Imagine your chances of living in the United States were dependent on you putting together a wooden puzzle.
A puzzle, known as the Feature Profile Test, was what immigrants coming to Ellis Island in the early 20th century were subjected to, according to the Smithsonian Magazine website.
Students in teacher Jodiah Jacobs’ class at the Salt Point Center were working on a project based on this test earlier this month. Retired teacher Mrs. Stephan introduced Jacobs to the lesson which, combines history with woodworking. She brought puzzle pieces made from paper to show Jacobs because she thought it would be fun for the students to make puzzles out of wood.
“She was right, we’ve had a lot of fun with this woodworking project,” Jacobs said.
It is not a difficult project to teach in the classroom, Jacobs said, but the puzzle is a lot harder to figure out. While Jacobs’ students painted their puzzle frames and pieces, the puzzle used at Ellis Island had no picture clues. Simple plain wood blocks were used having only dots on the backside of the blocks to indicate which side was to be facing up when completed.
“The students worked really hard to sand, paint and assemble the project,” he said.
For the history portion, which Jacobs said is important, the students learn about why people immigrated to the United States and the hardships they experienced. This is especially relevant today with immigration remaining a hotly contested topic.
“I hope that my students can have some empathy for the immigrants and the struggles they endure to improve their living situations,” Jacobs said. “I think it’s important to highlight the trials and meaning of immigration.”
To further support the lesson, Jacobs and the students watched videos outlining the history of Ellis Island and created a word search to reinforce related vocabulary.
“We put a historical photograph in the puzzle frame to anchor the project to the theme of immigration,” he said. The puzzle pieces then need to be arranged to fill the rectangular frame.