Students from the Ryan elementary school learn about the iron lung at the Public Health Museum

Students from the Ryan elementary school learn about the iron lung at the Public Health Museum in Tewksbury as part of their STEM field trip in November. The museum partnered with the school STEM teachers to introduce the students to invention and how public health technology has evolved. The entire fifth and sixth grade classes cycled through the museum through the month, walking to the museum and then returning via school bus. (courtesy photo)

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.

For more information about the museum, visit www.publichealthmuseum.org. For information about the Lemelson center, visit https://lemelson.mit.edu/.

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