Object-Based Learning at the JMM

This post was written by JMM School Program Coordinator Paige Woodhouse. To read more posts from Paige, click here!


With students growing up in an ever-increasing digital world, museums offer object-based learning that powerfully engages them in an authentic experience.

What is object-based learning? Simply put, it is using objects to facilitate learning. An object can be a kippah, a t-shirt, or a synagogue. Objects provide a direct link to the past. They are vehicles for stories. Sometimes a single story. Sometimes multiple stories. The JMM has over 12,000 objects – just imagine all the unique stories they tell about Jewish Marylanders.

The JMM’s original exhibit Fashion Statement has several never-before-exhibited objects from our collections. These objects tell stories from the late 1880s to the present day. Not all of the stories for these objects could fit into the exhibit, you can read more about them here. 

Visually, an object provides only a few clues to tell what it is and why it is important. This limited initial information provides students the opportunity to ask a lot of questions. Guided analysis of objects invites students to have an active role in the process of discovery. Students are encouraged to look at an object with curiosity. They are asked what they notice and what they wonder about an object. They “read” the object for clues about the story it tells.

During our Fashion Statement educational program, students from Annapolis Area Christian School made observations about the items of clothing on display. Students noticed whether the item is clean or dirty. Why does it have a stain? They noticed that the object is small. How old do you think someone was when they wore this?  

As a tangible remnant of the past, objects make history real and relatable for students. Using objects to facilitate discussions enables students to develop different skills, including observational skills, inquiry skills, and the ability to draw conclusions. Rather than being didactically told the correct answer, students communicate with each other to come to a consensus. Leading the discussion and asking questions as a group builds a sense of confidence in students, making them active participates instead of passive listeners.

Students from Northwood Elementary School discuss their observations before collectively deciding what the best answer to the question is.

During the education program for Fashion Statement, once students made observations about an object, they thought of open-ended questions that they would want to ask the person who wore the item. This encourages students to think about another place or another time when the object was being used. This curiosity is encouraged and transformed into creativity when students write stories about their objects.

Students are challenged to consider what we can, and what we can’t learn (without doing some extra research) from objects. Furthermore, in the Fashion Statement exhibit, students consider what we can, or can’t, learn about people through their clothing. What parts of someone’s story we can learn, and what parts we are still curious about.

Students from John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School worked together to create stories of their objects from Fashion Statement.

Looking at the objects on display in Fashion Statement, students made connections to their own lives. Do they like the item of clothing? Would they wear it? What does their clothing say about them? What can’t others learn about them from their clothing?

Object-based learning provides a tangible connection to a story. It directly connects to a person, place, time period, or event. Rather than reading a book in their classroom, students “read” an object to answer questions and draw conclusions about the past and present. The process of asking questions (and figuring out which questions to ask) about an object is just as important as discovering the answers.

The JMM houses numerous everyday objects that tell the stories of Jewish Maryland. Everybody has a story to tell. What everyday object would you choose for future students to use to learn about your story?

Categories
Education jewish museum of maryland

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *