As the school year draws to a close, college and elementary students in the small town of Sackville, New Brunswick reflect on important discoveries they have made with each other and a large black box filled with 25 Canadian artifacts.
Grade 1 students Alistair Lutes and Clara Soper recall the day the huge crate containing seven layers of carefully wrapped treasures from the Canadian Museum of History’s collection arrived in their classroom from Gatineau, Quebec.
“That was great, great fun,” Alistair said, thinking back to the birchbark moose call that was part of the curated collection of artifacts and artifact replicas.
“Oh my god,” Clara added, “We love these boxes.”
WATCH | “Well, what’s in it?” Grade 1 students experience their first story box:
The unlikely pairing of an elementary class with college students in a religious studies class at Mount Allison University is the brainchild of ever-enthusiastic professor Susie Andrews.
When she heard about the Canadian Museum of History loan project, she knew it could be the basis for a new course and a new collaboration.
“Our collaborations make learning richer, more meaningful and frankly more joyful,” Andrews said with a smile. “It brings 25 items from their world-class collection to life for students across the country. …and so it’s the box that is the story behind our story here in Sackville.”
Step 1: Unpacking
For Brianne Arsenault’s Grade 1 class, it started with the arrival of the story box and a barrage of questions from her curious students.
“Their eyes got really big because the box was bigger than them,” she laughed. “So it was, ‘What is it? Where is it from? Where is it going? How long will we have it? do? ‘”
Arsenault said it was wonderful to watch the children make their own connections to the items as they unpacked the box layer by layer.
“I have students that their families hunt, so to see a moose cry — they knew what it was before I knew what it was. I have students who were born in Nunavut, so to see things that came from the North — they knew what it was,” she said.
“I can’t always give them that in day-to-day teaching…that they can see a real-life object of their own heritage, of what they love.”
Step 2: Creation
Students at Mount Allison University also spent time with the big black history box as part of their religious studies course called Sacred Stuff.
Annabelle Kean, a second-year art history student, didn’t know what to expect when she signed up, but admits the name of the course immediately intrigued her. She wondered how a society “surrounded by stuff every day” went about determining what deserved such a label.
“In putting the name sacred on these specific objects, I was very interested in why we do this. Why are some objects sacred and others just everyday objects?”
When the National Museum artifacts arrived in Sackville, Andrews challenged Kean and his classmates to choose one and create a secondary activity box for the 1st graders.
“Our project was to think about, ‘How can we make this joyful and interesting?'” Andrews said. “So the task for the students at Mount A – their invitation was to create another set of boxes with books, activities and stories that would keep students in our community engaged.”
Step 3: Sharing
Kean says she was “really lucky” when her group was awarded a small section of a 150m rainbow banner, made by a group of young people in 2005 to show support for the gay marriage, to build their box around.
They thought long and hard about how to make the object meaningful for a group of six and seven year olds.
“We focused on something they could relate to, which was the idea of pride and being proud of something and identity and knowing who you are within yourself.”
The colors of the Pride Flag represent different qualities, Kean explained, including life, healing, sunlight, nature, harmony and spirit.
“What colors could they choose?”
Kean is bisexual and dated seven years ago. She said it meant something to her that there were gay kids seeing this box and she wanted to present it in a “joyful” and “proud” way.
“They won’t remember it in ten years, but maybe they’ll remember the feeling of pride and the rainbow and the colors and maybe they can come back to them more easily. themselves, having an easier time accepting who they are.”
In Mrs. Arsenault’s Classroom, students say the box activities Kean helped create were some of their favorites.
It included two books about the families, a spool of yarn they unwound measuring 150 yards long – the length of the original handmade Pride banner, and all the art supplies to create a paper rainbow. of silk.
“I’ve been a history buff since I was a little kid like them, so knowing that I can be a part of that to maybe inspire them…that’s something I love,” Kean said.
Step 4: Login
On a hot afternoon at the end of the school year, the students of Mme. Arsenault’s class open their last activity box. This one centered on a modern artefact: a luggage tag that once belonged to Olympian Perdita Felicien.
Each student bends over their desk, carefully folding, taping and decorating a piece of cardboard that they have fashioned into a suitcase.
They then stuff their suitcases with tiny paper cutouts of bathing suits, pillows and even toothbrushes. All carefully cut by university students who wanted everyone to imagine their own adventure.
According to Mount Allison student Shannon Goguen, creating the activities in the boxes and inviting students to explore and engage with museum objects in such a personal way has been “a beautiful thing”.
“I have two young children, so I know how this pandemic has affected children and how lonely they can feel,” she said. “And so, if we could put some sparkle in their day, that’s really important to me.”
Goguen and Kean say it’s also pretty cool that a college class introduced them to their new community of Sackville and allowed them to create something from scratch for someone else.
“It gave me the opportunity to engage with the community — which I think is really special and not something you can experience in traditional academia,” Goguen said. “It will probably stay with me forever.”
Andrews says seeing his university students make such meaningful connections is a “dream come true.”
“The students at Mount Allison were thrilled to think about what it would be like for the little people in our community — the kids learning in these schools — to imagine themselves on a journey to the Olympics.
Step 5: Repeat
Andrews looks forward to continued collaborations between his students and his community.
Arsenault hopes next year will see even closer ties between his Salem Elementary students and Mount Allison students now that COVID restrictions have been lifted.
“We brought in a museum and it was a fascinating and exciting time,” she said. “It opened my eyes to so many different ways to teach things.”
She said the secondary boxes imagined and created by Mount Allison students “replaced all the expectations” she had.
“There were boxes that made me cry just because they were so well made…they were able to handle and maneuver their [learning] invitations in a way that spoke to my six-year-olds and in turn spoke to me.”