Opinion
Student Well-Being Opinion

‘Mysteries at the Museum’ Offers Engaging History Lessons

By Starr Sackstein — January 22, 2017 3 min read
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History has so many real-life stories that can hook a variety of different audiences. Unfortunately the way some schools teach history, students never find an entry point that truly engages them.

Recently I started watching “Mysteries at the Museum” on the Travel network and I have been riveted by the fascinating and truly bizarre stories shared on this program about different artifacts from history. The show explores different pieces, sometimes seemingly insignificant, and gives the backstory of the artifact. Chock full of re-enactments and visual excitement, laid over with a voice track narrating the history, the viewer is taken in by what they see.

So I’m thinking...

If I can be drawn into something I had no interest in, how can we, as educators, use tactics like the ones employed on this program to get students really engaged with learning and even more excitingly get them to create something new of their own.

So here’s how I would approach it:


  • Have students find an artifact in their homes that they may not know that much about. If not in their homes, perhaps in the home of a family member.
  • Once the artifact has been selected, ask the student to conduct interviews of family members to gain information about the artifact. This provides the students the opportunity to practice speaking and listening skills as well as developing excellent open-ended questions that can get folks talking.
  • After cursory data and stories have been gathered from family members, ask students to do some research about the specific history of the time period and location that artifact is from. They can do this reserach at a local library where the librarian may have some additional knowledge not found in books and/or online. Students have the opportunity to do research, practicing a number of writing and reading skills.
  • Once students have gathered all of the data, sifted through what makes most sense, they can create a narrative for the artifact that they can either write about, create a podcast about or any number of other multimedia options to share with the an updated idea of show and tell.
  • The presentations can be shared as a gallery walk or class presentations where students then also get to practice their speaking skills. If we want to take it a step further, we can also ask students to hold a press conference about their artifact and ask the other students to ask questions of the object that have yet to be answered. Now the whole class is engaged.

Once all of the projects are completed, I’d either create a webpage or a blog post that features all of the “Mysteries from the Classroom”, perhaps I’d even ask my students to write a blog post about the experience for their project that would be featured and shared for a real experience.

As an a potential extension, it may be cool to get students to keep a blog of the process of gathering information about their mysterious artifact. It doesn’t have to be a written blog, it could be a vlog or ongoing persicopes that help mark the process, maybe even shows their thinking as it happens.

It’s amazing where ideas come from when it comes to be creative as a teacher. As I’m watching this program and writing this post, I’ve had a million other ideas of how I could differentiate this one idea for the particular students in my class. If my goal is to get students engaged with story telling and doing research about their personal history and tying that personal history to larger history, then by providing choice and voice, I’d hope the students would strengthen valuable skills while learning new content.

What have you encountered outside of the school experience recently that has inspired you to take a risk and try something new with your students or in your life? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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