schools as well as many tradeshows, which is where he often acquires new pieces.
At the end of the assembly, based on the date they were born, two lucky students got a chance to try on an authentic headdress.
About the presentation, student Grace Emmorey said, “I liked learning about how they hunted and made stuff.” About trying on the headdress Grace said, “It felt really good.”
Carter said that in classes held after the assembly, his students continue to reap the benefits of the experience.
“As students see and refer to something in their textbook related to (Whalen’s) visit, I know the connection has been made. When I hear ‘Awesome’ and ‘Great Assembly’, I know it has made its mark.”