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Tsongas Center Ranks in Top 20 Venues in the World

Participants Gather for Industrial Revolution Immersion

teachers in training
School teachers from around the country attempt to create a model canal system as part of a summer workshop at the Tsongas Industrial History Center.

By Sarah McAdams

Social Studies teacher Kyle Norwood enjoys the classroom, but says he looks forward to “playing the role of student during the summer break.”
This summer, the Tsongas Industrial History Center (TIHC) was his school — and he says his one week there “did more to enhance my understanding of the Industrial Revolution than all my years in graduate school.”
Norwood — who teaches 11th-grade U.S. history at Grapevine High School in Texas — was one of 78 teachers from across the country who recently participated in one of two intensive weeklong workshops called “Inventing America: Lowell and the Industrial Revolution.” 

The workshops allow K-12 teachers to go back to their schools in the fall and “teach about the American Industrial Revolution in more powerful ways,” says the Graduate School of Education’s Sheila Kirschbaum, TIHC assistant director, where the workshops were based.
The TIHC – located in the Boott Cotton Mills in downtown Lowell – is the result of a 20-year-old partnership between the Graduate School of Education and the Lowell National Historical Park, each of which provide a portion of the funding and staff to operate the Center.

“Inventing America” is funded by a grant form the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). This is the sixth year the program has been funded by the agency, making it “the most frequently funded NEH workshop,” says Kirschbaum, explaining that the team must reapply for the grant every year.

“We hope to get funded for 2012, but a lot depends on what legislators decide,” she says, referring to pending proposed cuts to NEH funding.

Workshop Mixes Lecture and Field Study

By the end of the weeklong program, participants have developed a keen sense of the historical importance of the Lowell. In addition to history, cultural studies and English lectures by UMass Lowell professors, there are several hands-on workshops and a variety of tours – walking tours of Lowell, mill tours, boat tours on the canals and Merrimack River, trolley tours through the city and field trips outside it. 

“The Lowell experience cannot be learned from a textbook,” Norwood says.

His “classmate” Mary Ostermick agrees. 

“One of the things that struck me over and over was how much of an impact it makes on someone to actually see and experience where a historical event happened,” says Ostermick, who teaches fourth grade at Talkeetna Elementary School in Alaska. “For example, being in the mill with the looms working or actually being on a boat in the canals gave me a vivid sense of what life may have been like. Likewise, making a meal at Old Sturbridge Village brought me to the time period and much of what was involved in daily living.”

The workshops also included breakout sessions targeted at attendees’ specific needs, such as one on tailoring the experience to younger, elementary school students. 

Norwood says that when he returns to the classroom in September, he will “take back” many aspects of his time in Lowell.
“One moment that was particularly poignant was a visit to the local cemetery where one of the mill girls is buried,” he says. “Our project leaders took turns reading from the poem she penned shortly before her impending death. That was a powerful hook that certainly grabbed my attention.”

It was just one aspect of his week in Lowell that reinforced Norwood’s enthusiasm for teaching. “Anyone who says teachers are underappreciated does not know the outstanding work that the Tsongas Industrial History Center does in the interest of teachers and students. The time and effort they placed in making our week at Lowell memorable as well as instructive inspires at least this teacher to continue the good fight.”

churning butter
Mary Ostermick, a fourth-grade teacher from Alaska, churns butter in Old Sturbridge Village.
trolley  ride
A group of K-12 teachers tour Lowell via trolley.