Orwell Corner brings history to life for P.E.I. students

Students across P.E.I. are being invited to Orwell Corner historic village to experience their social studies curriculum brought to life.

P.E.I. museum staff have created experiences for every grade level

The students each get to take the reins and walk one of the horses around the grounds. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Students across P.E.I. are being invited to Orwell Corner historic village to experience their social studies curriculum brought to life. 

"We've been getting school groups as long as the place has been open but there's never really been anything that targeted specifically each grade level and the social studies outcomes that they're doing," said Jason MacNeil, site director at Orwell.

"It makes it more relevant, more engaging, more practical for the schools to actually come out too."

One of the St. Jean students works the bellows during the blacksmith demonstration. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

For example, Orwell offers an experience called Forge, Farm and Fiddle that connects directly to what Grade 6 students study in social studies. 

"The forge to show change in industry, the farm to show change in transportation," MacNeil said. "The fiddling to show how Scottish heritage impacted at the time and how that has trickled into modern day."

Curriculum connections

MacNeil says the Grade 7 curriculum talks about empowerment, equality and gender issues.

"We're going to set up some chores for them and we're going to divide them by male and female and then we're going to have the guys do the female chores and the girls do the male chores," MacNeil said.

"It will hit home on how things actually were for the opposite gender."

The students learn about P.E.I.'s Scottish heritage through a lesson in square dancing. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

The new experiences have grown out of MacNeil's classroom visits, where he brings items from the P.E.I. artifact collection to show students.

"As soon as you start passing around things that they can touch and feel and manipulate, they are completely engaged and they love it," MacNeil said. "The questions that come up are amazing."

Site director Jason MacNeil would like to see students visiting Orwell every year from kindergarten through Grade 7. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Hands-on learning

Amanda MacIntosh and her Grade 6 students from St. Jean Elementary School are a test class for the new program.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the students to get some experiential learning," MacIntosh said. "To see hands-on what it was like back in the olden days."

The St. Jean class has students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

"I have refugees, I have immigrants, I have students who were born and raised on the Island," MacIntosh said. "For them to be able to come together for a shared experience like this, it's just been such a wonderful bonding experience."

The Orwell experience ends with a horse and carriage ride to nearby Macphail Woods where the students will do activities connected to their science outcomes. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"I think it's good that children can see how it was actually done back then and how it all worked," said student Jordan Costello. 

"I think this is pretty cool because we actually get to do most of the stuff," said Jerek Ulvstal.

"If you're reading a book for social studies, you don't get to see it in real life and actually try it." 

The farm part of the experience focuses on changes in transportation over the years. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Orwell has 15 schools booked for 19 days in June and is already planning for more school visits in the fall. They are also partnering with nearby Macphail Woods where students do activities connected to grade-specific science outcomes.

'Best day ever'

MacNeil says the main obstacle to getting more students to the site is the cost of school buses. Orwell charges around $5 per student to cover the cost of the experiences.

"I'd like to see kids coming every year and have that kind of integrated into their social studies curriculum in kindergarten right straight through to Grade 7," MacNeil said.

Orwell offers an experience called Forge, Farm and Fiddle that connects directly with what Grade 6 students study in social studies. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

One St. Jean student told MacNeil it was the "best day ever."

"It shows that we're making the connections and we're making the links and we're doing it right," MacNeil said.

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Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.