Written by Hana Layson (Head of Youth & Educator Programs) with Laura Bartroff (Director of Communications) and reposted from the Portland Art Museum’s News blog.
Last month, over 70 educators from across grade levels and disciplines gathered to experience the Portland Art Museum (Portland, OR) as a space of creativity, learning, and leadership. The event, Finding Place: Art, Power, and Community, is part of an initiative to nurture teacher leaders at the Museum through the 22-member Teacher Advisory Council, year-round professional development programs, and the Summer Teacher Leadership Fellows Program. The initiative receives generous support from the Oregon Community Foundation.
The Finding Place program was planned and facilitated by educators for educators. Twelve members of the Teacher Advisory Council began meeting last October to brainstorm a way to meaningfully celebrate the Council’s fifth anniversary. Through a series of open conversations, the group identified place, belonging, and equity as some of the most vital issues in education and art today. They decided to design an experience that would encourage social and emotional connections as well as intellectual inquiry. Perhaps most importantly, they wanted the experience to be joyful—an opportunity for educators to step away from the tedium of standardized tests and administrative meetings and to reconnect with the joy of learning, creating, and being part of a community.
The day began with a story circles workshop for former and current Teacher Advisory Council members, facilitated by Charlene Martinez, Associate Director of Integrative Learning at Oregon State University and a current Council member. Story circles are a popular educational tool used in community organizing and arts-based social justice efforts. They offer a great way to build empathy and relationships quickly. For this session, participants were asked to respond to the prompt, “Think of a time when you did or did not feel you belonged to this nation.” Council members deepened their friendships with each other and came away with a new pedagogical technique to share with students and colleagues. As Dawn Nelson, a Language Arts teacher at Forest Grove High School, reflected afterwards, “The story circles not only gave me so much inspiration that day, but also when I used them in my classroom, they were so powerful—such a great way for a serious subject to inspire hope, joy, and community.”
Following the morning workshop, Teacher Advisory Council members opened up the program and welcomed all interested educators to the keynote presentation and a series of workshops inspired by the exhibition the map is not the territory. Dr. Natchee Blu Barnd, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Native American Studies at Oregon State University, engaged participants with interactive activities to better understand decolonization, land and displacement, and how to implement concrete strategies for the classroom. Seven Council members facilitated small-group workshops connecting art and decolonization through a variety of disciplines, including movement and music, medicine and postcolonial literature, ink drawing and chipboard-sculpture-making. During one session, educators explored the exhibition independently, responding to prompts that encouraged reflection and dialogue.
Along with the deep thinking and conversations, educators also played. They filled in bingo cards that asked them to “Take a selfie with someone you just met” and “Discuss what you love most about teaching.” They posed before a gold-sequined curtain at the photo booth. They shared a meal and conversation and laughter.
In building teachers as leaders within the Museum and their own schools, the Teacher Leadership Initiative further supports the Museum’s efforts to integrate the arts into classroom teaching.
“When we began the planning process for this event there was an emphasis on being welcomed and respected as collaborators,” said Lilly Windle, a visual art teacher at Lincoln High School in Portland. “Through a commitment to listening and building on shared ideas, we made progress, learned and built a program that kept the original vision of connection, joy, collaboration, community and power, clear and at the forefront.”
The continuum of empowering educators was evident as the inaugural Teacher Leadership Fellows joined the Teacher Leadership Council, and participated in hands-on, collaborative resource-sharing during the symposium. As 2018 Fellow and H.B. Lee Middle School teacher Franky Stebbins observed, the planning process and final program were “a reminder that the leaders I respect and appreciate the most are those who are DOING—who are willing to lead, but also jump in, be vulnerable, and co-create.”
“For me personally, it felt grounding to experience a high-fidelity educator workshop addressing the many layers of connecting with the land and having Indian Country be visible,” said Carrie Brown, a teacher at the Native Montessori Preschool in Portland Public Schools. “So often, our Native families and students are invisible in university education courses and workshops. Much gratitude to the Portland Art Museum for hosting this workshop and supporting the exhibition the map is not the territory.”
Focus for a moment on an object in front of you. How do you understand its shape? How would you represent it by drawing it? Imagine turning or rotating it. What would it look like then? How could you create something with the same shape?
When we look at and create art, we are exercising spatial intelligence to analyze and construct objects and images. Rich experiences with works of art have been shown to significantly enhance student math achievement, as documented by the Framing Student Success program that studied the effects of standards-based instruction that integrated high-quality visual arts, math, and literacy content in three high-poverty New York City Public Schools. These findings support a growing trend in K-12 programs across the country to merge arts instruction with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, pioneered by Rhode Island School of Design’s STEM to STEAM initiative.
How can the excitement around the potential of the arts to contribute to STEM education, along with current research on spatial ability be shared in an art museum setting, so that PreK-12 teachers can bring the ideas into their classrooms? Here we’ll share the activities and discussions that we designed with this aim. The two-hour gallery session was a part of a week-long teacher institute, VAST (Visual Arts and Sources for Teaching) held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art this past July. The overall theme for VAST was integrating art across the curriculum. Our session was led by Andrea Kantrowitz, Assistant Professor at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, who co-wrote and implemented the Framing Student Success curriculum; Rebecca Mitchell, former Manager of Teacher Services at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Lynda O’Leary, Distance Learning Coordinator at PMA.
Through a series of structured activities (individual, small group, and large group) – looking at art, drawing, creating sculptures, discussing, and choreographing a short dance on a work of art (yes, you read that right!), the teachers engaged their spatial thinking skills to think and create in two- and three- and even four- dimensions.
The setting: Temporary exhibition, Minimalism in Motion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and permanent collection galleries
Audience: 80 PreK-12 teachers (in groups of 20 at a time)
After a short introduction to the Framing Student Success study and some research findings about spatial thinking, the teachers began their first activity. With pencils and sketchbooks in hand, the group spent 10-15 minutes drawing Robert Morris’s Untitled (Battered Cubes) from 1970, a piece made up of four large cube-like objects. Andrea explained that there was no “wrong” way to draw the sculptures, and that a variety of approaches would be beneficial to our discussion later. Since there were art teachers and classroom teachers in each group, we didn’t want anyone to feel self-conscious about their drawing ability. Andrea emphasized that it was the thinking and problem solving that was most important, not how “accurate” the drawing looked. The teachers sat wherever they felt comfortable, and drew the sculpture from whatever angle they preferred.
The teachers then watched a minimalist dance performance, choreographed by Lucinda Childs and filmed by Babette Mangolte in 1973, Calico Mingling (available here: http://ubuweb.com/film/mangolte_calico.html) and notated it however they wanted to – through sketches, notes, or some combination of the two. Again, the goal was to observe closely and record these observations with pencil and paper. In the Childs piece, the dancers move around and through a grid pattern on the ground, located at Robert Moses Plaza at Fordham University.
Many ways to solve a problem:
We gathered the teachers back together and placed the drawings of the sculpture on the floor. After a walk around the circle to look at all of them, we discussed the variety of approaches – while some people showed multiple viewpoints in one drawing, others focused on what they could see from their vantage point. Next we looked at everyone’s notes/sketches of the dance, which revealed even more variety. Some people focused on one dancer’s movements, while others watched for overall patterns among all of the dancers. Still others counted steps, traced arcs of the movements, or looked for relationships between the dances and the grid below their feet. All of these approaches yielded successful results, and the variety of solutions enriched the group’s understanding of both the sculpture and dance. We discussed the challenges and strategies to translate three-dimensional objects onto a two-dimensional surface, and the added complexity of movement and time.
Building it out again: three dimensions
Now it was time to experiment with creating something three-dimensional from a two-dimensional material: paper. Working with a 1 1/2 inch dot grid on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, a pair of scissors, and small circular stickers, teachers created sculptures. No specific instructions were given except to create something three-dimensional based on the grid. The teachers cut, folded, and taped. Discoveries were made, and sculptures were adjusted. They learned what worked and responded to their new knowledge as they continued to build. As expected, this exercise resulted in a wide range of sculptures – size, shape, and orientation. We displayed the sculptures in the center of the room and discussed the process and results.
Introducing time: the fourth dimension
Happily, there was a Carl Andre sculpture installed in the exhibition, which consisted of 17 copper squares, arranged in a line on the floor. Another grid! This gave us, the facilitators, the idea to culminate this part of the session with physical activity, something we thought would also benefit students when these ideas were translated into a classroom. Andre’s sculptures are meant to be experienced by walking over, around, and on them. Taking inspiration from Childs’s dance, we split the larger group into groups of 4-5 teachers and gave them 10 minutes to create a dance on and around the sculpture. Although coming up with choreography was a new experience to many of the teachers, they embraced the challenge and had fun working together. Again, the final pieces showed great variety:
Some moved in grid-like movements: forward, backward, side-to-side, while others incorporated more organic movements. Some were in unison, others had each dancer moving in a unique way. All utilized the length of the sculpture and responded to its structure.
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On a concluding walk through the galleries, we took note of how artists throughout time and place use the grid to organize space. For example, the use of one-point perspective in a Canaletto painting or the incorporation of multiple perspectives in an 18th century Japanese screen. From grids on floors, to decorations on the ceilings, to paintings, drawings, decorative arts, and sculptures on view, it became clear that grids abound in art and architecture. We began to consider the world around us in new ways and recognize underlying structures that order our built environment.
These exercises drew the teachers out of their comfort zones and encouraged them to engage in creative play – looking, drawing, creating, dancing, and discussing. They considered spatial relationships from several perspectives and through different means. It is our hope that the teachers left the session with practical ideas for the classroom, an enriched understanding of spatial intelligence, and a new appreciation the interconnectedness of art across the disciplines.
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About the Authors
REBECCA MITCHELL is the former Manager of Teacher Services at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she taught students in the galleries, organized teacher programs, and wrote teacher resources (to view the PMA’s teacher resources, please visit www.philamuseum.org/teacherresources). She has a B.A. in art history from Smith College and an M.A. in art history from the University of Delaware. She currently resides outside of New Haven, CT, where she is spending time with her two young children, but remains active in the art museum education community.
ANDREA KANTROWITZ, EdD, is an artist and researcher, who has lectured and given workshops internationally on art and cognition. As the director of the Thinking through Drawing Project at Teachers College, Columbia University, she organized a series of international drawing and cognition research symposia, in collaboration with colleagues from the U.K. She holds a B.A in Art and Cognition from Harvard University and a MFA in Painting from Yale, and an Ed.D from Columbia University in art education and cognitive studies. She teaches foundation drawing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and art education at Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She worked for many years as a teaching artist in the New York City public schools and has been involved in multiple local and national arts in education research projects. Her own art work is represented by Kenise Barnes Fine Art.
Written by Sara Egan, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,and Michael Baulier, Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers
The School Partnership Program at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is like a laboratory for museum education, through which we work for multiple years with a diverse range of students and teachers with a collection of art that never changes. This combination of stable and changing variables has allowed the Gardner Museum to maintain a cycle of theory, practice, research and reflection. The School Partnership Program uses Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) as the primary teaching and assessment method, responding to findings from our 2007 U.S. Department of Education study, Thinking Through Art. We’ve continued to learn and grow since that study, most recently through our work with the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers (EMK), an in-district charter school in Boston. We started partnering with the English Language Arts and History teachers in 2012 and this year added Spanish teachers. While the successes and challenges we encounter working with EMK are specific to our partnership, we hope you will use our example to consider how praxis (the practical application of theory) and research can contribute to your own programs.
Research: Getting to know our audience
Working with the same audience over time is a luxury, but also crucial in our pursuit to consistently tailor our program to the specific needs of our partner students and teachers. Since we work with the students throughout their high school careers, we see the EMK 11th grade students respond to the Museum very differently than they did in 9th grade. We see changes through a variety of data collection methods: surveys, writing samples, long and short interviews, observations, and more. Our program goals include developing visual literacy and critical thinking and communication skills, so we mine the program data to determine how the students are making meaning from works of art and quantify the frequency of critical thinking that they deploy in that quest. The quantitative research tells us where the students are, while the qualitative data helps us to understand the context and explain how, when and why students develop these skills. So, how do we respond when we see that students shift over time from 9th grade comments like,
“Yeah. It’s a nice picture. It’s nice and, I don’t know, it’s colorful”
to interpretations from 11th graders such as,
“This room looks dark and mysterious. Kind of like a church because of all the holy statues and religious references. Maybe it means you can find light even in the darkness?”
Theory: Making sense of the data
The work of constructivist theorists like Piaget, Vygotsky and Duckworth, Abigail Housen’s theory of Aesthetic Development, in addition to our own personal theories of learning and change inform our interpretations of our research. Viewing the raw data through the lens of theory helps our team of educators explain what we see while validating the theories that we are considering. Returning to the EMK example, we know from our research that as these high school students are introduced to the Gardner Museum and begin discussing art using VTS they are primarily concerned with their own observations and prior knowledge. After two years of monthly discussions of art in the classroom and at the museum, they start to wonder about the intent or history of the artist. Housen’s theory tells us that through extensive experience looking at art there will be a development from storytelling to considering new kinds of information such as art history. Piaget’s theory of childhood development contributes to our understanding of why this happens more quickly in high school students than elementary-aged students. We use these frameworks to understand where the EMK 11th grade students are now, and then estimate where they are likely to go next and what kinds of questions they will pose in the months ahead. The students are capable of abstract reasoning and are interested in the way that an artist’s intentions play out in a work of art. They are also thinking about the VTS process itself and questioning the boundaries of its usefulness with art and across disciplines.
Practice: Putting it all into action
With a solid grounding of data and theory, our next step in August 2014 (Year 3 of partnering with EMK) was to adjust our practice to fit the new reality of these more experienced students’ needs and interests. First we began experimenting with new types of information when the students visited the Museum, for example providing more context about a special exhibition or asking probing questions like, “What do you think might have interested the artist when making this artwork?” Next, we held intensive professional development for our partner teachers at EMK, collaborating to create “VTS extensions” that use VTS skills to explore new concepts, for example predicting the themes of a new novel or unit of history by examining images.
Collaboration: Insights from Michael Baulier, 9th grade English Teacher
As a STEM school with a strong focus on math and science, EMK relies heavily on relationships with peer institutions to offer opportunities for students to engage in the arts. I embraced VTS because I view this instructional approach as an opportunity to address the dearth of arts education in our school. What I did not anticipate was the extraordinary impact VTS would have on the daily instruction that occurs in my classroom.
VTS fits seamlessly into my teaching as an instructional strategy that promotes whole-group discussions grounded in visual evidence. When I ask students the first VTS question, “What’s going on in this image?” I am cuing them to develop claims based on a visual text. The follow-up question, “What do you see that makes you say that?” requires students to provide visual evidence to support their claims. In ELA class evidence-based reasoning is at the core of everything we do, whether a student is discussing a visual text during VTS, making an inference while reading a short story, or writing a paragraph to support a thesis statement in an essay. VTS also aligns nicely with the ELA Common Core Standards’ emphasis on student-centered exploration over teacher-directed instruction, and the development of listening skills and oral proficiency are beneficial to students who are English Language Learners or receiving Special Education. Instead of frontloading tasks with teacher-generated content knowledge, students engage with texts, take risks, and uncover meaning collaboratively. Because the subject of VTS is an image, all students have an opportunity to contribute to the discussion in a low stakes environment. The deliberate focus on active listening and high volume of oral language input for students to process leads over time to increased language output. I have observed students who are typically reluctant to speak aloud share detailed responses to complex images in the classroom or at the Museum.
In the third year of our partnership with the Gardner Museum we are collaborating more than ever to explore new opportunities for using VTS to enhance teaching and learning in our school. In November my students visited the Museum to brainstorm ideas for image-based short stories written as part of a VTS extension project. In April we look forward to hosting our first family event to showcase student work inspired by the Gardner Museum. The Museum’s eagerness to engage our school community through so many unique learning opportunities makes this partnership especially exciting, because it speaks to the creativity that is so vital to both the arts and education.
Reflection: What did we learn from the cycle of praxis?
The contours of this partnership have changed over time as we listen to our audience through research, interpret what we hear through the lens of theory, and translate our understanding into practice. Rather than automatically replicating practices that have worked in the past we continually strive to improve and to justify, to ourselves as well as all other stakeholders, the value and relevancy of our program. At EMK, our partnership is a component of school culture and the value of the arts and critical thinking are infused at every grade. Teachers and students consider the Gardner Museum as an active part of their campus, visiting independently and attending the Museum’s other programs. This cycle keeps the work always fresh and exciting, as there is always more to learn from and with our partners.
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About the Authors
SARA EGAN: School Partnership Manager at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where she connects Boston students and teachers to the Gardner through Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). She teaches preK-12th grade students in the galleries and the classroom, trains and coaches teachers to use VTS, and researches the impact of the School Partnership Program. Sara also manages the Gardner Museum’s paid Teens Behind the Scenes. She holds a BA from Vassar College and an Ed.M. in Arts in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
MICHAEL L. BAULIER: Educator at the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers, where he teaches English Language Arts to ninth grade students. Michael is an inclusion teacher who is licensed to teach students receiving Special Education (SPED) support services as well as English Language Learners (ELL). He earned his National Board Certification for Professional Teaching Standards (NBCT) in 2014. Michael holds a BA and MAT from Northeastern University and is currently studying at the University of Massachusetts Boston to become a school administrator.
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Header Image: Sara and 9th grade students from the Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers in the Courtyard of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston.
Editor’s Note: Given the meaningful ongoing dialogue about the role(s) of museums in society and our communities, I am thrilled to repost this piece by Jamie Harrison in which she reflects on her visit to the new Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg — the first museum solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration, and future of human rights. From inviting multiple perspectives to embracing complexity, Harrison thinks deeply about core aspects of teaching and student learning through her experience of the exhibits and design of the Museum of Human Rights. I am most excited to share her perspective as a classroom teacher since so many museum educators (paid staff and volunteers alike) are working toward similar goals, allowing for museums to be a place for learners to be challenged; where we can struggle to make meaning, recognize others’ perspectives, participate, and create personal relevance. I encourage readers to click on links to the many teaching strategies that Harrison provides, and explore the resources of Facing History and Ourselves.
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Written by Jamie Harrison, high school teacher, Brandon, Manitoba
Museums are invaluable to education. The carefully selected exhibits, information, and artifacts provide tangible and visual evidence for exploration, reflection, and dialogue that support lessons in the classroom. Museums allow students to build upon prior knowledge – to see things differently.
In late October 2014, I had the opportunity to attend an educator’s preview of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At the time of my tour, many of the galleries were still under construction, but what I was able to see led me to think deeply, and at times differently, about how I teach in my own classroom.
Here are 8 lessons I took away from my visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights:
1. Take Students on a Journey
As you move through each of the museum’s eight levels, it becomes progressively brighter (a symbolic – and physical – movement from darkness to light). It is thoughtfully and memorably planned to lead visitors in, to build knowledge, and to lead us toward hope. In the classroom, I take students on Facing History’s Scope and Sequence journey, exploring the role of the individual in society, the concept of “we” and “they,” the supporting history of human rights in Canada and throughout the world, the memory of those who were left voiceless, and the choice (and call) to participate in our own communities.
2. Invite Multiple Perspectives
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is highly interactive, with videos, games, and activities meant to encourage participation from all visitors. The space provides multiple perspectives that contribute to our understanding of human rights. Many of the events and issues explored in the museum stem from people, governments, and societies only seeing, or contemplating, a single perspective. As educators, we need to foster safe and respectful classroom environments, ensuring that students have the freedom to both contemplate and express multiple perspectives on a variety of issues. Doing so promotes personal growth and it allows students to see things beyond themselves – teaching strategies like contracting and fishbowl can help students to hear each other.
3. Give Students Opportunities to Struggle with Making Meaning
On the second level, visitors are greeted by a visual and interactive timeline of important moments in human rights history. There is a video screen that runs the entire length of the wall, posing the question: What are human rights? Likewise, much of the art on display on this level – and throughout the museum – is open to interpretation, allowing each viewer to linger over their personal interpretations and meditate on the messages they draw from the pieces that they see. In our classrooms, we can use the working definitions teaching strategy to engage students in their own explorations of key issues. Analyzing visual images gives students a framework to interpret artwork.Giving students the opportunity to make their own meaning in the classroom promotes the intellectual involvement of students and recognizes that words and images can bear multiple, and often deeper, meanings as it is our beliefs, values, history, and understandings that give words and images value.
4. Make Room for Other Ways of Knowing and Learning
The second level of the museum also looks at the Indigenous perspective and Canada’s journey toward recognizing the human rights of all individuals and groups. The Indigenous artwork here reflects groups from each of Canada’s provinces and territories. The space allows room for performance, storytelling, and discussion, and is annexed by a space for ceremony and smudging meant to recognize, and encourage, the values and traditions of our First Nations peoples. If the medium is the message, how are we using different mediums in our classrooms to teach students about the past and about the world in which they live?
5. Students Need to Deal with Complexity Because Life is Complex
The third level of the museum examines the history of protecting human rights in Canada, including a look at the Canadian Bill of Rights. The exhibits on this level demonstrate that not all issues of human rights are easy to decipher – the processes involving human rights can often be lengthy and difficult. As we work to equip students for the complexities of our world, we can bring complex case studiesand resources into the classroom, and we can ask questions that perhaps have no “right” answers.
6. Encourage Personal Connections
At the time of my visit, there was a temporary exhibit entitled “Peace” on the sixth level. Developed by the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the exhibit focuses on Canada’s role in peacekeeping and how that role has been challenged and has evolved throughout history. Two reflection walls encourage participation from visitors. Each provides a guiding question and asks visitors to make personal connections to the content. It provides an outlet for students to examine the impact that peacekeeping has on their identities and on the identity of Canada as a whole.
7. Choose to Participate
Level seven focuses on inspiring change – on choosing to participate. This level houses an exhibit looking at change and a communication wall where visitors are encouraged to reflect upon what they imagine the future to look like and how they can help to inspire positive change in that future.
8. Help Students See Beyond the Classroom Walls
The final gallery in the museum leads to the tower of hope – the peak of the museum – meant to symbolize a merging with the sky. The tower’s viewing platform provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the city of Winnipeg: the now and the future. Here you are surrounded by warmth and light – a true journey from the darkness. We need to help our students take and apply their learning beyond the walls of the classroom. They need to carry their knowledge, beliefs, and values with them so that they can apply them throughout their lives.
How do you use field trips and museum visits in your courses? What impact do such visits have on your students?
JAMIE HARRISON is a high school English and Social Studies teacher in Brandon, Manitoba. Having been fortunate enough to have had a teacher who believed strongly in interacting with history – in facing history as a way of learning about ourselves – she strives to carry that same enthusiasm forward in her own teaching. She does this through interdisciplinary learning, hands-on exploration, and educational travel. Jamie is married with two children.
Reposted from Museum Questions, a blog authored by Rebecca Herz that is dedicated to questions about museums and thoughts on creating a reflective practice.
TheMuseum Questionsexploration of school visits to museums has been sorely lacking the context of a literature review, as noted by Christine Castle of Museum Education Monitor. Happily, Dr. Lynda Kelly told me about a report she wrote in 2011, which is excerpted below. The report was commissioned by The Sovereign Hill Museums Association in Australia. Lynda is Head of Learning the Australian National Maritime Museum, and prior to this worked in digital and audience research at the Australian Museum, Sydney. She has written and consulted widely in this field in Australia and for museums internationally. The full report, with a full bibliography included, can be found here. Thanks to Lynda for allowing me to share this much-shortened version. -Rebecca Herz
Student Learning in Museums
It has long been recognised that museums are educational institutions and that their school audiences are critical in both sustaining visitation and, through offering a positive and inspiring experience, can influence lifelong museum visiting habits (Falk and Dierking, 1997). This report outlines the evidence for student learning in museums under the frame of the contextual model of museum learning (Falk and Dierking, 1992, 2000), coupled with review of published studies primarily drawn from the work of DeWitt and Storksdieck (2008) and Groundwater-Smith and Kelly (2003-2011). Given the parameters of this review, the focus is on the physical museum space, coupled with the role of the teacher and museum staff. For more information about the impacts of the online and mobile spaces on educational activities see the list of resources at the end of this report.
The Personal Context and Student Learning
Field trips offer deep cognitive learning beyond facts and concepts to include process skills and draw on other places of learning such as museums. Learning on a field trip is a valuable supplement and addition to classroom instruction and a way to prepare students for future learning (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
Students are more likely to remember social and personally relevant aspects of field trips, yet also dislike and keep less favorable memories of these trips that seem overly structured and leave little room for their personal visit agenda (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
Based on the elaborateness of children’s descriptions it was concluded that high personal involvement, links with the curriculum and multiple visits to the same institution embraced long-term learning impact (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008; Wolins et al, 1992).
Affective outcomes, such as increased motivation or interest, sparking curiosity or improved attitudes towards a topic, may be more reasonable given the short-term nature of field trips (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
Visits to science centres can positively impact attitudes towards science for students who are already interested in and engaged with science (Jarvis and Pell, 2005).
Students felt that in order to be substantively engaged in cognitive learning they needed to: know how things worked; be able to think through ideas; have opportunities to ask questions; be able to handle, manipulate and closely examine artefacts and exhibits; be able to seek out information from several sources in language that is appropriate to their age and stage of development; and be stimulated through all their senses (Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009).
When looking at emotional learning, students expressed a desire to be emotionally connected, while at the same time not emotionally confronted. The students in this study indicated that they welcomed opportunities to be fully engaged with provocative questions, fascinating and puzzling exhibits and clear, well-structured and accessible information (Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009).
In the majority of cases the aspect of the field trip that was recalled subsequently was the content and/or subject matter presented during the field trip (Falk and Dierking, 1997).
Even after years had elapsed, nearly 100% of the individuals interviewed could relate at least one thing they learned during an early-elementary-school field trip, and most could relate three or more things (Falk and Dierking, 1997). Students retained information about sharks from an exhibition in a marine park in Italy up to three months after a visit (Miglietta et al, 2008). Sixteen months after visiting a science centre in Israel students recalled facts and details of their visit such as exhibitions, activities and guides’ input (Bamberger and Tal, 2008).
The Social Context and Student Learning
Students are more likely to remember social aspects of their visit. The social interaction occurring on a field trip is an important part of the experience and supporting students’ in sharing their experiences enhances learning (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008; Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009).
Students like learning with their friends. While they recognised that a visit to the Museum was primarily designed by their teachers to assist in their learning, they also wanted it to be a satisfying social occasion when they could learn with and from their peers (Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009).
Visits are highly social experiences for students. A study of sixth graders stated that they had more control over their own learning when interacting with their peers rather than adults who tended towards control (Birney, 1988).
A study of student talk found that school visits to museums assisted in building relationships between students through cooperative interactions and discourse (DeWitt and Hohenstein, 2010).
The Physical Context and Student Learning
Students wanted to feel safe and comfortable and to move around readily unimpeded by a number of prohibitive signs. They also wanted areas to be well-lit and inviting and find physical spaces scaled to their ages and needs (Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009).
The novelty of the setting may distract from students’ conceptual learning if novelty is strong (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
The degree of structure of a field trip is the subject of much disagreement in the literature – how much should the experience be mediated and teacher/educator-led, and how much should be student-led, based on free-choice learning? DeWitt and Storksdieck (2008) identified several issues around structured visits:
To maximise cognitive and affective outcomes field trips need to provide moderate amount of structure while still allowing for free exploration.
Well-designed worksheets can be effective in promoting discovery-based enquiry if exposing students to a wide range of relevant information.
Well-designed worksheets may tap into already available interpretive material thus extending the richness of information.
The use of pre and post visit activities can enhance the cognitive and affective learning outcomes.
In a museum setting structure experiences, such as guided tours, specific detailed tasks can increase cognitive learning but may dampen enthusiasm.
Structure, including worksheets, may limit the ability for students to explore and engage with the unique aspects of the museum setting.
Based on a rage of studies, McManus (1985) recommended that worksheets should be designed to encourage observation, allow time for observation, focus on objects not labels, be unambiguous about where to find information and encourage talk.
THE ROLE OF THE TEACHER
Teachers value museums as sources of rich learning and social experiences (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008; Falk and Dierking, 1997; Groundwater-Smith et al, 2009). Teachers’ agendas for the trip will influence their subsequent classroom practice (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
Research reveals that teachers have complex and comprehensive reasons for field trips, valuing these as learning and educational opportunities and as chances for social and affective learning (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
Teacher motivations for school trips include connecting with classroom curricula, providing a general learning experience, enhancing student motivation, exposure to new experiences, change in setting or routine and student enjoyment (Kisiel, 2005).
Students with teachers who were both enthusiastic about science and engaged in extensive follow-up activities expressed more positive attitudes towards science after their museum visit than students in other classes (Jarvis and Pell, 2005).
DeWitt and Storksdieck (2008) report that field trips are enhanced when the teacher:
Becomes familiar with the setting before the trip.
Orients students to the setting and agenda and clarifies learning goals.
Plans pre-visit activities aligned with curriculum goals.
Plans and conducts post-visit activities to reinforce the trip and enables students to reflect on their experiences.
THE ROLE OF THE MUSEUM AND MUSEUM EDUCATORS
Limited research has been undertaken into the role of museum educators in school visits and researchers are only beginning to examine the role of the museum in the student visit (Griffin, 2004). However, of the literature consulted it is clear that collaboration between teachers and museum educators and other staff in program development brings positive results in terms of enhanced outcomes of student visits and in strengthening relationships.
DeWitt and Storksdieck (2008) report that teachers’ goals may not be the same as those of museum educators which, in turn, can cause confusion and impediments to learning. Teachers also may have multiple goals for the visit, whereas museums may be too focussed on the logistical aspects of the visit, such as wayfinding, parental consent, safety forms, transportation, financial transactions and orientation (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008).
When programs are developed in alignment with school curricular and teacher goals rather than the museum’s objectives, integration of the visit into classroom practice is more likely (Xanthoudaki, 1998).
Successful museum-school collaborations are often characterised by the museum reaching out to teachers and developing material in conjunction with them (DeWitt and Storksdieck, 2008; Groundwater-Smith et al, 2009).
Australian Museum staff who had participated in the 2009 Teachers’ College found this had a positive impact upon all participants, and that teachers had a great deal to offer in the way of advice. Staff felt that they had benefitted in terms of getting close to their audience; learning about how the Museum could better engage teachers and students; networking and connections made to enable further discussion and consultation to take place; and stimulating new ideas for programs (Kelly and Fitzgerald, 2011).
Featured image by Universal Pops at Flickr.com. Photograph of a school group on tour at the North Carolina Museum of Art viewing “Sir William Pepperrell and His Family (1778, oil on canvas) by John Singleton Copley.
For the past two decades, the overall discourse regarding Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) has been the subject of rather thorny debate. The often-cited conversation between Philip Yenawine and Danielle Rice at the 1999 National Docent Symposium (published in 2002) productively drew out many of the disagreements about the role of information in museum teaching, especially with beginning viewers and first-time museum visitors. In their recent book Teaching in the Art Museum, Rika Burnham and Elliot Kai-Kee frame VTS as a restrictive teaching method, wondering about participants’ experience in the galleries: “Have they not perhaps been cheated out of an authentic encounter with the painting?” These debates continue to today, and, at times, it seems like one needs to draw a line in the sand and decide which side they stand on.
“VTS uses art to teach visual literacy, thinking, and communication skills—listening and expressing oneself. Growth is stimulated by several things: looking at art of increasing complexity, answering developmentally based questions, and participating in peer group discussions carefully facilitated by teachers.” (19)
Even those who do not practice VTS may be familiar with the sequence of open-ended questions that form one of the main aspects of VTS teaching practice:
What’s going on in this picture?
What do you see that makes you say that?
What more can we find?
If you are interested in learning more about VTS, the foundational research behind it, and ongoing research in museums and classrooms today, here are some excellent resources:
My own approach toward VTS has been to set aside any controversy and more fully explore the research as well as the practical implementation of these teaching strategies ‘on the ground’ in museums. Back in 2009, I led a panel at the American Association of Museums conference that called attention to the many questions, challenges, and apprehensions that exist regarding this method. After interviews with more than 30 museum educators from across the country, I was able to gain a more complete and complex view of how VTS (and the research behind it) is being implemented in art museums—including adaptations of the original protocol, metacognitive dimenions as part of the VTS experience, pushing the boundaries of artwork selection, and alternative applications for docent and teacher training. I have even found institutions that use Abigail Housen’s “stages of aesthetic development” (the core foundation of VTS) as part of their curatorial practice, the writing of labels and wall texts, and working with teaching artists to examine ways of creating art that addresses developmental stages of the viewers. In addition to being one of the most commonly used teaching methods in art museums today, it is interesting to see how many other ways that VTS and its research has entered into museum practice.
Burning Questions about VTS: Ask Philip Yenawine
While I have never been trained in VTS myself, I have adopted it as part of my own teaching toolbox — often using its open-ended questions as a way to spark looking, talking, and listening with a work of art. I respect the research and practice involved with VTS, which is why I jumped at the chance to partner with the national VTS organization to bring Philip Yenawine here to the Portland Art Museum. Philip has been traveling around the country since his latest book was released last year, and his speaking engagement here at the Portland Art Museum (this Saturday, May 3rd, 2:00pm) will be part of that series of talks.
When we were first offered to host Philip’s talk here in Portland, I invited Philip to also join me for a conversation on stage as part of this Saturday’s program (which he gladly accepted). I wanted to have the opportunity to discuss the applications of VTS with art museum teaching, and discuss some of the ‘burning questions’ that many museum educators have about VTS research and practice.
So, I am using this blog post (and the ArtMuseumTeaching community) to gather some juicy, burning questions that we all might have about VTS in museum teaching. To seed this “open think” process of gathering your questions, I asked Jennifer DePrizio and Michelle Grohe at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston (a leading museum in VTS research & practice) to send me some of their questions. Here is some of what they sent me:
We know a lot about what VTS looks like (both in terms of facilitation and types of learning to expect) in elementary students, primarily in grades 3-5. What does that learning and teaching look like with older students, particularly high school?
Listening is the cornerstone of paraphrasing and ensuring that students know that you not only listened to their ideas, but they were heard as well. That can be a difficult skill to encourage teachers to develop. Can you really train someone to be a good listener? How can we design effective professional development experiences that help teachers become aware of how they listen, and how to listen better? What activities and practice can we put into place to help our gallery educators hone their listening skills?
Since professional development programs at the Gardner invest a lot of time, over time, with teachers, what does their growth look like in terms of: aesthetic development, comfort with visual art, use of student-centered teaching practices, use of VTS questions with non-visual art, overall attitudes and understandings of teaching and learning and role of visual art in the classroom/school?
What is the long-term effect or stickiness for VTS?
What does the use of VTS look like with non-beginners, or with viewers who are moving from beginner viewers (Housen stages I and II), into different aesthetic stages such as Housen’s stage II/III, II/IV and III? How could we best support their growth while also challenging the students effectively? What would that facilitation look like? How would we know that we were addressing the students’ actual questions, not just sharing information that we think would help them?
How do we responsibly respond to the many misrepresentations of VTS that exist? How do we help colleagues in the field of art museum education understand the nuances that are available within VTS?
ADD YOUR QUESTIONS:
Please help me crowd-source some more ‘burning questions’ about VTS, and use the Comments area below to add your own questions. If you add your thoughts here between now and Saturday, I’ll bring many of these questions to my conversation with Philip Yenawine here at the Portland Art Museum (and I should be able to post the video of this conversation here next week).
Thanks for helping me think about VTS in this open space for exchange, questions, and ideas! And I’m looking forward to my conversation with Philip on Saturday (join us if you’re in Portland — the event is FREE and starts at the Portland Art Museum at 2pm).
During most days here in New York (and especially the recent spring break), art museums are thronged with families. Parents, grandparents and their children of all ages orient themselves with maps, cruise galleries and favor an exhibit or two leaning in to read labels, manipulate interactives, ask questions and make observations together. They’ve come to be entertained, spend time together and invest in the value of informal education.
As most of us know, families build a foundation for behavior and learning strategies and research indicates that family museum visits lead to adults who find value and comfort in museums. So what happens when children are marginalized because they don’t visit museums with their families? How might they feel comfortable and find value in a museum? While museums turn to more inclusive programs, policies, and exhibits in order to reach more families, what can the individual classroom teacher do to help create lifelong museum visitors?
I am an English teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School, a large public high school in the Bronx. My school currently serves 2,745 students of which 76% receive free lunch and 21% are English Language Learners. Our total population is comprised of 62% Hispanic, 29% Black, 7% Asian, and 3% other. With the average museum visitor being white, college educated, and affluent, my students are certainly in the minority. On top of that, due to budget cuts and the growing focus on test scores, schools like ours are taking fewer and fewer field trips.
At the beginning of the year, 83% of my students claim to have never visited an art museum. Nevertheless, after their second field trip, 96% say they are “likely” or “very likely” to return to one. As I look at these results, I try to understand what makes this class work.
Exploring Museums as Cultural and Community Resources
During their senior year, students can elect to take my year-long Humanities class for English credit. As in most humanities classes, my students learn about a long line of classical texts and objects but in my class they also learn about critical issues related to the people and institutions that preserve, shape, and disseminate cultural knowledge. They analyze intentional learning communities from ancient libraries to contemporary museums to the internet through texts ranging from historical records to reviews of current exhibits. They ask:
Whose culture is being preserved and how is it represented?
Where are the silences and why might they persist?
What are the criteria for a good collection or exhibit?
How are informal learning spaces different from formal education? How are they the same?
In response, their mid-year project is to propose a museum exhibit on a subject of their choice and their year-end assignment is to design a public humanities project for their own community. Even if all my students don’t become museum curators and cultural events planners, at the very least they know that they can critically engage in public dialogue about cultural heritage, encounter deep experiences with works of art, and participate in self-directed learning in museums.
From day one, my students are engaged in object-based lessons. They read curatorial essays and look at several objects on a weekly basis, mostly from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By focusing on the Met as a primary resource, my students come to understand it deeply as a public institution. At the same time, they focus on works of art in depth. Based on my studies with educational philosopher Maxine Greene and through professional development at the Lincoln Center Institute, I have learned to infuse my classroom with aesthetic education practices.
A typical lesson in my classroom involves students in a combination of deep noticing, embodied experiences, play, analysis, discussion, art making, questioning, researching, making connections, and meta-cognitive reflection. Together we wonder about why art matters, why history matters, how both get made, and how both get preserved. In addition, my students learn how to approach an object. In the classroom, groups lean in to an image on an iPad or stand back and discuss an image projected on the wall. They look at the object first and annotate the label second. They learn to look together as well as individually, to listen for their curiosities, find comfort with ambiguity, and to follow through with informal research.
By late fall we are ready for our first self-guided tour and we visit the Met’s Greek Art galleries. It didn’t take long for me to learn that students need preparation for male nudity in theses galleries, so in the days prior to our visit we look closely at nudity and consider its role in ancient Greek culture. This way their field of vision goes beyond the nudity and they can see these objects from multiple perspectives. At the museum, students look at a few pre-selected objects making connections to our study of Homer’s The Odyssey. Next, they explore the galleries in pairs looking for patterns in order to draw conclusions about motifs. Finally, students are encouraged to explore independently and gravitate toward one object which they will eventually research and write about. After our trip, we reflect on our visit and share our research.
In the spring, we return to the Met for a second visit, this time to experience the Islamic Art galleries. My students are noticeably more comfortable during this visit and are able to take on an additional assignment. This assignment asks students to use photography to develop intimate engagement as well as critical distance. Each student is asked to submit four distinct shots: an architectural detail, a fleeting moment, a close up of an object (one they will also research), and a selfie. Upon returning to the classroom we view our collection of photographs, share our research, and reflect on the visit as seen through our own eyes.
Creating Deep Connections with Museums
When students visit museums, they gain experiences and build knowledge. As teachers and museum educators, we often activate schema before, during, or after experiencing a particular object or exhibit in order to make meaning. We do this to help students make connections. But the schema that experienced museum visitors activate is not only related to the content of objects and exhibits. It’s about what to expect from a museum visit and how to make the most of it. How to lean in and look deeply, how to explore independently and together, how to listen to and follow our curiosities. Even how to play or to take a critical stance.
When students don’t visit museums with their families they need classroom teachers to introduce them to the inroads of experiencing one. Otherwise they might never feel welcome or even inclined to try a visit. From my experience, curriculum and lessons based on aesthetic education practices that also familiarize students with museums as a resource need to happen through repetition over an extended period of time, spiraling throughout the course of a semester or a year. This is possible when teachers choose one museum to focus on using objects and text related to their collections. I also believe that teachers need to layer their curriculum with a range of critical questions and projects related to the sources of our cultural heritage. By becoming aware of the ways our cultural heritage is shaped and disseminated, students are empowered and see themselves as active participants in cultural dialogue.
Where else can we find success in reaching marginalized youth and what other roles can classroom teachers play? And finally, how can more teachers be persuaded to create deep connections with museums?
About the Author
CLARE HAGAN: Humanities teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, NY. At DeWitt Clinton, Clare has developed and implemented curriculum based on museums as a resource, museums as an object of study, aesthetic education and object-based lessons. She has presented her Humanities curriculum at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has conducted professional development workshops on object-based lessons. In addition to her MA in English Education from Teachers College, Columbia University, she has studied critical issues in museum education at Teachers College and aesthetic education at Lincoln Center Institute. Currently, through generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, she is studying Islamic verse and will be publishing her museum infused curriculum online this summer. Clare’s postings on this site are her own and don’t necessarily represent DeWitt Clinton High School’s positions, strategies, or opinions.
How can museums begin to more closely connect with in-school and out-of-school digital literacy practices, tapping the tools of the digital age as well as the elements of making, connecting, and experimenting that create powerful possibilities for learning? Can we, as museum educators, begin to see ourselves as designers, and reposition ourselves as active agents of change in today’s education environment? In what ways can museums be more involved in re-envisioning what education looks like?
These questions, among others, have been sparked by my involvement over the past few years in the research and practice around a social and participatory model of learning called Connected Learning — as well as my work with an inspiring group of educators within the National Writing Project. And while art museums have been only tangentially related to this practice (which I blame more on us museum educators and less on NWP), I was fortunate enough to be invited to submit a case study for the latest ebook entitled Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom (published online in February through the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative). This volume highlights compelling firsthand counter-narratives from educators engaged in solving an array of challenges in today’s classrooms, drawing together a collaborative network of instructors who have been contributing to the NWP’s web community, “Digital Is.”
I wanted to take the opportunity of this volume’s publication to begin writing more about Connected Learning, sharing its principles and exploring more connections with the practice of teaching and learning in museums. Below is the text of my case study entitled “Openly Networked Learning in and Across Art Museums,” published first in February 2014 as part of the Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom volume. This short case study examines the aspects of “openly networked” reflective practice in my work as a museum educator and blogger, pushing forward the concept of museums as spaces where communities of learners can connect, intersect, make, collaborate, and share. I encourage anyone unfamiliar with Connected Learning to learn more by visiting connectedlearning.tv or downloading the 2013 report Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design — and I plan to write more here at ArtMuseumTeaching.com in the near future.
Openly Networked Learning In and Across Art Museums
What happens when educators converge around shared interests and purposes in the spaces of museums? How can museums more effectively build diverse networks of educators that support our teaching and learning practice? Faced with the complex landscape of formal and informal education in the 21st century, museums across the globe have been rethinking their role as actors within their educational community. Not only are museum galleries increasingly becoming open spaces in which communities of learners can connect and intersect, but museum professionals are also developing online spaces of exchange and reflective practice.
As a practicing art museum educator as well as a museum blogger, I find myself constantly in the process of discovering how “openly networked” an art museum can be.
While the growth of online learning communities and Google Hangouts for museums certainly promotes this principle of connected learning, I want to begin by focusing on how museums can support openly networked experiences in the analog, physical space of their galleries.
Museums as physical, analog networks
In November 2011, I was invited to lead an in-gallery workshop for educators at the High Museum of Art as part of a conference hosted by Harvard University’s Project Zero. The experience centered around an extended engagement with Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1A,” 1948, which was on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of a special exhibition. Instead of an experience guided by information, we began an open, embodied exploration through a series of scaffolded exercises that included slow looking, sharing observations, quick sketches, free writing, and variety of ways to use sound and movement to create responses to the work of art. Small groups of participants were then invited to pull together sounds, movements, and words to develop creative a public performance in response to the Pollock painting.
One memorable group of three teachers worked together to choreograph a short piece that used their bodies to perform their response to the complex layering of paint and brushstrokes. Freely responding to this single painting through multiple access points as well as public performance, we were able to have a collective learning experience outside of our comfort zone and then immediately “poke at it” and see into the experience as a group. In this case (and many others like it), the art museum becomes a safe, open, and public space in which professional educators from museums, schools, and universities can come together to make learning visible and then reflect upon our practice in a shared space.
Museums as participatory spaces
While an art museum gallery can be an amazing place to meet with a class or group of teachers, museums and museum educators must work to actively support openly networked learning experiences. First of all, museums need to see teachers and students as active participants in the learning experience, pushing beyond mere “spectating” or “learning at a glance” toward a more participatory and process-oriented experience. Part of this involves museums letting go of their ‘authority’ over knowledge and meaning-making, and instead empowering educators to co-create learning experiences with museums — as opposed to passively receiving content from museums, whether that be text panels, audio guides, curators, or museum educators.
Part of achieving this “letting go” is simply valuing teachers’ voices and recognizing teachers as creators of content, knowledge, and meaning in relation to museums. Professional development workshops can be re-envisioned with more of an emphasis on developing communities of practice where we learn from each other no matter what our “home” educational setting might be (school classroom, university, museum, etc.). This sense of creating a community of practice then builds toward a shared, reflective process that leads to professional growth on the side of both teachers and museum educators.
Building online networks of museum educators
The openly networked reflective practice described here does not need to be confined within the walls of a single museum, though. This is where my experience as a museum blogger has expanded the way that people can connect around issues of museum teaching and learning. After facilitating the educator workshop at the High Museum of Art back in 2011, I decided to create a multi-author online forum to publicly reflect on my own teaching practice, spotlight the practice of other educators, and provide a space for conversation around larger issues of teaching and learning in museums. Since its launch in February 2012, ArtMuseumTeaching.com has brought together more than 30 authors actively contributing to a growing online community of practice that reaches out to thousands of educators each month.
In addition to standard blog-style posts and comments, the site has hosted face-to-face Google+ Hangouts On Air with museum educators and teachers from across the world. The site creates a networked space across museums and teaching contexts, allowing readers and contributors to see into and reflect upon the practice of a wide community of educators.
In their 2012 book Networked: The New Social Operating System, Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman have argued that large online communities actually expand opportunities for learning, problem solving, decision making, and personal interaction.
“People’s relationships remain strong—but they are networked. Neighbors, and neighborhoods still exist, to be sure, but they occupy a smaller portion of people’s lives. It is hard to borrow a cup of sugar from a Facebook friend 1,000 miles away, but it has become easier to socialize, get advice, and exchange emotional support at whatever distance. Where commentators had been afraid that the internet would wither in-person ties, it is clear that they enhance and extend them.”
As ArtMuseumTeaching.com continues to expand as an online space for reflecting on museum practice, I have been exploring how we—as museum and education professionals—maneuver within a technology-mediated world in a way that allows us to cultivate productive, human-centered networks and communities. Museums and schools have been widely engaged in how digital media and technology can connect them with their students and audiences. But what about the potential of these same technologies to build entirely new “communities of practice” among professionals—whether teachers, university faculty, or museum educators?
I am especially interested in the ways in which an online community like ArtMuseumTeaching.com can, in turn, bring people with shared interests together in physical spaces in new and meaningful ways. Since 2012, the ArtMuseumTeaching community has hosted several in-person gatherings, including conference sessions, happy hours, and recently the first-ever Museum Teaching Throw Down as well as Gallery Teaching Marathon. As many as one hundred people have come together for these face-to-face social experiences — creating new professional connections and enriching existing collaborations that continue to grow through the online/digital forum. After all, the relationships we develop online are complex, as a simple Twitter follower or blog reader can quickly become a close colleague, friend, and mentor. One ArtMuseumTeaching.com Google Hangout in 2013 brought together educators from Australia to New York in real time, and these connections develop new peer networks, partnerships, and professional exchanges that help us all grow personally and professionally.
Through this work that I have been engaged with thus far — both online and in the physical spaces of museum galleries — I feel that the art museum has begun to make a shift in what it has the potential to become: a dynamic cultural landscape where authentic, learner-driven experiences are developed and enacted by teachers and their students. These experiences are opening up museums as places for educators to chart their own path in unpredictable ways, and to invite parallel exploration, risk-taking, and fresh discovery on the part of learners across a variety of contexts.
Originally published in: Garcia, Antero, ed., 2014. Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. This report series on connected learning was made possible by grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in connection with its grantmaking initiative on Digital Media and Learning.
Submitted by Lydia Ross, Programmer of Education, School and Teacher Programs, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Re-published from NAEA Digication e-Portfolio site.
As 21st century art teachers there are so many competing pressures for time and attention that it can sometimes be difficult to focus on a core concern of creative teachers. How to gather innovative ideas for projects and curriculum that introduce students to a wide range of contemporary artmaking strategies?
“Recognizing the need to create opportunities for teachers to share innovative practice and understanding that old style curriculum sharing methods may not be the most efficient or engaging ways of exchanging quality curriculum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago’s Educator Salon invented a fast-paced and fun format to share art projects—the Curriculum Slam!” explained Chicago art educator Olivia Gude.
“Today’s society of media saturation has given us all a touch of ADD. The curriculum slam format works well because it’s quick and entertaining and because the careful selection and preparation process guarantees that the content is fresh and well-thought out—based on significant contemporary ideas about making art.”
Inspired by the emceed hip hop-style poetry slams pioneered in Chicago in the 1980s that brought contemporary aesthetics and style to traditional poetry readings, the Curriculum Slam! re-invents the old-style curriculum fair by adapting a 21st century presentation innovation—the rapid style PechaKucha format. PechaKucha (in which 20 images are set to advance automatically every 20 seconds) was developed by the Klein Dytham architectural firm in Tokyo because there was a need for a public forum to share innovative work, but if you “Give a microphone and some images to …most creative people…and they’ll go on forever!”
The Curriculum Slam! has become a popular yearly feature of the MCA’s teacher programming since 2010. Teachers have presented on a wide range of topics—using the work of contemporary artists to inspire contemporary curriculum. Presentation subjects have ranged from 5th graders making paintings with the self-imposed limitations (based on the work of Matthew Barney), building and photographing miniature environments (in the style of artists such as Laurie Simmons and outsider artist Mark Hogancamp), humorous horror drawings (inspired by drawings and animation of Tim Burton) and explorations of self-identify in the digital age in which students’ text messages contribute to making self-representations.
“The Museum of Contemporary Art is a learning institution as well as a presenting institution. Through this project we are tapping into many forms of contemporary pedagogy. We are learning from teachers.” -Marissa Reyes, Associate Director of Education, School & Teacher Programs at the MCA
The PechaKucha format has been adapted to enhance curriculum sharing—“We have been using a 14-slides-in-40-seconds format to allow teachers the time to explain some of the details relating to core objectives, materials, choice of artists and other details that contribute to successful projects. We wanted to create a format that balanced being fun and sort of frantic with conveying useful content.”
Curriculum Slam! Goes to San Diego
Now, Chicago brings this dynamic presentation format to the country with the first ever NAEA National Conference Curriculum Slam! emceed by OMGude, Marissa Reyes and DJ Jamie Rees. The event will be held during the 2014 NAEA National Conference in San Diego (March 29-31, 2014) on Monday, March 31 from 4 to 5:50pm. NAEA Secondary Division Director, James Rees commented, “One thing teachers seem to be always looking for is timely content that matters to their students. This curriculum slam will model a dynamic method of communication, along with a dizzying array of meaningful curriculum. This will be a must attend event this year at the conference!”
How to Get Involved at the NAEA Curriculum Slam!
All members of the NAEA community are invited to apply to be a presenter in the San Diego conference Curriculum Slam! by sending in a short initial application explaining how the teacher’s curriculum unites great contemporary art and great contemporary curriculum, accompanied by a few images. The Museum of Contemporary Art Teacher Advisory Committee will review the applications, conduct phone interviews, choose participants and help presenters prepare for the fast-paced format.
See below for more information on the process of submitting an application by downloading the application forms and template for sample 3 slides in the presentation.
By Dana Carlisle Kletchka, Curator of Education, Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University
Although art museum educators exist in the interstices of teaching, learning, and research, it is not often that we are invited to share our professional experiences in the form of a scholarly publication. It is clear from the content on this blog and others, however, that we have a lot to say and a great deal to share with one other. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the following Call for Papers for an edited volume on professional development for preK-12 art teachers, with particular consideration to how it occurs in museum spaces. My co-editor, B. Stephen Carpenter II, and I hope that it will ultimately be a resource for university and art museum educators, preK-12 art teachers, and graduate students in art and art museum education/museum studies courses.
CALL FOR PAPERS
Art museum educators and academics who engage in or study professional development for teachers:
We are accepting chapter abstracts for an edited book that explores the history, philosophy, and theoretical foundations of professional development in and from art museums; provides examples of meaningful professional development experiences with particular attention to the broader impact and translatability of such experiences; and delineates institutional partnerships between academic entities and art museums.
A central tenet of the book is that collaborative engagements with works of contemporary art in art museums, coupled with critical reflection and pedagogical application, provide art educators opportunities for professional development that renew, strengthen, and expand their effectiveness and influence within art educational spaces.
Please send a 250-word summary of your proposed chapter to: Dr. B. Stephen Carpenter at firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Dana Carlisle Kletchka at email@example.com before Monday, November 18, 2013.
As John Dewey was integrating museum visits and other object-based experiences into his Lab Schools at the University of Chicago, Helen Parkhurst was incorporating similar principles into what would become the foundation of The Dalton School in New York City. Dalton is still committed to interactive teaching and learning in museum settings; witness my particular position as art museum educator and resident art historian within a larger Museum Program. In close collaboration with classroom teachers and other specialists, both inside and outside the school, the program integrates objects and images into the existing K-12 academic curriculum (especially in social studies and history). At the same time, it weaves age-appropriate methods and questions of art history across the school. My experiences at Dalton over the past 15 years resonate with new directions in art museum education, as the latter begins to explore its shared roots with progressive schools.
Archaeological Analysis with iPads at the Met
Third grade doesn’t get any better than an archaeological dig. Even a simulated dig, chock full of museum replicas and flea market finds that only look like they belong to the Age of Exploration. The challenge is keeping the analysis of the finds as engaging as their recovery. In one strategy, the students revisit the Met to find comparative materials with which to determine the possible place of production of their artifacts. Using iPads to document their finds, students rely on attributes of material, shape, and style: the bend of a tree trunk, the outstretched wings of a bird, the sense of spatial illusion.
Such authentic analogies raise the level of inquiry. For example, were the artifacts from a century palace at Kashgar made locally (in Central Asia), or had they been imported from elsewhere? Why are there Chinese-style cranes on an inscribed Persian tile? By mapping their museum parallels, the students start to reconstruct the nature of exchange along the Silk Road in the time of Columbus. Their finds convince them that Kashgar was a major player in a trade network that stretched from Italy to China. The students take ownership of a history they created from the ground up. While the archaeology provides the initial motivation, an authentic visual analysis sustains it. The use of art museum replicas as primary visual resources in school (whether excavated or not, whether high or low end) provides obvious opportunities for integrated museum visits, or for similar work with online collections.
Rolling Ancient Cylinder Seals at the Morgan Library
While the Met meets most of our needs most of the time (in terms of collection, proximity, and access), the smaller institutions can nevertheless offer more direct experiences with objects and curators. For example, a curator at The Morgan Library offers our fifth graders a remarkable opportunity with cylinder seals from ancient Iraq (ca. 3000-5000 BCE). He lets the students roll an ancient seal across damp clay to create a continuous impression of the engraved design.
What makes this experience so humbling, rather than excessive, is the degree to which it is informed by a classroom curriculum. The students arrive at the Library familiar with the iconography and function of cylinder seals in antiquity, including, for example, the way they were used to mark tablets as signs of authority. We are always delighted (but never surprised) to see the seal-bearing students quiver as they are transported back in time, knowing they are using the same object a Sumerian or Babylonian official did 3000 to 5000 years ago.
Mesopotamia Day at the University of Pennsylvania Museum
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology offers a different sort of experience for our fifth graders. It is based on the museum’s renowned position at the forefront of archaeological and academic research about the ancient Near East; as well as an unusual collaboration among a number of individuals at several institutions. The excursion is organized along the lines of a junior academic conference, in which students have direct access to objects, scholars, and ancient methods of production. In one session, scholars let students handle ancient cuneiform tablets before teaching them how to make one of their own.
One memorable moment has students passing around an ancient school tablet, used to practice making cuneiform signs on clay. They notice odd impressions along one edge. Are they ancient numbers? Is it damage? Finally, one student recognizes them as teeth marks! Indeed, a physical anthropologist had already attributed them to the teeth of a ten-year old. Suddenly, our fifth graders could identify with a scribal student who lived 4000 years ago, thinking of those moments of frustration when they leave similar teeth marks on pencils.
In another session, the students explore ancient technology with a curator from the Met, who traveled with us. They reconstruct ancient gold-working techniques by examining artifacts on display, side by side with the curator’s own microscopic photographs of the same finds. Her new photographs had been loaded onto iPads for the visit. The University of Pennsylvania Museum activities make lasting impacts on both the students and the scholars alike. For the former, it authenticates their curriculum through the lens of experiential archaeology and current research. For the latter, it challenges them to re-think their conceptions of K-12 teaching, as they interact with 100 young learners who, they admit, are more engaged by the material than many adult audiences they encounter.
I share these few museum visits — a sample of many dozens undertaken at Dalton each year — with a personal sense of excitement about the future of art museum teaching. I am encouraged to think that the recent turn by art museum educators can include renewed collaborations with progressive school educators. Our mutual interest in making visual materials accessible to a contemporary audience begs for the sort of collaboration, finally, that enriched progressive education at the turn of the 20th century. Granted, we face a challenge inconceivable in the time of John Dewey and Louise Connelly: how to take advantage of new computer technologies without compromising the direct experience with works of art.
About the Author
MICHELLE MARCUS earned her Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Pennsylvania. Before taking on the position of resident art historian and museum educator at The Dalton School in New York, she split her time between college teaching, curatorial consulting, and writing about the art and archaeology of the ancient Near East. Her research and publications have been supported by grants from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. More recently, she has been speaking and writing about using images to teach history on the K-12 level. Beta grants from AMICO and Artstor supported her early efforts to use digital art images at Dalton.
An important aspect of our role as art museum educators is to welcome and induct teachers and their students into museum protocols in a way that is warm and inviting. There are so many ‘do’s and don’ts’ about visiting the museum it can make them intimidating places to visit and that’s not the message we want to send before they have even set foot in the place. We know how great they are and for so many reasons.
I’ve been trying to think of ways to better support teachers and help them to prepare for their visit so that student gain the maximum value for their efforts in getting there. Teachers are busy and we need to be strategic about the information that we send out and request, so that everyone is prepared for an amazing and wonderful museum experience. The Getty Center has created a short introductory video and lesson plan so students know what to expect, which looks useful. I am mainly concerned that with all of the information we need to communicate. How do we expect teachers to cut through to the most vital material?
I’ve come up with some lists of items I consider to be important and would like to present it in the form of a manifesto.
How can we best prepare teachers and their students for their visit?
program offerings clear and concise
booking procedures easy to follow and not too complicated
it easy for teachers to let us know what their expectations are, for example; what is the context of the visit such as a broader unit of study, curriculum requirements or a fun end-of-term activity
our behavioural expectations explicit
How do we like teachers to be prepared?
We find that teachers can help to create more effective learning experiences at the museum for students when they;
have visited the museum independently prior to bringing the students and have seen the content of the exhibition(s)
know about the museums facilities, such as where to check-in when the group arrives, the best spots for lunch, and of course the toilets
have briefed accompanying teachers and chaperones about museum behaviour protocols and have the capacity to manage their allocated student group
understand that artworks are precious and fragile so students must behave in a respectful manner and teachers model these behaviours
understand that the museum is a shared space with other visitors and everyone is mindful of this
know that we don’t mind if a visit is at the beginning or end of a unit of study.
What are the things that can make a visit go from great to amazing?
teachers have prepared students by telling them what they can expect to happen and what is expected of them on the day
students know they must leave their bags, drink bottles (and mobile phones) in the bag room
teachers supervise their students in small groups in the museum
students have empty hands, helping them to listen and focus their attention, to be completely ‘in the moment’ whilst we are in conversation and showing them through the gallery
students ask lots of questions about artworks and the museum
worksheets are designed so that students are engaging directly with the experience of being in the gallery and not looking for facts they can find on the website (which can be good preparation or a follow-up activity to extend the value of a visit) and these are completed before or after the allocated time with an educator
the language used to discuss artworks is not completely new to the students and that even if they don’t know what the words mean, they can become part of their everyday language and expression
teachers trust us and our ability to encourage deep, rich, sophisticated conversations about a few artworks that requires moments of silence for time to think and look so students can make considered responses
when teachers have activities planned for the time outside their facilitated tour, independent activities might include observational sketching or writing tasks
How about from amazing to incredible?
By providing teachers with;
complementary tickets to visit prior to bringing their students
well designed booking forms
maps specifically designed for visiting school groups
an easily accessible bag room or cloaking facilities
somewhere dry and sheltered to enjoy a picnic lunch
suggested itineraries for how to structure a whole day visit
meaningful worksheets to give to their students that focus on self-reflection and observation using open ended questions and enhances the experience of being in an art museum
introductory lesson plans to use in class before the schools visit
Thank you for visiting and please come back with your family.
Teachers reasons for visiting art museums are complex and may range between taking students out on a treat, to meeting very specific curriculum goals as prescribed by departments of education. For some students the most that can be gained from an art museum experience is learning how to look at art, and learning that knowing what questions to ask is more important than being told the answers. I want teachers and students to understand that some artists challenge traditional ways of thinking and assumed societal conventions through the language of art and it is not to be dismissed because formal appreciation does not help us to understand it. Given that some research has shown that many children only experience the art museum during a school visit makes this an enormous learning experience and makes a museum visit all the more valuable and we need to go to the extra lengths to ensure these audiences are welcomed.
These lists are by no means conclusive so…
I would like to open up the conversation and really look forward to reading your comments about what should be added or omitted.
How do museum educators prepare visiting teachers and their students? What is the experience of booking an education tour at your museum like? Are videos useful to demonstrate what will happen or are there too many variables?
If museum-visiting-teachers are reading this, it would be terrific to get your perspective too.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As ArtMuseumTeaching.com has been active now for more than 7 months with tens of thousands of readers, I always want to make sure we cover the full range of issues pertinent to our field and areas of practice. One area which has received little attention in the recent discourse (especially in key publications) has been our work as educators with our school communities — especially the nuts and bolts of developing transformative, meaningful experiences with students on tours. And I didn’t even need to make a call for posts, as several contributors recently submitted their own thoughts and reflections on this issue. So I invite you to read this first post by Christine Healey who provides a working manifesto on school visits that we both hope opens up a dialogue on these matters. This post followed by an additional reflection from Kate Sutlive who writes about her own practice in preparing for and leading inquiry-based school tours that introduce students to art. Enjoy, and as always, add your thoughts and perspectives to the mix.