March 2012 Issue
February 21, 2012

New Netherland Museum: Sail away with history

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: How historic nautical tools were used is part of the curricula taught to students aboard the Half Moon.

Sometimes getting a student fully engaged in a subject takes as much effort as launching a 140-ton ship.

That's the weight of the Half Moon, an operating replica of the Dutch explorer ship Henry Hudson sailed in 1609.

This traveling museum, part of the New Netherland Museum, is available for week-long student programs, one-hour ship tours with trained tour guides at stops along the Hudson, and festivals.

Staff and volunteers host programs about the history of the Dutch colony called New Netherland.

While sailing on the ship could stir excitement in most any student, teachers and students who can't go can still bring the lessons of the ship to life with an adventuresome, interdisciplinary curriculum for the fourth grade, and a team teaching curriculum for the seventh grade. Both meet New York learning standards and sparkle with new information and ideas for science, arts, language, history and social studies.

Primary documents — raw data from the Dutch, art, maps and 17th-century navigational tools — are all part of the lessons. Each lesson begins with a who, what, when, where, how or why.

New York educators, including teacher Stephen Linehan, a member of the Albany Public School Teachers Association, and Grant Prime, a member of the Taconic Hills Faculty Association, are among the authors, administrators, museum educators, historians and retirees who helped craft the curricula. Many educators, in fact, have been helping out on the Half Moon for more than a decade.

Through the Half Moon's voyages, the curricula integrates history, math, science and writing. Teacher training programs are available to help teachers use the curricula, including historic tools, such as the traverse board and cross staff for precise sailing.

"The curricula brings the ship to the classroom," said Linehan, who also leads teacher training institutes and is one of the guest educators in school programs about Hudson and the Half Moon.

Prime has been sailing with the Half Moon since 1997, up and down the Hudson River and to Virginia and Delaware where the ship was featured in a movie.

"Most school history books talk about Jamestown and Plymouth, but the Dutch were here in New York before the Pilgrims were in Massachusetts," he said.

The Pilgrims came for religious freedom and to convert natives; the Dutch came to trade.

Hudson was originally trying to find a quicker route to the Spice Islands of Asia. Instead, he found a brisk business in beaver skins here, along with trading tools, trinkets and combs for pelts, which were used for clothes and hats in Europe.

Public schools that send students on the week-long tour (usually about six per school) pay only transportation costs from the ship's landing spot back to the school, said ship's captain and museum director William Reynolds. The tours come at no cost to families.

"It's a very rigorous academic program all built around the life of a sailor," Reynolds said. Students back in the classroom can follow the boat's journey through livestream video.

The ship has hosted 100,000 dockside tours and provided 10,000 educator/classroom visits.

"I sailed on it when I was 13 and I've been with the ship ever since," said Carolyn Niehaus, who now works as museum program manager.