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Project Spotlight: Mini Museums


How do you wrap up a year of learning? That’s the question my sixth-grade Heritage Middle School team started with when we developed our Mini Museum project. The team is made up of Social Studies, taught by Kelli Riner, Science, taught by Jan Boswell, Math, taught by Julie Collins, and Health, taught by Gina Lange, and myself, the ELA teacher. For the last few years, we have approached learning in an interdisciplinary way where our core classes are merged and mixed together to foster deeper learning for our students. We’ve learned that it is not so much about the space we share but the collaboration between our team members that helps create this space for innovation and risk-taking.

We found and developed our Mini Museum project based on an idea we found called Micromuseum. The project was centered around telling the story of change and exploring how a topic changes and evolves from the past to the present to the future. The idea emerged late in the third quarter for us, but it could totally be adapted to fit at any point throughout the year. Here is the story of our project.

Project Overview

The Mini-Museum project combined all of the skills we had focused on throughout the year: research, creativity, storytelling, and presentation. We noticed that a common learning goal across most of our core classes is research. In this project, students had to design a unique exhibit to answer the question: How can we tell the story of change? To start, students accessed and cited credible sources to find information. Students then worked to develop a non-fiction narrative to tell their topic's past, present, and future. Then students collaborated to develop a model that included artifacts to tell the story of change for middle school students in a visual way. Below, is a high-level overview of our project using ACP's Learning Experience.

Now, let's get more into each phase of our Mini Museum project!

Launching a Project & Inquiry

We launched our project by inviting students to our “By Design Natural History Museum.” (see screenshot) We also created a museum map that students could reference to find the exhibits. (link to map)

During our Launch, students visited several different exhibits created by teachers: History of Paper, Dinosaurs: Past to Present, Noise Pollution in the Ocean, and more. The students had time to wander, ask questions, and then try to figure out what their teachers were getting them into. Students could identify the big pieces of the project and noticed that each exhibit included elements about the past, present, and future.

When we shifted from the launch and into the inquiry phase, we started with a few protocols to structure the entry into inquiry. We started with a Jot Thoughts Kagan Structure to brainstorm topics and build a bank of ideas for students to choose from. It was important to us to emphasize that students could pick up and drop ideas during this initial phase. Once students had picked 2-3 ideas, we collected all the other sticky notes to create a bank they could go to if their ideas went stale.

Then, we did a research sprint. We gave students one class period to find all the information they could about how their topic changed over time. This was all at a surface level. We wanted students to go through several iterations so they could choose the most engaging and accessible topic that they could. (see slide)

Research SPRINT! •. You ONLY get today! Use your time wisely! 1. Choose a Topic: You will use your brainstorm to help you choose. 2. Create a Sketchnote: You may use words or pictures to show your research.  3. Look Fors: The story of change. Past - Present - Future. The most impactful events to the community. 3. Repeat: Try to create 2-3 sketchnotes of quick research.

Investigation Cycles

Each teacher took parts of the project during the Learning and Investigation phases. In ELA, students reviewed paraphrasing and citations. In Health, students reviewed accessing credible sources and information. Students used time in Social Studies to discuss artifacts and time to research in Science. Our team combined and created a progression for students to work through during the actual time we spent working on the project.

​Choose a Topic → Researching a Topic → Create an Outline → Feedback Forming a Group and Drafting a Prototype → Feedback & Revision Building Final Product

Throughout the research phase, students revisited their ideas, and we modeled getting stuck, ditching an idea, and then evaluating the next best idea we could follow. At this point, students were still working independently. As the research deepened, students began constructing prototypes of their ideas and sketching what their mini museums could look like.

When students graduated to the next step, they moved to a new room with students who were also in the same boat as them they could go to for help or problem solve. Eventually, students were able to move into a group with ideas similar, but not exactly the same, as theirs. This forced students to find the commonalities between ideas and really synthesize their story of change. Check out some of the organizers and strategies we used throughout the investigation cycle below.

​Research Organizer - individual mini museum outline

​Research Feedback Prompts - to happen early on in the project process

​Group Request for Final Product - team application to begin the building process

Present Projects & Explain Learning

To showcase our mini museums, we set up a museum exhibit in our shared space and invited families in. Students were able to share their learning, answer questions from their peers and adults, and celebrate their accomplishments. We even included “Student Choice Awards” for students to celebrate each other.

Student Choice Mini Museum Awards Certificate

Our Project In Action

Need some help visualizing the project in action? Check out our project video below!


The project was an overwhelming success, and students loved putting their displays together. In the future, though, we might rethink building such big displays. Students could design mini museums using virtual reality and Merge Cubes to show their understanding of a topic or present information in a unique way. When students are challenged to incorporate artifacts and media with information, they are pushed to build new connections and dive deeper into their understanding of a topic. We learned a great deal through this process, and want to leave you with some of our top tips to help you be successful in implementing projects.

Our Top Tips

  • Have the learning goals clearly defined - It helps to know where you want to go and what you are looking for, in relation to the skills and learning, even if the end product isn’t clearly defined.

  • Be prepared to be “in the mud” with your students - Things are going to get challenging and everyone will get frustrated. Through frustration comes opportunities for feedback, revision, and growth.

  • Embrace the creativity and create with your students - This is what makes it fun! Brainstorming, creating, and prototyping with students helps them feel like they can take risks if they see you doing it, too. It also creates a culture where students see you walking alongside them and not just telling them what to do.

  • Define the checkpoints and what success at each stage of the project looks like - This helps students take more ownership of the process and allows students to self-assess their progress, freeing up your time for feedback.

  • Let students run with the bad ideas – Eventually, they’ll either hit a wall and want a better idea or create something totally amazing



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