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Breaking the Ice

Breaking the Ice

By: Ashley Naranjo, Manager of Educator Engagement, Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access    

Here’s a fresh way to start the school year: Use Smithsonian Learning Lab to get to know your students and introduce them to each other. The best part? You’ll also be incorporating digital media skills that will set the foundation for the school year! 

My Smithsonian Closet: The idea behind this activity came from my colleague, Kate Harris. Students curate the details of an outfit based on images and artifacts from the Smithsonian’s collections.  From aluminum-coated space boots to “the Souper” paper dress, there is something for everyone. This low-risk activity allows students to use imagination and demonstrate their creativity. They can share their closet collections as individual presentations or in a gallery walk for more 1:1 conversations with you and each other.

Here are two examples to serve as inspiration:

Nightstand Portraits: At the Senator John Heinz History Center, Mariruth Leftwich (Education Manager) introduced me to Pittsburgh-native pop artist Burton Morris’ work in the “Nightstand Portraits” series. Fun portraits go beyond a person’s likeness and use representative objects from the person’s life as if these objects were left on their nightstand. Students could extend this idea and find five objects (through a simple Learning Lab search) to represent themselves. This activity goes beyond the literal to a more metaphorical approach and gets students thinking about what their interests and hobbies say about them. Bonus: Have students annotate their selections with a short description of why they chose those objects. 

Here’s an example of items that might be on my own nightstand:

Robert Weingarten, “What makes you who you are?”: A few years ago, the National Museum of American History hosted an exhibition featuring the work of Robert Weingarten. If you’ve never seen his work, this short video that his artistic process in creating portraiture of famous individuals. On the “O Say Can You See?” blog from the museum, a middle school teacher describes her project that helped students express themselves and better understand each other. Similar to the Nightstand Portrait activity above, this activity integrates artwork and biography, personal reflections, and even hits the Common Core State Standards by having students read and analyze informational texts. Here’s another adaptation of this activity that was inspired by the Robert Weingarten exhibition as well.

These icebreakers use museum resources to let students express themselves in a novel way that demonstrates what matters to them. They align with some of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards for students, including Knowledge Constructor, Digital Citizen and Empowered Learner.  Plus, how exciting to find out that that a classmate (or even their teacher!) has a black Labrador or loves to run too! If you have your students do one or more of these icebreakers, please publish one or more to inspire others with tech-friendly ways to build rapport and community within your classroom right from the first day of school. 

Breaking Ice in Antarctica during Operation Windmill

Image: Breaking Ice in Antarctica during Operation Windmill (detail), Smithsonian Archives-History Division
Image of an Icebreaker, either the USS Burton Island (AG-88) or the USS Edisto (AG-89) moving through the ice during Operation Windmill. Operation Windmill (1947-1948), an expedition established by the Chief of Naval Operations to train personnel, test equipment, and reaffirm American interests in Antarctica.