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Museum’s teaching kits help make learning tangible

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For more than 10 years, Kauffman Museum at Bethel College has given local educators a way to extend learning in science and social studies.

That has happened through teaching kits that complement the museum’s permanent collection. The “Bison Basics” kit has been especially busy this fall due to the presence of a special traveling exhibit, “The Bison: American Icon.”

“As in most museum-related educational experiences, I hope that students come away more interested in the subject matter,” said Andi Schmidt Andres, curator of education.

“We want to pique their interest, encourage them to be curious and help them learn about our natural world and the past,” she continued. “It’s not all about learning lots of facts.”

The thematic teaching kits provide authentic artifacts and interactive teaching activities that educators and community members can use to “bring learning to life.”

“The texture, smell and size of an item are hard to imagine when looking at photos,” Andres said. “While interacting with actual artifacts, children can more easily imagine what life was like long ago or what life is like in another culture.”

Kauffman Museum began the program in 1989 with two kits, “Pioneer Foodways” and “School Days 1900.”

“The original impetus was to share artifacts that would have been in storage and unavailable to the public,” said Andres.

“The artifacts range from a full-size buffalo skull to masks from Africa to Mayan clothing to a schoolchild's lunch bucket to an Amish woman’s head covering,” Andres said. Kits also include books, suggested activities and background information.

Since its inception, the program added multicultural and natural history teaching kits, including the popular “Bison Basics.”

Karen Wiebe, third grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School, used “Bison Basics” in her classroom and said students reacted positively.

“They liked it,” she said. “They loved the buffalo hide, the games that were provided were intriguing to them – it went well.”

Wiebe cooperated with other third-grade teachers to set up rotating “bison groups.” Students were able to play games, make cookies and interact with a real bison hide at various stations. The added bonus: the interactive activities went “right along” with state standards, said Wiebe.

Marlene Bogard of the Western District Conference Library also used “Bison Basics” for the library’s 2009 summer program. Children from age three to grade three would gather on the bison hide during story hour or get hands-on experience with artifacts on display.

“It was great,” said Bogard. “The museum is very helpful and they’re willing to share, so that’s awesome, too.”

The teaching kits are not only used in traditional teaching settings.

Becky Miller, former director at Bethany Support Services in Newton, remembers the effectiveness of the teaching kits for several adults with disabilities. The most successful interaction occurred when a person with autism was able to work with the artifacts from the “School Days 1900” kit.

“He became engrossed with the schoolroom kits, the calligraphy and spent a lot of time intensely focused on trying to write the script from the old school kits,” said Miller.

Miller also recalled making cornbread and homemade butter using the “Pioneer Foodways” kit.

“Doing hands-on things are sometimes difficult,” said Miller, “but this was a nice way to have a safe place to do that.”

There are currently 12 uniquely-themed kits available to benefit learners of all ages. In addition to “Pioneer Foodways,” “School Days 1900” and “Bison Basics,” the kits include “African Masks,” “Rural Congo,” “The Cheyenne Parfleche,” “Navajo Weaving,” “Shoes from Around the World,” “Today’s Mayas,” “The Amish” and two Bingo-type games, Bison Beango and Nature Bingo. Kits may be checked out for up to two weeks free of charge.

For more information or to reserve or check out a kit, contact Andres by calling 316-283-1612, or visit www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/Education/TeachingKits.html .

Kauffman Museum, located on the Bethel College campus at 27th and North Main Streets in North Newton, is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.

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