Education Programs

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Engage students with the scope of American history through the experiences of Western Pennsylvanians over the past 250 years.

Students will explore topics through investigative questioning and hands-on discovery. Discussions of daily life and major events like the British, French & Indian War, the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Underground Railroad, and the World Wars connect students to the everyday and extraordinary lives of local people throughout American history.

Heinz History Center
Heinz History Center
Fort Pitt Museum
Fort Pitt Museum
Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village
Meadowcroft

Prehistoric Pennsylvania

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

Explore the discovery and excavation of Meadowcroft Rockshelter, a National Historic Landmark, in this newly designed field trip experience. Interactive stations provide students with hands-on and inquiry-based opportunities for uncovering the secrets of the “First Peoples” and the multidisciplinary approach of the experts who study the archaeological site. Investigate how the geography and ecology of the Cross Creek watershed impacted the ability of prehistoric people to camp here, explore the geologic forces that created the Rockshelter and its stratigraphy, examine the archaeological site, and analyze educational artifacts to understand how archaeologists interpret a cultural assemblage.

Grade Levels: All
Program Length: 80 minutes
Availability: April – November

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Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

Travel 400 years into the past to explore a re-created Eastern Woodland Indian Village at Meadowcroft. The palisaded settlement includes wigwams, a representative native garden plot, hunting camp, and other educational archaeological features common to Monongahela Indian sites. This program emphasizes the forest-centered lifestyle of pre-contact American Indians in the Upper Ohio Valley. Students have an opportunity to try using an atlatl, a prehistoric spear thrower, and learn about the complex relationship between nature and man.

Grade Levels: All
Program Length: 80 minutes
Availability: April – November

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Keystone of the Frontier

Fort Pitt Museum

Learn how Pittsburgh began by exploring the conflict over the forks of the Ohio River between the British, French, and Indians during the 18th century. Students will explore the timeline of the French & Indian War and participate in hands-on activities related to life at Fort Pitt, which may include a cannon, musket, or marching drill. Students will also learn about the fur trade that made Fort Pitt, and the Point, a major trading post between Europeans and Indians in a re-created fur trading cabin. Additional activities, including historic games and tours of Point State Park, may be added upon request.

Grade Levels: All
Program Length: 1.5 – 3 hours (depending on group size)
Cost: $4 per student

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Heinz History Center

Visit the Fort Pitt Museum’s newest exhibit, From Maps to Mermaids: Carved Powder Horns in Early America, to learn about the function and decorative artwork of the 18th-century powder horn. While powder horns had a practical function—to keep gunpowder dry—many owners recognized the surface of the horn as an ideal place to leave their mark. They etched their names, dates, maps, war records, and whimsical figures onto their horns using knives, awls, and occasionally engraving tools. Decorated with varying degrees of skill, carved powder horns sometimes serve as the only record of their owner and shed light on the times in which they lived.

Grade Levels: All
Program Length: 20 – 45 min. (depending on Fort Pitt program requested)
Cost: $4 per student (the exhibit is free if added onto the Outposts of Empire tour program)
Availability: June 2017 – October 2018

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The Underground Railroad and the Civil War

Heinz History Center

Pittsburgh was an important transportation hub and a crucial source of armaments for the Union. Discover the many roles that Pittsburghers embraced during the Civil War by exploring wartime correspondence, investigating the replica Rodman cannon and the Allegheny Arsenal explosion in the Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation exhibition, and touring the From Slavery to Freedom exhibition to examine stories of African Americans in the Civil War.

Grade Levels: 3rd – 6th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Heinz History Center

Learn about freedom seekers who made use of the Underground Railroad in Western Pennsylvania and local abolitionists who fought for equality for all. The program features artifacts for handling and interactive gallery activities. Trace one freedom seeker’s journey to the North, learn the stories of local people who helped with the Underground Railroad, and tour the From Slavery to Freedom exhibition.

Grade Levels: 3rd – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Industrialization and Immigration

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

Visit Meadowcroft’s 19th-century village to learn about how early industrialization affected rural life in the upper Ohio Valley. Students will visit historic log houses and learn what life was like before modern conveniences. The topics include textile manufacture, pre-electric lighting, and historical games. In addition to visiting the log homes, students will experience a simulated lesson in a one-room schoolhouse and get to witness a blacksmith at work in his forge.

Grade Levels: K – 8th
Program Length: 3 hours with 1/2 hour for lunch
Availability: April – November

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Heinz History Center

Explore what motivated people to come to Pittsburgh during the early 20th century through hands-on gallery activities relating to immigration and migration, including packing a trunk for a family’s journey from Italy, playing a traditional sport brought to Pittsburgh from another country, and uncovering the story of the Great Migration of African Americans from the South to urban centers like Pittsburgh.

Grade Levels: 3rd – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Heinz History Center

With industrialists such as Carnegie and Frick calling Pittsburgh home and the fast pace of the area’s industrialization, it is no wonder that Western Pennsylvania has been the site of many important strikes and labor negotiations, which impacted the nation. Explore the conflicts leading to labor disputes, the cooperation and compromises that were achieved, and the stories of some of the major figures in Western Pennsylvania’s labor history through sources including the “Pittsburgh Survey,” archival papers and photographs relating to local companies and workers, and unique museum artifacts.

Grade Levels: 3rd – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Heinz History Center

The Heinz History Center has special initiatives for collecting artifacts, photographs, oral histories, and archival materials that document ethnic communities, including the Italian American Collection, the African American Collection, and the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives. The collections explore the pivotal role each of these communities play in shaping the region’s political, economic, religious, and cultural landscapes. Case study sessions will help students piece together the stories of these groups through activities in the galleries and work with archival resources. Teachers may select to focus on one group or participate in a comparative studies session.

Grade Levels: 6th – 12th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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The Great Depression and the Second World War

Heinz History Center

This redesigned program brings to life Katherine Ayres’ “Macaroni Boy” novel through an exploration of the history of  Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Analyze historic photographs of the Strip District from the 1930s and compare them to today, visit  exhibits and handle artifacts that relate to the book, and enjoy a scavenger hunt in the galleries to see some of the objects the characters may have used. The program can be enriched by a visit from author Katherine Ayres for an additional fee, based on availability.

Grade Levels: 3rd – 6th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Heinz History Center

Like most of the nation, citizens of Pittsburgh suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. The city saw shantytowns springing up in the Strip District and figures like Father Cox working to help local families who were becoming increasingly impoverished. Explore the story of Father Cox’s Army and their march to Washington, D.C. through archival materials and museum artifacts, analyze historic images from the period, and hear oral history recordings from local people who lived through the Great Depression.

Grade Levels: 6th – 11th
Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Heinz History Center

Examine the many ways that the Second World War transformed Pittsburgh, from the personal stories of the home front to the role and cost of wartime industrial production.

Grade Levels:  3rd – 8th 

This hands-on program features a gallery tour, an investigation of a soldier’s footlocker with period objects for handling, and an exploration of archival sources that reveal the experiences of a local military pilot during World War II.

Grade Levels: 9th – 12th

This interactive session features oral histories from local individuals involved in the war effort, a gallery tour with period objects for handling, and an investigation of one local family’s experience of the Holocaust.

Program Length: 1.5 hours

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Heinz History Center

Archival documents will bring alive the stories of those fleeing the Holocaust and relocating to Western Pennsylvania. Students will explore the experiences of several families seeking to leave Nazi Germany and the agencies and people in Pittsburgh who were trying to help them. Powerful documents will be examined using a framework developed to complement the recent Act 70 Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Violations legislation.

Grade Levels: 8th – 12th
Program Length: 2 hours
Maximum: 50 students

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Making the Modern City

Heinz History Center

Students will have the opportunity to meet people who have seen history first hand, from the homefront experience of World War II to a Vietnam War protestor. These sessions include analysis of primary and secondary sources, student facilitated interviews, and group discussions. Educators can select from two themes: Military Veterans: Trials and Tribulations of War (from World War II to the Gulf War) or The 1960s: The Decade that Rocked America.

Grade Levels: 6th – 12th
Program Length: 2 hours
Maximum: 50 students

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Heinz History Center

The past is filled with key points at which different decisions might have changed the course of history. Using the format of a deliberative forum and thinking from the perspective of a citizen in post-World War II Pittsburgh, students will discuss three options for how the modern city should be shaped. Primary sources from the Allegheny Conference on Community Development will set the scene. Pre-visit materials will be sent in advance after the program is reserved.

Grade Levels: 9th – 12th
Program Length: 2 hours

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Heinz History Center

Discover the stories of those who worked for change during the Civil Rights movement by exploring accounts from Freedom Summer, analyzing newspapers from the era, and touring the From Slavery to Freedom exhibition. The session culminates in a digital poster making activity as students reflect on the concerns and calls for action during the Civil Rights movement.

Grade Levels: 8th – 12th
Program Length: 2 hours

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Heinz History Center

From the abolitionist movement to the Civil Rights movement, trace the story of African Americans in Western Pennsylvania in this program, which includes interactive tours of the From Slavery to Freedom exhibit and the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, and a primary source activity relating to young Pittsburghers who participated in Freedom Summer. The content of this program is adapted for different age groups.

Grade Levels: 3rd – 12th
Program Length: 2 hours

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Interdisciplinary Programs

Heinz History Center

Inspired by Pittsburgh

Students will discover how artists have been inspired by the city around them in this program designed to integrate visual arts and social studies. Using artifacts and historic photographs, students will find inspiration in the city’s history and look at works of art from the History Center’s collection to explore how artists have represented the city in their work.  Students will also create a work of art inspired by the museum’s collection and historic photographs.

Grade Levels: 1st – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 50 students

90 Pittsburgh Neighborhoods

In 2013, artist Ron Donoughe set out to paint all 90 of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. Inspired by a map, he painted the neighborhoods in alphabetical order and completed the project within a single year to capture the changing seasons. In this program, students will view the 90 paintings on display in the Special Collections Gallery to learn about Donoughe’s plein air technique and how he was inspired by the city, explore and discuss different views of neighborhoods from the museum’s historic image collection, and use the view of Downtown from the History Center to work on sketching.

Grade Levels: 1st – 12th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 75 students

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Heinz History Center

Our Place in History: Mapping and Primary Sources

In this skills-based program, students will use technology, primary sources, and historic city maps to explore continuity and change in Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. Using digitized archival maps, modern mapping technology, historic city directories, and census data, students will analyze data about the past and investigate how the city has changed and developed.

Grade Levels: 6th – 9th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 50 students

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Heinz History Center

A Better World: Improving the Quality of our Lives Through Innovation

Learn about the work of important Pittsburghers as they transformed and positively impacted our world. Students will follow in the footsteps of Rachel Carson and become citizen scientists, experiment with food science like H.J. Heinz in pursuit of pure foods, and reflect on the impact of Fred Rogers on childhood media as they create their own response to his work.

Grade Levels: 4th – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 75 students

Systems Thinking: Exploring Complex Systems  

This program focuses on the dynamics within systems that were as important to past engineers as they are to America’s future innovators. Students evaluate the impact of important innovations on a system in the Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation exhibition and then work with examples of modern innovations that demonstrate systems, including Cubelets, modular robotics that were born from Pittsburgh’s pioneering robotics work, and Puzzlets, which sharpen systems thinking skills through game design.

Grade Levels: 4th – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 75 students

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Heinz History Center

Gather a Story

The Special Collections Gallery and Visible Storage allow visitors to view many artifacts that would normally be held in storage. These objects range from cars to clothing and ethnic collections to historic toys. This game-style exploration encourages students to form unique stories about these objects and the stories behind them by gathering a setting, characters, and plot elements inspired by the museum displays. This program can be adapted for a range of ability levels.

Grade Levels: 2nd – 6th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum 50 students

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Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum

Heinz History Center

Trace the story of sports in Pittsburgh from the first professional football team to the community figures who helped make sports available to all. See how your stride compares to John Woodruff, gold medal winner in the 1936 Olympics, play mini golf while learning about Arnold Palmer, and use museum artifacts and archival collections to learn about local people who made community sports accessible to immigrants and African Americans.

Grade Levels: 1st – 8th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 50 students

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Heinz History Center

From Roberto Clemente’s humanitarian aid, to James Dorsey’s creation of sports opportunities for African Americans in the city, to immigrants who used sports to maintain their traditions, Pittsburgh sports figures have practiced civic engagement in addition to good sportsmanship. This program traces their experiences using an iPad game to engage students in these stories—and a bit of competition—and looks to the future of sports and civics through contemporary examples of civic engagement.

Grade Levels: 6th – 12th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 75 students

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Detre Library & Archives

Heinz History Center

Have your students dive into the world of original primary sources on-site at the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives. Educators are invited to collaborate closely with an archivist to create a customized research experience for their students that align with curriculum goals. During a student research session, the Detre Library & Archives is transformed into a hands-on, dynamic history lab where students can critically analyze original primary source materials firsthand.

To learn how you can begin planning a personalized student research session at the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives, please contact Archivist Sierra Green at 412-454-6361 or sgreen@heinzhistorycenter.org. Examples of past student research topics include Kennywood, Madam Curie, the H.J. Heinz Company, Women’s Suffrage, and the history of waste water in Pittsburgh.

Special Exhibit Programs

Heinz History Center

February 10, 2018 – June 11, 2018

Step back in time to an era of flappers and suffragists, bootleggers and temperance lobbyists, and real-life legends like Al Capone and Carrie Nation. Created by the National Constitution Center, American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition explores America’s most colorful and complex constitutional hiccup. Spanning from the dawn of the temperance movement, through the Roaring ’20s, to the unprecedented repeal of a constitutional amendment, this exhibit brings the whole story of Prohibition vividly to life. The exhibit includes more than 100 rare artifacts including flapper dresses, authentic barware, temperance propaganda, and original ratification copies of the 18th and 21st Amendments.

Perspectives on Prohibition

Students will explore the American Spirits exhibition to learn the stories of the rise and fall of Prohibition and life in the 1920s. Using primary sources as evidence to illuminate the viewpoints of groups who felt strongly about Prohibition, students will learn about the different factors that led to Prohibition, the groups who spoke out for or against it, and local perspectives on the 18th Amendment and its repeal.

Grade Levels: 5th – 11th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 50 students
Availability: February 12, 2018 – June 8, 2018

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Heinz History Center

July 22, 2017 – January 7, 2018

Marvel at more than 50 eclectic new works of art by members of the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators (PSI) as part of the Art of Facts | Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories exhibit. Art of Facts creatively interprets the rich history of Western Pennsylvania and shares its compelling stories through the art of illustration. The artists’ work featured in the exhibit depicts everything from Andrew Carnegie’s first job in a textile mill to Walt Disney’s visit to Westinghouse to the story of Pittsburgh’s lost “H,” and much more. Beyond the major landmarks, groundbreaking discoveries, celebrated achievements, and famous locals, there are captivating details of history that have seldom been shared. In addition to the works of art, the Art of Facts exhibition features a video that demonstrates how illustrators work.

Uncovering Pittsburgh Stories

Students will explore the illustrations in the Art of Facts exhibition to learn about the various local stories, people, and places that inspired these artists. Using additional information from primary sources and historic photographs from the museum’s archival collections, students will create their own works of art in the form of comic strips that tell their version of a Pittsburgh story.

Grade Levels: K – 12th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 50 students
Availability: September – December 2017

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Heinz History Center

The new Discovery Place exhibition provides learners with the opportunity to explore Pittsburgh innovations and the invention process in a fun setting where creativity, science, and history merge. The exhibit features hands-on and high tech interactive displays and challenging games for students to enjoy. Students can build bridges across Pittsburgh’s three rivers or design buildings using massive foam building blocks, explore sound and tempo, design a piece of pop art on the Everbright machine, and create new products using aluminum foil.

Innovation and Invention

Students will follow the steps of innovation through the Discovery Place exhibit using the interactive stations to help create their own rapid prototypes inspired by historic examples of local innovations. In Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation, students will learn about other inventions made here through museum artifacts and hands-on activities that explore how and why Pittsburgh has been the home of so many innovations.

Grade Levels: 1st – 5th
Program Length: 1.5 hours
Maximum: 75 students

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