University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

What Would You Create If You Could Install an Exhibition at the Penn Museum?

April 4, 2014


This quiet, reflective space became a buzz of activity for AIM Academy and Abington School District students.  When AIM Academy 6th graders and Abington School District 2nd graders visited recently, they were asked to create a museum exhibition within the Kintner and Dietrich galleries.  The only parameter:  the exhibition had to be relevant to archaeology and anthropology (so no dinosaurs, kids).

Students working in small groups or solo were armed with an 11” X 17” floor plan of the Kintner/Dietrich galleries, pencils, erasers, and colored pencils.

Let the brainstorming begin!  Photo credit:  Pam Kosty
Let the brainstorming begin! Photo credit: Pam Kosty
A group of Abington SD 2nd graders pauses for a photo.  Photo credit:  Jennifer Reifsteck
A group of Abington SD 2nd graders pauses for a photo. Photo credit: Jennifer Reifsteck

Personally, if I were given this assignment, I’d have no idea where to begin and have the kind of artist-frozen-behind-a-blank-canvas feeling.  I’d be the one to raise my hand and ask a lot of questions:  “But Teacher, shouldn’t I do some research?”  “But Teacher, who is the audience for this exhibit?”  “But Teacher, what is our budget?”

How did the students react to the assignment?  Imaginations soared; no questions asked; no moment stalled.

Above:  2nd grade Abington SD student Kathleen wanted a space where visitors could make art inspired by the art that they see in the first gallery. Visitors could decide whether or not they would leave their art at the Museum, or take it with them. She also wanted a reading area for visitors.

blog002Above:  Peyton, Courtney, and Hannah of AIM Academy’s exhibit opens with a space to play with blocks.  Visitors can then enjoy some food or make purchases at the gift shop in the middle of the exhibition.  At the end, visitors can make art around a large table.

blog003Above:  Mason, 6th grade AIM Academy took a literal approach with interpretation to include the history of Pennsylvania, moving through to the University of Pennsylvania’s history.  With the exhibition so close to the main entrance, he saw the space as an ideal location to orient visitors to the University and to Pennsylvania.


What sorts of things did students want to see in an exhibition?  A total of 36 drawings were collected and over half of them included a space for visitors to make, build, or play with stuff.  Several exhibition floor plans even included two maker areas.

Other popular exhibition features included a café (8 floor plans) and a gift shop (4 floor plans).  Several exhibition floor plans included both of these elements, like Erica’s from Abington SD.  Great thinking on some earned income strategies!

Erica of Abington SD. A future museum CEO?


Immersive experiences, like walking through temple replicas, were also popular (6 floor plans).

prompt001Above:  The exhibition narrative of Daniel, 2nd grade Abington SD student.  The visitors to Daniel’s exhibition would travel through a maze that exits into the gift shop.  What a great strategy!

blog005Above:  Samuel, 6th grade AIM Academy student.  Visitors would walk under the gates of Ishtar, climb a ziggurat, and walk inside ancient Mesopotamian houses.


The teachers got into the assignment as well.

“I like the idea of a pop-up exhibit, like those pop-up seasonal stores,” said Jen Tanay, Abington School District teacher.  “An exhibit made for kids, by kids would be incredible. Kids could be assigned a theme loosely related to a current exhibit elsewhere in the museum such as ancient Iraq, and create an exhibit from a child’s perspective…maybe even set up and run a traditional marketplace. “

“The need to want to live through the history, to engage all their senses, through touch, through creating, through doing, and through movement, is evident in the designs the students created. This echoes the way we teach and learn experientially at AIM Academy,” said Susan Braccia, AIM Academy teacher.  “These floor plans are so telling of what the Penn Museum can do to continue to broaden visitor participation and ignite engagement in exciting ways.”

So, if you could create an exhibition at the Penn Museum, what would you design?

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