How can fourth graders relate to the work young people did in the Lowell Mills in the early 19th century? How can third graders comprehend what life was like for colonial women who made clothing and home goods from scratch? The AEF Innovations in Education grant ‘Weaving Understanding – Past and Present’ has brought a hands-on element to the Social Studies curriculum at Thompson Elementary School by funding the purchase of a Japanese SOARI loom, a contemporary two-pedal hand-weaving loom that is easy for children to use. Bringing history to life, the loom gives students a realistic understanding of what it is like to weave by hand.
AEF’s $2,500 grant has enabled Thompson School fourth grade teacher Sarah Marie Jette to enhance the social studies curriculum not only for fourth graders, but for third and second graders too. The loom ties together the industrial revolution, colonial times and Japanese social studies curricula in the three grades. As students weave with their own hands, they connect with the children who worked in the Lowell and Lawrence Mills, as well as colonial and Japanese weavers.
Reaching approximately 200 students in its first year, the SOARI loom is expected to become an integral part of Thompson’s social studies curriculum for years to come. “Students have connected with the loom more than I could have imagined” says Jette. “The loom has not only brought our social studies curriculum to life, but it has also given students a sense of pride in something that they have created.” During the 2012-2013 school year, the loom was also shared with Thompson School’s host schools, Hardy and Stratton.
Following is a letter from Ms. Jette lo the Arlington Education Foundation Board of Directors.
May 5, 2013
To the members of the Arlington Education Foundation,
I am submitting my last set of receipts for my grant and wanted to give you an update on how things are going.
First off, I cannot thank you enough for what you have provided. To say that my students love the loom is an understatement. They are proud of it and of the work they create using the loom.
In previous years, I felt my students never fully connected to the social studies curriculum centered around the Lowell Mills and the industrial revolution. This year, they were fully involved. All of them. When we visited the Lowell mills two weeks ago, my students were having thoughtful discussions with our tour guides, connecting everything around them to the learning from our classroom. One student mentioned the loom to the tour guide, and he acknowledged her statement. But when students described the loom, and the fact that it wasn’t just a small hand loom, but a loom that had the reed and heddles and operated similarly to the ones on display in the Lowell Mills museum, he was impressed.
The loom has had some unexpected benefits as well. Hardy’s occupational therapist has used it with her students. The loom requires students to create a rhythm of a few steps, but for some students, using their hands and feet, alternating directions and motions, can be tricky. The loom gives them a chance to use their limbs in a way not traditionally used in a classroom. With the Saori philosophy that all things have their own unique beauty and mistakes are part of the art, the loom has been a safe way for these same students to take risks.
One of my students has become the classroom ‘twister.’ He is a bulky, athletic boy who can twist up the ends of weavings in the most delicate and intricate way. His thick fingers twist those ends with care. It is amazing.
The loom has been shared with 4 ½ of the 5 fourth grade classrooms at Hardy. I’ve spoken with the art teachers who will have the loom in the art room for the third graders to play with. Some 3rd graders are doing hand weaving on small cardboard looms right now. The Saori loom will give them a different weaving experience. I’ve also checked in with the Hardy 2nd grade and the Thompson/Stratton 2nd grade. The loom will head over there for the last group of children before the school year closes.
At the Hardy/Thompson International Festival, I had the loom on display to showcase student weavings as well as to talk about its impact in the classroom. It was in constant use. Children as young as 3 were weaving. 4th graders attending with their families took turns teaching the children how to weave. The visiting Japanese families were thrilled to see the Saori loom, too.
I sold some weavings I made and auctioned off student pieces. We raised $224.00 to restock the thread supply for years to come. I plan on purchasing another pre-wound warp as well as new colors and funky threads for weaving. The pre-wound warps are 30 meters long. When I wind warps for the loom, they are usually 6-7 meters long. The pre-wound warps will save me some time.
Again, thank you for awarding me this grant. The enrichment it has provided has reached beyond my expectations.
Sarah Marie A. Jette
Thompson School, Fourth Grade