MIFFLINTOWN, Pa. — A Juniata High School history teacher has turned his 11th-grade students into “American pickers” for the sake of extra credit.
Brian Strawser said he has always struggled with finding a fun and fair way to give students a chance to earn extra credit. A fan of the television show “American Pickers,” Strawser decided to allow his U.S. history students to dig into antique treasures and earn some points.
“Antique Day” has been happening in Strawser’s junior class every Friday during the school year for the last six years.
Students bring in an antique that may be difficult to identify or have an unexplained purpose. If none of the students’ classmates are able to guess the antique, the student earns 10 bonus points. If one student figures out the name or purpose, that student earns five of the bonus points, while the student who brought the antique to class earns the other five points.
If more than one student is able to explain the antique, Strawser does a “draw from the hat” solution to determine who earns the five points.
Strawser hands out paper to his students and has them number it down the side according to the number of antiques brought to class that day. Students are allowed to bring more than one item. He picks up the antique or has the class examine it. Students write down their guesses to each item.
Then, Strawser goes over the items again and allows students to guess aloud. He then asks the presenter to identify his or her item. Points are distributed accordingly.
The teacher said it has been a lesson for the students as they are forced to find items by talking with family members and other people they know.
“It gives them the opportunity to learn about something that is old and to have discussions with their family,” Strawser said.
Hundreds of relics have passed through his second-floor classroom during Antiques Day.
The oddest, he said, was a medical device meant to provide therapeutic shock therapy in the 1920s.
“It was supposedly used for baldness and hearing loss,” Strawser said.
“It had multiple devices on it that sent off a shock. It worked, because I shocked myself with it,” he said.
Some of the pieces have been from the early 1800s.
“We have had a lot of butchering tools. It really shows the culture of this area in the early days,” Strawser said, “We get a lot of agriculture-related antiques.”
Most students approach grandparents, great-grandparents or community members to find something for the Friday presentations.
Others want to earn those bonus points no matter the cost.
“I had one student who bought an antique at a shop,” Strawser said.
On a Friday in May, eight antiques were presented in the first period history class.
Strawser began his walk down the aisles of the classroom holding the old objects as students scratched their heads and wrote down guesses on white paper.
The first item turned out to be a wire stripper. The tool made a clicking noise and snapped quickly.
“I wouldn’t want to get a finger caught in there,” Strawser said as he walked around the room squeezing the end of the tool.
The second antique was a light switch. Six students guessed the object was a switch for lights. Strawser simply tossed the papers of the six students in the air. The paper that landed the farthest away was the winner of five points.
The third antique had a crank on the side of it with a winding ability. It appeared to be used for some mechanical means. Students noticed the antique had the word “Singer,” on the side, which meant it must have been used for sewing.
The antique was revealed to be a sewing machine for feed bags.
This item was the first of three antiques brought to school by student Ben Lauver of Mifflintown. His uncle, Mark Aurand, also of Mifflintown, happens to be an antique collector and allowed Lauver to pick three objects meant to stump his classmates.
The next Lauver item up for guesses may have been on the “cutting edge” of technology in its day.
It was a pig snouter, used to cut the nose of swine so they would not root in the ground or escape under fencing.
Lauver’s last antique contribution was a syringe-style device that had many students pondering what it could be used to do.
The relic was an antique tonsil remover.
Next on the class agenda was a device that had the appearance of a camera on one end, but seemed to be used to do something with numbers.
It was a device used to print dollar amounts on checks up to a hundred years ago.
The seventh antique was a popular one for the students who enjoyed camping and eating around a campfire. The metal clamping tool with round pieces on either side was none other than a mountain-pie maker.
The last antique of the day was one Strawser said he has seen many times before in his classroom. Students guessed it was a kitchen tool, and they were correct. However, most thought it was a cheese grater.
The object turned out to be a vegetable slicer likely used regularly by their great-grandparents.
Strawser said Antique Day will continue to be an opportunity in his classroom in the coming school years. Besides being a fun way to earn extra credit, his students are also learning something about the nation’s history.
Tabitha Goodling is a freelance writer in central Pennsylvania.