A Night at the Museum Becomes A Night of History Lessons

night at the museum3Update Dec. 12, 2014  Eight years after the original movie debut, Hollywood history lessons are still permeating pop culture, choosing what kids ‘take away’ from film.

Check out this markedly true tenor on gender roles from the author of Redefining Girly Melissa Wardy, as her daughter contextualizes messages to girls and uncorks conversations about what makes it into a film.

An important lens from an eight year old who wasn’t born when the first version came out!

“Mom, how can they go back in history, literally to the ancient Egyptians and they can’t find one interesting woman to play an action hero in that movie?”

MW: “Yeah, I hear you. They had Sacajawea, though.”

Her daughter: “All she did was carry around the monkey and kiss Teddy Roosevelt. She was so unimportant Larry didn’t even say goodbye to her. ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE EGYPTIANS!”

MW: “They could have had Joan of Arc instead of Lancelot, who wasn’t an actual historical person.”

Her daughter: “Joan of Freaking Arc.”

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Indeed. What happened to our film industry climate change as studios began warming up to “sheheroes” as a profit center, and making 3D characters instead of ancillary cutouts?

Pssst–Hollywood, are you listening? The world is watching…especially the kids. 

night at the museum originalOriginal Post 2007: Last night, we went to our first “flick-n-float,” an outdoor moonlit pool party packed with kids of all ages on rafts and noodles splashing about while watching the film Night at the Museum.

When popular movies like this prompt kids to have “aha” moments and ask tons of questions, little synapses fire in my brain to make note of how to use this media firepower to inspire kids in positive ways, from strong female historical portrayals to seeding fun bits of history that rarely make it into textbooks. Engage and inspire…USE the medium.

 Kids that had seen the movie before were busy goofin’ around goading their friends off the diving board doing cannonballs and jackknives, but those that hadn’t were quietly floating on their inflatables, with a curiosity that was palpable. “Who’s Roosevelt again?” one little kid nudged another.

“That Octavius dude has an awesome sword! WHAT did he do with the Roman empire, mom?” “How come the Huns were so mean?” “Don’t you think Sacajawea looks like Pocahontas?” said one adoring girl to another. “Whoa, wait, did she really carry her baby on her back that whole way? Seriously?”

From the T-rex stomping through the snow leaving tracks of prehistoric speculation to the subtext of the need for media’s magic to pull in new visitors to the museum and foster interest in what was deemed boring and stuffy, the ‘innovate to educate’ mantra of Shaping Youth was pinging in my brain:

How can we use movie media to enlighten and intrigue?

Sure, they came out with the T-Rex Fetch game to promote the movie, but it seems like a slamdunk to turn historic factoids into a fun, playable game after the movie success, instead of the blood and gore, thrill-to-kill pornfests currently being marketed as ‘cool.’ The movie was a box office hit, so you’d think they’d be all over this, but aside from a Neopets trivia blip and ramp up viral promos to launch the film itself, it doesn’t seem like it’s being merchandised much for ‘edu’ moments.

Seems ripe to spark interest in natural history in a variety of forms, from regional tie-ins to promote museum exhibits to local environs for kids’ summer fun!

Ironically, this stellar blog, GameFam, addresses its family-friendly nature too, though they cite a snippet I’d interpreted totally differently, specifically, the part where the cowboy says “I’m not quittin’ you”…

I NOW see that’s an insider Brokeback Mountain joke, but not having seen that movie yet, it went over MY head, and I interpreted it as a basic heroic teamwork message, ‘two enemies finally join forces to work as one.’

(Duh. I get it now, but clearly, the kids in my presence from tweens to teens ‘grokked’ it the same way I did)

GameFam is a great blog run by Dan Matkowsky, who we definitely need in our Shaping Youth consortiumDan works for Electronic Arts as a producer at EA Chicago, was formerly a columnist for the AOL Games – GameDaily Family Gaming Guide, and taught a college course on the history of the video game industry…so I’ll ask Dan pointblank…where’s the EA edu game on this baby, Dan? Is there a game out already and just not popping up on Google or Amazon? If not, why not? Fill me in, here!

The power of the web’s media and marketing channels are simply not being leveraged for the positive…we’re spending WAY too much time bottom-feeding instead of utilizing the pop culture potential of an all-star cast hit movie to encourage kids to make history come alive in their own hometowns.

C’mon, people. Let’s use what we’ve got…

Challenge kids to a mobile mapping scavenger hunt for historic treasures.

Dust off the snore fests and make museums interactive and engaging by repositioning the past with the present media offerings.

As I’ve written here before, think how media like Ice Age, Over the Hedge, Hoot, and even Club Penguin could be turned into subtle evolutionary and environmental natural history/eco-media with more relevance and worth than a basic twitch game!

Themed summer camps, Night at the Museum sleepovers, tie-ins with vacation travel and cross country road trips…Google Maps and Twitter social media integration of art, history and science happenings, ALL could be brought to kids globally using entertainment technology in fun, thoughtful ways.

Heck, turn the movie’s Director and Producer Shawn Levy himself into a healthier role model for kids!

Anyone that graduates from Yale at age 20 to go on to TV stints at Disney, Nickelodeon, then behind the cam with movie hits like Cheaper by the Dozen and Pink Panther clearly has the media chops to inspire wannabe movie makers to do POSITIVE films and gaming rather than hype mindlessly vapid values and violent drek.

This self-effacing, humble interview with Shawn Levy (posted here on Femail.com.au) makes me want to recruit HIM for Shaping Youth, too. There’s lots of inspiring potential to do good things out there…Game developers? Ping me. There are opportunities up the gump stump that need brains and backing…

We have lots of work to do! Sure beats focusing on the latest Paris Hilton jail jumpsuit and celebrity rehab fest, eh?



  1. Awesome review, Amy! I love those moments where something based in entertainment turns into a bigger lesson wrapped in fun.

    Hope all is well with you. You’re the bestest (yes, I said bestest!).


  2. Video Gamer says
  3. GREAT FIND, VG!!! Fabulous project…thank you so much for sharing this! Do you happen to know anyone involved with the program who would be up for an interview? This is a perfect example of engaging, compelling, uber-cool media use, and I’d love to see more of same…

    By the way, VG, would love to hear your comments on this Slate article, since I tend to agree we need to make ‘serious games’ more FUN…Your opinion please? http://www.slate.com/id/2169019/fr/rss

  4. Video Gamer says

    Sadly, I dont know anyone related to the project.
    Will comment on the article tomorrow.

  5. ‘k. I’ll find a way to follow up on the Jazz Club site as that was phenomenal media, and needs reporting in full.–a.

  6. We went to Chicago’s Field Museum recently and then watched Night at the Museum.

    I hope to go BACK to the Field Museum and to remind my kids of the similarities…

    Teddy Roosevelt SHOULD be an icon for much of his early 20th Century Presidential achievements. And the teen wife/mom/exploration leader Sacajawea is already becoming better known…

    Maybe people will start demanding HISTORY as a key school component. If not, maybe we can entice kids into their own exploration of history.’

    Next…perhaps a skilled writer / educator will entice kids into the advantages of using logical reasoning–testing truth claims, applying the logical fallacies to “catch” bad thinking…with the Presidential election drawing near, there’s always bad reasoning mixed in with the good!.

    (See renaissance woman Dorothy L. Sayers essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”!!!)

  7. Couldn’t agree more! Critical thinking skills in real life, tangible teaching moments are a great way to integrate the ‘what ifs’ and stretch kids’ minds to make history relevant for them citing examples in today’s world.

    My daughter’s Greco-Roman history & ancient worlds class/6th gd.sadly fell on mostly deaf ears, due to lack of engagement; despite integration of a self-built modeling clay ampitheatre, Imax movie on Greece & such, which became more passive entertainment than interactive inquiry, two-way teaching dialogue.

    In 3rd grade I recall they spent weeks on Indian civilizations as a yawn fest, and she ‘got it’ in 4 days visiting the Stanley Park totems in Vancouver…history needs to ‘come alive’ for her experiential mindset, which is difficult in classroom environs, even when teachers try these techniques.

    I don’t envy their task at all, for a field trip to the natural history museum could quickly turn into a dash and dart funfest if my chaperone duties at the S.F. Exploratorium for science class was any indication…Kids are now so used to being “entertained” that if it doesn’t ‘grab em’ in SPLIT SECONDS they’ve moved on.

    They pinged around the exhibits like a pinball and instead of being able to try to engage them one on one w/their interests and make it come alive, my task devolved into herding cats doing the ‘safety monitor’ bit trying not to lose my charges. sigh.

    This is a huge conundrum for educators, as behavioral precedent is impacting learning environs. We all need to put our minds together on this…

    I’ve even adapted some of Shaping Youth’s hands-on games (counter-marketing/media literacy) to ‘rotate stations’ in short snappy bursts w/smaller groups to see how the info gets ‘digested’ and retained for long term!

    Even though my daughter’s in a PUBLIC school, I feel as if she’s ‘HOME schooled’ to actually impart the lessons. (Not as enrichment, but as CORE curriculum, and this frustrates me to no end as a time-zapped parent)

    Other ideas/thoughts, folks? What have you tried and what has worked w/your kids to bring learning into the forefront impactfully?

  8. Video Gamer says

    Other ideas/thoughts, folks? What have you tried and what has worked w/your kids to bring learning into the forefront impactfully?

    May I suggest…… can you guess?……… VIDEO GAMES!
    Seriously though, the main reason that I enjoyed, and still enjoy, museums is mostly due to my love of video games. When I play as commander of the Roman army in Rome: Total War I cant help but wonder what an actual roman soldier wore to battle. And museums are just the place to find stuff like that. When I can actually see up close what a roman soldier wore to battle over 2000 years ago is amazing. And here comes the best part; believe it or not, but games usually get some parts of history wrong(big surprise huh?.) When you get the see the artifacts in real life you find out where the game took some artistic liberites and where it actually got things right (movies and TV are the same way.) Now whenever I play a new game that is based on some part of history I actually challenge myself to find out the real story.

    Currently I am playing Age of Pirates and I just had to go out and get some books on pirates (other people would probably be more interested in Disneys latest movie.) I learned a great deal about life at sea in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. I also learned that most any story now really has the image of pirates very distorted.

    Another amazing game for learning some history is Civilization 4. I think that it is mentioned in the article. Its a great game and it even comes with this huge resource called the Civilopedia. It explains everying in the entire game from Abraham Lincoln to the Zulu warriors. This is great way to learn “on the fly.” While playing the game you can pause any time to go right to the Civilopedia and look up the entire history of a people, place, building, type of soldier, or even types of governments and its all there right in the game and very easy to navigate.

    Now with all that said, I cant actually claim that kids today have the same need to know everything about everything like I did, but they should want to know something about some subject.

    I believe that the best thing that a child can develop is a wanting to learn, so when a new subject is presented to them they just have to know about it. And when you find out things on your own you learn it much better than when some teacher tells it AT you. Yes I said AT.

    Schools are really sad today. There really isnt much teaching just a lot of reciting. Every class is just one big memorization game. Match the answers on the test and it doesnt matter is you actually KNOW the materal or not. Very few teachers actually excited me to really learn their lessons. Mostly I did the research myself outside of class and just slept through school. Its not amazing then that I aced most every test without even touching my text book or doing one homework assignment.

    The new educational games just do the same exact thing except its even more boring. Repetitive midless tasks over and over again that only teach you how to beat the system and not the actual materal in the lesson. Real school is much the same way. Kids dont actually learn the material, they just learn how to get an A, it doesnt really matter what the subject is.

    Trust me I know first hand that getting an A and knowing the material are two completely different things. Try to find ten college students that can actually point out Iraq on a map. The important things going on in this world are left by the way side for some pointless national standardized busy work.

    OK, I guess Im done ranting about school (I know I kinda went off topic.) In closing find something that your kids are interested in and challenge them to become an expert on it. Have them tell you one new fact about this subject every day or every few days. They just may find out that learning is fun and rewarding.

    One last thing, if you have boys,(Im sure girls would find some of this interesting as well)get them “The Dangerous Book for Boys.” My roommate bought it for his little brother and I got the chance to read it over. It is an amazing book that has small and manageable tid-bits of information on a wide variey of subjects (including poetry!) that surely will spark some interest and make them want to know more.

  9. Video Gamer says

    Oh I spotted some gramatical mistakes, but there is no edit button. I guess I will have to copy and paste from Word from now on.

  10. Enjoyed the firsthand info, VG, thank you!

    As one who learned strategy/continents/geography due to countless hours of playing RISK with my brother (I hear they have an online version too, wonder if it’s MMORPG?) as well as critical thinking skills from Stratego and such, I can heartily agree that interactive engagement of ANY kind beats “preach-n-teach” tactics hands down. (that visual of the gameboard still helps me place “Kamchatka” in my brain!)

    Also concur that ‘getting an A’ is entirely different from learning, and recitation and rote regurgitation is a total turnoff now AND ‘way back when.’

    This is where I think media has the potential to impart meaningful content that ’sticks’ even when it doesn’t FEEL like it’s sticking; I’m sure there are plenty of Grey’s Anatomy fans that have picked up medical moments, or CSI fans that can deconstruct various situations like a forensics pro. (Conversely, the same argument applies re: why I’m not wild about simulated violence, but I think we’ve been down that path in our dialogue already, we’re interested in promoting healthier worldviews for kids)

    Slate’s article about ’serious games being boring’ resonated, because I’ve heard this gripe before, from UN Food Force to others. I’m hoping to attend the summit in Feb/2008 in S.F. if possible: http://www.seriousgamessummit.com

    I’d be really interested in hearing a video gamer’s take on some of the projects being created there…Seems we need to merge the players/users with the developers/do-gooders to strike a balance and make a positive difference with fun, CREATIVE content that works.


    I’m anxious to check out your recommendations when I get a respite, and hope you’ll forward any other ‘finds’ that you deem worthy…It’s absolutely imperative to bring youth into this dialogue of what’s working and what’s not if we’re going to try to ’sell’ the concept of using the power of media for positive change…so thanks SO much for your comments.

    Pls. do keep in touch!

  11. Just discovered your blogs about Night at the Museum. I’m a homeschool mom, doing some ‘googling’ research on the idea of a curriculum based on the movie. I totally agree that there are so many movies out there that catch kids attention, why not use it as a base for a ‘unit study’ or even an indepth curriculum. I have a 14 year old that is a movie guru, but he doesn’t see a need for learning anything about history. After watching the movie, he’s wondering about a few lines and characters. I’m like you, didn’t see Brokeback Mountain, didn’t get the joke either. Not sure I want to share that with my kids, but there is so many historical periods touched on, it just lends it’s self to a curriculum. So, we are going to take the movie, watch it on day one, and then pick and choose periods and characters to study, research and hopefully understand a bit more. If there is anyone out there who is working on a curriculum that has this type of slant, or anything similar, please share it with me!

  12. Thanks for the comment; yes, I use media to spin into curriculum constantly, and that in fact is part of what we do in our counter-marketing programs for Shaping Youth…use reality show ‘game’ formats to ‘teach’ kids without them feeling like they’re ‘learning.’—(Innovation for education…or ‘subversive learning’ heehee) For example, our “Dare to Compare: A Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition” is a hands-on demo based ‘fear factor foods’ of sorts, deconstructing what goes into kids’ bodies when they eat junk food…Standards compliant, customizable, health sciences with nutrition and wellness to boot. The kids love it. And I love creating it…

    We don’t call it curriculum because to me, that’s a death wish; call it a ‘game’ or a reality show or interactive media or whatever, and you’ll hold EVERYONE’s attention much better, and engage both the kids AND the parents (we ‘sell’ it in from the bottom up; then the kids ‘take home’ the message and ‘teach’ the parents in special sessions, which is a double-whammy because they feel empowered passing the info along on media literacy, nutrition, etc. —If you click on our ‘Childhood Obesity’ category you’ll see lots of our counter-marketing info there…I hope to get some funding to bring it to a downloadable ‘short sheet’ form for anyone who wants to do bits and pieces of sessions (again, customizable…for instance, I counter-market energy drinks and caffeine in middle school a lot because it’s so prevalent, I counter-market HFCS pouch drinks and cartoon crud in K-2 snack packs, etc.)

    As for movie tie-ins, I’m working on one along these lines with Ratatouille right now because it has SOOOOOOOO many fabulous messages for kids. (not just the whole/healthy food factor but the entire ‘anyone can do it’ inspirational side which really bootstraps ‘at risk’ kids that we often work with…(also see the Shrek Drek counter-marketing to get kids to eat green: https://shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=475 etc.)

    As a writer, I also use ‘screenplays’ to teach dialogue and media ‘scripts’ for the kids to act out (book club group/writing club, etc.) because media has incredible power when used in fun ways, drawing kids into history rather than making them feel like they’re learning about stuffy dead white men, so to speak…

    Freedom Writers is an excellent movie to spin off of for a tolerance message, racism, AND writing…they have a turnkey curriculum using writing journals you might take a look at. (I wrote a post on it here: https://shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=458

    Other movies tackling tough subjects of all kinds make for good ‘if you were in their shoes what would you do’ moments too…(as well as social injustice/genocide like the Harry Potter/darkness of Darfur piece I just wrote…again, not sure the ages you’re talking about, so you ‘might not want to go there yet’—History is brimming with period pieces that step out into present day lessons…I’ll think of more and post when time allows! Thanks for your comment!

  13. i like night at the museum because the easter island stone says dumb dumb give me gum gum gum

  14. heehee…I remember that part, maddy! There was a ton of silly sayings and fun stuff in that film…What other movies do you like that embed some history and make learning fun?

  15. dear people watch out what your kids are watching because if it has swearing in it its not good for toddles under 4 and 10 because if they learn it your kids will always swear and its not good manners ether so make sure your kids listen to movies that dont have no swearing ok so have a nice day from the person that wrote this diary is so kind and this person who is writing this diary is caring about kids manners and this person is a very very very kind and has alot of heart for kids saftey by swearing and make sure not to swear i front of kids ok from this day make sure you dont let your kids hear swearing from unknown

  16. Is your interpretation of swearing the ‘dumb dumb’ part? Need to get clear on the above comment. Thanks…

  17. nice posting and thanks for very useful information.

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