The Student-Proposed Museum Wall Exhibit

Finally, after years of trying, something to share

For many years, US history teachers have been encouraged to provide their students with a chance to design a museum wall exhibit that reveals knowledge of an important class related topic.

I’ve actually been giving it a go since 2009, though try as I might, I annually ended up with little or nothing to show for the effort. Just couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that worked for me and my students. So at the end of 2015, I stopped trying.

Then at the start of 2016, the California History-Social Science Framework for Public School (Grade 11) actually placed a huge spotlight on the concept — even going so far as to create “an exemplar.”

Shortly after the publication of the above, I met San Marino resident Jane Chon.

Two of her boys (twins) were scheduled to be in my class the following year and, given that the boys were more interested in studying history and government than most other subjects at the school, Ms. Chon was wondering about my class assignments.

“Both my boys are good students,” she said, “but they don’t just want to consume content — they also want to do something meaningful with the content they’ve consumed.”

With that in mind, she then said, “I’ve heard that you used to provide your history students with a chance to produce a museum exhibit, but have stopped doing that. Any chance you could again give it ago? This would not only be good for my kids, but it would also be good for so many others kids at SMHS, especially those who have a keen interest in history,” she said.

“Will do,” I replied.”

So back to the drawing board I went. To the cell phone too, with calls asking for guidance put out to several super bright and talented educators.

Wish I could say that after all that, I delivered for Ms. Chon and her twins, but I didn’t. Not even close.

No matter what I tried, I still couldn’t end the year with a story worth sharing . . . that is until 2022.

What a year and all made possible because of several significant changes I made to the project in the summer leading up.

One of the biggest changes I made was to start off the semester by encouraging the students to not only design a wall exhibit but to do it for a museum of their choosing, with hopes of pitching their proposed exhibit to the museum’s directors in the fall.

Another major change I made was to encourage the students to produce, before actually designing their exhibit, a no more than six-minute video that gives the public an overview of the students’ proposed exhibit.

One more major change I made is the expectation that the students end the year having produced at least one mock-up (aka a good digital indication of what one of their walls might look like.)

Thank you, Mrs. Chon, thank you, Mr Petri, and thank you, Mr. Kleinrock. Great advice you gave me.

Of all the good work that followed, the best was produced by five students who toward the tail end of the first semester decided to design an exhibit for the Museum of the Sierra.

This museum is located 5000 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada, with the students’ proposed exhibit to be entitled: The Chinese in the Sierra Nevada from 1848–1883.

After researching the topic thoroughly, the students produced a 5:23 “overview” video.

They then produced a single Google slide designed to provide the museum’s directors and the public with a better idea of what at least one of their walls might look like.

Two of the group members (Russell and Esther) then produced a relevant work of art for the exhibit.

Hung Wah Outside Summit Tunnel #8

Summer 2022

Work on this exhibit will continue during the summer months, with the students (joined by 28 students enrolled in my summer US History class) researching and writing about some of the topics appearing below.

  • Guangdong in the mid to late 1800s
  • The Journey to the Sierras
  • The Chinese in America Prior to 1848
  • The Chinese Gold Rush Miner (1848–1855)
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Hand Laundry Worker
  • The Chinese Transcontinental Railroad Worker
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Lumberman
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Ice Harvester
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Road Builder
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Cigar Maker
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Charcoal Maker
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Treatment of Common Sierra Nevada Illnesses and Injuries
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese after the Passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Brush maker
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Broom Maker
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Candle Maker
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Soap Maker
  • The Sierra Nevada Chinese Cook
  • The Cigar Box Guitar and the Chinese Laborer
  • The Truckee Method
  • The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range

The students may also seek to answer some of the following questions.

  • What did the Chinese do after the California surface gold ran out?
  • What did the Chinese do after the completion of the transcontinental railroad?
  • How did the Sierra Nevada Chinese entertain themselves?
  • What did the Sierra Nevada Chinese eat?
  • How did the Sierra Nevada Chinese treat their injuries and illnesses?
  • To what extent did the Chinese Sierra Nevada work in the ice harvesting industry?
  • To what extent did the Chinese Sierra Nevada learn to make and play the cigar box guitar?
  • To what extent did the Sierra Nevada Chinese write poetry?
  • How many Chinese lived/worked in the Sierra Nevada between 1848–1900
  • What should be done today to commemorate the work of the Sierra Nevada Chinese?

In the fall, I’ll share below how things turned out.

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High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.

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Peter Paccone

High school APUSH teacher with much in-class and online teaching experience. Also a blogger, keynote speaker, editor, podcast host, and conference presenter.