Play the Past is a new model for school field trips that integrates mobile and web technologies into the museum experience to capitalize on the natural behaviors and learning styles of 21st Century Learners. It bridges the gap between classroom and museum learning environments and promotes the development of 21st century skills.

In the Minnesota History Center exhibit, Then Now Wow, 4th-6th grade students use a mobile game on iPods in a 50-minute experience to work in a 1907 Minnesota iron mine, survive life on the prairie in an 1872 sod house, and make trades at an 1804 fur post. The iPod is their tool to help them explore, uncover stories, solve problems and collect items along the way. Students scan QR codes within three exhibit sections. In some sections, hands-on exhibit interactives (such as using a drill to mine for ore) communicate with the game to create a real-time integration between the physical and mobile experience. Everything students collect through the game is available in a personal “digital backpack,” which provides opportunities for  further classroom research.

Through rapid prototyping and extensive user testing with nearly 3,000 students, teachers and parent chaperones, the design of Play the Past continually incorporated the feedback of its target audience. The components developed include: an in-gallery mobile game that provides a new interpretive tool to engage students in the physical exhibit environment; a “digital backpack” accessible through a secure website containing items students collected on the field trip, with curated links to primary sources; curricular activities that employ Web 2.0 tools for classroom educators to guide historical investigations and support students’ development of 21st century skills; and administration infrastructure including a system for the maintenance and distribution of iPods to 30 students every half-hour and an online dashboard to manage the experience.

Play the Past creates a new learning paradigm for student engagement that supports students’ use of critical thinking and problem solving skills, encourages collaboration, and increases their enthusiasm for history. One teacher from a three-day in-depth review affirmed this goal: “You’re onto something with making history fun…isn’t the first rule of learning, engagement?…and when kids are playing, they’re engaged.”  In written surveys, 92% of teachers reported that they felt students gained critical thinking and collaboration skills while engaged in the game. Students responded to playthroughs with statements such as, “[Play the Past] made us look deeper into the stuff. Otherwise we’d just walk by.”

The Play the Past “digital backpack” is designed to support teachers and create a strong connection between field trip engagement and classroom learning. It is grounded in Northern Lights, the Minnesota Historical Society’s award-winning Minnesota history textbook, used in more than 70% of Minnesota’s schools. One teacher attested to its impact by stating “…when I saw the backpack…I could see myself covering the entire (Northern Lights) chapter in our curriculum by using your resources and the field trip.”

The project was a multi-year collaboration between the Minnesota Historical Society and the ARIS team.

Want to see more videos of the project? Check these links out!



Project Director: Wendy Jones
Project Manager: Jennifer Sly
Program Associate: Rebecca Gillette
Program Assistant: Kimberly Long
Program Assistant: Roxanne Kalenborn
Multimedia Director: Jesse Heinzen
Multimedia Producer: Alex Palmer
Multimedia Writer/Producer: Julianna Olsen
Assistant Media Developer: Ned Hurley
Assistant Media Developer: Melissa Gagner
Video Narrators: Melissa Friedmann and Jack Matheson
Director of History Center Museum, Exhibitions & Diversity: Dan Spock
Director of Enterprise Development: Rose Sherman
Web and Mobile Services Manager: Jim Ockuly
Web Developer: Morgan L’Argent
Web Developer: Corrie Potter
Web Developer: Marj Kelly
Graphic Designer: Jenny Parker
Exhibit Project Manager: Aaron Novodvorsky
Exhibit Developer: Ellen Miller
Exhibit Designer: Brad Thiel
Exhibit Designer: John Lindell
Exhibit Graphic Designer: Therese Scheller
Education Marketing Specialist: Joanna Danks
Program Supervisor, Interpretive Programs: Annie Johnson
Museum Supervisor: William Dinon
Program Manager II, School Programs: Mary Mannes
Museum Supervisor, School Programs: Kathryn McKee
Site Manager of the North West Company Fur Post Historic Site: Patrick Schifferdecker
Instructional Technology Consultant and Designer, UW – Madison: David Gagon
Lead Developer, ARIS team, UW – Madison: Phil Dougherty
Prototyping, ARIS team, UW – Madison: Garett Smith
Prototyping, ARIS team, UW – Madison: Jacob Hanshaw
QA, ARIS team, UW – Madison: Emmanuel Contreras
UI / UX Design, ARIS team, UW – Madison: Sarah Gagnon
UI Development, ARIS team, UW – Madison: Justin Moeller
Partner School: John Mayock, 5th Grade Teacher at Capitol Hill Magnet School
Partner School: Wanda Hanson, 6th Grade Teacher at Dover-Eyota Middle School
Partner School: Eric Salverda, 6th Grade Teacher at St. Paul Academy
Partner School: Cindy Johnson, 6th Grade Teacher at Pioneer Ridge Middle School
Advisor: Chris Holden, Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico Honors College
Advisor: David Schaller, Principal of Eduweb
Advisor: Scott Sayre, Found and Principal at Sandbox Studios
Advisor: Tim Wilson, Chief Technology Officer for Osseo Area Schools
Advisor: Wendy Wolfe, Technology Integration Specialist
Advisor: Keith Braafladt, Director of the Learning Technologies Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota
Advisor: Robert Costello, National Outreach Program Manager at the National Museum of Natural History – Smithsonian Institution
Advisor: Seann Dikkers, Assistant Professor in the Educational Technology division of the Patton College of Education at Ohio University
Advisor: John Martin, Ph.D. Learning Consultant at UW-Madison, Academic Technology
Advisor: Chris Blakesly, Educational Technologist
Advisor: Breanne Litts, Utah State University
Advisor: Loic Tallon, Senior Mobile Producer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art