Ongoing inquiry as a form of curriculum development and professional growth has a vital relationship to the unit itself. The teacher (or librarian, museum educator, parent, etc.) needs to become a learner along with the students, both about the subject matter and about the learning process.
Thus we need unit study in two senses. One is to learn through and about boats. The second is to reflect upon and improve the boats unit itself.
For example, the towns of the Lower Cape have an important relationship to boats and water, just as did Curtis’s city along the Hudson River.
The boats unit has features such as this:
- Teachers. Teachers in the schools are the primary shapers of learning activities. This is because they’re best suited to know what meets the needs of their students and particular situation. They are also able to contribute to designing activities that would be attractive to summer visitors and to adults.
- Open participation. Museums, libraries, and cultural organizations contribute in whatever way is appropriate for their mission. The boats theme provides a loose organizing framework: There is no formal governing structure, but simply an invitation to participate by highlighting activities or resources that add to the theme. For example, the planned Shipwrecks and LifeSavers exhibits, and the Boat Building Workshop at the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum could be tagged as relevant to the boats unit.
- Maps to other resources. Each organization, including the schools, has a map showing other organizations that offer more along the same theme. For example, the Highland Lighthouse in Truro offers its usual tours and lighthouse climb, but highlights the obvious connection to boats, while suggesting related sites to explore the idea.
- Community support. Unofficial organizations and resources also play a role: a boatbuilder willing to share his or her craft, a sailboat owner willing to offer a tour of the deck, a walking tour guide who can make natural (including human) history connections with boats, an art gallery with a boat-themed exhibition.
- Generativity. The boats theme is generative, rather than exclusionary. The point is not to impose a criterion that deems some things to be boats-worthy and others not. Instead, the idea is to expand options and connections. For example, the French Cable Station Museum in Orleans and the Marconi Station in Wellfleet offer opportunities to explore telecommunications, history, engineering, and more. Recognizing the important connection of these facilities to boats can add to their appeal and make them less seen as interesting, but isolated curiosities.
- Networking. This networking makes the contributions of the cultural organizations for the theme to be more evident for teachers and parents, whether they become parts of formal learning, enrichment, home schooling, or simply occasional opportunities for learning and fun.
- Marketing. At the same time, it helps those organizations to market their offerings, to bring in visitors who might otherwise pass by.
- Home port. The boats unit has a home base (home port?), which has a special value when schools are not in session. This can be modest: a starting point for someone interested in boats, a place for educators and others to meet.
- Ship’s log of inquiries. Learners of any age can maintain a ship’s log to record their journeys and inquiries. These could be compiled as Nell Curtis did with her original Boats unit.
- Stamps. Each cultural organization has a rubber stamp, like the National Park stamp, which records visits to each site.
See what it means to study the Boats unit on the Lower Cape.