When I told some of my teacher colleagues that I was planning a field trip to The Henry Ford's Greenfield Village for my world history classes, many reacted with surprise. They asked, “What does Greenfield Village have to do with world history?” At face value, their reaction seems justified. What does the Model T or the Wright Brothers have to do with the development of writing and agriculture? Well, Greenfield Village has the ability to make both ancient and modern history come alive.
With a little creative planning, the buildings and artifacts on display in Greenfield Village were the ideal companion to my current world history unit. I’m teaching about the Neolithic Era of world history, which is from approximately the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago) until about 3,000 BC. The Agricultural Revolution began around 5,000 BC. It is when humanity moved away from hunting and gathering, instead domesticating animals and beginning to plant crops. They also developed tools like the plow and used canals to irrigate crops and fields.
My students do not have a very concrete understanding of agriculture, as they come from an urban/suburban area. They have seen farms on television and in movies. But they have not had the personal experiences that would bring the agricultural revolution to life.
Fortunately Greenfield Village allowed my students to experience in person a farm that employs principles of the agricultural revolution, like using domesticated animals as a source of power. Using Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village, my colleagues and I constructed a “farm-focused” field trip as a component of our world history course.
The people, animals, and artifacts at Firestone Farm made our world history unit come alive. The employees and volunteers were happy to explain how and why farmers have used and interacted with domesticated animals. The students were excited to see the Merino sheep, draft horses, pigs, and chickens in and around the barnyard at Firestone. They gained a greater understanding of the tools and technology created during the agricultural revolution by examining the plows, seed drills, and other pieces of equipment in the Firestone Barn. Reading about a barn, or seeing one on TV doesn’t compare to actually stepping foot in one. Holding the tools, watching the animals, and smelling the barn did far more to impress upon my students the rigors of farming more than any textbook could.
The Henry Ford is, and should be, a favorite destination for American history field trips. But with the help of The Henry Ford, creative teachers can also make textbooks come alive for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), art, economics, civics, world history, and English language arts.
Matthew Mutschler is a veteran teacher currently teaching middle school in the Warren Consolidated School District. He has been involved with The Henry Ford for a number of years, and is an alumnus of both The Henry Ford Teacher Fellow Program and the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture workshop America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.
This #GivingTuesday consider helping us bring more teachers and students on field trips to The Henry Ford by giving a gift of at least $8.
Our founder, Henry Ford, realized that not everyone learns best by reading books or listening to a lecture, the traditional modes of education he experienced 150 years ago which are still dominant today. One of Henry’s most important learning experiences was fixing pocket watches. He developed an understanding of engineering and science through hands-on, self-directed discovery. He founded The Henry Ford as a school, where children would learn by doing with the real stuff of history and science. He collected artifacts which showed hundreds of years of changes in technology and daily life, and allowed the children to use them.
Today, we still share with children the “real stuff” of history and science. Over 200,000 students are lucky enough to take a field trip to The Henry Ford each year. Although we’ve discovered we can’t allow many of our artifacts to be used to the degree they were in the 1930s, The Henry Ford has made historical artifacts more hands-on than most other history museums. On field trips, students literally go inside science and history when they fathom the overwhelming number of inventions at Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory or explore (and smell) the Firestone Farm barn. Of course, there is no experience more powerful for our student visitors than taking a seat in the actual Rosa Parks Bus.
You may be wondering, besides Mold-A-Ramas and selfies with cool historic cars - what do students come away with?
Yes, they see examples of the “real stuff” which they learn about in Social Studies, Science and English Language Arts every day. And, they have had fun learning, which is vital to becoming lifelong learners. But the most important thing they get is a profound understanding that real people did these things which they study in school. Real people, just like them, changed the world. And they can, too.
On this #GivingTuesday, we hope you will consider making a gift of at least $8 to The Henry Ford. Your contribution makes these important field trips possible and helps us to inspire the next generation of innovators and change makers. You can make your gift below.
Catherine Tuczek is former Curator of School and Public Learning at The Henry Ford.