mummymobile

Educators from the Penn Museum’s Learning Programs Department stand ready to bring collections-based lessons to schools throughout Philadelphia, courtesy of one of the Museum’s new Mummy Mobiles. | Courtesy of Penn Museum.

A jello brain, Egyptian hieroglyphs and an ancient sphinx.

These are just three of the artifacts on the docket for “Unpacking the Past,” an educational program for local Philadelphia seventh graders.

The program, which is in its second year, is made possible by a grant from GRoW Annenberg, an initiative of the Annenberg Foundation, and works to provide local teachers and students with hands-on educational experiences that enhance their regular curricula.

According to GRoW Annenberg Program Manager Emily Hirshorn, the museum started “Unpacking the Past” in an effort reach students who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the museum.

“Here we are in Philadelphia with this amazing resource for studying ancient civilizations,” Hirshorn said. “The seventh graders in the city study ancient civilizations, and they are sometimes only blocks away from the museum, but they don’t have the opportunity to see it.”

“Unpacking the Past” is divided into three parts. First, the program holds professional development training for teachers. The bigger teacher development events are held over the summer, but the museum offers some smaller sessions throughout the school year as well.

In addition to the teacher development sessions, the program provides teachers and students with hour-long “outreach lessons” that take place in the schools themselves. A team of museum educators transports replicas of ancient artifacts to each of these sessions in “mummy mobiles,” which are museum cars wrapped in images of Egyptian artifacts.

“The museum’s famous for the mummies; everybody loves the mummies,” Hirshorn said. “We thought that having a really fun car might generate some extra excitement.”

During the outreach lessons, students learn about Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome. For the Ancient Egypt sessions, the museum supplies replicas of heart scarabs, amulets utilized in the mummification process. For the Ancient Rome program, the museum provides replicas of strigils, metal implements used as cleaning tools. After engaging with the artifacts, students participate in close-observation activities and formulate questions and inferences.

About a week after the outreach sessions, the program buses students and teachers to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where they receive a tour and participate in workshops. At the end of the museum visit, “Unpacking the Past” gifts a bag of school supplies to the teachers and gives each student a cinch pack filled with a color-changing pencil, a postcard and a voucher for a free, year-long, dual-adult family membership to the museum.

According to participating teacher Charlene Jablow, the program provides an invaluable opportunity for students to engage with the materials they are learning about in the classroom.

“This brings the learning into real life for them. It makes it a lot more meaningful and impactful,” she said. “In my experience, this is the best program and trip that I’ve ever taken students on.”

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