When docents giving our eighth grad local history tour experienced difficulty getting the students to participate in discussion, we looked tor other ways of involving them in our tour and lesson. Knowing that their museum visit is a rare opportunity to encounter authentic historic objects, we wanted to encourage them to pay special attention to the artifacts from early Wichita so that these would be memorable during the classroom unit following the tour.
We came up with a “Whatzit?” game, which motivates students to talk to each other about a group of objects that relate to the artifacts seen on their tour. Since these are all either reproductions or modern counterparts to historic items, they can be safely handled.
At a given point during the tour, students enter a classroom adjacent to the exhibit, where they divide into two teams. Each team chooses someone to write down answers as they examine 21 objects displayed on a table. Their first task is to identify each of the items, some of which require some creative analysis. Then, they group those items having the same purpose and decide which would have been used by Native Americans, early settlers, or present day Wichitans.
By the time one team has figured out that the weird-looking, somewhat fragrant, organic pouch suspended by three wooden poles is a buffalo stomach used as a cooking pot, they readily match it to the iron skillet and electric crock pot. Meanwhile, the other team is puzzling over popcorn and hardtack to match with a granola bar. The matching is easy, of course, and the identification process is fun. It is usually difficult to adjourn their team reports in time to catch the bus back to school, so willing are the students to share their findings.
What a far cry from the hesitant, awkward group that entered the museum just over an hour ago! These students leave with an enthusiasm for their newfound expertise at object reading that is rewarding to the docents as well.
Susan Miner, Education Director, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum
Miner, Susan. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques, thoughts, and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 7.2 (Winter 1997-98): 20.