Last night I had the amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was early evening and the museum was closed to the public. My tour guide was a writer for the museum and she talked about finding the stories in exhibits.
Today, a writer’s job is not just to list the facts. Rather, people are drawn to stories and personal connections. The details presented on the exhibit walls are snippets of stories about our history, our world, our environment. The museum has more than 33 million artifacts and specimens in its collection and only a fraction are on view for the public. To learn more about some of the amazing stories about the artifacts behind the scenes of the museum, you can visit the AMNH blog Shelf Life which offers videos detailing the rarely seen items in the American Museum of Natural History.
My favorite episode so far is Episode Eight: The Voyage of a Giant Squid which describes how a giant frozen squid was transported from New Zealand to the United States. To get the giant squid through customs, it had to be identified as frozen seafood and sushi in order to be brought to the museum for research purposes. The references to giant squids in mythology and classical literature like Jules Verne’s 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are brought to life when we see an actual giant squid or gargantuan size exhibit at the museums and listen to the tales told by scientists and paleontologists.
The museum also has an App that offers snippets of stories and backstories to the museum’s more famous items on display. To view the giant whale being cleaned or to learn how the giant sequoia tree was brought inside the museum, the app offers more photos and videos to the questions you want to know more about.
Whether you live near New York City or are on the other side of the country, the American Museum of Natural History has resources available to ALL teachers and students with curious minds on it’s website. There are curriculum materials, online seminars, and professional development material connecting with the Common Core Standards that any teacher can access to learn more and to discover fascinating stories to share with our students about our world past and present.