By Jill Cross
Objects are a power source for enriching and extending understanding and building academic skills across disciplines. Take a look around your classroom. Chances are your desk and shelves are filled with photographs and tchotchkes. These objects have the capacity to build connections with your students, but they also hold potential for inquiry-based learning. The most mundane object can reveal a range of information if you ask the right questions. Object-based learning fosters analytical observation and critical thinking. Exploring material culture through cultural contexts, historical perspectives, and personal viewpoints can bring content to life for students.
So, how can you unleash the power of objects? Here are five strategies to incorporate object-based learning in your classroom.
- Analyze objects to engage students as a hook or bell ringer at the beginning of your lessons. Learning about Mayan culture? Share a Mayan stela. Starting a unit on weather? Display an antique storm glass. Use authentic or replica objects, or project images of objects related to lesson topics for the class to view. The more uncommon the object, the better. Start by giving students the opportunity to share observations about the object. Guide students to be objective by focusing only on what they can see at first. Then, move toward questioning and inferencing. Solicit opinions on what the object is and what it’s used for, and invite students to research to confirm conjectures.
- Create a museum or object corner in your classroom based on your current unit of study. In younger grades, you can set up a center rotation with “I Wonder” activities where students draw unusual objects, write about them, and take guesses about the objects’ purposes. Include paintings and images of the objects being used in context. In older grades, add written primary sources for students to examine.
- Encourage students to write object stories. Every object tells a story. Focus on narrative by allowing your students to tell the story of objects that are important to them. Integrate research skills by having students investigate and write about the historical story of objects and the people that may have used them.
- Incorporate technology, writing, and collaboration by screencasting with interactive whiteboard tools or creating a VoiceThread with an object. Share examples of high-quality museum object labels with students. Then have them write labels for objects related to unit topics. It’s challenging to summarize information on an object label of 50 to 100 words. Students can record their labels using these tools and then listen to their classmates’ object labels and even comment on them.
- Create a classroom exhibit as a culminating activity for a unit of study. This can be done individually, in small groups, or as a class. Begin by visiting a local museum or exploring an online exhibit. Draw students’ attention to exhibition techniques like color, object placement, and label copy, which they can emulate in their own exhibits. Individual exhibits can consist of objects, images of objects, replicas, and labels on student desks. The classroom can also be divided into “galleries” with small groups focusing on various subtopics within a theme. Each small group is responsible for the creation of content related to that subtopic. For whole class exhibits, transform the classroom into a museum. There is something for everyone in museum learning. Some students can focus on label writing, others on exhibit design, and others on technology integration. Open exhibits to the parents and community members with student docents.
Objects are the perfect vehicle for incorporating 21st century skills and cultivating multi-sensory learning. Challenge yourself to try some of these strategies in your classroom and invite students to become more hands-on while unleashing the power of observation and discovery.
Jill Cross is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Museum Studies graduate program. Jill was formerly the curriculum integration specialist at a Museum Magnet school, where she worked with local museums to bring museum resources into the classroom to enhance curriculum. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and a Colonial Williamsburg Master Teacher. Currently she is the Director of Teaching and Learning at Maclay School, an independent school in Tallahassee, Florida. Connect with Jill on Twitter @JCrossEdu or https://jill4learning.com/