How Education Theory is Used in Museums

May 2, 2019

During my experience in museums, I have taught many school programs and learned a number of methods to educate students. Each experience taught me more about educating students within a museum and classroom management. My first experience in educating school programs began with my internship at Connecticut’s Old State House in which there were about 150 students between kindergarten and fifth grade. Because there was a diverse range of age groups on that day, I was introduced to the idea that there are different approaches for each age. When I worked at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, I was introduced to the idea of pre- and post-visit outreach programs where museum educators go to the schools to introduce and follow up with students before and after their visit to the Noah Webster House. Each of my experiences in history museums and historic house museums introduced me to object-based and inquiry-based teaching methods.

Object and inquiry based methods are used to help students connect with the past with observations and asking questions. These methods helped me understand and utilize the constructivist method, or constructivism, which I learned more about during my experiences at the Long Island Explorium, the children’s science museum. According to the Exploratorium in San Francesco that uses this method, constructivism refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves as they learn and the outcome is twofold: educators have to focus on the learner in thinking about learning and there is no knowledge independent of the meaning attributed to experience. This can be applied to museums especially during family programs in which learning is seen as a social activity. During my time at the Explorium, I have seen adults and children work together at each exhibit to help their children foster their own problem-solving skills. I also gained knowledge in education methods outside of my museum experiences.

Professional development programs have also helped me learn about the ways to educate students within a museum. Late last year for example I took an online course through American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) on Museum Education and Outreach, and one of the focuses was education program planning, management, and evaluation. To move forward in learning about planning, managing, and evaluating programs, I used the knowledge I gained on audience characteristics, interests, and needs, observed some visitors in real time, and explored the role of interpretation in education and programs to build foundation for this lesson. My classmates and I were given resources to use as part of our lesson including the National Standards & Best Practices for U.S. Museums from the American Association of Museums (now American Alliance of Museums), and standards for audiences, interpretation and programs through AASLH. We also used The Museum Educator’s Manual by Anna Johnson, Kimberly A. Huber, Nancy Cutler, Melissa Bingmann, and Tim Grove for the majority of the course especially this lesson. One of our assignments was to answer questions about developing an education policy, participate in discussions about developing education policies for museums, and if our museums do not have one to begin a draft of an education policy. A response I had for the assignment was relevant to the Three Village Historical Society:

What we hope for an education policy is to address how educators, both staff and volunteers, should interpret the historical narrative of local history. We also hope all educational programming will show how local history fits into the national historical narrative to reach out to out-of-state audiences who come to tour the Historical Society.

By developing an education policy in museums, it will help guide the education department in when drafting programs that will hopefully be accessible to its audiences, fulfill its mission, and appeal to teachers looking for outside the classroom opportunities. With my experience in this course, I hope to not only exercise what I learned within the institutions I work for but I also hope to build on what I learned through more development opportunities.

Earlier tonight, I participated in #MuseumEdChat, a discussion group on Twitter, which was about best practices in education/pedagogy/theory. The discussions include answering a number of questions and each participant provides their input. One of the questions posed was:  What formal classroom practices do you currently use to help connect with students who visit for school trips? Based on my past experiences, I responded with: At the end of the session or end of the program, I would ask the group questions to see how much they picked up on what was taught during the program. I usually have bring home materials for them to take. I have read other participants’ responses and each one bring up valid points. For instance, one has pointed out that they try to make sure that the programs are structured similarly to what their district does. It is important because to attract schools to coming to the museums for school programs not only do the costs effect their decisions but knowing if the program will supplement what they are learning in the classroom would be appealing to the teachers considering booking field trips. It is also important that school programs should put emphasis on skills they will use throughout their lives such as communication and creative thinking skills.

Another question that was asked during the #MuseumEdChat was Classroom management can be hard in a museum because of excitement, different enviro, new teacher, etc. What tricks or tips do you use? I agree that classroom management can be hard because museum educators are most likely going to work with a particular group once and are not always going to have an opportunity to keep their knowledge developing unless if the museum education program has post visit in-school programs. When I deal with managing school groups, I think about how I witnessed the teachers manage their classes and I would take those skills with me to each experience. For instance, my response to the question was: I sometimes depend on chaperones and teachers to help with classroom management but I find that in the past they consider the trip as a vacation for them so I use tricks that I’ve learned from teachers when I do in-school trips such as “1, 2, 3 eyes on me”. While as a field we have been pushing towards getting teachers and chaperones more involved, we understand it is a challenge since the past approach to chaperoning is still engrained in the field trip mindset. Creating activities that encourage adult and student participation is a good start in the right direction for chaperone and teacher involvement.

The next example of the questions asked during the discussion was: When developing activities for school groups, do you find that you use more formal education theory/pedagogy? Why? What do you use? Do you feel you have to? I believe it depends on what type of groups and programs; for school programs, I use both museum association & formal education theories as guidelines, and for family/summer programs I am more lenient since they come to mostly enjoy themselves while learn something. When I plan programs, I use a combination of standards from museum associations and formal education theory. I do this when planning education programs because I think that it is helpful to use them to show schools that we keep their students’ education goals in mind when providing and it helps draw more attention to the programs if shown we are meeting standards. Using education standards from the district, state, and nation are important considerations teachers take into when deciding on whether or not they can take their students on field trips. Through experiences and professional development, I continue to learn how to educate in school programs and develop my knowledge to help move museum education forward.

Do you find some methods have worked with you better than others in field trips you participated in? As an educator, what education method has worked for you?

Resource:

https://www.exploratorium.edu/education/ifi/constructivist-learning

1 thought on “How Education Theory is Used in Museums”

  1. I agree that meeting school standards is really important. Some tricks I use for class management : using a calm and quiet voice, asking students what they want to know or find out during the visit, and trying to use body language effectively to set the tone. I am a huge fan of the Reflections on Practice pedagogy. It is great for all educators to hone their skills and get on the same page concerning institution goals.

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