TEWKSBURY — For the month of November, students from the John F. Ryan Elementary School participated in a walking field trip to the Public Health Museum, located on the campus of nearby Tewksbury Hospital on East Street. As part of the STEM curriculum, teachers Kim Hillson and Eileen Lindsey engaged the museum to share its space and educate the students about breakthroughs in public health and how the principles of invention have worked to improve public health technology over the years.
All fifth and sixth graders, ages 10-12, cycled through the museum throughout the month. According to Lindsey, part of the state education Science & Technology standards are to look at how technology changes over time. The teachers, along with museum volunteer engagement director Sandra Price, decided to focus on the iron long, dentistry, and the records that Anne Sullivan's father signed when she came to the Alms House at Tewksbury. During the tours, the museum volunteers also pointed out many other inventions that are part of the collection.
The idea to visit the museum came to Hillson and Lindsey when they learned about a course about invention education offered through MIT for educators.
Hillson and Lindsey met with the non-profit Lemelson Center at MIT to brainstorm ways to integrate the history of Tewksbury into a STEM curriculum. The teachers settled on tying the connection of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller to the graphic novel, “El Deafo,” whose main character wears a hearing aid.
Keller became deaf and blind after a childhood illness, and Anne Sullivan became her teacher, herself partially blind. Once the students read the book, they were ready to visit the museum.
Hillson and Lindsey, both Tewksbury residents, toured the hospital campus earlier this year. Both were impressed and immediately knew they had to show the students. With the support of principal Judi McInnes and assistant principal William Hart, the pair reached out to the museum.
As a way to accommodate the 600+ students, museum volunteers came in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, each taking a different group of students and explaining various rooms in the museum and highlighting the medical inventions. Each student had a clipboard and filled out answers to questions and made observations.
Participation was encouraged and the museum’s volunteers, many former health professionals and educators, were delighted with the students’ inquisitiveness.
“The students were so curious and had many thoughtful questions and comments,” said Price. “They were so well behaved — it was a great experience for all of us.”
The museum is typically open one day per week for indoor tours, and one Saturday a month for campus tours. All of the volunteers were thrilled to have the young students’ curiosity sparked.
Lindsey and Hillson continue to meet with the MIT group and have developed a final project for the El Deafo unit. Students will be inventing an assistive device. Additionally, according to Lindsey, the staff at MIT has also helped secure a speaker from Amazon, Brendan Gramer, himself an accessibility advocate, who will be zooming with them at the start of next year.
Hillson and Lindsey are planning to present their unit and the steps they took to plan and implement it in June of 2022 during a segment on Inventing in the Community at MIT.