Thursday, March 6, 2014

History Mystery Kits--A Great Way to Incorporate Primary Sources into Your Classroom

Billings school librarian Ruth Ferris recently contacted me, very excited about the History Mystery Trunks created by BLM, particularly  Boom or Bust: Mystery of the Old Homestead. This educational kit provides a unique way of learning the stories of 42 homestead families who settled in eastern Montana prior to World War II.  The trunk can be ordered from the Western Heritage Center.  View a convenient chart showing the types of resources the trunks contain here.

More about Boom or Bust: Mystery of the Old Homestead

Most of the homesteader stories are from previously unpublished accounts from the Western Heritage Center oral history collections. The game includes stories, land records, and family photographs. In addition, the kit includes teaching resources and tools to provide a more in-depth understanding of the homesteader experience. These resources include games, living history activities, short stories, a bibliography, and a guide on how to incorporate oral interviews for preserving local history. Unlike the footlockers created by the Montana Historical Society, which target a fourth grade audience, this footlocker is geared toward middle school.

History Mystery 1: Sacrifice Cliff 

I haven't seen Boom or Bust, but I'm a big fan of an earlier History Mystery kit: Sacrifice Cliff. Also designed for use in grades 7-8 (but good for high school as well), this kit centers on local legends associated with the well known landmark near Billings and engages students in an interactive research exercise that allows them to learn through their own investigations. It tells the story of a band of Crow Indians who lived in the Billings area in the late 1800s; the devastating effects of small pox, brought to the area by western immigrants; and the sacrifice warriors made to protect the band from the disease.

While many versions of the story abound, it is generally believed that the brave Crow warriors offered their lives in sacrifice by flinging themselves from a cliff to their deaths. Many questions remain. Which version of the story is correct? How many warriors were involved? When did the sacrifice take place? Did the warriors perish in vain? Is the local landmark known as Sacrifice Cliff accurately named or was another cliff the site of the sacrifice?

This educational resource kit gives students an opportunity to examine historical evidence in the
context of an actual historical mystery. Through this exercise, students learn the importance of
research, history, and preservation.

Reserving History Mystery Kits

You can reserve the  Sacrifice Cliff History Mystery kit--and one that looks at the management of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horses (aimed at grade school)--either from the Western Heritage Center or from the Montana Historical Society using our online footlocker reservation form. Boom and Bust can only be ordered from the Western Heritage Center.

As is true for all of the footlockers circulated by the Montana Historical Society, no rental fee is charge for the use of these History Mystery Kits. (Western Heritage Center does charge a very modest rental fee.) Both organizations require schools to pay for shipping to the next venue and to insure the contents.

Other Hands-on History Footlockers

Learn more about the variety of footlockers MHS circulates here. Learn more about our newest footlocker, "Coming to Montana: Immigrants from around the World" here.

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