USD students create teaching tools, exhibit for local museum

USD students create teaching tools, exhibit for local museum
More than 70 students from The University of South Dakota are taking an active approach in educating the public about early American Indian education on the Plains by creating interactive educational tools for the W.H. Over Museum of Natural and Cultural History.

Students enrolled in South Dakota Indian Studies have been studying, researching and working meticulously designing exhibits and education kits to be used by the museum as teaching tools for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The displays are an integral part of the museum's "Early Education on the Plains" theme and, according to Mary L. Jones, Ed.D., an assistant professor with the School of Education, education of American Indian children was prevalent centuries before one-room schoolhouses became the symbol of prairie education.

"A project such as this provides numerous opportunities for visitors to experience small but meaningful moments of the education process for Lakota, Dakota and Nakota children," said Jones, who noted that this project was outside the realm of utilizing expensive technology in creating the displays. "One of the challenges for the students was to work without a budget and build something from scratch. Our motto was 'beg, borrow and build.'"

With help from family, friends, businesses and the community, the students in Jones' class divided into separate groups and pooled their resources to create various display themes. The topics were eventually narrowed to three formats: an interactive floor display featuring a tipi and profile of a bison, discovery boxes with a Native American puzzle and traditional dance regalia, and teacher trunks that will be distributed to classrooms throughout the state for teachers and students unable to attend the museum exhibits.

The small tipi interactive display gives visitors, particularly children, an opportunity to enter a tipi to see what living conditions were like for American Indians. The tipi exhibit also includes American Indian artifacts constructed by the students, including a cooking pouch, a brain-tanned hide and a painted hide. The bison profile interactive display is an expansion of the museum's current bison exhibit. Students created a trivia circuitry board that challenges visitors to match parts of the bison once used as resources by American Indians. Lakota terms for the bison will also be part of the exhibit in addition to a hands-on activity for children.

"It's been a great time, and a lot of fun creating and evaluating all of the exhibits," said Cody Runyon, a USD student from Hot Springs, who was busy testing the bison circuitry board. "This was an opportunity for us to learn a lot of new things while also getting the chance to do a lot of cool stuff."

The discovery boxes created for the museum's exhibit include an Oscar Howe puzzle designed from one of the American Indian artist's famous prints; a history of two traditional dances and American Indian dance regalia; and samples of natural paint and paint brushes used on the Plains. The boxes also contain beadwork to be used by various age groups in a variety of activities.

"It's all about discovery," added Jones, who said the educational projects designed for museum visitors have been an education for the USD students who created them. "Our students are discovering, through their research and involvement during this process, that education was significant on the Plains, especially in the development of the American Indian culture."

For teachers and students too far away from the USD campus to discover the "Early Education on the Plains" exhibit personally, teacher trunks have been created. These trunks can be sent directly to classrooms throughout the state. Each teacher trunk will have research papers to provide background information as well as suggested uses of the contents, which include games, bead making tips and facts, and harvesting and cooking education. To help defray the costs of shipping the teacher trunks to various schools throughout the state, Jones said graduate students are writing grants in an effort to seek additional funding for the project.

"It's a lot of work," noted Penny Smith, a graduate student from Vermillion, "but there's a lot of value in what we're trying to bring to classrooms throughout the state. We want students and their teachers who can't travel to campus to be able to experience these projects that, we hope, will better educate our generation and the next generation of students about what early education was like on the Plains."

Students from USD will continue to evaluate and construct the displays, honing them throughout the next few weeks in preparation for January 2008, when the public will have an opportunity to see the exhibits firsthand. Jones hopes that this project is the first of several for students involved in The University's South Dakota Indian Studies class.

"It demonstrates to the students how to develop projects from start to finish without spending money, having to use local resources, and maintaining the integrity of the Lakota and Dakota culture," she explained. "They worked together using problem-solving skills, research and teamwork to complete these projects."

For more information about the South Dakota Indian Studies class and the interactive displays created for the W.H. Over Museum on the USD campus, please contact Jones at the School of Education at (605) 677-6390.

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