Having your class create their own museum guide

It wasn’t my idea; I won’t take credit for it. But honest, I heard about it so long ago — maybe when I wasn’t even a teacher, even! — that I can’t give credit. But I stole it and modified it and used it.

We had to plan and execute a field trip for some location in New York City in my teacher boot camp. My group chose, after a failed attempt to quickly plan something around social action and conservation in Central Park, to go to the Brooklyn Museum for an pretend 11th or 12th grade English class. (But it could be exported to a history or art history class too.)

The Background: The class has been in the middle of a poetry unit, and haslearned to analyze poetry through a three step process. Step 1 is observational and literal, to note things about a poem without interpretation (e.g. the poem has a rhyme scheme, the poem uses a lot of ‘sh’ sounds, the poem is about an old tree). Step 2 is interpretive, to note things about a poem that are symbolic, metaphorical, emotional, thematic, etc (e.g. the poem seems to imply that the solid tree is like mankind, the ‘sh’ sounds enhance the softness of the poem). Step 3 is context, what is the purpose of the poem, why was it created, what is the larger set of debates that it engages in.

The trip to the museum is to show students that they can apply this same analytic method to art. So we’re assuming, for the sake of the fake field trip we planned, that students had been exposed to applying it to art, by us modeling it for them and then them trying it out.

The Trip: The gist of the trip goes like this. Students go to the museum and each gets an hour to just wander around looking for three or four pieces that speak to them in some way. It could be that it angered them, bored them, was generally pleasurable for them, etc. Then they meet a teacher stationed somewhere in the museum who then tells them to pick two objects to analyze. (They chose 3-4 pieces because we don’t want two students doing the same piece — first come first serve!) They have a worksheet which takes them through doing the three-step process for both objects which they have an another hour to fill out. Finally, they get extra time to wander about and enjoy the rest of the museum.

Back at School: Back at school, students learn how to do research on their artist and on their art piece. They gather some information which can help them with understanding Step 3 (context). When they are done, and they have fully analyzed the piece, they are charged with creating two podcasts for a museum goer — explaining their two pieces. They can be creative — it doesn’t have to be the dry, boring explanation of some curator. It could be funny, or a dialogue, or anything! But it should express the student’s reaction and analytic interpretation of the piece.

Finally, the teacher puts all the podcasts together and creates a museum guide for others to listen to!

It’s a big project, with lots of work for the teacher, but the end result is hopefully something that the kids will go back to the museum to listen to their friends, and that their parents will be excited to use.

Note: Of course this idea of podcasting can be used for any walking tour, not just a museum. So students could create a walking tour of a neighborhood, talking about its history, or construction projects going on, or issues and activism.


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