“The housework is done, and we are not sorry.”
So a young Maud Maxson wrote to her mother at home in Mystic, Connecticut, as she accompanied relatives on an ocean voyage around Cape Horn in 1870. Her letters, now part of the Mystic Seaport Museum archives, tell of lost teeth, spelling lessons, and Thomas the cat getting doused in blue paint while the cook was sprucing up the galley.
They are also part of “Teach It” (teachitct.org), a curriculum-enhancing resource available online to Connecticut educators. Activities cover grades 3, 5, and 8 as well as high school. The lessons offer field trip ideas and a fuller look at history.
Teach It activities encourage questions, reflections, and critical thinking. Each activity includes a visually compelling toolkit of primary sources to spark students’ curiosity, while the discussions encourage meaningful connections between subjects—geography and history, literacy and politics, technology and art. Students are asked to engage with questions of identity and citizenship: “What makes a hero?” “What is the best way to organize a government?” “In what ways did ‘ordinary’ citizens contribute to the American Revolution?” “How has the concept of justice evolved over time?”
Students can also explore the specific contributions Connecticut has made to national and world history. Learn how the tools and weapons invented by the Hotchkiss family of Sharon influenced life during peace and wartime. See the vibrant posters that asked women to conserve food to be shipped to starving allies overseas during World War I. Watch Thomas J. Dodd, the second-ranking lawyer for the United States prosecution at the International Military Tribunal following World War II, deliver a powerful speech at Nuremberg.
Teach It is an ongoing collaboration between educators, historical societies and leading cultural institutions across the state, including The Connecticut River Museum in Essex, Mystic Seaport Museum, the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library, The Amistad Center for Arts and Culture in Hartford, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, the Fairfield Museum and History Center, the Keeler Tavern Museum in Ridgefield, the Pequot Library in Southport, the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, the New England Air Museum in Windsor Locks, and the New Haven Museum, among many others.
Additionally, classes can go right to the source to explore the specific contributions Connecticut has made to national and world history. Teach It offers educators a directory of field trips available at local heritage organizations that promote inquiry-based learning.
For instance, students can immerse themselves in 18th century life to find out exactly what their world would be like by exploring the Noah Webster House in West Hartford. Students can learn about Colonial clothing, foods, and medicines, while also trying their hand at 18th-century “women’s” and “men’s” work.
At the Fairfield Museum, students can view original objects that demonstrate how changes in technology have made an impact on our culture and society. Participants will investigate how a simple box camera from the early 1900s influenced communication and how we document our lives including people, places and historical events. Students can discover patterns of change with the advent of portable devices and how this may influence the future.
Our state is home to a number of cultural centers that expand our understanding of the long history of the area, including the people who made lives and conducted business here before the arrival of the Europeans. At the New Haven Museum, students can view objects and artifacts depicting life of the Quinnipiac people. In Mashantucket, the Pequot Museum’s recreation of a 16th century Pequot village delves into every aspect of family life – even hairstyles. Visitors can walk into a fort, the centerpiece of a Teach It lesson about the Pequot War.
From the Litchfield Historical Society, students will learn about one of the most illustrious spies in American history, Litchfield’s own Benjamin Tallmadge: leader of George Washington’s notorious Culper Spy Ring. Students will explore the beliefs of the Patriots and Loyalists, looking closely at Litchfield’s role during the Revolutionary War, while learning about Tallmadge’s life, spy techniques and technologies, and participating in encoding and decoding activities.
At the Connecticut River Museum in Essex, students can experience all the challenges David Bushnell faced when he invented the Turtle — the first practical submarine — during the Revolutionary War. Students get to explore Bushnell’s ideas and experiences using primary documents, reproduction objects and lab experiments. Students work in teams to read and analyze primary documents, comparing their findings to the museum’s Turtle.
At the Connecticut Historical Society Museum and Library, students will explore the dramatic 1839 story of 53 Africans, kidnapped from their homeland into slavery, who managed to win a legal battle in the U.S. and return home. Students re-enact parts of the story and use a range of physical activities to bring the ordeal to life. Students work together to solve problems, as did Africans aboard the Amistad. Reproduction artifacts, primary source documents, props, and illustrations are used to dramatize the story.
Also in Hartford, a special 60-minute tour for younger students lets them experience life during the Gilded Age by combining a house and kitchen tour at the Mark Twain House and Museum. Students can try on Victorian clothing and draw connections between their lives and the lives of Hartford residents more than 100 years ago.
At Connecticut’s Old State House, students can take a deeper look at the role they play in their communities, learning about their local, state, national, and global communities and discussing what makes each unique. Using the stories of Connecticut’s Old State House and the book Harold and the Purple Crayon as their guides, they discuss what makes a community, how communities are formed and work together, and illustrate how they fit into each community.
There are even transcripts of documents from the 17th Century witchcraft trials in Connecticut, now in the possession of the Connecticut State Library, which bring light to that dark chapter in Colonial history.
Teach It materials are linked and sourced, and supplemented by reference guides. The inquiry-based activities are designed to meet state Department of Education’s Common Core standards for social studies. Lessons are continually updated, and organizations and educators are welcome to contribute an activity or field trip itinerary for review.
To see the full range of materials or to submit an activity, visit teachitct.org.