Monday, June 4, 2007

Day -9: Mission Museum

Today was my fourth annual Mission Museum. As the culmination of our unit on missions, we invited families to come see students' models of missions, reports on missions, and diaries about mission life.

Making models of missions has been much-maligned in California by history educators, and I understand why. Craft stores sell kits for building each of the 21 missions out of styrofoam, and it is hard to see what educational purpose is served by just assembling styrofoam pieces. But my students and their families really love building models of missions! Many of my students' parents have a limited education in Spanish; having finished only fourth grade in Mexico is normal. Plus, many have only limited English skills. By the time their children are in my class, they often cannot help their kids with homework - in English or in Spanish - because they don't know how to do it themselves. Many students' parents, however, work in construction, carpentry, or related trades, so building is something at which they are experts. Our mission building project becomes, for many families, a total family effort, in which parents' "funds of knowledge" are valued. I encourage students to spend as little as possible on their mission models and tell them that I value their creativity much more than the accuracy with which they reproduce the exact proportions of the missions they are studying.

Another criticism of building models of missions is that it glorifies missions and does not help students think critically about the role of missions in California history. It seems wrong to value building pretty white churches over teaching about the enslavement of Native Americans at these pretty white churches. But I think there's no need to give up the latter while doing the former. Almost all of the my students wrote diaries in the voices of Native Americans who wished they could escape from the mission where they were living, who longed for the village where they used to live, and who, in some cases, were plotting an uprising against their captors.

About 20 parents came to my classroom today to see students' work. Many of them dressed up for the occasion. Students were so proud to show off their missions. We put out papers for our museum visitors to write comments, and every students' comment sheet was full with really thoughtful feedback from their peers and from parents. Students would come back over and over to check how many comments they had gotten and read what they said.

Every time I invite parents to come see students' work, I always vow that I should do it more. It's so easy, and the students and parents love it. Somehow, though, I never manage to pull it off as often as I hope.

Here are pictures from our mission museum. Students and their families really had ingenious ideas for building - lentils for a pathway, folded construction paper for a roof, aluminum foil for a reflecting pool. Look closely!


Parentalcation said...

So do you give the grades directly to the parents or pretend that the kids actually did the models.

"It's so easy, and the students and parents love it."

And parents are really going to tell you the truth when they know that you are going to be grading their kids. Its sort of like when you tell your mom that she doesn't look a day over 40...

They are beautiful models, almost worth the tempertantrums, wasted money, hard feelings, tears, and all around crappy time that they provoked.

Its also not fair to make the projects optional... since kids will often volunteer to do them without knowing the time and effort involved. The best laid plans go to waste...

La Maestra said...

Actually, I don't grade the models because of some of the concerns you mentioned. I write comments to students about the models, but I only grade students' writing that they did in class - their paragraphs about their missions and their diaries written in the voice of someone living at a mission.

Also, when I said, "It's so easy, and the students and parents love it," I meant inviting parents to come see work in our classroom is easy and everyone loves it. I don't think building a model of a mission is easy. But I do think that inviting parents into my classroom - to see a wide variety of student work - can be easy and is enjoyed by parents, many of whom often feel shut out of school events because of language barriers. Many students wrote in their weekly reflections that our Mission Museum was the best thing about this week and that they liked reading comments from other students' parents.

Finally, students worked on the models in class, and some of them also chose to work on the models at home. Some models that are in these pictures students did build entirely themselves. I know because they only worked on them in my classroom with no help from me or any other adult.

Did you have a personal experience that made you frustrated with building models of missions?