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Stepping into the Scrap Cycle: An Elementary School Visit

Posted on November 21st, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

George Washington Elementary School’s 4th grade visited on November 6th, 2019.

When students from George Washington Elementary School were asked what they thought they might see in our Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling exhibit, they responded with examples of recyclable items, like plastic bottles and metal. They guessed that they might see a recycling plant or maybe people at work. One student shared that they might see old and worn out things that can’t be used anymore but could be made into something new.

While they listed ideas of what they might encounter, the class didn’t yet know that they would not just be seeing objects and people connected to the scrap industry; they would be actively exploring the scrap cycle.

Students working together to learn about their scrap family.

 Starting a Scrap Business

The scrap industry grew through the hard work of early 20th century immigrants. Collecting and selling scrap was an opportunity available to newcomers from Eastern and Southern Europe. Students were introduced to families that had their roots in the scrap industry. The class learned about how every member of the family had a role in the business. These family businesses would often be passed from the parents to their children.

Students trying their hand at the scrap industry.

 Collecting Scrap

In the 19th century, the only tool a scrap peddler needed was a sack to carry their haul. The weight of their sacks – filled with metal, glass, rag, or paper – mounted up fast. Scrap peddlers carried their sacks all day as they worked to make a living. Students participated in our “Pull up your Sacks” activity to see if they were as strong as a scrap peddler. As the scrap industry evolved, so did the method of transporting scrap.

At another activity, students learned about the pressure needed to create a bale of plastic bottles. Bales were compacted scrap that made transporting large quantities of scrap easier.

Taking Scrap Apart

Workers in the scrap industry had to be creative when figuring out how to take apart scrap for its parts. The value of a discarded object, like the motorcycle, is not in its wholeness but in all of its different parts. Standing around the motorcycle at the entrance of the exhibit, students identified steel, tires, and plastic as parts that make up the motorcycle.

Using a magnet to sort ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

 Sorting Scrap

Dwarfed by an enormous picture of a grappling claw next to a mountainous pile of scrap, the class looked closely at this image – the workers, the different materials, and the scale of the site – and considered how scrap yards sort their materials. Impressed by the giant machinery, one student suggested that massive magnets might do the job.

 Non-ferrous scrap, such as aluminum, copper, lead, or zinc, is metal that does not contain any iron. Ferrous scrap is metal and metal alloys that contain iron such as steel and cast iron. The iron content in ferrous materials makes it magnetic. This is an important characteristic for sorting scrap as magnets are used to sort ferrous from non-ferrous scrap. Students simulated this sorting on a much smaller scale than that seen in a modern scrap yard. They used handheld magnets to separate their mystery metals.

Using a scale to weight their scrap metal. 

 Weighing their Scrap

A scale might be the most important tool in any scrap yard. Scales are used to weigh materials and it is the material’s weight that determines its price. Once their materials had been sorted, the 4th-graders used small scales, like those used by scrap peddlers, to weigh their ferrous and non-ferrous metal.

Selling their Scrap

Students then sold their scrap materials to a company that would make something new from them, in this case, a car manufacturing company.  Using the weight of their ferrous and non-ferrous materials, students calculated the price of their scrap to determine their group’s profit. With their scrap sold to other companies, students shared products that could be made from recycled materials, including cars, plastic plates, water bottles, toys, and paper.

4th-graders from George Washington Elementary School did encounter examples of items that could be recycled in the Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling exhibit. They also saw historic photographs of what it was like to work in the scrap industry as well as drone footage of a modern scrap yard. They saw examples of people working in the scrap industry in a variety of roles. But students didn’t just see the history and technology behind the scrap industry, they stepped into the shoes of scrap workers and experienced it for themselves.

JMM designed this program for upper elementary students, you can read about the educational program tailored towards middle school students here.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Let’s Learn about “Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling”

Posted on November 11th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

“At first, I thought it was a dirty job that doesn’t pay much, but now I think it’s a good paying job that requires good business/economic skills.”

(7th grade student expressing how their view of the scrap industry has changed after seeing Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling)

23 students from Hamilton Elementary/Middle School gathered around a motorbike as we introduced them to scrap – junk, discarded material that has the potential to be recycled or reused. With JMM’s educators they considered what materials the motorbike could be scrapped for – its steel engine, plastic panels, alloy wheels, rubber tires. This was the beginning of their journey into the scrap industry.

Students start their experience of the Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling at a de-assembled motorbike.

During their visit, the 7th-graders stepped into the shoes of prominent immigrant families in the scrap business. They became the Schapiro Family, the Pinkert Family, the Hettleman Family, the Bannerman Family, and the Gershowitz Family, as they bought, processed, and sold scrap materials.

Buying and selling scrap came in the form of the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s very own original Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling Board Game. Students played in the role of the family they just learned about. Five games were conducted simultaneously with a student from each family at each board. Students represented their family and competed against the others for the different sources of scrap. Turn by turn, they made decisions about which scrap objects to purchase and which to skip – knowing that those objects might get scooped up by another family if they pass them by.

Representing their family business, students bought scrap objects for their copper, plastic, paper, and iron.

Considering what the scrapped object was made of was critical to their decision making and success. Purchasing a computer would provide plastic and copper, but no iron or paper when scrapped. Plastic bottles resulted in scrapped plastic, but no other materials. Purchasing an old train gave a family iron, paper, and copper, but no plastic.

Once students had spent all their money (or ran out of turns), family members came back together to pool their purchased objects and tally their resources. What was once a room full of loud exchanges, “I need more copper!” or “I have zero plastic!” became a room of hushed voices as families determined how much plastic, iron, paper, and copper their scrapped battleships, newspapers, or cell phones produced.

After a family added up their resources, they discussed what resources to sell and when.

With a scrapyard full of materials, the families were ready to hit the market and sell their materials for profit. Educators conducted this in two rounds, so students had to decide what to sell in round one and what to save for the next round where the value of their material changed based on supply and demand. A flurry of discussions took place as families decided what their best move was. “We should sell some, but not all, of the plastic [in round one].” “Maybe we sell iron first?”

After the families sold their scrap, they calculated their profit. Anticipation built as a student from each family announced their earnings:

Bannermans …. $81    Schapiros …. $49    Gershowitz …. $76    Pinkerts … $82 The Pinkerts cheered with excitement as they took the lead in profits. However, one more family was left to report. Hettlemans … $92! The room erupted in celebration as the Hettleman family was declared the winner of the day.

Throughout the game, JMM educators encouraged students to shift their understanding of scrap and consider treating trash as a resource. The 7th graders thought about the role that immigrant families played in establishing the scrap industry in America and how family businesses passed from generation to generation. The class learned first-hand the skills these entrepreneurial families needed to thrive in the industry. Students stated they thought business skills were important, along with knowledge of the market and material values, math skills, and good listening skills (to both the market and your family).

Students were asked to reflect on the question, “after going through Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, how has your view of the scrap industry changed?” Their responses showed their level of engagement with the program:

>My view has changed because now I understand that this job is a lot harder than it seems.

>It’s more serious than I thought. You have to listen to your employees, and you have to have good trust skills.

>It seems more complex than the simple scraping and selling most people describe it as

Students worked together as a team to represent a family in the scrap industry.

 The Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling exhibit goes beyond making cross-curricular connections to social studies, math, and science, by encouraging students to take action. We hope that students think of themselves as upstanders. An upstander is someone who sees a problem and works to solve it. After considering the history of the scrap industry, students made connections to the industry today and what their role in scrap recycling is. The 7thh graders shared one action that they could take at home or in school to encourage others to recycle or upcycle their scrap:

>Start a recycling and upcycling club

>Making posters telling people what to recycle

>One action I can take home or [to] school is using the recycling bin more.

>For starters, I, myself, can pick up recyclable items and encourage others to as well.

>Recycling plastic bottles, cardboard, and paper everything we don’t need them anymore

Thank you to Hamilton Elementary/Middle School for being the first class to visit our new special exhibit Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling and play our board game. Our education team is looking forward to exploring the scrap industry with more students and teachers. The exhibit is on display until April 24, 2020!


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Jewish Marylanders, Both Born and Made, Breaking Barriers in History

Posted on September 27th, 2019 by

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!

What is a barrier? Barriers can be physical – a material that blocks or inhibits movement. Barriers can be natural – such as oceans, rivers, or mountains. They can be immaterial – ideas, laws, or attitudes. The 2020 National History Day theme is “Breaking Barriers in History.”

National History Day, a non-profit that “creates opportunities for teachers and students to engage in historical research” (National History Day 2020 Themebook, pg. 4). This program begins in the Fall as students select their topic and begin researching. The program culminates with students presenting their work in original papers, exhibits, performances, websites, or documentaries and entering in local, regional, and potentially the national competition hosted at the University of Maryland at College Park.

This year, students in Baltimore and across the country will be researching individuals, communities, organizations, engineering and technologies, medicines, legislations, and more throughout history that have broken barriers.

JMM’s exhibits and collections tell stories of Jewish Maryland. This includes a variety of stories of individuals or communities breaking barriers. The Maryland Jewish community has produced many leaders who have made lasting contributions on a local, regional, national, and international scale. Issues range from labor relations and civil rights to helping the vulnerable to refugee resettlement to eliminating poverty, and much more. Below are three examples to get you started!

Henrietta Szold

Henrietta Szold was a Jewish Marylander whose leadership and ingenuity helped improve the lives of people in the United States and Israel.  JMM 1992.

Born in Baltimore in 1860 to Jewish immigrants Benjamin and Sophie Schaar Szold, Henrietta would spend her young adult life in Baltimore, teaching at her alma mater, Western Female High School. In the 1870s, Henrietta and her father would go to the Baltimore docks to greet new Jewish immigrants, mostly arriving from Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1889, Szold worked with the Isaac Baer Levinsohn Literary Society to form a night school for these immigrants to teach them English and American history.

In 1907, Henrietta joined the organization in which she would truly make her mark. Szold joined the Hadassah Study Circle, a Zionist women’s organization. Two years later, she traveled to Palestine with her mother. Horrified by the lack of medical supplies, Henrietta returned home determined to improve the conditions there. She founded the Hadassah organization to raise money to send nurses to Palestine. While serving as Hadassah’s president, she also became involved with the American Zionist Medical Unit, and later helped establish the Rothschild-Hadassah Hospital in Palestine and the Hadassah School of Nursing. Eight years later, Szold retired from Hadassah, but continued her work in Israel, serving as an elected official on the Yishuv’s National Council.

With the rise of Nazi power in Germany in 1933, she became the director of yet another organization, Youth Aliyah. She oversaw the resettlement and training of 11,000 refugee Jewish children for life in Palestine. On February 13th, 1945 Szold died at the age of eighty-five in the hospital that she helped build.

Inspire your students with the true story of Henrietta Szold through JMM dramatic living history performance. Performances can take place in your classroom. We are happy to provide a school discounted rate of $100 for the performance. Book Henrietta Szold today.

The Jew Bill

With the passage of An Act Concerning Religion, or the Toleration Act, in 1649, Maryland Jews and other non-Christians lost the ability to serve in municipal or state office, join the military, or practice law. However, there were very few Jews in Maryland at that time. Not until the late 1700s did Jewish families begin to appear in the growing port city of Baltimore.

When it was ratified in 1776, the Maryland State Constitution stated “No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State … and a declaration of belief in Christian religion.” Even after the ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the State of Maryland did not change its practices as the provisions of the First Amendment were considered to apply only to the Federal government.

In 1779, Solomon Etting, a prominent Jew in Baltimore, petitioned to have the state constitution amended to end discrimination of Jews. The Jews of Maryland did not sit idly by. They actively petitioned the legislature in 1824 for the bill’s passage. They wrote to editors in local and national newspapers, which began to run editorials in favor of the Jew Bill. Many people were offended to learn that such religious discrimination still existed in the government, nearly fifty years after the Constitution was established.

Thomas Kennedy of Hagerstown took up the cause of Maryland’s Jewish community.

State delegate Thomas Kennedy, a representative from Hagerstown, took up the cause of Maryland’s Jewish community in 1818. When he started the fight, he had never met someone Jewish, but he believed fiercely in religious freedom. He introduced “An Act for the relief of the Jews of Maryland,” also known as “The Jew Bill.” With heavy opposition from the anti-immigrant wing of the Federalist Party, his bill failed year after year. Kennedy continued pressing for the Bill even at the risk of his political career. In 1823 he was defeated for re-election by Benjamin Galloway running on a “Christian Ticket.” Two years later he was reelected to office as an independent and helped secure enough votes for the passing of the Jew Bill in 1826.

The Cover of “The Jew Bill” from JMM’s collection. JMM 1987.82.1.

Though the Jew Bill extended rights to Jews, other religious minorities would have to wait until 1867 for all religious requirements to be extinguished from the constitution.

Explore the JMM’s collection online for more primary and second sources about the Jew Bill here.

Experience a past program on the Jew Bill here.

Morris Schapiro & Boston Metals Company

For over 200 years, discarded metals, rags, paper, and animal hides have provided economic opportunities for immigrants and native-born Americans who collected, stored, brokered, and sold them – scrappers. The work was grueling, scrappers were stigmatized, and the industry was criticized as a source of social and environmental ills. Still, generations of individuals and families gravitated toward the work—including many Jewish scrappers. Our upcoming exhibit, Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling, shares stories of Jewish families who broke barriers – overcoming socio-economic barriers and stereotypes – while building one of America’s largest industries and innovating technologies and processes within it.

On such story is that of Morris Schapiro who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 16, on the S.S. Pennsylvania. He traveled in steerage and was seasick nearly the entire journey, during which he was pickpocketed, which left him with 25 cents to his name when he landed. Though several of his cousins were already in the business in Baltimore, Schapiro struck out on his own Within a week, he had made over $100 – a fortune at the time and more than he had ever possessed. Schapiro immediately established the Boston Iron and Metal Company, collecting scrap metal from blacksmiths, machine shops, and chemical companies.

Boston Metals Company in Baltimore.

By the 1920s, Boston Metals Company had moved from a small warehouse in Fells Point to a large, waterfront yard breaking down Navy and civilian ships. In 1919 the S.S. Pennsylvania was seized by the U.S. Navy and renamed the USS Nansemond. It was put up for scrap in 1924. Schapiro identified the vessel as the very same one that brought him to United States on that dreadful journey. He bought and scrapped the ship at his Boston Metals Company in Baltimore. The fortune that Schapiro eventually built through scrap led him to other enterprises, including whiskey distilling, a “near beer” brewery during Prohibition, and the Laurel Park Racetrack in Laurel, MD.

Interested in more stories of the individuals, companies, and communities behind the scrap industry? Scrap Yard: Innovators of Recycling is on display October 27, 2019 to April 26, 2020. Bring your students to explore the stories of immigrant families who built the scrap industry in America.

JMM’s staff are huge supporters of National History Day and can often be found volunteering in Baltimore at school competitions and as judges at the City, State, and National Competitions. Let us take our support a step further. Our exhibits and educational programs can support your students as they practice critical inquiry and historical research – examining primary and secondary sources. We are delighted to provide complimentary admission and a complimentary bus for any Maryland Public School visiting the Museum.

Learn more about our education programs here.

Book a visit with your class today here.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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