August 15, 2014
Teachers Talk - Night at the Museum
Meryl Carey, Teacher, Cariboo Adventist Academy, Williams Lake, BC

Last minute prop checks and costume adjustments are made as they take their positions.  Laughter over fake mustaches and nervous chatter is soon quieted as the call for the opening of the museum is heard and the students freeze in place. They are no longer grade 7&8 students; they have become Alexander the Great, Athena, Arthur Evans, Queen Hatshepsut and more.  Cariboo Adventist Academy is presenting another “Night at the Museum”.
 
The museum idea came to me while I was contemplating a unit on the Renaissance. An engaging, hands-on project throughout a socials unit increases student enthusiasm for the civilization they are studying.  A positive and open attitude to learning and researching is fostered if they are actively building, creating or working with items from the time period.  Unfortunately, the chapter on the renaissance was mostly a long list of scientists, writers and thinkers and their contributions.  What project could bring this chapter to life for them?  Thinking of a popular movie that was being advertised at the time, the idea of a living museum was born. Why not have the students become the very renaissance characters they were studying about? The idea soon became an evening event in the school gym. When the museum opened, people entered to find various “museum displays” around the gym: each location featured a backdrop, objects on display and a student in period costume frozen in position. When the museum’s patrons dropped a coin in the box at each display, the character came to life and shared about his or her life before freezing again.
 
Throughout the study of the Renaissance, students worked on the Renaissance Museum project.  Each student researched their character and prepared a write-up to memorize so they could speak as if they were that character. Students also worked to build or create some item(s) associated with their character. If they were daVinci, they could build a miniature of one of his flying machines and locate pictures of his drawings, paintings and designs.   A volunteer built simple, wooden standing-frames to which students attached cardboard to create a backdrop for their displays. They painted and attached items related to their character to the backdrop.  Another volunteer sewed period costumes for each student. As they studied the unit, students worked to memorize their write-up on their character.  As the day neared, they practiced freezing and then unfreezing to tell their story from memory. On the day of the museum, we took over the gym. Each display consisted of a small desk on which props rested, a backdrop stand and, of course, the character/student in full costume.
 
I have since applied this museum idea to combine all units. This year my class became characters from the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome.  There were not as many props to prepare for all at once because of the many building projects the students had already completed for each unit of study during the year, and backdrop frames already existed. 
 
With the help of a few volunteers, this kind of project can work for any school.  The students are always thrilled with the excitement of costumes, mustaches and props and eagerly work to prepare for the museum night. We’ve received excellent feedback from our museum guests. This year we also kept part of the gym to display other work and art projects from various grade levels and subjects.  Thus it has become an interactive open house enjoyed by all. This type of project is valuable for a number of reasons: parents get to see their child shine, it brings the school family together and it is positive PR for the school in the community. Most of all, it accomplishes the goal of engaging the students in the time period they are studying and gives them confidence and a sense of accomplishment.  You should see them talk so confidently about their character! From the bold student to the shiest, they all shine.