Making a Phone Call in 1946
Credit: Photograph courtesy of the National Archives
What is the oldest object in your home? How did it get there and why is your family saving it? Finding the answer to these questions can put students in touch with family history and help them discover how much of our past lies hidden in "old things." In this lesson, students first examine pictures of household objects from the late 20th century and gather historical information about them from older family members, then create an in-class exhibit of historical objects from their own homes.
1. This lesson plan consists of four learning activities that you can use together as a unit or adapt separately to your curricular needs.
2. Review the suggested activities, print out the worksheet for Activity 2, and then download and duplicate any online materials you will need. If desired, you can bookmark specific web pages so that students can access relevant online materials directly. (See the Selected EDSITEment Websites section for a guide to locating online materials.)
3. For guidance on talking about and interpreting historical artifacts, explore the "Household Objects" sections of the At Home in the Heartland Online website. Each section presents a gallery of objects from a different period in the history of a midwestern state, providing a brief description of each object and what it can reveal about life in the past. The sections cover:
Begin the lesson with a memento of your own, either a family keepsake that has personal significance or an everyday object that can give students a glimpse into the decades before they were born – for example, an out-of-fashion piece of clothing, a pre-video-game era toy, a 45 RPM record or 8-track tape. Tell students that objects like this one are pieces of history that can help us find out how people lived in the past, then tell the story behind your object, modeling the process students will use in their research:
After presenting your object, tell students that in this lesson they will become detectives searching for pieces of history in their homes. But first, to sharpen their detective skills, they will examine historical objects in class.
Let each student choose one mystery object to research at home by interviewing an older member of the family. As preparation for this research, have students complete the fact-gathering worksheet based on the bulleted list, below. (Very young students can fill out their worksheets with the help of a parent.) Provide students who have Internet access at home with the appropriate URL so they can conduct their interview by email if they wish.
Have students share their research in "show and tell" class reports, letting students who have researched the same object present their findings together. Then provide students with museum labels for some of the objects they have researched, drawing examples from those available at the At Home in the Heartland Online website, such as the site's description of a fondue pot.
Tell students they are now ready to search for pieces of history in their own homes. Have them prepare a second fact-gathering chart, this time including space for the kinds of information they will need to write a museum label. Explain that their task is to find the oldest object in their homes and learn the story behind it. Ask students to draw a picture of the object (or take a photograph), since family keepsakes may be too precious to bring to school.
When students have completed their research, have them use the information they have collected to write a polished museum label for their object. Then have the class imagine that they are museum curators creating a family history display for the other students in your school. Have them work together to organize their individual exhibits into a classroom display that tells a coherent story. They might, for example, organize their exhibits chronologically, or group them according to ethnic heritage, or put similar objects together. When they have completed their display, invite another class to visit for a guided tour, or put their historical detective work on your school's website.
Objects can also provide a gateway to other cultures. With EDSITEment, your students can apply their research skills to objects at the Collectors Vision of Puerto Rico website, Experience Japanese Culture, Art and Life in Africa, and the Arctic Studies Center.
4 class periods