The 5-W’s (and one H)

All through elementary school we are taught that the “5-W’s” (Who, What, Where, When, Why) and one “H” (How) are the words you use to create questions that can start conversations, and help you learn about the world around you. This simplistic idea is taken to a whole new level in Object Based Learning… just asking 10 questions about an object, even an everyday one such as your phone, can bring a bigger meaning to the discussion and to the object itself.

  •  What can you see?
  • How do you describe it?
  • Are there things you can’t see?
  • What goes into making it?
  • Who is making/using it?
  • What is it made of?
  • How was it made?
  • What is the history?
  • Are there issues? Negative effects?
  • What is the effect on society?

I feel that these straight forward questions are a universal tool in the museum professional’s tool kit– especially that of a museum educator. In many ways, this type of exercise can be adapted to fit with almost any audience or interpretive situation– school children learning about the odd objects of Victorian culture, adults to use as an entry way into harder conversations, the casual visitor being encouraged to ask themselves these types of questions when looking at an exhibition…. the possibilities are endless.

The possibility that I am most excited about is to use it as a teaching tool for instructors and guides on the back-end of the public presentation. Working at a small museum, I have a staff of 10 very part time school/scout program instructors and a handful of volunteer tour guides under my position. While these are all wonderful people, I continually run into the problem that they have all been around the museum “forever” and are very adverse to changing they way that the site is interpreted. Holding a session with them where we create an OBL conversation– much like we did in class– would be a fun, engaging way to show, rather then tell (as Tim Wendel stressed) how creating a stronger interpretation plan can be a much more interesting way to engage the visitor.

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