"Fun Learning": Group Discussion and Activity Ideas for Teachers
Museums, Collecting and Representation
Which of your possessions is most valuable to you? What gives an item value to its owner: relative rarity, sentimental origin, beauty, utility, skill of the maker, monetary value…? Perhaps it is a good example of its kind, completes a set or collection, or represents an important experience, place, or person. Which of these qualities are most important or valuable to you? Why?
Do you have an object that you can imagine giving to a museum someday? What would be the advantages of keeping that item at a museum (preservation, display, cultural value…)? What information would you provide when you gave it to the museum? What would it tell about the person/people who made it? What would it tell about the person/people who used it? What would your selection tell about you?
Think about a place you have visited outside of your home or community: maybe another country, a relative's house, a theme park, a pleasant place, an unpleasant place, a church, a school, a forest… If you could choose only five objects from that place to symbolize and represent it, what would they be? What objects might you select that could "capture" the atmosphere or purpose of the place; its look, smell, or "feel"? How would you exhibit these objects to someone who had never been to that place? Could you create an accurate depiction of the place with any only five items (or with any number of items)? Could you choose objects that would give someone a distorted or biased impression of the place you are representing? Could you intentionally misrepresent your place? How about unintentionally?
Several of the women in this exhibit donated dolls from other countries because they felt that dolls could reveal much about the clothing, styles, and culture of people in those countries. What might the dolls or action figures available today reveal about our families, communities or national culture? Could they provide any hints about what is important or popular in our society? If someone had never visited our country, could its toys provide "accurate" information about it? Why or why not? What about the toys of 100 years ago?
Do you, or does anyone you know, maintain an "exhibit"? What would qualify as an exhibit? (Posters on bedroom walls, pins on a bookbag, stickers, cards in a binder, coins…?) What is the purpose of the exhibit? Is it fun, interesting, or important to you? What do you want others to understand or feel when they look at it? Do you have some objects that are part of a collection but are not on display? Perhaps they were once on display, but have been placed in storage to make display room for other objects. Museum collections are like this. Only a certain proportion of the objects in a museum can be on display at one time.
Unfortunately, many of the items in museums do not come with detailed stories, as many donors in the early twentieth century left fascinating items without explaining where they came from, who owned them or what they were used for. Fortunately for us, the objects can "speak" for themselves to some extent. Choose a familiar and an unfamiliar object. What information can we gather from these objects just by looking at or feeling them? How could we do further research to find out more? (Talk to someone who remembers using the objects, find out from an expert what they are made of or where they were used, look for a picture of the objects in their context...) Are there limitations to these research methods?
Describe a person in your family or community who made a contribution to science, maintained an interesting collection, or helped to preserve community heritage.