University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Unpacking the Past: Penn Museum Launches Innovative New Middle School Program
Designed to Spark STEM Learning through Museum Engagement
* * * *
Private Grant-Funded Program Aims to Reach School District of Philadelphia,
KIPP, and Mastery Charter School 7th Graders and Their Families

Unpacking the Past logo LO-RESFALL 2014—Curators and staff at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology know that ancient Egyptian culture and the practice of mummification fascinate visitors. Coming face-to-face with real materials from ancient Egypt and other cultures is an experience few forget.

Beginning this fall, 7th graders in School District of Philadelphia schools, the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), and Mastery Charter Schools, their teachers—and even the students' families—have an opportunity to delve deeper into the rich material culture and traditions of ancient Egypt and the ancient Roman Empire. Students can discover more about the ancient past, all while tapping into "Common Core" curriculum standards in language arts, math, and science, through an innovative new, multi-stage program, Unpacking the Past, at the Penn Museum.

Teacher professional development training, in-school pre-visits in a "mummy mobile," interactive museum field trips (gallery tour and workshop experiences), culminating student projects, and—for each and every student who attends—one-year family memberships to the Penn Museum, are all part of the program. Everything—from teacher training, to transportation to and from the Museum, to online resources for follow up, to the Museum membership that can extend the experience—is grant-funded.

Unpacking the Past is an ambitious, three-year, $2.2 million project, made possible through a generous $1 million lead grant from GRoW Annenberg, a program of the Annenberg Foundation. Over $200,000 in matching funds has been committed to date from donors including Diane v.S. and Robert Levy, the Women's Committee and its members, and PECO; additional matching funds for the educational program continue to be raised.

MummyWorkshop2loresAccessible Museum Learning at an Internationally Renowned University

The new pilot program is open to all 7th grade classes in the Philadelphia School District, KIPP, and Mastery Charter Schools, and the Penn Museum hopes to eventually reach as many as 10,000 students and their teachers each year.

"Unpacking the Past is the beginning of an exciting new, curriculum-focused and meaningful partnership with the City's public and charter schools," said Dr. Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania. "This is the kind of program that exemplifies the promise of the Penn Compact 2020, and showcases what Penn is uniquely qualified to do: share its deep history and educational resources to make a positive difference in the local community. "

"As an internationally renowned resource for studying and learning about the world, the Penn Museum has a mission to transform understanding of our shared human experience," said Julian Siggers, Ph.D., Williams Director of the Penn Museum. "This multi-faceted educational program in an object-based museum environment—with touch points for teachers, students, and families—has multiple opportunities for those exceptional revelations that can be the sparks to inspire life-long learning."

"The School District of Philadelphia is very excited about the potential of this new program, which was developed in close collaboration with teachers and curriculum advisors to teach and reinforce the 'Common Core' curriculum standards that our students need to be successful academically and beyond," noted Dr. William Hite, Superintendent. "We welcome the collaborative efforts of the Penn Museum, a leader in Philadelphia's rich museum community, and look forward to engaging our city's children in a program that opens them up to a wide world of culture and of possibilities."

Unpacking the Program

While the program takes off in the fall of 2014, the Museum has been running and evaluating pilot pieces of Unpacking the Past since the spring, making adjustments based largely on teacher feedback. The innovative, inquiry-based program has multiple stages:

  • Teacher professional development days presented in part by PECO, held at the Penn Museum multiple times throughout the year, are free and open to middle school teachers. They feature an overview of the Museum collections and resources, opportunities to meet some of the renowned curators and faculty conducting research in the field today, and sample workshops and tours to prepare them to better understand the program.

  • Penn Museum educators—all teachers specially trained in museum learning—visit schools. Arriving in an unmistakable, custom-wrapped, "Mummy Mobile," they offer classroom workshops to familiarize students with the skills it takes to study objects—critical thinking, close observation, and context clues, thus learning how to "unpack the past." This pre-visit lesson prepares the students for a successful museum visit.

  • The centerpiece of the program is the extended Museum visit. Students experience both an inquiry-based gallery tour of the Museum's renowned Egyptian (or Roman) collections, and a complementary, STEM-rich Mummy Makers workshop (or Roman Workshop, featuring mosaic-making). In the Mummy Makers workshop, students assist Museum educators as they move through the process of mummification on a custom-made dummy mummy—including brain removal, evisceration, desiccation, and the weighing of the heart ceremony.

  • Post visit, Museum educators invite classroom teachers to work collaboratively on final student projects, and online resources provide further opportunity to build upon student interest and success through extension lessons.

One goal of the program is to spark interest in world cultures, museums, and informal learning. A student souvenir bag from the visit includes a coupon for a free, year-long family membership—and with it the opportunity to share what they've learned with family. Special "Welcome School Student & Family" days presented in part by PECO in the spring provide additional activities for all. Families taking advantage of three visits on their Unpacking the Past membership will automatically receive an additional one-year membership.

Making the Connections

All 7th grade teachers in the School District of Philadelphia, KIPP, and Mastery Charter Schools can set up training for themselves and programs for their students by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or calling the Museum's Learning Programs Department at 215.898.4033. Details are online at:

Beginning in 2015, key elements of the program will be available, for a fee, to schools outside the grant-served districts.

More about the Penn Museum

Founded in 1887, the Penn Museum (the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology), 3260 South Street in Philadelphia, is one of the world's great archaeology and anthropology research museums, and the largest university museum in the United States. With nearly one million objects in the collection, the Penn Museum encapsulates and illustrates the human story: who we are and where we came from. A dynamic research institution with many ongoing research projects, the Museum is an engaging place of discovery. The Museum's mandate of research, teaching, collections stewardship, and public engagement are the four "pillars" of the Museum's expansive mission: to transform understanding of the human experience.

The Penn Museum can be found on the web at For general information call 215.898.4000.

GRoW Annenberg logo


© Penn Museum 2019 Sitemap | Report Web Accessibility Issues and Get Help | Contact | Copyright | Disclaimer | Privacy |