Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

Added to Medium, April 19, 2018

I have discussed about school programs in museums in previous blog posts, such as “Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants” and “Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education”, however I thought I would discuss in more detail about how education programs are run in museums. One of the most important things museum educators especially know and emerging museum professionals learn is being able to be flexible. This is important for dealing with school groups visiting museums. In my experience, I have witnessed and found ways to be flexible when working with school groups visiting the museums and historic house museums I have worked and continue to work in.

I recently observed and assisted in a school field trip for the past few days at the Three Village Historical Society in East Setauket. The visiting school groups, that came from the same elementary school, participated in a program called Walk Through History with Abraham Woodhull, Farmer and Revolutionary War Spy. It was a living history interdisciplinary program and field trip for students that allows them to explore the nature sanctuary that was once Woodhull’s farm, the Setauket Village Green, Setauket Grist Mill, Patriot’s Rock and historic gravesites. Students also have the opportunity to the woods, fields, ponds and bays which tell the story of Long Island’s colonization and settlement before the American Revolution and during the creation of the new nation. Also, students have the opportunity to analyze Setauket spy Benjamin Tallmadge’s secret codes as well as decode maps and spy letters.

After teachers book school programs with the Three Village Historical Society, they were given pre-visit materials which include lesson plan and curriculum.

During the few days I worked with school groups, there have been a number of instances where flexibility was important. The weather reports, for instance, predicted rain during one of the days I was going to work with the school groups; as a result, a PowerPoint presentation version of the walking tour was created with an invitation to sign up for a public walking tour at a later date, and the analyzing secret codes activity was extended and took place inside as well a room down from the first station.

In another example, on a sunny day, the school groups were divided into two groups with the Three Village Historical Society Historian leading one group and the Director of Education leading the other group in walking tours. After the walking tour, they all gathered indoors to work on the secret code activity which there was not enough time to finish on the premises. After receiving feedback on the program, adjustments were made so that there was enough time for each aspect of the program for the third day school groups were . One group started with a walking tour while the second group started with the secret code activity, and they switched so each group had the opportunity to participate in both.

One of the days I observed and assisted with the program a teacher revealed that they did not review the pre-visit materials before arriving for the program. As a result, the Three Village Historical Society Historian and the Director of Education decided to dedicate more time to the introduction to make sure all of the students understood what they were going to be learning about during the program.

My experiences with the Three Village Historical Society made me think about my past experiences dealing with similar and varying situations.

Each museum educator understands very well that timing is important to be sure to effectively give an educational and a memorable experience. It is important to figure out how to be flexible when challenges arise. School buses, for various reasons, arriving late to the museum. School groups needing to leave early from the program. Teachers not sharing pre-visit materials to help students understand the experience they would be participating in before the visit. I have experienced these challenges and more while I was working at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Connecticut Landmarks in Hartford, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in West Hartford, The Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, and or course the Three Village Historical Society.

There are a number of ways museum educators can overcome challenges that will hopefully benefit museums and visiting school groups. For instance, when school buses on the way to the museum arrive late and the groups need to leave the museum early to get back to the school, museum educators can adjust the program so the students can benefit from as much of the experience as possible while fulfilling the guidelines of the program. While I was at museums such as the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, adjustments were made because school groups arrived late and we were informed sometimes ahead of time and sometimes on the day of school groups needed to leave before the allotted end of the program.

It is hard to predict how much time is needed to make sure enough information and activity is utilized by the students. Sometimes museum educators cut introductions short to dedicate more time to the activities and other times spending time during program stations is cut short so teachers, chaperones, and students can either get on the bus early or have lunch on the premises. Museum educators know what the programs are, and are more likely to be able to judge the time and make adjustments. Each program is different from other another within one education programming in a museum, and programs are different from others in other museums, and therefore museum educators need to keep this in mind when attempting to balance the needs of the museum educators and the visiting school groups.

Flexibility is also important to strengthen the partnership between museums and schools. In the end, museums and schools work towards assisting students in becoming well-rounded individuals who contribute to their communities. In my blog post, “Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education”, I pointed out that

Museum programming not only allow students to participate in activities that assist in understanding of academic materials in the classroom but the programming offer ways for students to develop the skills necessary to effectively integrate social, emotional, and academic development.

Since museum educators especially understand the significance of museum programming for students of various ages, we are likely to be flexible enough to make changes that will hopefully benefit the students.

As museum educators, we do all we can to help schools prepare for their visits and typically leave the execution of these preparations to the teachers. We can be flexible to not only make sure students have a positive educational experience but to make sure we maintain partnerships with schools so future visits will be planned. How much flexibility is needed? It depends on the organization, and how much they are able to do due to timing and space available.

What examples have you experienced in being flexible during school programs? Have you had to make adjustments? What were the results?

Resources:
http://www.threevillagehistoricalsociety.org/?page_id=2025
Museum and School Partnerships: Why They Are Important for Education: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-j9
Museum Education Programs: The Challenges of Having Chaperones Be Effective Participants: https://wp.me/p8J8yQ-4B

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