by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As part of our ongoing efforts to expand the Homestead’s community outreach, I and colleagues from the museum spent the last two mornings staffing a booth at the Schools’ Agricultural and Nutrition Fair, held by the 48th District Agricultural Association this week at Fairplex in Pomona.
For the last few years I’ve been a judge for the fair’s student entries on the California missions, both mission building projects and posters. As I’ve noted on the blog before, there has been a demonstrable shift away from the former to the latter, so that the few dozen entries of the recent past have become just a handful.
Last Thursday, I went out to the fair building and judged, noticing that there were just four mission building projects, while there were about fifteen or so posters and even that number is lower than in previous years.
Clearly, there is a shift away from the age-old focus on the missions as part of California’s 4th-grade state history curriculum and there are some understandable reasons for doing so, though there are still opportunities to recast interpretation of the missions, even for young scholars who can, for example, make reference to the devastating effect of the system on native peoples.
This shift has been one reason why the Homestead has welcomed the opportunity this year to expand our collaboration with the 48th District. A post in early March discussed our participation in a STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts and Math) fair that the District hosted at Fairplex.
Utilizing a simple interactive component consisting of making thaumatropes, optical toys that were popular in the 19th century, a cattle brand coloring activity, and viewing of stereoscopic photographs, we were able to engage a few hundred children in the space of a few hours.
In fact, the effect of this basic approach led staff from the District to invite the museum to return with a similar set-up at this week’s Agriculture and Nutrition Fair. We didn’t have quite the turnout we did at the STEAM fair, likely because there was a lot more to see and do for students, but, yesterday and today, we did have somewhere between 150 and 200 students visit our table working with the cattle branding activity and the stereoscope viewing.
For all of the emphasis, much of it obviously useful and instructive, on technology in learning, it is still very clear that children, especially those from the 4th grade and below, still react palpably to basic kinetic learning approaches and tools. This year’s involvement at the two fairs was a way for us to dip our collective toes in the water and see how we can work with interactive components in these settings.
In talking with District staff, we’d love to return next year, for judging student projects as well as working with the interactive demonstrations. What we should do, however, as any organization ought, is to meet and evaluate how our inaugural participation went and how it can be improved and expanded.
So, for example, we can bring a selection of stereoscopic photographs, including high-quality reproductions of originals in the museum’s collection, that reflect more directly on our regional agricultural heritage. The Homestead has some fine photos that show citrus groves, fruit packing, and farming, for example.
We can certainly look at other kinetic activities, as well, including those that relate to cattle ranching and farming. With the abundant creativity among our public programs staff, we’ll look forward to seeing what we can do to enhance our interactive offerings, not just for the agricultural fairs, but other off-site events in which we participate.
A key, of course, is recognizing the limitations of our time amid the ambitious and busy program schedule that the Homestead keeps!