by Cece D’Arville
I always knew graduate school would be different from my undergraduate experience. Certain things one can expect, like having more in-depth readings or larger assignments. However, it wasn’t until I was halfway through working on my final project for “HIST 691: Museums, Cultures, and Communities” that I recognized the most important distinction in VCU’s Public History Grad program: the emphasis on experiential learning. Gone are the undergrad days of writing theoretical papers without application or real-life use! I found myself working alongside the Valentine Museum on a project that would actually be sent out into schools in Richmond and surrounding counties. If you don’t know much about the Valentine, it is a museum located in downtown Richmond focused on “collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond Stories,” which it has been doing for over a century! If you’re local to the area, I highly suggest stopping by to say hi and to check out the exhibits.
For the final project in the “Museums, Cultures, and Communities” course, Professor Karen Rader encouraged students to reach out to local institutions to propose or create an exhibit, education program, or community engagement project. As a part-time employee at the Valentine Museum, I immediately thought of reaching out to their education department. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Valentine shifted many of its educational programs so that students could continue to interact with the museum in safe and engaging ways. In addition to virtual tours and programs, the Valentine offers a “Learning Trunk” program that allows students a hands-on learning experience in their own classroom. The Learning Trunks are loaned directly to classrooms and come with reproduction artifacts, primary sources, activities, and lesson plans! This program has a long history with the Valentine, as the museum used to fill trunks with artifacts from the collection and send them to all corners of Virginia via train before the age of digital museums existed. I was thrilled when Marisa Day, the Manager of Student Programs and Tours, invited me to help put together an “Ancients in the Classroom” Learning Trunk for elementary students studying ancient civilizations, namely Rome, Greece, and Egypt. This post is going to take you through our process of putting together the trunk!
The Ancients in the Classroom Learning Trunk was inspired by the Valentine’s lesson plans for the in-person and virtual tour of the historical 1812 Wickham House, which features aspects of neoclassical architecture and design. The Wickham House tour allows students to make connections between what they learn in the classroom to real life examples of the influence of ancient cultures in Richmond and modern society. When students aren’t able to walk through the Wickham House, QR Codes, found in the lesson plans accompanying the materials in this trunk, allow teachers to pull up photos of different rooms in the Wickham House, as well as other buildings throughout Richmond that use ancient architectural features, such as columns and domes. In addition to the online presentation components, the Learning Trunk includes the contents pictured and detailed below:
Because this trunk was adapted from in-person tours and programs, the Valentine already had some great materials that fit perfectly into the trunk, such as their Column “Caps.” The Column “Caps” are Styrofoam headwear, designed to look like the tops of the three classical columns: Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic. Not only do the caps give students a fun learning experience, but even the name serves as a learning device – they’re called “caps,” not hats, because the tops of columns are called capitals! However, we added plenty of new materials to the Ancients in the Classroom Learning Trunk as well: like the 3D-printed columns and the architecture building kits and puzzles. These materials allow a hands-on approach to studying ancient architecture and give students the ability to become architects in their own right, encouraging their leadership and teamwork skills in the process!
In addition to lessons on architecture, this Ancients in the Classroom Learning Trunk also includes a lesson on the ancient world’s influence on arts and culture – specifically in storytelling. Many students may have heard or read a fable by Aesop, such as “The Tortoise and the Hare” or “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” without realizing it was created by an Ancient Grecian thousands of years ago. The inclusion of the book of Aesop’s Fables will hopefully help students see the lasting influence of ancient ideas and stories. Additionally, the clay vase, as well as laminated images of painted classical and neoclassical vases, serve to show students how ancient civilizations used drawings and images to depict stories, something they may be familiar with today in picture books or even through the use of emojis to send messages.
If you want to know more, you’ll just have to go back to school (or visit the Valentine)! I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my final project as much as I enjoyed putting it together. I’m incredibly grateful to both Dr. Karen Rader and Marisa Day for the opportunity to create something that children in Virginia will actually use. As an aspiring history educator, this project was such a wonderful learning experience, and I’m excited to work on more in the future as part of my ongoing participation in the Valentine’s Education Department.
~Cece D’Arville will graduate in May 2022 with the Certificate in Public History