The cafeteria at Boynton Middle School came alive with inhabitants of ancient China, India and Mesopotamia on a December evening as sixth grade students dressed as and acted as the dwellers from ancient river civilizations. The 'Night at the Museum' presentation featured stories derived from archaeological artifacts, histories and explorations that were acted out in real time.
The students' six-week long research projects and the culminating 'Night at the Museum' event were supported by an Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) Red and Gold Grant awarded to Cara Salibrici and Gina Amici. Both teachers work with sixth graders at Boynton. They developed the curriculum-based program to help students to employ critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and self-management in their exploration of ancient civilization.
Salibrici and Amici, noted, "We went to a workshop over the summer called Project-Based Learning in Syracuse, and started planning this great project that would be part of this year's Social Studies learning about the ancient river valley civilizations." Amici, who also teaches English, lead students in the journaling and storytelling portion of the project.
They added, "We involved Carol Hockett of the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell. We also brought an anthropologist to Boynton to share artifacts and about the process of digging. We wanted to help the students learning about ourselves through the history of the earth."
Boynton Principal Jeff Tomasik shared about the students' experience at the Johnson Museum, "I know they enjoyed touching actual artifacts and replicas of relics. It was significant that they were at a real museum, and they were going to create their own just a few weeks later."
Hockett, coordinator of school and family programs at the Johnson indicated that she and her colleague Jen Carrington "were happy to partner with Cara and Gina on this grant. We did a series of object study, paper making, and learning about ancient cultures in China, Egypt and Mesopotamia."
When asked about their favorite part of the project, sixth grader Tatiana said, "I really liked making my costume and writing the journal about my life. We were each assigned our job and we chose our name." Her friend Charlotte replied, "One thing I liked was creating my character and going through all the processes to make this museum come to life."
Parent Sarah Ostrom asserted, "The whole project was scaffolded very well. Everything led nicely to the next thing so that by the time they were doing their individual research, they had a lot of general knowledge so they could figure out how their job fit into the civilization."
Upon observing her daughter taking on her character's persona, parent Mary Grover exclaimed, "When I came tonight to watch her talk about her character to people she had never met before, it was so powerful. Wow, they're getting a lot out of public speaking as well as the history they're studying."
Observing the excitement and activity in the room, Amici concluded, "The kids have been really self-reflective, giving each other feedback. They've been working really hard, and can feel really proud of this. I think, most importantly, they're learning from each other."
IPEI Red and Gold Grants, providing up to $500 for innovative educational projects, are awarded three times during the school year.