Chicago History Museum Teacher Tour

Museum entrance
From the very beginning I knew that my experience was going to be worthwhile. The Chicago History Museum has over 1 million artifacts on display ranging from functioning neon signs to a heavily modified low rider (bottom right).
Women's rights experiential. Faces of Freedom
One of the museums newest exhibits focuses on American History through 4 central themes: Workers’ Rights, Armed Conflict, Race and Citizenship, and Public Protest. To my surprise, this exhibit was extremely hands-on. This portion of the exhibit, which focuses on the Women’s Rights Movement, encourages students to hold artifacts similar to those that the women of Chicago held during the movement.
Faces of Freedom slavery
Another part of the Faces of Freedom exhibit. Although Illinois was not a slave state during the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln grew up in the state, the museum still includes artifacts from the time period. Again, the hands-on nature of the exhibit allows for students to connect with the content on a deeper level. L
My voice.
Yet another interactive feature of the Faces of Freedom exhibit. After selecting my personal keyword, the built-in camera took a picture of me. My face was then added to the hundreds of others that cycle through the exhibit.
Chicago's coordinate plotting activity station
Throughout the museum, there are portable” Activity Stations.” These stations are 20-minute facilitated explorations into unique aspects of the City of Chicago. This particular Activity Station is intended to help students become aware and familiar with the City’s grid layout. Using a built-in compass (top left) and coordinates, students work with the facilitator to chart some of Chicago’s most famous landmarks.
Bridge building activity station
The Activity Station that was set out during our tour focused on the evolution of Chicago’s bridges. We were exposed to a brief history of the city’s relationship with the river before exploring the different historical approaches to bridge building. Did you know that the City of Chicago has the most movable bridges in the world?
old street signs
I found the old street sign mobiles to be fascinating. One of my favorite parts of the museum.
where it all began (colonial perminant settlement that is)
Constructed in 1803, Fort Dearborn was the initial settlement established by the US Government. The bustling metropolis that is the City of Chicago lays its roots under this wood log fort.
L Train #1
Chicago’s first ever L car (L Car NO. 1) has found its final resting place on the second floor of the museum.
Inside L Train #1
A peek inside L Car NO. 1. You can even sit on the car’s benches (Although they weren’t the most ergonomic pieces of furniture ever constructed).
Chicago Fire
An artists recreation of the start of the Great Chicago Fire at O’Leary’s barn. The fire itself was one of the most destructive in US History. When it had finally been extinguished, the flames had consumed close to 3.5 miles of private, commercial, and community property.
hot enought to melt glass
The artifact on the right highlights just how hot the flames were during the Great Chicago Fire. The side-by-side comparison with an untouched jar provides powerful visual reinforcement for students.
Neighborhoods mural
Famous for its diverse neighborhoods, the museum pays homage to the City with a wall-length mural.
history of the flag. what would your 4 stars be?
Even though I’ve had my own Chicago flag for over 4 years, I was completely unaware of the symbolic meaning of the four stars. A suggested activity for students from the Chicagoland area: what would the four stars on your Chicago flag symbolize?
Jazz club entrance
The Chicago Jazz and Blues scene was one of the finest in the world. At the museum, students can enter a recreated club complete with velvet ropes.
Inside the jazz club. Slang cards for flappers and young men
Once you’re inside the Jazz and Blues club, you can sit and watch rare live footage of famous musicians performing during their visits to Chicago. At every table there are cards with Flapper and Young Men slang phrases from the 1920s. (And yes, they come with the modern english translations on the backside)
tribute to chicago food
A tribute to one of the best Foodie cities in the world! Home of the famous Chicago Hotdog. Just don’t ask for any catsup!
sports town number 1. tribute to chicago
Half of the Chicago sports shrine at the museum. Historically, Chicago has been one of the top sports towns in the nation when it comes to successful teams.
marshal fields clock tuning
As an art junkie, I was drawn to this painting. When you come upon the Marshall Field & Company building via State Street, you are greeted by the unmistakable green clock.
Although the exhibit wasn't open, the Sensing Chicago portion of the museum is yet another example of the museum's focus on experiential learning.
Although the exhibit wasn’t open, the Sensing Chicago portion of the museum is yet another example of the museum’s focus on experiential learning. As one can most likely infer, the exhibit centers on experiencing the City of Chicago via the body’s seven senses. 
ebony temp exhibit
The temporary exhibit at the museum centers on Chicago’s Ebony fashion scene. While I wasn’t able to take any pictures inside the exhibit, I will tell you that the outfits I saw inside put New York Fashion Week to shame! Some absolutely amazing stylistic approaches to highlighting African-American beauty.

Just a few blocks north of the CTA’s Red Line stop at Clark & Division, nestled up against Lincoln Park, sits the Chicago History Museum. I was fortunate to participate in the museum’s teacher tour. During the 3-hour tour, we were exposed to the museum’s various digital and print resources, explored the museum, and discussed rationalizing a field trip in accordance to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The museum’s website offers a number of free lesson plans,  primary sources, and other instructional materials that are aligned to the CCSS. All of the materials have a common underlying theme: Chicago history should permeate all content areas in the elementary, middle, and high school classroom. The history of the city should not be reserved for 3rd grade social studies. After experiencing some of these resources hands on and exploring the museum I couldn’t agree more.

As I was analyzing the museum, I couldn’t help but notice the multiple opportunities for student engagement. However, these engagements transcend traditional tactile learning opportunities. While there are plenty of artifacts for students to touch, there are also films for visual learners and student-created audio tours for auditory learners. As a learner, it is simply impossible to not find something to connect with your personal learning style. This fact alone makes a field trip to the museum well worth it.

Chicago is a historical goldmine. From Jean Baptist DuSable to Harold Washington, the World’s Fair to Soldier Field, the nation’s first rail hub to the “L” system. The content is there, you just have to reach out and grab it. Social Studies is a unifying content area. Teaching students about the city they live in allows them to broaden their perspectives beyond their home, block, or neighborhood. To quote our facilitator, “You’re not teaching [your students] history. I’m sorry. You’re teaching them thinking.

As an educator, but more importantly a learner, I highly recommend a visit to the Chicago History Museum.

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