Last week at Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in New York (LuHi), we tried something new. We took the week usually reserved for midterm exams - and we got rid of the exams entirely! In their place, we conducted a school-wide project based learning experience that we called “A Week at the Museum.” This year’s theme was Ancient Greece. All 600 students, grades 6-12, participated in this project. Each student chose a “focus” area of interest out of the following five choices: Humanities, Arts, Science/Math, History/Culture, and Communications/Performance. Faculty worked in teams of two to develop ideas and concepts, but the final projects were essentially student-driven. At the end of the week, the students presented their findings, ideas, and experiments to each other. The hallways and classrooms were turned into a museum, and students proudly shared what they had learned over the past 4 days. In place of midterm grades on their transcripts, students will receive a narrative explaining how well they contributed to their project - focusing on areas like creativity, leadership, collaborative skills, enthusiasm, communication, and effort.
I believe it would be fair to say that the week was a success! Student engagement was at an all-time high. Enthusiasm and creativity was pulsating through the building as students worked collaboratively to create amazing exhibits. The exhibits ran the gamut - there was a planetarium, an archaeological dig, the Olympics, an agora marketplace, a life-sized board game based on Homer’s Odyssey, a Greek wedding, sculpture-making, Greek games and plays, a debate...the list goes on and on. Teachers were blown away by the students’ ideas and energy, and students were frequently overheard exclaiming how much fun they were having, and how they couldn’t wait to visit all the museum exhibits on Friday.
What did we learn from this experience? I think that will still need to be fleshed out through conversation and reflection. This was the first year, and while there were many successes, there are definitely some pieces and logistics that could be changed to enhance the experience. Here are some things to think about if you would like to try something like this in your school:
- Professional Development time - we spent many Mondays at after school meetings with our faculty partner and thinking about ideas. We also had the opportunity to hear what other groups were planning, ask questions about logistics and grading, and reflect on the daily schedule. This was important for teacher buy-in and ownership of the project - professional development time and space is always key!
- Budget - from the dirt in the archaeological dig to food for the Greek culinary arts group, there needs to be room in the budget for students and teachers to get really creative with their ideas. We were well-supported in that regard, and it really showed in the final museum pieces.
- Communication with students and parents - be prepared to explain the “why” and the “how” for a project like this. We got feedback from college professors, businessmen, and other professionals who agreed that students would really benefit from a project like that allows them to develop those intangible “21st century” skills that they will need in college and beyond. We shared the plan with our families on the first day of school, and communication about the project was in most weekly newsletters during the first semester. Finally, we had an assembly to once again explain our goals and ideas to the students prior to opening day so that we could be sure they understood what we were trying to accomplish.
- Promote! - A project like this needs to be shared! We had people tweeting about the project all week (#luhimuseum15), posting images on Facebook, and we even had a news crew from our local Long Island news outlet come and do a story on our project. Our 12th grade communications group created an online newspaper with videos, articles and photos about the week. Many of our museum exhibits will be displayed in display cases or in the library for the next few weeks so all can continue to enjoy them. The wide audience is exciting for students. It gives them that little bit of extra motivation to finish the week strong and create amazing work!
There are many other lessons and ideas to be shared from this experience. I would be happy to discuss it with anyone who is interested - contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Overall, LuHi’s first “Week at the Museum” was an outstanding success!