Henricus Historical Park

17th Century history and STEM education

12/18/2013  | 

Henricus Historical Park, a 17th Century living history museum, is located on the historic James River near Richmond, Virginia. It consists of the re-created Powhatan Indian Village of Arrohateck and the second successful English colonial Citie of Henricus.

Henricus provides K-12 educational programming allowing school teachers to take advantage of hands-on and interactive programs and projects that meet both State and National Standard of Learning Guidelines. Henricus is currently extending its offerings, with help from local school systems, science and math centers and environmental study groups, to target curriculum that provides STEM-enhanced education. How can a 17th century theme museum provide curriculum using Math, Science, and Technology to encourage experimentation and problem solving in a modern technological world?

Programs at Henricus Historical Park are multi-curricular, enquiry-based, and interactive, teaming math and science with a social studies and history curriculum. Our newest programs provide an historical context to modern problem-solving projects for today’s STEM curriculum.

These programs provide an early historic context to modern-day American concerns. This includes not only the economic, governmental and cultural context, but an understanding of the scientific and technological advancements of the period as well. What was happening in 16th and 17th century Europe that helped lead to American colonization? The Age of Exploration came about in part due to changes in religious and educational philosophy with a resulting explosion of new scientific understanding and inventions. This helps provide students with a balanced and three-dimensional view of history: cultural and economic advancement reflecting scientific and technological achievements.

The rise of the Scientific Method, modern ideas of the earth’s place in the universe (a heliocentric rather than geocentric view of the solar system) and a better understanding of natural – such as Newton’s Laws of Energy and the concepts of pressure and gravity -- grew out of this time period. Along with this better understanding, came new inventions such as the barometer, thermometer and improved navigational equipment (all very useful for successful sea voyages to the North American continent), microscopes, telescopes and an early blood pressure machine.

This evolution is highlighted in our Seventeenth Century Sciences program (upper elementary/secondary school level). The programs Mapping the James River (elementary level) and Math & Mapping the James River (middle school level) have students actively track over time, man-made land changes with mathematics. They attempt to find historic sites by comparing modern and historic maps using coordinate planes. The historical interaction is seen through the scientific research led by archaeologists and surveyors using modern ground -penetrating radar (GPR). Environmental studies look at the James River as both an historic site and as a modern-day water source. Activities follow this science in our Colonial Cultures of the James River and the People in Environment programs. The mathematical and technologically-significant engineering feat in 1864 of redirecting the course of a river during the Civil War is followed in our Civil War on the James River program.

As a part of each program and through follow-up activities in the classroom, modern-day problem-solving projects are tackled. One project encourages experimentation with urban redesign by using information from the past (primary sources, comparative maps and archaeological data) and input from environmentalists to locate, preserve and protect historic sites while still enhancing the community into the future. Using our history and social science-based programs thus helps set an historical context for the use of modern sciences, math and technology for problem-solving projects.

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