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Grade 6 Museum Project

Experiential Learning in the Middle School: Grade 6 Museum Project

Paul Downey '92
All Grade 6 History classes, taught by Ruby Cortner, Maurice Hopkins, and J.K. Scott, brought wonders of the ancient world to life by creating a pop-up museum event in Patton Hall for the entire Lower/Middle School community this fall.
After learning about different civilizations in class, students were given the opportunity to contemplate what ancient wonders interested them the most. Then, the teachers held a fantasy draft to determine who worked on which wonders, including The Great Wall of China, Nazca Lines of Peru, Inca Ice Mummy, Terra Cotta Warriors, the Colosseum, and more. The process shifted to an in-depth research stage, assisted by librarian Debbie Sandwith, with each student writing a detailed description and formal Works Cited.

The wonders fell into specific groups: Infrastructure/Fortresses, Statues/Colossals, Mummies, Writing Systems/Calendars, Palaces/Baths, and Temples/Tombs. Each group collaborated on the differences and similarities between their category’s wonders.

Next, each group entered the challenging stage of writing a proposal to the Museum Committee (Ms. Cortner, Mr. Scott, Mr. Hopkins, Mrs. Dee Dee Little, and Mr. Wallace). Cortner explains, “We had to make sure the exhibit would fit in the allotted museum space and that each would be an effective learning tool. They learned to work together, further develop their research and writing skills, and know the information about not only their wonder but also the other members of their groups’ wonders, so they would be prepared to answer any questions from museum-goers.”

The students then tackled the hands-on aspect of their assigned wonder, transforming their knowledge into an interactive museum exhibition. They spent several days constructing their displays using a multitude of materials and techniques.

The hands-on element was what made the museum experience such an effective learning tool. “They had to know information about their wonder in order to teach guests about it,” explains Ms. Cortner. “In a standard test situation, it is just the student taking the information I teach and then giving it back to me on the test. With the public being part of the sharing of information, students tend to care more because they want to get it right.”

The day of the pop-up museum involved faculty, staff, parents, and students from all nine grades. Grade 6 students dressed in period garb, talked about their wonder, and guided the community through the interactive aspects of their project.

The success of the museum project spurred the History Department to involve all disciplines in the first annual Medieval Day on the last day of school. The day was filled with activities that included medieval siege machines, a scavenger hunt, drama, and music.

Cortner observed, “Jim Mann’s Medieval math lesson, Aaron Velthouse’s Medieval madrigals, Fred Schmidt’s jazz band heralds, Mary Perkins’ and Carolyn Henry’s science catapult lesson, and Dee Dee Little’s Shakespeare skits were incredible!”

One experiential learning activity has already inspired many more, and this is only a taste of the immersive educational experiences students engage in at the Middle School level. Seventh grade students conduct their own cross-curricular Memory Project in conjunction with their service-learning partnership with Abe’s Garden; eighth grade students delve into the physics of motion through the competitive Pumpkin Races, and countless debates across disciplines and grades teach all Ensworth middle school students the etiquette of civil discourse and the ability to compassionately disagree on complex topics.

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