World History teacher, Caitlin Cardinale, wanted her students to become experts, directors and project managers. She also wanted them to have fun and be inspired to explore deeply, and retain knowledge. So, the first year teacher turned her Robert R. Lazar Middle School classroom into the Civilizations of the Americas Museum for a day.
Fighting against persistent snow days, and with only a week to prepare, Cardinale’s seventh graders embraced the idea of being artists, educators, and curators. Working in teams and as individuals, Cardinale’s students fashioned art and artifacts, produced interactive and educational kiosks, and prepared signage and lectures to establish a museum specializing in the early civilizations of the Americas.
Models of pyramids, temples, Spiro mounds, tools, hunting items, and calendars, supported by signage and Power Points allowed visitors to the museum to explore the rituals, entertainment, agriculture, daily life, time management, warfare, and community of the Incas, Iroquois, Aztecs, Mayans and others.
“I am really proud of them,” Cardinale said. “I was surprised when I saw how elaborate the projects were. The students really studied the cultures and created great displays.”
Each period, students served two functions in the museum. First, half of the class were curators and directors, and half were patrons. Curators and directors presented information and explained exhibits. Patrons listened, interacted, and asked questions. Then, students switched roles. Other classes, teachers and guests also visited the Civilizations of the Americas Museum throughout the day.
Students were surprised by some of what they learned, and fascinated by other aspects. In researching and building the models, students were able to draw on individual strengths to create informative and educational team projects.
Cardinale’s museum project encouraged active and differentiated learning for her students. Her innovative initiative is an example of Montville Township Public Schools’ commitment to encourage passionate learners by creating an on-going atmosphere of student engagement.