By Rebecca VanHorn, D&L Intern
The Immersion Days hosted by the National Canal Museum are well-known to local elementary school children and their families, but perhaps lesser known to the broader community. As a new addition to the Immersion Days team, I have seen firsthand what a remarkable learning tool the day-long exercise can be, and what a valuable resource the National Canal Museum and the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor provide to our community.
At the beginning of the day, students are greeted by the director of the program, Dennis Scholl, and a team of staff members dressed in period correct costumes. Dennis and the team go over the schedule for the day, and after the children put their lunches away, they are guided to the canal boat and helped aboard. As the students take in the scenery along the canal, a staff member gives an elementary-level history of the canal. Students are generally entertained by our two mules, Hank and George, and are amazed by their ability to pull what seems like such a heavy load! After a 20 minute ride and a narration of a child’s life on the canal, students disembark the boat and follow their group leader to their designated station.
Each of the four stations walk students through the scientific advances that made the Industrial Revolution possible. At the four separate stations of Simple Machines, Friction and Buoyancy, Geology and Blacksmithing, and Canal Life, students conduct hands-on, simple experiments which help them to visualize and articulate scientific principles. Simple Machines reviews the physics of levers, pulleys, and gears; Friction and Buoyancy covers movement as dictated by gravity, surface area, and force; Geology and Blacksmithing discusses the composition of stones, metals, and fuels; Canal Life teaches students about the everyday jobs and necessities of a life on the canal.
After their first two stations, students, teachers, and chaperons break for lunch, and very well-behaved (and ahead of schedule) groups get to walk to the corral with Ms. Pam to get a closer look at Hank and George, who by this time are grazing in their pen.
The staff regroups after lunch and conducts two more sessions, and the teachers are given souvenirs for students to take home with them. Our visitors go home with an authentic, antique stock certificate from the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, as well as a hand-made “S” hook from our resident blacksmith. The goal of Immersion Days at Hugh Moore Park is to be educational and fun, and it is clear that the hands-on learning facilitated by the staff is truly making its mark on students.