Play the Past

Minnesota Historical Society
St. Paul, MN

The Minnesota Historical Society has created a new learning paradigm for student engagement through its Play with the Past program. This new model for field trips integrates mobile and web technologies into the museum exhibits to capitalize on the natural behaviors and learning styles of 21st century learners. By promoting the development of technology skills, Play with the Past helps to bridge the gap between classroom and museum learning environments.

Play the Past uses the ARIS (Augmented Reality and Interactive Storytelling) platform. This is an in-gallery mobile application designed to engage students in the physical exhibit environment. It also features a digital backpack of items students collect on the field trip which is later accessible through a secure website with curated links to primary sources. Teachers are provided with web-based curricular activities to guide historical exploration back in the classroom.

For example, at the Minnesota History Center exhibit “Then, Now, Wow”, students use a mobile game on iPods to work in a 1907 Minnesota iron mine, survive life on the prairie in an 1874 sod house, and make trades at an 1804 fur post.  By immersing themselves in history, the students are able to relate to the people and times of long-ago Minnesota. Clear text and visuals also makes the experience more accessible to English Language Learners, which make up a large portion of MNHS student visitors.

Play the Past responds to the needs of educators by creating a new model for teaching history that is learner-centered. It allows students to be the drivers of their own learning by using 21st century skills to engage with history – not just receive information passively. Through the design, development, and implementation of Play the Past, MNHS demonstrates how digital technology can be integrated into a museum or historic site’s core school field trip program, and build deeper engagement with history content.