Who are you? In 5 objects

Although we have tons of objects (or “stuff”) in our pockets, at our desks, or in our homes, most people don’t think about how their objects say something about them. But today’s everyday stuff will help historians of the future know what it was like to live in America in 2012. So as part of a new initiative, we’re encouraging museum visitors and classroom students to think about how their objects reflect their identities by making “object portraits.”
Object portraits created by participants trying out the "Describe yourself in five objects" activity.
A cross. A doll. A painting. A medal. And some glass camels. That’s Katie, Grade 4, from Auburn Alabama.

Books. A dog bowl. Paint. A bike. And flowers. That’s Daisy, Grade 6, from Riga, Latvia.

Over the last few months, we’ve asked a few hundred people, “Describe yourself in five objects.”

Although we have tons of objects One kid's portrait(or “stuff”) in our pockets, at our desks, or in our homes, most people don’t think about how their objects say something about them. But today’s everyday stuff will help historians of the future know what it was like to live in America in 2012. So as part of a new initiative, we’re encouraging museum visitors and classroom students to think about how their objects reflect their identities by making “object portraits.”

Of course, if you read our blog a lot, this idea might sound familiar to you. Although it was conceived by classroom teachers in a kick-off meeting in January, there are some obvious connections between this project and the Robert Weingarten show and Celia Cruz portrait

In the classroom, we piloted this activity in Auburn, Alabama with the help of teachers Harrow Strickland and Sandi Williams. Together we experimented with the best possible ways to get kids engaged, take the portrait photos, and display them online. We also had fascinating discussions with the students in the process, everything from discovering their passion for sports, marking their most important events, and considering what their peers would think of their selections. The activity definitely got them thinking.

In the museum, we shared the student artwork from Auburn, and asked visitors to choose from a box of over 100 images of objects. Some visitors were literal (Daisy’s flowers represented her name) and some showed aspiration (like the young man who chose a watch to symbolize his plan to invent a time machine). 

Whether you’re looking for a get-to-know you activity for the start of the year, working on a project on identity with students, or are doing a basic lesson on the meaning of objects, this activity may fit for your classroom. We encourage you to participate—try the activity guide, share your photos, and feel free to send us feedback.

What will you learn about your new students if you try the activity in your classroom?

View the slideshow above or see the images on Flickr

Jenny Wei is an Education Specialists at the National Museum of American History.

Posted at 6:20 am EDT in Teaching & Learning