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Students turn a closet of teaching tools into museum exhibits
Chestatee Middle School begins Museum of Inspired Learning
Allison Whidden, a seventh-grader at Chestatee Middle School, explains cultural artifacts Wednesday morning to Sardis Elementary School students at the Museum of Inspired Learning at Chestatee Middle.

Have you ever wondered how sound travels through a guitar and amplifier to create the tunes of rock gods like Jimmy Page? Or are you dying to know what your dog is thinking while his leg twitches uncontrollably in his sleep? Or maybe you've wondered why Egyptians wrapped their dead like Christmas presents.

At the fledgling Museum of Inspired Learning, Chestatee Middle School students have all the answers to these questions and more.

Cindy White, a science and honors directed studies teacher at Chestatee Middle, said her idea for the museum sprung from necessity.

"As a science teacher, I always had so many things in my closet," she said. "I'd pull out bones for a unit and then put them back up when we finished. I thought, ‘This is such a waste. I have so many things, and students want to interact with them.'"

With the intent of establishing a permanent museum exhibit for students and by students, White asked her directed-studies classes to pursue their personal interests through the vehicle of a project and presentation.

The results were compelling. Students explored fingerprinting, the science behind dry ice, the world of dance, anatomy, history, music, psychology - their horizons were far reaching.

On Wednesday and Thursday last week, White's seventh- and eighth-grade students transformed the art room at Chestatee High School into a temporary museum, filled with displays, projects and interactive activities that answered the questions burning in the brains of kids.

Students who created the projects served as museum docents, and presented the information to Chestatee Middle School sixth-graders and to 260 fifth-graders from Lanier and Sardis elementary schools who took a field trip to the temporary museum.

"When they interact, they really learn things on a whole different level. It's hands-on and higher-order thinking," White said. "I realized another beauty of this is it's a way to bring kindergarten through 12th grade together. ... That way, if a student has a passion for the ocean, maybe it will carry all the way through."

White said she's gained approval from the school system to go forward with the Museum of Inspired Learning. With $11,000 in grants already at her disposal, White is hoping another $55,000 grant will come through this week to support a permanent home for the museum.

Ultimately, she hopes to have a museum facility where teachers in the Hall County school system can bring students to explore their curiosities. Additionally, she has already acquired some funds to create "museum to-go boxes," which allow teachers to borrow items from exhibits, such as African photos, jewelry or instruments, to augment units on African studies, for example.

Ciara Humphries, a fifth-grader at Sardis Elementary School, visited each station at the museum Wednesday. She and other students listened as their older peers explained the types of bugs buzzing around North Georgia or how their fingerprint is unlike anyone else's.

"I would want to come back because it's so cool," Ciara said. "They teach us a lot about animals because they are the most important thing on Earth. They show it to us and don't just explain it."

Linda Rose King, a seventh-grader at Chestatee Middle School, said the museum has been fun for the students who created it, too. King worked with her classmate, Nikki Phillips, on creating a project about dog psychology. The presentation featured two live dogs.

"I've always wanted to be a vet since I was really, really small," Linda said. "I've never really had a live dog in my project, though."

Cathy Shaw, parent of Chestatee Middle School seventh-grader Ashley Shaw, said the museum allows kids to explore their passions, which could lead to exploration of a future career. Shaw said through the museum project, her daughter Ashley was able to attend a lecture at Lanier Technical College with a fingerprint expert.

"I think it's inspiring for kids to get so much information and explain their passions. Like when I was in seventh grade, I thought I knew what I wanted to be - a vet - but I didn't get to go out and experience it. They didn't do that back then," she said.