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Starting a Class Museum with Student-Designed Exhibits

When you’re too far away from something for a quick and easy field trip, you can replicate the experience to fit the classroom. In this case, we’ll show you how you can recreate the museum experience and start a class museum with student-designed exhibits.

Why Start a Classroom Museum?

What is a museum but a cultural center filled with artwork, history, and other artifacts that reflect the museum’s theme? The building where the artifacts reside doesn’t matter, so long as it is categorized and easy for other people to access. Apply this to your classroom. 

You can turn your classroom into a cultural center, showing students that even a small group of people can put “history on display.” For younger students, this could help them understand the impact they may have on society, and if you choose to open your classroom museum to other classrooms and parents, it may boost their confidence.

You may also teach your students resourcefulness, showing them that just because you can’t go to a museum doesn’t mean they still can’t recreate the experience. On top of that, pictorial reminders of what students may be learning could help them better grasp concepts, start conversations, ask related questions, and put the entire unit into perspective. 

What Should My Students Exhibit?

You can best answer this question by looking at the educational material you wish to tie into the activity and the age group. It is also up to the resources you and your students have access to. 

For instance, if working with 10th graders reading a Shakespeare anthology, you may want to have them create or bring in a prop that holds significance to one of the Shakespearean plays.

If this is for a 5th-grade classroom and they are learning about Women in History, you can have them draw or create a simple display about one of the important figures you are teaching. Teaching a 1st-grade class? No problem; the same rules apply. Have them draw a scene from something they are learning – if they are learning about the life of the Wampanoag tribe before the settlers, for instance – that shows that they understand the content.

Can I Make My Museum a Gradable Project?

Of course! You can either put together your museum for fun or an end-of-unit grade. You could also make this a group project and grade it as a regular project. It’s up to you. If you are looking to attach a grade to the experience, be upfront with your students and remind them throughout the unit that this will be coming up.

Incorporating a research project and presentation component for older elementary students through high school is an easy way to test comprehension and effort. Again, scale this for the age group and the unit you are teaching. 

The other way to grade your classroom museum, which may be more suitable for high schoolers, is to have them write an accompanying research paper and an abstract to post underneath whatever they choose to display. Ask someone from the art department to come in and teach how to write a proper museum abstract about the exhibit.

If you are an art teacher looking to set up a classroom museum, feel free to teach them about the entire curating experience. Though it may not reach the level of a professional museum, you can at least show your students what a career in museum curatorship involves, how artists prepare their work for display, and how museums assemble exhibits.

How to Set Up the Classroom Museum

When starting your classroom museum, the biggest hurdle you’ll have is your physical space. Enlist the help of students to push desks to the center of the classroom and rearrange wall materials. Or, better yet, reserve an emptier space in the school to set up your museum.

Dedicate a block of time, a Thursday and Friday, to prepare for your classroom museum exhibit. Doing so towards the end of the week means less interruption of the regular class schedule and gives students something to look forward to before starting the weekend.

Bring the Museum To You

Overall, a classroom museum can blend different ways of learning, e.g., visual and solitary learners may find this exercise particularly enjoyable and bring a sense of pride to students as they look around the museum and see their work on display. It also offers a pertinent end-of-unit exercise that is fun and tests students’ knowledge of the unit without sitting them down for an exam.

Written by Amelia Ellis
Education World Contributor
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