New Year’s Resolutions in Museum Education Field for 2017

Originally posted on Medium. December 30, 2016.

All museum educators, including myself, strive to improve our programs for the people we teach and ourselves as educators. 2016 was an interesting year for me as a museum educator. I transferred from historic house museums in Connecticut to New York to work at the Long Island Museum; I started working there and found out that it was not the right fit. Afterwards, I ended up doing some work for various historical organizations including the Long Island Maritime Museum. With each year I have had as a museum educator, I gained experiences that help me to become a better educator and museum professional. At the Long Island Museum, I learned new skills that I have never had before.

For instance, before I started there I educated the children and the rest of the public in various programs focused on eighteenth and nineteenth century Connecticut history; later in my career, I started work with colleagues at Connecticut Landmarks to improve the quality of the visitor experience by researching a theme introduced in the interpretive framework. When I started at the Long Island Museum I learned about how education programs for audiences such as schools, Alzheimer’s patients, and public programs were booked; I had the opportunity to schedule and supervise docents for school programs; wrote introductions for presenters in Arts & Alzheimer’s Conference and helped run the Arts & Alzheimer’s Conference; and collaborate with the education and communications department on promotional flyers for education programs, then I was responsible for mailing them to the county libraries. These are some of the examples I have done at the Long Island Museum, and I am thankful for the experiences I have gained because I learned a lot more about the field including the difference between how historic house museums and larger American Alliance of Museums-accredited museums are run. As I began work with the Long Island Maritime Museum, I also learned more about the museum field.

When I discovered the Long Island Maritime Museum, I acknowledged that I had limited knowledge about maritime history and thought that it would be an enlightening experience for me. I was not disappointed. My first experience at the LIMM was assisting school groups go to each station to learn about boats and boat building, the oyster business in an actual Oyster House, what life was like as a bayman inside the Bayman’s House, and lifesaving stories from storms, shipwrecks, and pirates. As I saw the kids invested in each station, the smiles on their faces reminded me of why I love being a museum educator in the first place; to get kids invested in what we teach them is a rewarding experience and to know we can make an impact on their learning experience gives me hope for future generations. Another experience I had was working on transferring collection information to digital databases by scanning books and photographs, and adding information from the Excel spreadsheets to the PastPerfect software. By looking through the photographs and information, I learned about the collections and the unique history of the local area. I also answer phone calls, and sell admissions and gift shop items; while I have done similar tasks in Connecticut, there are different procedures to learn and perform. I enjoy my time at the Long Island Maritime Museum so far because the staff is dedicated to working together to run the museum, and we enjoy our time together while we work. Being able to work together in a close community is what I value as a museum professional since each role in a museum is significant to keep a museum running. I hope to apply the experiences I have gained and the lessons I learned to my current and future endeavors.

This time of year, many people make lists of New Year’s resolutions they hope to accomplish in the new year, and museums and museum professionals are no exception. My New Year’s resolutions include developing my skills as an educator and improving my knowledge of museum administration. I participate in professional development programs as well as utilize resources museum organizations including American Alliance of Museums and New York City Museum Educators Roundtable provide. I also am researching online programs that provide information on museum administration. Also, I continue to utilize my growing experiences at places like the Long Island Maritime Museum. 2016 became a year of big changes for me, in more ways than one, that have opened my eyes to many opportunities to grow as a person and a museum professional. Let’s see what 2017 has in store for all of us especially museum professionals.

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Whether they are personal or professional, it is important to have goals to help you become a better person and professional.

To all of you who have been reading my blog posts so far, thank you so much! It really means a lot to me to see so many people have an interest in what I have to say. I have read and responded to all the replies you have made, and I am glad to hear all of your insights on topics I have written about. I am also happy to hear that there are people who have been inspired by what I write about, and have supported me as I continue to use my voice in the field. For those who have just started reading my posts, welcome and thank you for reading! If there is something you want more insight on or want my perspective on, please let me know. Expect more blog posts in the upcoming year. Happy New Year!!

Happy Holidays! Museum Education during the Holiday Season

Originally posted on Medium. December 15, 2016.

“It’s the Holiday Season…while the merry bells keep ringing Happy Holiday to you!”

It is that time of year again when everyone prepares for the holiday season by decorating their homes, shopping for gifts, and visiting family and friends. During my over seven-year experience in the museum education field, I found that especially between mid-November and the end of December not many school programs are scheduled and taught but there are plenty of family programs that encourage kids and family members to play as well as create together. For instance, at the Stanley-Whitman House there was a family program that took place around Thanksgiving. At Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House, the historic house museum participated in First Night Hartford by allowing parents and kids to create hats and masks for the New Years’ Eve parade. At Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, they have Gingerbread Day in which both kids and adults create miniature gingerbread houses made from fresh-baked gingerbread, icing, and candy. At the Long Island Maritime Museum, the museum has a Dutch Christmas event which includes a lantern-led tour of the museum’s property, ornament-making for the kids to decorate Christmas trees that will be given to families in need, and a visit from Sinterklass (Santa Claus); the museum also hosts a Gingerbread workshop to teach people how to design gingerbread houses. All the events mentioned not only encourage families to visit the museums but they allow families to spend time together, and the holidays are about spending time with family and loved ones. In addition to spending time with family and loved ones, this is also a time to appreciate the time spent on our passions especially if you work in a museum. This is the season when holiday parties are held at various organizations, and museums are no exception.

At the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, all staff members including museum educators and volunteers have pot luck lunch and brought various desserts as well. Also, the staff played trivia games, and played the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. The most recent holiday party I attended was at the Long Island Maritime Museum which was a pot luck lunch volunteers and staff gather together to celebrate the end of the year as well as the hard work put into running the museum. In addition to working and participating in these events and holiday parties, I also enjoy reading Christmas themed books. Around the holiday season I always like to refer to Stephen Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas ever since I read it during one of my first history courses when I was a college freshman.

Nissenbaum’s The Battle for Christmas discusses the origins of Christmas and the transformation of the holiday into the celebration we know today. His book went into detail about the origins of Christmas by discussing the Puritan’s views on the holiday. The Puritans outlawed Christmas since it was at the time Christmas was known as a holiday filled with drunkenness and rioting. Nissenbaum then discussed the transition from the drunken celebration to a holiday of gift-giving and spending time with family. During the nineteenth century, Christmas became a holiday of domesticity and consumerism, and most of the traditions people partake in during the season started during this time. Some of these traditions include the story of St. Nicholas, the Christmas tree, and giving gifts to children. After I read this book, I came to appreciate the holiday more since I understood how Christmas has evolved over centuries to become the holiday my family and I celebrate, and it also confirmed that my views on Christmas have changed since I was a child. While I was a little more focused on gifts as a little girl but the more I grew up to becoming the museum professional I am today I not only appreciate the time spent with family but I also enjoy seeing the joy in the next generation’s eyes when they experience Christmas. During this holiday season, I am thankful for my family and for the journey my career has taken me. I hope you all take the time to appreciate the people around you this holiday season and to enjoy the little things that come your way. Happy Holidays!!

What are some traditions you enjoy most? Does your museum/organization have their own holiday traditions? If so, what do you like to do at your holiday gatherings?

 

Museum Education Online: Museums’ Position in the Virtual World

Originally posted on Medium. December 8, 2016.

Museum education is continuing to evolve as a museum field after many years of creating programs for schools and the public. While I have over seven years’ experience in the field so far, I have seen many changes to advance the field and make an impact on the community around us. For instance, in my last blog I discussed the continuously evolving inclusion of programs for people with special needs. Also, the internet has given the world, especially the museums, opportunities to connect and provide ways to learn online. This week I am looking at museums in the virtual world, including social media and online learning, and my reactions to these changes. When I was growing up attending museums, the internet was still a new concept created and not many websites offered online learning. As a child, I visited more museums than finding out about museums on the internet. My family would drive down to see Washington D.C., Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and Gettysburg battleground during the summer. I used the internet later to assist me with research for school and I used the internet more when I went to college and graduate school.

When I was at Western New England getting my Bachelor’s degree I participated in different courses that used online tools as part of curriculum. Most of my classes were in person courses with activities and assignments taken in an online portal, MYWNEC, as a supplement to these courses. I took two online courses, and with some exceptions the class met online; my first course was a psychology course that was entirely online and my second course was an art history course that occasionally had assignments where I had to attend a museum to complete them. I had a few courses that took place completely in the classroom. Meanwhile while I was at Central Connecticut State University getting my Master’s degree, there were no online courses provided in the program but I used resources online as part of my research for papers and projects. For instance, when I worked on the proposal for Connecticut Historical Society’s next exhibit which was eventually accepted and became Cooking by the Book (it was displayed from January 2013 to April 2013), I used their online collections resource to decide which objects to include in the proposal. Outside of school I took a few online courses on edx.org about various subjects including history and interactions in the classroom; I take these courses at my own pace to keep my skills relevant and updated. While I was becoming a museum professional, I saw how museums utilized the internet to create websites that provide information about their exhibits, programs, and resources.

Each museum I worked for have various ways visitors and potential visitors can access what they offer on the internet. On Stanley-Whitman House’s website, it has the history of the house and information on the museum as well as information about education programs, adult group programs, and special events & programs. The Stanley-Whitman House also provides information about the collections, gardens, exhibits, and research services. On Connecticut Landmarks’ website, it provides information about the nine properties it owns especially the two properties I worked at, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House; the website also provides other information including information about the organization, upcoming special events, events calendar, a link to the facilities rental site, various ways individuals can donate to the organization, ways to get involved in the organization, and press releases. On Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society’s website, in addition to information about the historic house museum/historical society and on how to become a member, it has information about school, youth, adult, and public programs as well as information about their exhibits especially their new tablet tour I learned about while I was a museum educator there. The website also has a Discovery & Learn section which includes the history of Noah Webster and West Hartford, brief descriptions of the historical society’s collections; a kid’s corner that includes interactive activities kids can download and click on tabs to learn about the history of West Hartford and Noah Webster, and teachers can download keys to a couple of the activities; and a Q&A section with the Executive Director that is coming up soon. On the Long Island Museum’s website, it has various information including on exhibits past and current, programs for students, adults, public and families, and a collections database that allows visitors to look up various pictures, books, and objects found in the museum’s collection. The previously mentioned museums’ websites have different ways to grab people’s attention and help bring them to these museums.

Museums use and should use the internet to their advantage to expand their reach to their audiences. As technology and the internet continue to evolve, museums also need to evolve to gain as well as maintain visitors to their exhibits. One of the books I read about museums and the internet is called Unbound By Place or Time: Museums and Online Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Din published by the American Association of Museums Press (now called the American Alliance of Museums) in 2009. This book discusses various forms of online learning, the advantages and challenges of online learning, and how museums can utilize online learning.

Crow and Din also provided case studies that gave examples of how museums can create successful programs for visitors. The authors also stated that it is important to recognize that in the end our online programs are tools, no matter what we learn and experience our relationship with it will change as it evolves, and that what is consistent is our dedication and commitment for providing resources our museums offer. This is true even today especially with new technology being used in school and adult programs; at Long Island Museum for instance has a program for Alzheimer’s patients that use a tablet to play music related to objects and sections in exhibits. It is also true especially as skype is used to communicate with people and it has the potential to be used in more museum education programs. What do you think of the relationship between museums and online learning? Does your organization have online programs? If so, what are the advantages and challenges you find as an educator using these programs? If your organization does not use online learning programs, would you like to introduce this to your museum/organization and create your own?

As you ponder these questions, I recommend visiting these sites:
www.stanleywhitman.org
www.ctlandmarks.org
www.noahwebsterhouse.org
www.longislandmuseum.org

 

Book Review: Programming for People with Special Needs

Originally posted on Medium. November 23, 2016.

This week I am wrote a book review on Katie Stringer’s Programming for People with Special Needs: A Guide for Museums and Historic Sites which is about creating programs and exhibits that are accessible for all visitors especially visitors with special needs. I personally enjoyed reading this book because it gave me more insight on programming I am familiar with to an extent, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a museum goer and professional. In my first blog post, I stated that as a kid museums have helped supplement my education whether I went during field trips or during family visits to various museums including Plimoth Plantation.

Each school year growing up, my educational plan would be adjusted since my summer experiences would give me various experiences that would change the way I learned from the previous year. My teachers understood that my mind was always changing so the lessons are planned accordingly and my Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P) was adjusted after each review. A part of my altering learning experiences I have always owed to my visits to museums. When I read the book, I saw the content from the perspective as a museum professional and as a former child with learning differences; I liked how Stringer handled the material and that she understood that programs would need to be adjusted to make sure all visitors get the full experience of what museums can offer. I recommend reading this book to at least get started on planning for your museums and/or at least to get to know how to address all audiences from all backgrounds including those with special needs.

Stringer’s book had six chapters dedicated to creating programs for every visitor especially for visitors with special needs. The first chapter introduces the book explaining museums as educational centers and brief history of disability in the United States. The second chapter shares details on etiquette on how to interact with visitors who have disabilities. The third chapter is dedicated to defining universal design and how museums and historic sites can benefit from implementing programs, exhibits, and spaces adhering to universal design standards. The fourth chapter reviews programs at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the New York Transit Museum, and explain what the programs are as well as the ways to adapt those programs for various audiences are explored. The fifth chapter is a case study from Tennessee of best practices for creating museum programs for all visitors especially those with special needs. The sixth chapter is the concluding chapter which ends with suggestions for museum professionals to make their own museums universally designed and accessible for audiences with special needs. Each of the chapters are divided into sections to explain certain aspects of creating programs for all audiences.

Chapter one discusses the museums’ roles as centers for education, disability rights and awareness, early exhibitions of people with disabilities. The chapter is divided into a couple of sections on museums’ roles in education and history of disabilities in the United States. The first section is called The Role of Museums as Centers for Educations which explained the history of museums and how they became to be centers for education as well as understanding museums’ roles in education. The second section is called Disability Rights and Awareness. Stringer explained the history of disability rights which began during John F. Kennedy’s presidency in the 1960s and led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The third section was called Early Exhibitions of People with Disabilities in which she talked about when individuals with disabilities were part of traveling circuses, sideshows, and dime museums; she iterated in the section that museums today want to appeal to as broad of an audience as possible, and explained the historical legacy of discrimination with focus on people with intellectual disabilities and other related cognitive and developmental disabilities. The last section was called Accessibility at Museums and Historic Sites and she discussed the ways historic sites and museums must do to adjust to make them more accessible.

Chapter two is dedicated to sensitivity and awareness of visitors with special needs and disabilities. The sections in this chapter include strategies and techniques for welcoming all visitors, workshops and training opportunities, and museums leading by example. Stringer explained in detail strategies and techniques to welcome all visitors, and emphasized that all museums should form partnerships and consultation groups that include community members who have disabilities. The workshops and training opportunities section reveals various examples for professional development for museum professionals such as information for staff training at the British Museum called “Disability Awareness Scheme”; it offers training for museum employees and volunteers through the SHAPE program, training for all visitor service and security staff by the access manager employed by the museum, and visual awareness training for visitor service staff. She also provided details about a few museums that are leading by example of innovative programs and opportunities for both staff and the public to learn more about disabilities and sensitivity including the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia which hosted an Autism Awareness Night in 2009. The Autism Awareness Night is a program for one evening the museum was open to families and children with autism, and the program was so successful that in 2010 the Please Touch Museum opened for a Disability Awareness Night for all children and families with disabilities.

Chapter three has examples of museums utilizing universal design successfully including the Boston Museum of Science, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Royal Ontario Museum. The Boston Museum of Science created accessible exhibits that every visitor can easily use. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a program referred to as “seeing through drawing” which is an activity for individuals with sight impairment. The Royal Ontario Museum offers Braille and large print booklets for visitors with sight impairments. There is a section about universal design in learning which focuses on the four essentials of universal design. The four essentials of universal design are to ensure that the lesson represents information in multiple formats and media, provides multiple pathways for students’ actions and expressions, provides multiple ways to engage students’ interests and motivation, and occurs in a safe environment. Stringer stated in the book that museum educators should remember these aspects creating lesson plans and programs for any groups. Chapter four has examples that are selected from museums that represent art museums, science and technology museums, and historic sites and history museums. The museums included in the book’s examples are MOMA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Jacksonville, Florida, New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution Museums in Washington, D.C. The programs from these museums highlighted in the book vary from those offered to senior adults, to children with disabilities, and to families that have a member with a disability.
In the Museum of Contemporary Art’s program, Stringer stated the museum staff stress that their program is not a field trip experience but rather community based instruction. A field trip is a visit or an isolated experience that supplements the curriculum; meanwhile community-based instruction relates to goals in the school, ongoing instruction, and continuing reinforcement and can translate to the real world instead of only the classroom. When I was a kid attending museums with my school, I assumed that museums are all about sharing its space for school field trips and for families visiting the museum. With experience in the museum field as a museum educator, I saw that museums are more than field trips and family trips; museums have and explore many ways to reach out to the community to use resources that explain the shared relationship museums and communities have in our society. Stringer explained there are opportunities for adaptation and integration at small museums and historic sites.

Chapter five explores the process of creating educational programming for children with special needs and the elements that create successful programs. There are seven key elements for effective programs that were explained and visually displayed in a table with details about each key concept and their purpose. The seven key concepts are sensitivity and awareness training, planning and communication, timing, engagement, object centered and inquiry-based, structure, and flexibility. I agree with Stringer when she reiterates that flexibility is essential for any museum work because we can plan for any possible outcome in each of our lessons but something unexpected will always happen no matter which group we work with; we come up with as many backup scenarios as we can to make sure we can still have successful programs for visiting individuals especially visitors with special needs or disabilities. The chapter also discusses a survey that were given to educators working with individuals with special needs; this survey asked questions including do they take them on field trips, kinds of disabilities they work with, desired learning experience from trip, and educator references for programs. The results of this survey were displayed in pie charts giving museum educators an idea of what other educators’ expectations were from the museums. Stringer stated that the takeaway from the survey was some people still believe that museums are not places where all students are welcome because of noise or behavioral problems that students may cause. Our museums have a long way to go to create programs and exhibits that can reach to all our audiences but the result will be worth it.

In the last chapter, it discusses the future of adapting programs for each visitor especially individuals with special needs. I am personally glad that the book is honest by not saying museums have completely figured out programming for all visitors of various backgrounds. Stringer revealed that the book does not explore all the options in the relatively new field of programs for people with special needs, and the field continues to grow as the population becomes more aware of the growing population of individuals with disabilities. I believe this book is a good starting point for museums to adapt their programs for all visitors of various abilities, and we need to use the experiences the museums in this book had as references for our own museums to follow suit. If we do not continue to adapt our lessons for our surrounding communities, we risk alienating people who could enjoy the experiences as well as learn from them.

Stringer’s book opened my eyes to ideas and concepts that I’m already aware of as a museum educator and things I was not aware of at the same time. For instance, I did not know about the Museum Access Consortium (MAC) of New York City which allows museum staff, volunteers, community members, and educators opportunities to discuss strategies together and to develop successful programs. Since I am still new to the museum community in New York, I am not surprised that I have not heard about this organization. This looks like a great resource I would use as I create lessons for all visitors of various abilities. Also, I learned more about audiences I have not worked with before; as a museum educator, I have worked on occasion with students with learning differences and I have worked with adults with memory loss in various programs. I have very limited experience working with children with autism for instance; Stringer found helpful advice on creating activities for children with autism including plan for multiple levels of development, incorporate levels of sense involvement, activities build success at any level in process and/or product, provide visual cues in set up, minimize distracting incorporate areas for sensory down time, and always have a backup plan. This advice will be very helpful for me and for museum professionals when creating programs for children with autism.

The experience I do have, other than working on occasion with visitors with disabilities at the museums I worked at in Connecticut, is at the Long Island Museum I worked with adults with memory loss in the “In the Moment” program. The “In the Moment” program is a hands-on program that allows individuals with memory loss engage with LIM’s exhibits to stimulate their own memories. Each experience is different depending on what exhibit the day care service or Alzheimer’s Association group is interested in; a program is developed each time a new exhibit is installed. At each exhibit, the exhibit is viewed and a few items or sections are chosen as topics of discussion for the group; questions are brainstormed for them to answer; either music or objects are chosen to help connect with the exhibit and inspire discussion; and provide cookies, juice, and photographs of the featured items to bring home with them. At LIM’s Long Island in the Sixties exhibit, for instance, music of the 1960s was chosen that represented different sections of the exhibit and the pictures chosen were of a dress from the era, the set up for a girl’s bedroom in the 1960s, and the New York Mets section of the exhibit. From my experience, not every individual automatically start talking about what they see or what an item reminds them of but it allows them to be outside of their environments to experience something new or different; and it is always interesting to see what they enjoyed about the exhibit and what stimulated their memories. One woman was so moved by her experience that she started talking about all her life’s experiences including the fact that her family came from Italy and that she used to be a teacher. I always smiled whenever I get an opportunity to work with them so I can make a difference in their experiences. I wish Stringer’s book went into detail about programs for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other related memory loss, but someday there may be a book that will address more on how to create these programs if there isn’t already.

I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving! Be good to one another and be safe!

What Museums Mean to Me: My Relationship with Museums when I was a College Student

Originally posted on Medium. November 17, 2016.

In my first blog post, I wrote about how my love for museums has begun as a child and I will share how this love has continued since then. Recently I read the latest edition of Journal of Museum Education in which the articles focused on the relationship between museums and universities, and how that relationship can be improved. In an article written by the guest editors Beth Maloney and Matt D. Hill, they briefly discussed the articles in the journal and expressed hope that this journal will be able to be used as a source for successful collaborations. As I read this edition, I thought about my own experiences in museums as a college student, and I believe there is potential in creating more successful collaborations with colleges and universities. My career in museums began when I was in college; I was involved in Western New England College’s (now University) Historical Society as both a member and treasurer. Also, I went on a couple of trips to museums for one of my courses. Of course, I gained more experiences in museums as a graduate student at Central Connecticut State University.

While I was a college student at Western New England College, I was the treasurer of the Historical Society which is a club that encouraged visitations to various museums in the area and in neighboring states. I volunteered to be a treasurer for the Historical Society when no one else wanted to take over since the last treasurer left the organization and because I was also a treasurer for Western New England’s Campus Chorus so I already had the experience; I was then given the previous slips and forms to reorganize the organization’s budget, and since then I was re-elected as treasurer each year it was not until a few months before I graduated from college that someone was willing to take on the role. As a treasurer, I was responsible for organizing and maintaining the club’s budget for various materials such as pens and t-shirt as well as expenses including hotels, museum fees, and food for Historical Society trips. We planned trips to various museums including Springfield Museums, Old Sturbridge Village, The Pequot Museum, The Salem Witch Museum, Salem Maritime National Historic Site, The House of Seven Gables, and The Breakers Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. I also planned the trip to a couple of places in New York including Hyde Park and Martin van Buren’s home with the Historical Society. During the four years I was both a member and treasurer of the Historical Society, I went to various museums in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This experience not only taught me about running an organization whether it was a college organization or behind the scenes look at how a museum is run but it also was a source of many wonderful college memories I look back fondly on.

I attended museums while I was taking courses at Western New England, but unfortunately there were not many opportunities for going to museums in many of my classes and I was a History major. Much of my History courses at the time were taken in the classroom with limited possibilities for exploring museums; my freshman seminar course gave an overview on possible career paths we could take as History majors and invited professionals (also WNE alumni) to discuss their work outside college, and a few of them were museum professionals. While my History courses had guest speakers come into the classroom, a few of my other courses could have a couple of visits to museums. In my art history course, I was able to visit the Springfield Museums to complete an assignment. My France and French Caribbean culture course also had class at the Springfield Museums where we visited art galleries featuring French artists and had discussions about the artists and their works. After I graduated from Western New England, I continued to visit museums and became more involved with museums.

While I was in the graduate program at Central Connecticut State University, I continued to visit museums and this time my visits were more focused on developing my career in the museum field. I started my museum experience by having an internship at Connecticut’s Old State House during the summer where I assisted with one of the last school programs of the school year where over a hundred students participated in various activities including an I Spy activity which kids designed their own spy glasses using paper towel rolls and walked around the Old State House playing I Spy. Also, I assisted with public programs including the Farmer’s Market, and Conversations at Noon (lunchtime lecture series with guest lecturers presenting in the Old State House gallery). I also created an Animal Scavenger Hunt as a summer activity for kids to find pictures of animals in the Education Center based on clues I wrote. In many courses I took while in graduate school, my classmates and I were encouraged to complete projects and we collaborated with museums and organizations to gain exposure for our collaborations. For instance, for my Museum Interpretation course we were split into small groups to write a proposal for an exhibit that will be featured at the Connecticut Historical Society; my group’s proposal we collaborated on writing, about the split between in and outside the kitchen and featured a few pieces from their collections in our presentation, was approved by the decision committee at CHS with some changes suggested. We then collaborated with University of Connecticut art students to design the exhibit. This exhibit became Cooking by the Book: Amelia Simmons to Martha Stewart and it was opened from January 18 to April 13, 2013. During graduate school, we were also encouraged to attend conferences. I attended a few New England Museum Association conferences which were held in various cities in the area and have various opportunities to have sessions and ceremonies at museums. I continue to attend museums even as a museum professional to enjoy the exhibits and to continue developing my skills as a museum educator.

I am thankful for each of the opportunities that I gained and I hope that wherever I end up I will be able to take the lessons with me. We should be able to develop a better relationship with universities, and show them that we have resources they can use in teaching in the classroom and aid in their students’ career paths. Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving everyone!

Book Review: Engaging Young Children in Museums by Sharon E. Shaffer

Originally posted on Medium. November 10, 2016

This week I decided to write a review of a book written to help develop skills in the museum education field. As a museum educator, I believe it is important to read published works about the field to continue to provide new ways of educating school groups and the public. I chose to review Sharon Shaffer’s Engaging Young Children in Museums because not only it reiterates the importance of developing various ways to educate people but the methods shared can be used in any type of museum and audiences of various ages. The following is the review of Shaffer’s book:

Shaffer’s book was laid out in three different sections to introduce the idea of engaging young children in museums. The first section discusses the audience and brings up these questions: who are they? How has the audience changed over the years? The second section then discusses using learning theory and transition the theory into practice. Then the third section revealed future possibilities in museum education especially for young children. Each of the sections have two or three chapters that go into detail about the audience, learning theory and practice, and the future possibilities; the chapters are also divided by providing sections: an introduction, descriptions and arguments, and a conclusion.

In the first section, the three chapters introduce the book as well as discuss understanding young children as an audience. The first chapter introduces the framework for thinking about early learning in museums, and it explores object-based methods that were used effectively in all disciplines as well as in early childhood classrooms. Shaffer also discusses twenty-first century trends and reiterates that it is important to create experiences that are interesting, engaging, inspiring, and provocative.

In the second chapter, she revealed the history of museums in America and the emergence of children’s museums as well as the development of the relationship between children and museums. She also revealed both children’s and traditional museums are partnering with schools in new and different ways to be able to bring content and learning strategies to students and teachers to enrich understanding. In the book, Shaffer brought up these questions that still need attention and time to answer: What role should museums play in education that has traditionally been the responsibility of schools? What strengths do museums offer that are unique to these institutions, yet relevant for children and teachers in more formal settings? In what ways can museums support and contribute to formal early learning? While we cannot immediately answer these questions yet, it is important to figure out the answers by understanding our communities’ needs and our museums’ role in the community.

The third chapter is mainly focused on learning theories and how they can be applied into practice. To have a better understanding of how to educate young children, Shaffer explains how the learning theories can be reviewed and interpreted as educators plan lessons for young children. I appreciate that this chapter give a description of the learning theory and a layout of the theory to visually explain how it can help educate our audiences. For instance, Shaffer describes George Hein’s model in the book Learning in the Museum (1998) which revealed the complexity of learning; the model is divided into four domains that represent different categories of educational theories where the values and beliefs are defined about knowledge ascribed to each domain, and ideally within the theory support each other. Also, other theory models include Early Learning Model (made of key elements essential to construction of knowledge: explore, experience, conceptualize, imagine, create, and knowledge constructed through the process), and thematic approaches to learning (nature of experience, learning through play, ways of knowing, and motivation and learning). Each of these theories were described in detail to purposely aid educators in the classroom and museum setting.

The second section went into detail about early childhood classrooms and museum learning, the key concepts of best practices and best practices for a foundation for early childhood programming in museums. In the fourth chapter, Shaffer discussed various early childhood models and programs, and especially went into further discussion on models including the Montessori Method, the Reggio Emilia model, and the High Scope approach. The Montessori Method focuses on using the child’s surroundings especially nature as inspiration for learning. The Reggio Emilia model encourages collaboration between the child and the teacher to maintain the child-focus in the lesson and embraces self-expression as well as creativity. Meanwhile the High Scope approach focuses on the concept of active participatory learning, or a process designed to make the child a co-creator in his or her learning experience through observation.

Then the fifth chapter discusses key concepts of best practice by explaining the transition to including young children as museums audiences, and how educating young children in museum spaces has grown in the museum community. The chapter also gives the reader an example of a program developed by the Denver Art Museum that uses games and art making activities to allow children to explore their American Indian galleries. It is important that the book included real scenario examples because it gives museum educators detailed ideas to help our organizations get inspired to create similar programs for our young audiences. The fifth and sixth chapters also stress the importance of creating a welcoming environment for museum goers of all ages, and how educators and interpreters can utilize professional development to learn to adapt their lessons that appeal to young children. The last section focuses on making a difference and future promises in the field.

Shaffer describes future trends that will affect the way museums use early learning in their programs. The trends include continuing to see value in creating early learning programs, collaborations and partnerships, and use of technology. To continue to run our museums, we need to make sure we adapt with the changing society and understand its role in the community. Our museums would always have the past as our museums contemplate current practices and the future of the museum field to influence our thinking as well as rekindle our outlook reflecting today’s perspective. I agree with this statement because our institutions are founded in our past and we create innovative programs based on our museums’ missions.

In my experience, educating young children is an essential part of our society and the museums, especially the ones I have worked for and currently work at, can aid their educational experiences. At the Long Island Museum, for instance, I taught young children in kindergarten about primary colors using the museum’s art gallery to help them recognize the colors in paintings and later I gave children color wheels to color in the colors using watercolor pencils; they also listened to a story about the use of colors. I also participated in Family Fun Day at the Long Island Museum by creating crafting activities for families with young children to participate in. By using interactive activities for the children, they can understand the world around them and create a foundation for their continued education as they grow up. As I continue my career in museum education, I hope to continue to learn innovations in engaging with young children in the museum.

What are some examples your institutions are using to educate young children? Are there programs that you collaborate with other institutions or families?

Does “Hamilton” use Relevance to Teach Our Nation’s History?

Originally posted on Medium. November 3, 2016

Relevance is significant especially in museums to understand who our community is and to help individuals feel they can connect to our past in a way that they can relate to. We use that relevance every day in various mediums to reach to our audiences. I watched the Museum Hive discussion webinar with Nina Simon on the topic of museums, relevance, and community which aired live last week and it also draws on her book The Art of Relevance. In the beginning of the discussion, Simon described relevance as a “key that unlocks meaning”. We need to figure out how to make sure that we inspire them to desire that meaning we have in our museums. So how does Hamilton come into play on relevance? Broadway Tony Award winning musical Hamilton, a hip-hop musical about the life of one of our founding fathers Alexander Hamilton, is the most current example of using relevance to tell the story of our past that will inspire people to get into history and understand the meaning of that history. Hamilton’s America, a PBS Great Performances program aired on October 21st, discussed Alexander Hamilton’s history, how the Broadway musical was developed and had become the hit it is today. When I watched Hamilton’s America, I noticed that both Hamilton and museums in our country share this goal to make people understand why history and museums can be relevant today.

Towards the beginning of the documentary, Lin-Manuel Miranda talked about how he becomes the character as soon as he sees the rest of the cast dressed in costume. He revealed that the cast comes together as a community that agrees to create the world of Hamilton for people. What stayed with me during the documentary was when Lin-Manuel Miranda said,

“There’s the part of my brain that works really hard on making Hamilton historically accurate and exciting and high stakes; and then there’s the charge and the adrenaline that comes from performing something and hearing a response.”

My first thought was: Isn’t this what we do as museum educators? We teach about how history can be exciting with high stakes by in many cases dress up in historical costumes and create interactive experiences to hopefully get students inspired to see how this history has meaning in their own lives. History is a story of humanity; this is what most people forget and it is our job to remind them of that. It is a lesson that I remind myself I need to teach the students that visit the museum I work for.

Throughout my career as a museum educator, I have aspired to inspire students to learn about history using my excitement for what I teach and make sure they leave with the understanding of how history is relevant in their own lives. During my experiences as a museum educator, I dressed up in period clothing while I taught programs at the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut, Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut, Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, and the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages. Every time I dress in these costumes I step into the perspective of the individuals I portray; when teachers as well as students ask me questions about my costume and then ask me about why people dressed the way they did, I feel like I inspired them to understand the past. The more questions they ask, the more I think they are learning about the past. For instance, while I was at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society I dressed as an old woman named Deborah Moore Kellogg and when students ask me questions about my character I tell them about who she was from her perspective as a woman who had to raise her children on her own when her husband passed away. Students learn about what life was like in 18th century was like by learning how hard people especially worked to survive in the then young country.

Another example was when I dressed as a school mistress in 19th century Long Island as I taught the School Days program at the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages. The program was taught in a one room school house where I gave students samples of the lessons students in the 19th century learned, such as arithmetic, reading, and writing, and talked with the students about what school is like now and back then. What I take away from this experience is kids understand how different the one room school house was; while it is important I wonder can students see the similarities and therefore can relate to the past? That became my mission as I took the students to the one room schoolhouse. I also wondered about how relevance can be realized while I was taking a school tour through the Long Island Maritime Museum. I facilitate the school groups visit by taking them to each historic building including the Bayman’s Cottage, Boat Shop where boats were made, and the Oyster House (where an oyster business was held) as they hear about the history of each building from the docents. I enjoyed learning about Long Island’s maritime history in which I had limited knowledge of before I joined the museum. What is important for students to learn is to find out, in addition to the significance of maritime history, is to learn about the humanity behind the history. I like that when the kids were brought inside the Bayman’s Cottage the docent shows them how the bayman’s family had lived in tight living quarters in the early 19th century. These experiences have brought up this important question: what can we do to make our educational programs more relevant and inclusive?

As a fan of musicals, I believe historical themed musicals provide a creative way to teach history to a wide audience. Hamilton is not the first musical to teach history to people attending, since there many musicals especially 1776 which premiered on Broadway in 1969, but it gave a fresh look at our nation’s history using Ron Chernow’s 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton as inspiration as well as modern music to tell the story of this founding father. While I have not seen the musical live, I listened to the soundtrack and have seen clips from the news and the documentary. At first, it seemed like an odd concept to use rap in a historical musical; but when I listened to the soundtrack I realize how clever it was to describe Hamilton’s life and the lives of those around him using rap and other types of music for each different character. I also thought that the musical brought life into our founding fathers’ past and could inspire people to learn more about Alexander Hamilton and the rest of our founding people in 18th century America. The important take away from this musical is not only we learn about our founding fathers and mothers but as a community we learn about how we can relate to them. By casting of different racial backgrounds, i.e. Hispanic and African American, as Caucasian founders of the United States this shows what our country is like now and how our founders’ stories can happen to us now. No matter how big or small, we all work hard to make an impact on our country and to make a difference in our community. Hamilton and other founders worked on finding a way to create a democratic nation after breaking away from Great Britain. Miranda’s decision to create music that bring life to historical events rather than history textbooks giving general statements of what happened.

In Hamilton’s America, for instance, Miranda discussed the idea behind the song “Room Where It Happens” sung by Aaron Burr. He stated that instead of giving a “dry” history lesson about Hamilton trading New York City as the capital in exchange for the passage of his debt plan to pay off debts because of the Revolutionary War, a song is written from a different perspective to create human reaction to this event. This event was sung from Aaron Burr’s perspective as he sees everyone else pass him by and that is the moment when he realizes he wants to be more involved in this life rather than hanging back and being too careful. Individuals who have seen the musical and listened to the soundtrack would be able to find their way to meaning, and therefore it leads to them discovering its relevance in our community.

What do you think of Hamilton? Do you think it is an example of how relevance can be used? Why or why not? Is there another medium other than museums that create relevance? What does your institution do to bring relevance inside and outside your institution?

Resources:
Hamilton’s America. PBS Great Performances. Directed and Produced by Alex Horwitz. Executive Producers Lin-Manuel Miranda, Jeffrey Seller, et. al., October 21, 2016.
Museum Hive with Nina Simon: Museums and Relevance. Google Hangouts on Air, Brad Larson. www.museumhive.org. Streamed October 26, 2016.

Writing about Museum Education: Using Professional Development to Our Advantage

Originally posted on Medium. October 26, 2016

I truly believe professional development is important for all career paths, especially in the museum education field. Professional development in the museum education field have many opportunities to help museum professionals develop their careers to make sure they are up to date with latest theories and skills. There are many ways any professional can develop their skills in their chosen careers. For instance, there are conferences, networking, courses, online and workshops professionals can develop their own skills and use those lessons to share with their organizations to continue to grow. These options allow every professional to gain insight in their own professions, and by sharing my experiences in participating in professional development I hope this would inspire both emerging professionals and seasoned professionals to take advantage of what our organizations can offer. As a museum educator, I participated in various professional development programs including conferences and workshops.

I attended annual New England Museum Association conferences held in various cities in the New England states. The ones I attended were at hotels in Newport, RI in 2013, Boston/Cambridge, MA in 2014, and Portland, ME in 2015. The first conference’s theme was called Who Cares? Why Museums Are Needed More Than Ever; this theme touched on exactly how museums can still be relevant today. The second conference’s theme was called Picture of Health: Museums, Wellness, & Healthy Communities which explained how museums can promote health and wellness. The third conference’s theme was called The Language of Museums which discussed communication within the museum, among the staff, and with museum visitors to best serve the surrounding community. Each conference lasted for three days, has various sessions related to each department in the museum field as well as to the overall conference, and some off-site sessions allowing participants to explore the area where the conference is held. The conferences start with Keynote Sessions lead by speakers related to the theme and discuss how the conference’s theme advances the museum field.

Also, the conferences provide various networking opportunities including opening events at local museum, and Professional Affinity Group Lunches; the Professional Affinity Group Lunches (or PAG Lunches) allow professionals to meet with other professionals in the field, such as museum educators, take a boxed lunch ordered ahead of time and participate in discussions as well as group activities. NEMA conferences also provide a couple of sessions for professionals who were attending the conference for the first time; there was a session on the introduction to the conference and newcomer’s reception for networking opportunities. When I attended the newcomer’s session and reception in 2013 as a graduate student, I was introduced to how the conferences were set up and the panelists gave me and other newcomers advice on how to choose sessions as well as how to take advantage of networking with colleagues. These newcomer’s sessions are very helpful because it made me feel comfortable about navigating through the conferences, and when I introduced a friend and colleague to the NEMA conference I made sure she went to these sessions. As I transitioned to the museum community in New York, I took advantage of attending conferences and events in New York City.

I attended my first New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference in May 2016. The NYCMER conference was located at the Morgan Library & Museum near Penn Station. While it was like the NEMA conferences I attended in the past, the differences include the focus was professional development for museum educators, and all on site sessions were at the museum not at a hotel. NYCMER conference started with a keynote session with many sessions related to the museum education field. The keynote session at the beginning of the conference featured speakers Steven Seidel, Faculty Director of the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Jennifer Ifill-Ryan, Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Learning, introducing the overall importance of storytelling in the museum education field. Unlike the NEMA conferences which had some sessions related to museum education, all NYCMER sessions were more focused on subjects related to the museum education field. For instance, I attended a session that shared how to engage new audiences through playful experiences presented by staff from Museum Hack, a program designed to engage individuals with museums and to help museums develop their skills in creating interactive programs. Not only have I taken advantage of attending conferences, I also participated in a workshop in New York.

Last week I attended a workshop hosted by NYCMER and El Museo del Barrio called “Exhibition Designs for Educators”. The workshop event started with an activity on creating an exhibit related to one object; we were split into four different groups and were given a task to create an exhibit using prompts to interpret the object in four different ways. The challenge was we were not told what the object was, and we were expected to create an exhibit with an unknown artifact. What I can describe about the object is it looked like a cement block with a whole in it, and had nails sticking out of it. This group activity allowed us to discuss with each other ideas about how we can achieve our mission. My group’s prompt was to create an open exhibit that has a warm, inviting environment. We decided to create a model of our exhibit; our model had the object on a pedestal in the center of the exhibit with seats around it and wires between the seats. I asked the group what if we included inquiry-based questions to allow the visitors of our exhibit to be able to talk about the object, and we agreed in addition to inquiry-based questions on the wall we also included a box next to the pedestal with answers related to the object. To create that warm, inviting environment, we decided to use bright colors associated with comfort for the wall and seats then used a darker color for the floor to complement the object. After a few minutes, each group presented their exhibit ideas.

The rest of “Exhibition Design for Educators” workshop had three panelists discuss their involvement in exhibition and how it can be translated to education. NYCMER’s event mission was to make sure everyone attending will have a better understanding of the relationship between exhibition design and interpretation, and how educators can take advantage of their colleagues’ strategies in their own practice. These panelists explained their approaches to the practice of designing exhibits and their approaches to integrating interpretation. The first panelist was Ricardo Mulero who has been involved in exhibition projects include the National September 11 Memorial Museum and James Madison’s Montpelier in Virginia; he discussed his experiences working on projects for these museums and revealed at the end the object we created exhibits for was a cast of Kodak Camera packaging foam (circa 1970s). The second panelist was Sofia Reeser Del Rio who is the Curatorial Programs Coordinator at El Museo del Barrio; she discussed her approach to exhibit design as a form of storytelling and used a seed as a simile for an exhibit. Like a seed, ideas need to be nurtured and supported by research, emotions, imagination, appropriate gallery space, and planning to become successful projects.

The last panelist was Paul Orselli, the President and Chief Instigator at Paul Orselli Workshop, Inc. (POW!) who discussed about creating prototypes or a tool to engage in co-creation outside museum, exhibit diplomacy (or how to try things quickly, answer simply, and let visitor answer you), and hybrid museum. Orselli also used Elvis Presley to explain exhibit prototyping by using each letter of his first name to discuss each step for prototyping; use everyday materials to make it easier, looseness in opportunities during development, have exhibits be vermicious or to worm around on different subjects, have iteration or in other words keep trying, and sharing ideas with visitors and other professionals. What I took away from this experience is being able to come up with ideas for integrating exhibit and education programs, and will hopefully use these discussions to assist in planning future programs. I believe I left the workshop with a better understanding of the relationship between exhibition design and interpretation.

These are only some of the emerging and seasoned professionals can develop their skills in museum education. Volunteering is another great way to get involved to not only help an organization but you can also continue to utilize and develop your skills. I volunteer as a Parish Historian for the church I grew up attending to keep track of the collections and figure out ways to utilize the collections; also, I volunteer for the Historical Society of Greater Port Jefferson and the Long Island Maritime Museum teaching school programs and working within the visitor services department. The previous experiences I shared with you all will hopefully show how much we can learn from professional development, and how important it is to take advantage of these events. I will leave you with the following questions to ponder on: What are ways you take advantage of professional development? Is there a session or workshop that inspired you? Have you presented at a conference before, and if you have what did you like most about your experiences?

Writing about Museum Education

Originally posted on Medium website on October 19, 2016

As I continue my career in museum education by having many adventures in the field, I realized someday I want to be able to look back on all of the work I accomplished and be able to share these experiences with other educators. This was when I thought about writing this blog series. When I started to create this blog, the first words I see are “Tell your story.” I kept thinking about how to start this first blog entry, and when I saw those words I thought about how to begin this story. In order to tell my story of when I first found my passion for museum education, I will start from the beginning.

When I was a child, my mother encouraged my sisters and I to visit museum during family vacations. One of the family vacations was a trip to Plimoth Plantation with my nana, mom, and my two sisters. During that trip, all of us were in the meetinghouse and suddenly my mom and nana saw me go up to the pulpit to pretend to be a minister. My mom told me years later that I encouraged people coming into the meetinghouse to come sit down on the benches and a bunch of people sat down as I continued my pretend lecture; I even came up to people to give them communion and shake their hands. This is one of those kids say and do the most interesting things, and not only that it was also the moment that I truly enjoyed learning about history. My family made a number of trips over the years, and I enjoyed visiting museums and sites such as Monticello, Battle of Gettysburg battleground, Colonial Williamsburg the most. Education for me has always been my favorite part of life, and while at times it was challenging for me field trips especially to museums have given me a way to understand the lessons I learned in the classroom.

In school I was a student with learning differences that according to my I.E.P. (Individualized Education Plan) made speech, reading, and math a series of challenges I overcame as I continued my education. I thank my teachers every day for their commitments they made to fill my head with knowledge and their efforts to provide my classmates and I educational experiences outside the classroom. Even when I entered Western New England College (now University) in Springfield, Massachusetts and joined the Historical Society I enjoyed planning Historical Society trips to places such as Salem and Old Sturbridge Village. While I was in college, I looked back on my experiences and realized that I wanted to have a career in the museum field. Every day I was thankful for all of those field trips and family vacations I went on. Each of those trips gave me wonderful experiences I will always cherish.

While I was in graduate school at Central Connecticut State University, I began my museum career at the Old State House in Hartford as an intern in the education department during the summer. Then I worked as a Museum Teacher at the Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington as I continued graduate school. Towards the end of my graduate program, I began working as a Museum Interpreter at Connecticut Landmarks’ historic house museums, Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, where I gave tours to both school and the public. After I graduated with my degree in Public History in 2013, I also began to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society as a Museum Educator. Then I transitioned to New York to work as a Museum Educator with the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook. I also have been working as a Parish Historian for the church I grew up going to and volunteer at various museums on Long Island. All of these experiences I plan to talk about as I continue to write in this blog.

This story will continue not only with a discussion about my experiences in greater detail but I also will discuss recent topics in the field as well as recent books and journal articles I read. I also will write about conferences and workshops I attended. What I hope to accomplish with this blog is to give educators and aspiring educators both a personal account of and resources on the museum education field. I will end this entry with one of my favorite quotes on education:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
― Albert Einstein