Nearly 30 students in Diane Titche’s Murray Lake Elementary third-grade class crowded into the 1960s exhibit room of the Lowell Area Historical Museum recently for a brief introduction from Director Lisa Plank.
Before they headed off to explore on their own, Plank asked for questions. And students took her up on it.
“What is milling?” one asked. “Are there spiders in the basement?” another wanted to know. “Do we have to go down there?”
“Where is the war stuff?” Caden Cone asked. “I’m really interested in that. And I think someone in my family fought in Vietnam.”
Donovan Rooker wanted to know where the “fun stuff” is kept. “Like typewriters,” he said.
The students would get all their questions answered and then some. They were piloting a program that acts as sort of a crash course in local history by spending two days straight at the museum, which is home to more than 15,000 photographs and artifacts. Among students’ activities were mapping the area during certain time periods based on their research, learning about the jobs of museum archivists and curators, and using old newspapers and other documents to sleuth answers to local history questions.
Titche said her students are just wrapping up a unit on Michigan history. “The big question we’re working on is, how did Michigan get to be the way it is today, from fur trading to highways. Now we’re taking it local, finding out how Lowell got to where it is today.”
“I also want them to understand the importance of museums to communities,” Titche added.
Her students are finishing a family history unit, out of which they will have created a “museum exhibit” on their own families, complete with histories and artifacts.
Titche’s third-graders are no strangers to the museum-as-classroom concept. Her students participate in the Grand Rapids Public Museum’s IMMERSE program, which uses the museum as a classroom for a week. Last year, that museum hosted nearly 50 schools in the Kent County area, serving grades 2-8.
A grant from the Lowell Education Foundation helped fund last year’s visit, and the foundation stipulated that Titche forge a partnership with the Lowell museum to make the project local.
Transportation and supplies for the Lowell museum visit from Titche’s class were funded by a grant to the museum from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Lowell Area Historical Museum