On May 26, MHS partnered with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute’s Vital Signs program in a creative online scavenger hunt during the annual Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) conference at the University of Maine in Orono. In other words, the “laptop program’s” annual get-together for approximately 1,000 students and their teachers to chat about the cool ways they’ve used their MacBooks in middle school.
Using an online form and our two databases, students searched for their hometowns and answered some brief questions about what they found. Eighty-seven total responses were logged. We sweetened the deal with a drawing for two iTunes gift certificates that were presented to the winning students, drawn randomly, at the end of the conference.
While predictably there were a few goofball responses (Q: “Would you visit this website again?” A: “I love watermelon.”), most students took the task seriously, and many provided some truly engaged and insightful answers to the question, “Describe the coolest historical item you saw, and tell us what was cool about it.”
“The coolest item I saw was… #15522,” wrote one student from Monmouth. “I [was] in the Monmouth Theater on multiple occasions for field trips during elementary school. It brought back many memories of being a child and watching elaborate Shakespeare plays. It was cool to see… how the beautiful golden ceiling was detailed. It was like painting a picture and I really appreciate it.”
Another student from Bath chose #28570, “View of the Town of Bath from the Opposite Ferry Landing, ca. 1845. That student wrote: “This is a view of Bath from the point of land I live on. My house was built in 1762, and the man who constructed my house was the ferry operator for the ferry across the Kennebec River between Woolwich and Bath. From neighbors and our local history museum, I have learned much about the family that built my house, my road, and my community.”
Other students noted their surprise about finding items they didn’t realize were accessible online, such as one student who discovered a 1906 floor plan for the first floor of the Maine State Sanatorium. “I was interested to find these blueprints were available to the public.”
When we asked the students, “Would you visit this website again?” most of the responses were overwhelmingly positive, ranging from, “If I ever had a need to search for information about towns this is an excellent place to go,” to “I find history fascinating. I can definitely see myself going back to this website to see different parts of my childhood.” One student even plans to use the site for an important pursuit in the immediate future: “I’m attempting to become an intern at the Bethel Historical Society for the summer, and could utilize the website [for that].” Several mentioned already having used MMN in class for various projects.
In addition to garnering some great testimonials, the activity proves what a great marriage the laptop program and Maine Memory Network–which started at about the same time–have been and continue to be. When we can take the database directly to the students and put the primary sources–digital versions of them, anyway–in their hands, they find the magic in them. As one student wrote, “It helps me understand my town and the history behind it. I have [the site] bookmarked now.”