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Youth Consultants: Exhibit Interactives


  • Project TitleYouth Consultants: Exhibit Interactives
  • ThemeTeam Approach, Universal Design, Project-Based Learning
  • Submitted BySheila Damkoehler, John Passiglia, Ariel LaReau
  • OrganizationPioneer Valley Regional School District
  • Brief DescriptionStudents were asked by a local history museum to help create a family-friendly exhibit on the history of education, "From Hornbooks and Samplers to facebook and SMART Boards--Living and Learning in the Connecticut River Valley." Shop students had the idea to make slates and modern-day hornbooks as hands-on activities for exhibit visitors to enjoy. Although these were created for an exhibit, they might be useful to local historical societies for Open House days or to teachers presenting local 19th c. history to young students.
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  • Materials / ResourcesSlate, small pieces of pine for slates, hardwood for hornbooks, wood stain, paper, printer, access to lamination; internet access to learn about 19th century schools at the museum`s website,
  • Team membersClassroom teacher(s), students, museum outreach staff.
  • Pre-requisite knowledgeStudents attended a presentation by Will Twombley of Spokeshave Designs, an exhibit designer specializing in small museum and library exhibits, seeing many examples of engaging, hands-on activities incorporated into exhibit themes (a substitute for this could be to visit several museum exhibits and/or photographs of exhibits online such as "Gene`s Exhibit pages" at, and/or to ask a local museum professional to speak to your students about exhibits). Students learned about efforts museums are making today to follow Universal Design principals, making exhibits accessible to as many people as is possible as much of the time as is possible, not just physically, but through age-appropriate content. They also learned about the evolution of education: from 18th c. hornbooks, to 19th c. one-room schoolhouses where students used small slates to learn their lessons, to 20th c. elementary schools, to 21st c. skills.

    Web Link:

  • Technical support neededInstruction in how to cut slate, how to work differently with pine for the slate borders vs. a hardwood for the hornobooks, how to use machine and hand tools safely, how to work safely with wood stain, how to make wood joints.
  • Any modifications or extensions for particular student populations?The amount of teacher assistance will vary depending on the age and developmental abilities of different student groups.

Key Questions

  • Key QuestionsWhat do museums do? Why do they matter? How do they reach their audiences? How do they engage people in exhibits in other ways besides just exhibit labels.
  • Connections: How or why was this topic identified? Why is it meaningful?Museums recognize the importance of the family audience, and the challenge of designing engaging activities for all learners in the family, from youngest to oldest. Museum staff invited the students to contribute their fresh perspective and creative ideas to this challenge.
  • Background Research: What resources were used to find background information for this project?Throughout the exhibit project, teachers and museum staff made reference to the museum`s American Centuries website to learn about school life in past time periods. Students also did internet research on slates, hornbooks, and instant-messaging shortcuts to add to their own ideas.
  • Outcomes: What was the outcome? How was it shared or applied in the community?Students created ten wood-framed slates and three hornbooks (with the 18th c. religious lesson replaced with a modern-day glossary of instant-messaging and texting abbreviations). Family audiences visiting the exhibit thoroughly enjoyed both of these hands-on interactives. Parents were able to engage with other exhibit content while children used colored chalk (putting a modern twist on an old tool) to draw on the hand-made slates. The modern day hornbooks helped draw attention to the replica 18th c. hornbooks in the exhibit, showing how education focused on religious teaching at that time.

Units / Activities

  • Day 1: 45 min.-1 hr.Meet with museum staff to introduce the project and brainstorm what museums do and what makes a compelling exhibit.whiteboard or flipchart
  • Day 2: 45 min.-1 hr.Learn about exhibits through a presentation by exhibit/museum professionals or research online, for example at "Gene`s Exhibit Pages."
  • Day 3: 45 min.-1 hr.Learn about education in the 18th and 18th c. on the American Centuries website; look for images of slates and hornbooks online.
  • Day 4: 45 min.-1 hr.Learn how to cut slate; measure and cut wood strips to frame slates; learn about wood joints.slate, pine, machine and hand tools
  • Day 5: 45 min.-1 hr.Learn how to work with hardwood, such as oak, for the hornbooks. Use machine and hand tools. hardwood, machine and hand tools
  • Day 6: 45 min.-1 hr.Assemble slate frames and stain to look old; design and print hornbook glossary. Hornbooks had printed pages on them, so modern-day versions should use printed paper as well, but with fun and fancy fonts and colors.Glue, stain, access to printer and laminater or mylar protective sheets.
  • Day 7: depends on distance from exhibit siteGet out into the community and visit the museum exhibit! If possible, observe people interacting with the slates and hornbooks.transportation

Instructional Techniques

  • Project-based learningStudents make wood-framed slates and modern-day hornbooks to be used as interactive elements in a family-oriented exhibit.
  • Hands-on exposureStudents use tools for cutting slate, cutting pine for slate frames, cutting oak for hornbooks, making wood joints and chiseling hornbooks.
  • Community Partner-led workshopsMuseum partner hosted guest Exhibit Designer to lead workshop.
  • Teacher-DirectedTeacher and museum professional lead students in brainstorming what museums do and what makes a good exhibit.
  • ReflectionStudents were asked to reflect on the service-learning experience after visiting the exhibit.

Assessment Techniques

  • Collaboration with community partnerUngraded formative assessment throughout the project
  • Partner and Public SatisfactionMuseum and the public acknowledge invaluable contribution of student perspective, creative ideas and construction of exhibit elements.
  • Final project gradesStudents are graded on following instructions for using tools and computer programs, and for creative problem-solving.

Frameworks / Skills

  • 21st Century
    Creativity and Innovation Skills
    Demonstrating originality and inventiveness in work. Developing, implementing and communicating new ideas to others. Being open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives Acting on creative ideas to make a tangible and useful contribution to the domain in which the innovation occurs.
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
    Exercising sound reasoning in understanding. Making complex choices and decisions. Understanding the interconnections among systems. Identifying and asking significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions. Framing, analyzing and synthesizing information in order to solve problems and answer questions.
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Communication and Collaboration Skills
    Articulating thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through speaking and writing. Demonstrating ability to work effectively with diverse teams. Exercising flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal. Assuming shared responsibility for collaborative work.
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Flexibility and Adaptability
    Adapt to varied roles, jobs responsibilities, schedules and context. Work effectively in a climate of ambiguity and changing priorities. Incorporate feedback effectively.
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Initiative and Self-Direction
    Manage goals and time; Work independently; Be self-directed learners. Go beyond basic mastery of skills and/or curriculum to explore and expand one’s own learning and opportunities to gain expertise.
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
    Working appropriately and productively with others. Leveraging the collective intelligence of groups when appropriate. Bridging cultural differences and using differing perspectives to increase innovation and the quality of work.
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Productivity and Accountability
    Setting and meeting high standards and goals for delivering quality work on time. Demonstrating diligence and a positive work ethic (e.g., being punctual and reliable).
    (21st Century)
  • 21st Century
    Leadership and Responsibility
    Using interpersonal and problem-solving skills to influence and guide others toward a goal. Leveraging strengths of others to accomplish a common goal. Demonstrating integrity and ethical behavior. Acting responsibly with the interests of the larger community in mind.
    (21st Century)

Tags = museum | universal-design | creativity/innovation | Subject = Mathematics, History, Technology, Service_Learning | Grade Level = HS | Time Period = | Program/Funding = 354 |
Direct website link to this project: