Teaching and learning at the Penn Museum has the potential to move beyond content knowledge to address and engender the fundamentals of learning. The unique and compelling artifacts in our galleries inspire curiosity, when a student is driven to learn more about an object or a culture that he or she has never before encountered. Objects inspire a multitude of questions- what was this used for? Who made it? How did it come to be in the Museum?- and are an ideal means by which to pursue further inquiry.
Second, students can use the Museum to learn about the cultures who speak the language they are studying, even in instances where we have no written texts. The cultural content of language learning is an important part of the Penn curriculum, and classes can tour our galleries or visit our Collections Study Room to learn about human civilization from nearly every part of the world.
Finally, language classes can use our galleries as an anchor, rather than a subject, of learning, by devising in-class activities and assignments that practice particular types of vocabulary or rhetorical forms. A student might lead a tour through our Native American gallery in Chinese, or inhabit the role of an Ancient Egyptian merchant haggling over a ceramic bowl to practice their French. These types of activities, in the new venue of the Museum, support communicative language proficiency and collaborative learning.
Writing skills are at the center of a University of Pennsylvania education, and the Penn Museum invites faculty and students to use the Museum’s galleries and collections to develop and refine their writing skills. Students can practice descriptive writing by choosing an object from our galleries and composing an accurate and evocative essay from which another student might easily identify the chosen object. They might practice genre by writing as an art critic, as a scholar submitting an academic paper, or as a travel blogger describing a trip to the museum. Or students might combine study of the artifacts in our collections with their imaginations to produce works of creative non-fiction or poetry, visualizing the lives of the people who originally made, used, and discarded the object.
Like all of the classes that visit the Museum, writing courses will find ample opportunity to critically evaluate their own position, collaborate with their classmates, and hone their presentation skills as they express their argument orally and on the page.
Drawing may be a form of visual research, a way to direct and focus attention on particular aspects of the object being studied. This close study can reveal aspects of the object, its making and use, which would otherwise go unnoticed. For instance, a deliberate break in the repeating pattern of brightly colored tile, or the shiny patina formed by years of wear on a jug handle. Likewise, art students can take advantage of the three-dimensional nature of most of the Museum’s objects to practice drawing from multiple viewpoints, creating several two dimensional images that express the whole form of the object.
Like all University of Pennsylvania students, fine arts and design students are welcome to make an appointment with our keepers to view objects not currently on display. Please fill out a Research Request Form to take advantage of this opportunity. If you would like to bring your class to the Museum’s galleries or to view objects in our Collections Study Room, please fill out the Class Visit Request form.
Academic Engagement Department