Museum school’s trunks pack vibrant lessons to Georgia classrooms

Bethany Brown opened a large black trunk and pulled out copies — some original, some photocopies — of Life magazine. One cover read: “Civil rights face-off at Selma. The savage season begins.”

Brown coordinates The Museum School of Avondale Estates’ travelling trunk program, called Museum in a Box. Boxes full of artifacts, period costumes, books, activities and experiments, as well as detailed lesson plans, are intended to help teach exciting and engaging science and social studies lessons. Teachers can rent them for five to six weeks.

The school was awarded a $200,000 grant through Race to the Top in 2012 to fund the program.

The charter school partners with museums in the Atlanta area to take students on several field trips each month and teach hands-on, project-based lessons. The partners at Atlanta History Center, Zoo Atlanta, Georgia Aquarium, Fernbank Museum of Natural history and Georgia Tech’s CEISMC center advised the school on how to create an effective, lasting travelling trunk program.

A Day in the Life of a Freedom Fighter is a third-grade museum box centered around figures such as Paul Revere, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass and Cesar Chavez. Students can read the Life magazine copies in the trunk while learning about civil rights, and can dress in the judge’s robe while learning about Thurgood Marshall.

The school began the program with 18 trunks covering nine topics in the 2012-13 school year. By the time The Museum School uses the rest of its grant money in early September, there will be 50 trunks covering 24 topics ranging from rocks and soil to the Civil War, for kindergarten through fifth grade.

“Each trunk, if you can imagine, has about $700 worth of inventory in it, so as an individual teacher or even as a school, can you put that kind of budget toward one five-week unit? Most schools’ answer is no,” said Brown. “But you could borrow these materials and have everything you need.”

Second-grade teacher La’Keisha Bolling rented three boxes last year for her talented and gifted class at Dutchtown Elementary in Henry County. “It was an awesome experience as a teacher. No longer was I scrambling. Often in education we scramble for materials. We’re constantly researching to find teaching strategies to keep students engaged,” she said.

Not all students learn best with the traditional model of lectures and tests, Bolling said. Students who are more visual and tactile can benefit from a program like Museum in a Box because it caters to their learning style and keeps them excited about what they’re learning.

Teachers can reserve trunks on the Museum in a Box website and pick them up at The Museum School. Brown said demand is high, and said the school is willing to work with teachers who live too far away to pick up a trunk. Eventually, the school would like to ship trunks to teachers throughout the state and country.

Teachers at The Museum School use the boxes, too.

“Just the excitement on their faces, as a teacher it makes me really enjoy teaching these concepts,” said first grade teacher Amy Rodriguez. “They’re going to learn, they’re going to dig in, and I feel like that’s what we as teachers need to provide to students. We need to provide excitement in learning.”

The grant money paid for the trunks and inventory, funded Brown’s position and paid the Museum School teachers who helped create the boxes and their accompanying lesson plans. The Museum School has been providing the trunks for free, up to now; teachers borrowing them just had to pay a $50 refundable deposit.

But after the school uses the rest of the grant money, it will charge $50 for a six-week rental, as that will be the only source of revenue for the program unless it acquires additional funding.

The Museum School is offering a workshop night Aug. 28 where interested teachers can learn more about the program and see some of the museum boxes.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.