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Create Museum Exhibits Celebrating Black History

Students will choose a topic related to black history and conduct research to learn more about it. Then they use what they learned to design a new exhibit for the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC).

PROCESS: 

  1. As a class, discuss the types of exhibits usually seen in a museum. (i.e., historic objects, scientific specimens, living organisms, paintings, photographs, documents, soundtracks, etc.) Point out that exhibits can take up entire rooms or be so small that several objects fit in a glass-fronted case. And many museums also use technology to educate visitors. They show movies, have digital displays and even have interactive elements to heighten the visitor's experience. 
  2. Outline the process for creating an exhibit. If you wish, use the Smithsonian lesson "History close to Home: Creating Your Own Special Museum" as a guide.
  3. Instruct students to examine the exhibitions of the NMAAHC. Discuss the types of exhibitions the museum has. Challenge students to identify something important that is missing.
  4. Give students time to explore the museum's collections. Instruct them to select appropriate items for a museum exhibit on their selected topic. Encourage them to conduct additional research to learn more about those items.
  5. Provide art supplies, poster board, small boxes and access to a digital design program. Based on what they've learned, instruct students to select the type of exhibit best suited to their material. Encourage them to create a poster, diorama or digital display.

ASSESSMENT: 

Invite students to present their finished exhibits to the class. Challenge them to explain why they think the subject of their exhibit is important and what the objects in their exhibit teach viewers about black history. 

CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:

Grades 3-4:
Have students complete the project in small groups. Instruct groups to identify a topic and select one item they think is most important to include in the exhibit. If necessary, suggest additional resources they could use to learn more about that object. Give students time to create a poster or diorama. Encourage them to brainstorm ideas for digital components that could also be featured in their exhibit. If two or more groups selected the same subject, have the class brainstorm ideas about how the objects could be combined into a larger exhibit about that topic.
Grades 5-6:
Have students complete the project in small groups. Instruct groups to select one topic they think should be featured in a museum about black history. Challenge students to select several items from the NMAAHC collections that they think should be included in this new exhibit. If necessary, suggest additional resources they could use to learn more about the objects they chose. Tell groups to create a poster or diorama for their exhibit. Encourage them to also write a detailed outline for one digital component that could enhance the visitor's experience with their exhibit. Encourage the class to compare the end results if two or more groups created exhibits based on the same topic.
Grades 7-8:
Give students time to review the current selection of NMAAHC exhibitions. Then have the class brainstorm a list of other topics that could be featured in the museum's exhibitions. Divide the class into small groups and assign each group a topic. Instruct students to explore the museum's collections and identify what they consider to be the three most important items related to their topic. Tell them to create a separate display for each object. Displays can be posters or dioramas or students may use a digital format of their choice. Once all displays are complete, challenge groups to create a digital mock-up for room-sized exhibit based on their topic. Remind them to show where each display will be located in the room.
Grades 9-10:
Divide the class into small groups. Instruct students to review the current selection of NMAAHC exhibitions. Challenge groups to identify the three topics that they think should also be featured in the museum's exhibitions. Encourage them to explore the museum's collections and identify artifacts associated with each topic. Inform groups that they will create a digital version of a three-room museum in which each room has its own topic. It is up to them to decide how to break down the tasks. Their end product should include detailed examples of at least three exhibits in each room as well as a summary telling how the digital elements they include will enhance the visitor's experience.