Museum Memories: Noah Webster House

May 23, 2019

Here is another entry for the Museum Memories series which are blog posts about my experiences working in the museums. This series began as a Patreon request to help support the blog and website.  In case if one is not aware of Patreon, it is a membership platform that provides business tools for creators to run a subscription content service as well as ways for artists to build relationships and provide exclusive experiences to their subscribers, or patrons. On my Patreon page, one can give requests for the next topic on the blog. To learn more, check out my Patreon page after reading this blog post; the link to the page is here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward.

The Museum Memories post this week is my experience at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. According to its website, the mission of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. It is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster who was the creator of the first American dictionary and the Blue-Back Speller, a teacher, a lawyer, and early abolitionist. The Blue-Back Speller, also known as the Americas Spelling Book, was published for students to use in their classrooms to learn the alphabet and how to spell words. After meeting with the Director of Education and reuniting with a colleague from Connecticut’s Old State House who is now the Executive Director, I was brought in to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.

I began working at the Noah Webster House after I graduated from Central Connecticut State University with my Masters degree in Public History, and I continued to work at Connecticut Landmarks in addition to this position. I taught school programs in colonial dress that were on site and at schools in Connecticut. Museum Teachers who taught school programs at the Noah Webster House received a binder of lesson plans. When I started I utilized the binder to get background information to use in programs, and I followed veteran museum teachers for a few programs to see different ways they executed the programs. Also, I went through the clothing supplies to see which costumes would fit and once I found the right outfit I continued to wear it in each program I taught.

Before the school groups arrived, we discuss as a group what station each of us would like to start then each museum teacher is given a schedule with times we should spend at each station (that we adjust based on when the school groups arrive). At the start of each onsite school program, teachers, chaperones, and students are greeted by the museum teachers and Director of Education and they are introduced to what they should expect during the program. Then students are split into groups and are sent with each museum teacher to the station. During the program, we follow the rotation based on where we started and follow the route until we visited each room so we do not end up in the same room at the same time. What we teach in each room for the most part depended on what program is scheduled for that morning.

The programs I taught during onsite school programs at Noah Webster House that were the most popular were Sampler of Early American Life and A Day of Living History. In the Sampler of Early American Life program, students have the opportunity to explore the historic house and learn about colonial clothing, foods, and medicines, while also trying their hand at 18th-century “women’s” and “men’s” work in each of the rooms of the house. Teachers also have the opportunity to add on either the Colonial Schoolhouse or Hearth Cooking to their students’ experience. In the museum part of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, there is a reproduction of a one-room school house that each museum teacher including myself bring students in to talk about and demonstrate what going to school was like back in the 1700s. Also, we have a recreation of an 18th century kitchen we use to have students help create flatjacks and the museum teachers cook the flatjacks over the hearth.

In the A Day of Living History program, students research and play the roles of families who lived in Noah Webster’s neighborhood in 1774. When students arrive at the house, we each play a role of who they were back in 1774 and the museum teachers as their 18th century counterparts tell them that Mrs. Webster would like some help with chores to prepare for that day’s dinner (or lunch in the 21st century). The students moved around the house as they did chores, attended school, learned how to dance, play games, and cooked their lunches they will have at the end of the program. One of my favorite aspects of this program, and the Sampler program, is cooking over a hearth because it allows the students to see how their hard work pays off when they share what they made together; each group has the opportunity to add ingredients to vegetable stew and hoecakes, and churn butter to spread on top of the hoecakes.  Everyone, including teachers, museum teachers, and chaperones, gets an opportunity to try vegetable stew, hoecakes and butter. Also, I always got a kick out of playing my 18th century counterpart not only because I can work on utilizing my old acting skills but when I was assigned to the counterpart she was a 50 year old widow who took care of her son and his children; at the time I was in my 20s so the kids would always get confused when I talked about my grandchildren, and I would be laughing on the inside.

I also traveled to schools in Connecticut to teach pre and post visit programs so we would know how much the students know before coming and after their visit. Plus I taught a colonial  summer program that would last at least a week where kids learned colonial crafts, completed chores, cooked corn chowder, play games, explored Noah Webster’s house and garden, and learning about farm life at Westmoor Park including taking care of barnyard animals. My experiences have been valuable to me as I look back on my time at the House. I learned more skills including learning how to cook more recipes over a hearth and colonial dancing, and these skills I still remember today (it is good to know that if the power goes out and I don’t have a gas oven I will know how to cook over a fire).

If you have any questions about my experience, please contact me on my Contact page.

To learn more about the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, please visit their website.

Resources:

https://noahwebsterhouse.org/

https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Museum Memories: Connecticut Landmarks Historic Houses in Hartford

April 25, 2019

In previous blog posts, I started a series of posts sharing memories of museums I have worked at. This week I am continuing this series to share my memories at Connecticut Landmarks where I started to work from towards the end of graduate school to when I moved to Long Island. Connecticut Landmarks, originally known as Antiquarian and Landmarks Society, is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission according to their website is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. I worked as an educator and tour guide of two historic houses in Hartford, the Butler-McCook House & Garden and the Isham-Terry House.

The Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century. At this historic house, I sold admission, gave an introduction to the history of Hartford and the family who lived in the house, and provided a tour of the first and second floor of the house. There are a number of things I have enjoyed sharing about the house; for instance, there is a Bierstadt painting of an Italian village which reminded Reverend McCook and his wife of their honeymoon. Also, I loved sharing and listening to audio recordings of Frances McCook, one of Reverend McCook’s children, who shared memories of living in Hartford, in the house, and her family. Frances was the last living member of the McCook family who lived at the house, and she put in her will that the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society will own the house after her death. In the recordings, for instance, she talked about watching the snow come down with her siblings during the Blizzard of 1888.

In addition to sharing the information about the house with visitors, I also taught school programs, assisted with set up in gallery for monthly Cultural Cocktail Hour, and guided visitors through the garden during the Garden Gala. During my time at the Butler-McCook House, I was a part of the team that worked on revamping the tours by picking a theme of the house and researching the theme for a more engaging visitor experience. Each of us picked one theme to research on our own to present to the rest of the Connecticut Landmarks team, and I chose the Industrial Revolution and its impact on Hartford and the family.

The purpose of the theme I chose for a new tour was to show the Industrial Revolution had an impact on the city of Hartford especially on its residents including the Butlers and the McCooks. I chose five key objects that will support the theme and its purpose including Tall Case Clock which was made approximately 1750 by Benjamin Cheney, and this is an example of a locally made piece that was made before the Industrial Revolution to show the differences between craftsmanship and factory made items. Another example of a key object was the Mill Ledger C, 1818-1826 which was John Butler’s, one of the family’s ancestors’, ledger which recorded payments to men and women who labored in his paper mill; this revealed what the employees were paid for their labor in early industrial work. After selecting key objects, I chose key documents and photographs then created a tour outline highlighting the narrative relevant to the Industrial Revolution theme. While I worked at the Butler-McCook House, I also provided tours and worked programs for the Isham-Terry House.

Isham-Terry House, the lone survivor of a once vibrant Hartford neighborhood, is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford once owned by the Isham family filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry. Like the Butler-McCook House, there are so many things that I found both interesting and enjoyed sharing with visitors. In this Italianate house, I loved pointing out the high ceilings not found in a lot of modern homes today and each room held numerous treasures that were well-preserved thanks to the two sisters  Julia and Charlotte Isham, who like Frances McCook left the house to the Antiquarian & Landmarks Society after they passed away. One of my favorite rooms was the library with so many books and an impressive fireplace; it once had the Isham’s pet bird that they once kept in their fridge after its death and the sisters decided one day to go to the cemetery to bury the bird with their family and have a picnic. Another room I admired was once a ladies’ sitting room that was converted into the sisters’ brother, Dr. Oliver Isham’s, doctor’s office, and once he died the sisters basically locked the door which meant it was for the most part preserved as it was while Dr. Isham was alive. While I was at Isham-Terry House, I not only gave tours of the house, I also assisted with holiday tours, and a lecture and tour for nursing students.

Both of these historic houses have unique stories to share and I recommend visiting these places if one has the opportunity to do so. These houses also are a part of my journey as a museum educator where I both learned a lot about the significance of local history and practiced what I have learned from graduate school in museum education, history, and historic preservation. Each experience I have had has taught me so much, and I hope to carry on the lessons I’ve learned through current and future endeavors.

Resources:

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/butler-mccook

https://www.ctlandmarks.org/isham-terry

Museum Memories: Stanley-Whitman House

February 21, 2019

A couple of weeks of ago I wrote about my memories of an internship I did with Connecticut’s Old State House. To continue the series of museum memories of my career, I started a museum educator position at the historic house museum, Stanley-Whitman House, in Farmington Connecticut while I was earning my Master’s degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University. Stanley-Whitman House, according to their website, is a living history center and museum that,

teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. Programs, events, classes, and exhibits encourage visitors of all ages to immerse themselves in history by doing, acting, questioning, and engaging in Colonial life and the ideas that formed the foundation of that culture.

It is located in the historic center of Farmington, and centered on the ca. 1720 National Historic Landmark house which is furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. Outside the house, there are period raised bed gardens, an apple orchard, and heritage stone walls. In 2004, the museum added a building that houses public service areas including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area.

While I was working as a museum educator at the House, I got to wear a costume in which I taught education programs for school groups between kindergarten and fifth grade. The programs I taught focused on educating students about life in the Colonial era and about the Native American life in Colonial Farmington. Each program had different stations the students spent time learning various aspects of colonial life, and rotated throughout the house and history center. For older students, I taught them how to cook recipes and I demonstrated how the food was cooked over the hearth.

During these programs, I learned early on about the importance of flexibility. School buses do not always arrive on time so when school groups arrive late myself and other educators have to modify our lessons to make sure the students get as much out of the program as possible. I also learned about how to handle the unexpected. When a group of fifth graders were acting up during a cooking lesson and after a number of times we told them to behave, one of the students got hurt as a result so I quickly raised my voice so the entire group can hear me tell everyone to stop what they were doing. As I continued my career, I understood there will be times unexpected things will happen and I would need to be able to be quick on my feet to handle the situation.

In addition to educating school groups, I also worked on a couple of projects that not only contributed to the Stanley-Whitman House but also fulfilled my requirements in the Master’s program. For instance, I took a Curatorship course and one of the requirements was to create an exhibit for a museum or gallery with classmates. A couple of classmates and I decided to work on an exhibit for the Stanley-Whitman to go along with their symposium In Plain Sight which focused on the history of slavery in Connecticut before the 1790 census. We used the resources available in the Stanley-Whitman House’s collections in the lower levels of the history center to research the slaves who lived in Farmington. According to the summary I wrote about the project, once we completed the research

The next steps for the exhibit were discussed during one of our group meetings after we shared what we found in our research. For instance, we discussed editing the biographical information found before creating the text panels. Then we discussed the possibility of adding some photographs related to slaves in Farmington and where they lived in the town. Once the exhibit is set up, we will be able to fulfill the Stanley-Whitman’s house mission for the symposium and our experiences in curatorship.

Another example of a project I worked on for the Stanley-Whitman House and as a requirement for my Master’s program was a capstone project as a final requirement for earning my degree.

I created a lesson plan according to the requirements of Teaching with Historic Places which uses historic places in National Parks and in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects to help teachers bring historic places into the classroom. According to the abstract I created for my capstone project

It focuses on eighteenth century New England women and it takes a specific look at the lives of two women who lived in the Farmington, Connecticut, Mary Steele Smith and Susannah Cole Whitman. Both were economically comfortable, two white New England women who were members of the First Congregationalist Church, but the lesson includes background information about the history of Farmington and about women of different social and economic status to inform students that not every individual who lived during the eighteenth century lived the same way Mary and Susannah lived. This lesson plan will aid school-age children in becoming more aware of the study of Early American women’s history and its significance to the overall local and American eighteenth-century history.

After I completed the project, I submitted it to the committee for approval and I gave a copy for my academic advisor to keep for her records and for the director of the Stanley-Whitman House at the time.

My experiences at the Stanley-Whitman House were important to me because they were a part of the beginning of my career as a museum educator and the lessons I learned here I carry throughout my career. All of my memories at the museums I work with guide me through my career and help me become a better museum professional.

Announcement: After next week, I will not be posting new material for the blog because I am going to focus more on my wedding planning since my wedding is a month away. I will try to share previous posts when I can.

Check out:

http://www.stanleywhitman.org/

In Plain Sight: http://stanleywhitman.org/Calendar.Details.asp?ID=484&Cat=Visit https://www.nps.gov/subjects/teachingwithhistoricplaces/index.htm

Museum Memories: Connecticut’s Old State House

Added to Medium, February 7, 2019 

I recently have thought about the reasons why I started writing this blog, and one of those reasons was to remember my experiences in the museum field. Each museum I have worked for or done projects with has opened up doors for many opportunities to learn and grow in my career, and I thought that if I share some of my memories of these experiences another museum professional would be able to benefit from them. For this week, I decided to write about some of them at Connecticut’s Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut.

Me at Connecticut’s Old State House

The Old State House’s mission is to reawaken citizen engagement and awareness by offering an authentic, educational and inspiring visitor experience by putting ideas on display in historic rooms that celebrate democracy and citizenship from the past and present. While I was in graduate school earning my Master’s degree in Public History, I got the opportunity to complete an internship with Connecticut’s Old State House.

For one of my assignments, my classmates and I interviewed suggested professionals in the public history field and learn what we could about their experiences in the careers relevant to the interviewees’ career path. Then after we had the interviews we were to write about them and what we learned from their experiences. Since I expressed interest in the museum field as I started the graduate program, I decided to interview Rebecca Taber-Conover who is currently Head of Public Programs & History Day. I met her at the Old State House and asked her about her experiences in the museum field as well as any advice she could give me. At the end of the interview, she told me that there was an opening for an internship and I decided to join them for a summer internship for museum education.

On the first day of the internship, I joined the education team as they taught one of the last school programs of the school year. The school brought over a hundred students of varying grade levels between kindergarten and fifth grade and they were split into groups to explore the Old State House. The group I assisted the educator with was with kindergarten children. We helped the kids create spyglasses using paper towel tubes to use as part of the “I Spy” program where the kids can walk around the Old State House and point out what they “spy” in each room they visited.

During the rest of the internship, I sat in on staff meetings to find out what common questions were asked during tours we did not already have answers for and I used those questions to do research to answer them. I regularly visited the Connecticut State Library to do research, and recorded answers into the Google Doc so we would be able to answer them in the future. Also, in the meetings I also learned about the Farmer’s Market and what goes into planning it. According to the website, the goal of Connecticut’s Old State House Farmer’s Market is

to offer a variety of products from as many farmers and artisan vendors as possible within the available space. We are committed to offering a vibrant marketplace in downtown Hartford where local farmers and artisans can enjoy coming together with the community to share the “best” of what Connecticut has to offer!

At the Farmer’s Market, I handed out flyers for upcoming programs for Connecticut’s Old State House dressed in an eighteenth century style dress. One of the programs that I also sat in on and assisted with is called Conversations at Noon.

Conversations at Noon is a series that provides opportunities to hear about relevant topics about Connecticut history and current events during lunch time at the Old State House. For instance, a couple of the topics covered in previous conversations include “Did Hartford’s Constitution Plaza Hurt or Help the City?” and “Exploring Connecticut and the Slave Trade”. It is also aired on Connecticut Network (CT-N) and on their website. At the Conversations at Noon, I distributed the surveys on how to improve the quality of the series and collected them for review. I also provided tours for visitors during its open hours.

Each tour started with an introductory video that gives an overview of the history of the Old State House. Then once the video has ended I guided groups through unique exhibits including the Museum of Curiosities, and the historic rooms. The Museum of Curiosities started as a portrait studio by Reverend Joseph Steward inside the Old State House in 1796, and a year later a “Curiosity Room” was established which featured wonders and treasures around the world. Another favorite part of the tour was the statue of Lady Justice which was on top of the Old State House in 1827. Also during my internship, I developed a scavenger hunt for children to search for animals painted on the walls of the Education Center.

This internship was an important experience because it was at Connecticut’s Old State House where my passion for museum education developed and my career in museum education began. I am especially grateful for the experiences I had, the memories I developed, and the opportunities that led to where I am today.

What was your experiences like in your internships?

Resources:

Connecticut’s Old State House: https://www.cga.ct.gov/osh/default.asp

Connecticut Network: https://www.ct-n.com/

Patron Request: Museums I Would Like To Visit

Added to Medium, December 13, 2018

I have been asked a number of times throughout my life so far what museums I have been to and which ones I would like to visit. For this month’s Patron request, I decided to answer their question with a list of museums I would like to visit with a brief description of the museum, mission, and why I would like to visit this museum. This list is in no particular order, and it could be museums in and outside of the United States. I am only limiting myself to eight museums even though my list of museums is much longer because the blog post would be too long. Here are some of the museums I would like to visit in the future:

1. Museum of the American Revolution, Philadelphia, PA: It explores the dramatic, surprising story of the American Revolution through its collection of Revolutionary-era weapons, personal items, documents, and works of art. I want to visit the Museum of the American Revolution not only because one of the histories I am most passionate about is Early American history but the last time I visited Philadelphia I was a kid and would have loved to visit a museum like this one in addition to visiting the Liberty Bell. https://www.amrevmuseum.org/

2. Walt Disney Family Museum, San Francisco, CA: The Museum is about the life story of Walt Disney, the man who raised animation to an art, tirelessly pursued innovation, and created a distinctly American legacy that transformed the entertainment world. It features contemporary, interactive galleries with state-of-the-art exhibits narrated in Walt’s own voice alongside early drawings, cartoons, films, music, a spectacular model of Disneyland, and a lot more. Since I am one of many who have grown up watching Disney films, both animated and live action, and have had a fascination for the history of the Disney family after watching a couple of Walt Disney movies and documentaries, I would like to visit the museum in person. https://www.waltdisney.org/

3. Exploratorium, San Francisco, CA: It a public learning laboratory exploring the world through science, art, and human perception. Their mission is to create inquiry-based experiences that transform learning worldwide. A few of my colleagues at the Long Island Explorium talked about how impressive their exhibits and interactive experiences are, and would like to see this for myself. https://www.exploratorium.edu/

4. Barnum Museum, Bridgeport, CT: The Museum is a leading authority on P.T. Barnum’s life and work, and it contains more than 60,000 artifacts relating to Barnum, Bridgeport, and 19th century America. I went to the circus once as a child, and I thought that the history of the circus was interesting. Also, when I was an intern at Connecticut’s Old State House I learned that P.T. Barnum once served the state inside the Old State House. After talking with a museum colleague who I met online who works at the Barnum Museum and learning about the restoration plan of the Museum from the Director, Kathleen Maher’s, presentation at the NEMA conference, I would like to visit the museum and learn more about P.T. Barnum and his influence on American culture. https://barnum-museum.org/

5. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.: This museum is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to championing women through the arts, and advocates for better representation of women artists and serves as a vital center for thought leadership, community engagement, and social change. It is a fascinating museum and I have not been to many museums that focus solely on women and the accomplishments made by women. As a woman myself, I think it is especially important to learn more about what these women have accomplished and how their accomplishments impacted the nation. https://nmwa.org/

6. The Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, Netherlands: In cooperation with Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank, the museum was established inside the house where Anne Frank went into hiding and its’ mission is to increase awareness of Anne’s life story all over the world. Since I learned about Anne Frank and her life while I was in school, I wanted to visit in person to not only learn more about the lives of those who hid in the house but I also think it is important to put into perspective what it would be like to be hidden in a small space by stepping into that space. https://www.annefrank.org/en/museum/

7. The Louvre, Paris, France: Since 1793, the Louvre was intended to be a universal museum in terms of the wealth of the collections (which there are thousands of art and artifacts) and its diversity of its visitors. While it is the most visited museum in the world, I have always wanted to travel to France since I started to learn French when I was in middle school and see the vast history and art that the Louvre has collected in its long history as a museum. https://www.louvre.fr/en/

8. Basilica di Santa Croce, Florence, Italy: This is the largest Franciscan church in the world, and the construction of the current church that replaced an older one began in May 1294. I have relatives who live in northern Italy and in addition to visiting them I would like to see the Basilica for its architectural significance as well as its art and monuments including Michelangelo’s and Galileo’s tombs. http://www.santacroceopera.it/en/default.aspx

What are some of the museums you are interested in visiting?

If you would like to learn more about Patreon and make your own requests please visit my Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/lindseysteward

Recap: The 100th Annual New England Museum Association Conference

It has been a long time since I talked about my experience and experienced the New England Museum Association (NEMA) conference. After a few years of not being able to attend the conference, I chose to attend the 100th annual NEMA conference. As always, I had a positive learning experience as well as reunited with a number of colleagues I have met at previous conferences and met with new conference participants. It was located at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in Stamford, Connecticut, and the theme of the conference was Museums on the Move which explored how museums have evolved since the very first NEMA conference and how they are positioning themselves for success in the century ahead.

A few days before the conference began, NEMA conference attendants were made aware of the labor situation at the Hilton Stamford Hotel & Executive Meeting Center in which hotel workers were protesting unfair wages. While NEMA considered moving the conference to another location, NEMA decided that it was not practical considering the size of the NEMA conference and the relatively short time frame before the conference; the full NEMA statement can be found here: https://nemanet.org/conference-events/conference/2018-nema-conference/hotel/. There have been some participants that decided to not attend the conference or decided to not hold sessions in the hotel as a result, and as a museum community we supported their decisions. During the keynote session, NEMA Executive Director Dan Yaeger dedicated time to talk about the labor situation at the hotel and a couple of staff members from the hotel spoke to us about what the work conditions were like at the hotel. Throughout our conference experience, discussions about the labor situation emphasized the importance of recognizing one another as hard workers who should and deserve to do and see changes made in our fields.

Also during the NEMA session, we heard more about the 100-yearhistory of NEMA and the NEMA conference. They introduced a pop-up exhibit which displayed a timeline of NEMA’s history and allowed conference participants to add their own museum’s history to the timeline using Post-Its, markers, and dry erase boards. What was also added to the exhibit was the wishes for NEMA and the museum field inside boxes that were lifted by the NEMA staff and keynote session presenters in front of the whole conference.

@Steward2Lindsey: Whoa! #nema2018 https://twitter.com/Steward2Lindsey/status/1060223671619514369

Each of the sessions I selected to attend during the week were both for my personal interest and also to gather information for the Long Island Explorium and the Three Village Historical Society. On the first day, I attended a session called The STEAM Dream Team in which I learned how collaboration between institutions can create meaningful STEAM programming from educators at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and the Connecticut Science Center; they discussed how an initial joint-school program evolved, and continues to evolve, into a multivalent partnership that benefits both institutions. Also, the session included a hands-on STEAM activity using shadows, light and colors. and practical tips for starting our own art/science collaboration. Then I attended a session called Continuing Education for Your Most Committed(and Creative) Life-Long Learners which considers experiences of long-serving volunteer educators from the standpoint of their interest in and capacity for new learning, in subject matter and pedagogical techniques; I learned about different tailored programs that can refresh docents’ intellectual lives, keeping them up to date and incorporate reflective, cyclical self-assessment and these developmental strategies can be applied to all subject areas. The last session I attended for the day was Power Dynamics and Workplace Culture: A Think Tank in which I participated in a discussion about how to help colleagues examine power dynamics and workplace culture in museums by sharing solutions and ideas for moving the field towards a more equitable and transparent future.

In the evening I attended the Opening ceremony at the Bruce Museum of Art and Science in Greenwich which was originally built in 1853 as a private home on a hill overlooking Greenwich Harbor, and the museum has emerged as one of the area’s premier institutions highlighting art, science, and natural history. I strolled through the permanent collection galleries featuring art from legendary Cos Cob Impressionists (including Childe Hassam, Emil Carlsen, Leonard and Mina Fonda Ochtman, and Elmer McRae among others), a spectacular mineral and natural history collection, and American material culture spanning the Colonial period to the present day. Also, I went into the giftshop to purchase a few items, enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, and since I attended the ceremony I received a free book about the Bruce Museum’s collections.

The next day, I attendedthe session Beyond the School Visit:Museum and District Collaboration in which representatives from The AldrichMuseum and the Ridgefield Public Schools discussed their collaboration and howthey evolved school visits into “deep dive” programming resulting in district-wide, cross-disciplinary curriculum, learning opportunities for educators, school memberships, and experiences for students that align with their respective missions. We listened to museum management, district administrators, and a parent on how the collaboration evolved and how it impacts their institutions; afterwards we were engaged in an activity that was designed to inspired partnerships rooted in reciprocity, shared values, and innovation. The next session I went to was a session called How Visitor-Centered Are We? which was a follow up to the last year’s seminar discussion about truth in museums, and the discussion continued with examining the continuing shift to create more visitor-centered environments and what this means in the context of today’s society. This session also came with selected pre-readings in which we used to examine and share ideas and examples of inclusion, diversity and access, both physical and cultural, to help us understand how they shape, or should shape, our work today. The last session of the day I attended was called Finding Your Voice on Social Media which provided an overview of how Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can become powerful tools for our organizations and connect with a greater audience.

Since this was the lastday of the conference, I attended two sessions before the conference luncheonand annual meeting. The first session was called Re-Imagining the Future! Museums for Tomorrow in which I learned howthree institutions of art, culture, and science are transforming their facilities and programming for the 21st century and beyond. This had a panel discussion that explored three significant capital projects at the Barnum Museum, Bruce Museum, and Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, and they addressed mater planning and design, construction and interpretive planning. The last session was called Integrating Skill Building into Museum Programs for Children and Caregivers which had hands-on science activities introduced by science center and children’s museum staff that can be facilitated in a variety of museum settings; these activities can be used to look beyond the product or content goals and think about how children can practice important developmental and science process skills as they participate, and the presenters shared strategies for engaging caregivers in the process of their children’s learning and helping them recognize the skill development that is taking place.

At the conferenceluncheon and annual meeting we continued the celebration of NEMA’s 100thanniversary by recognizing winners of the 2018 NEMA Excellence Awards and commemorate the career of Larry Yerdon, NEMA’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awardee. Yerdon, President & CEO of Strawberry Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH, has had a distinguished career in museums, an active supporter of NEMA its President, and has mentored countless museum professionals as they built their own careers in the field. During the lunch, conference participants heard about NEMA’s latest initiatives, then we helped elect the next NEMA board and officers during a brief annual meeting before heading home from the conference.

The conference experience is just as I remembered in terms of socializingwith former colleagues and new acquaintances. It meant a lot to me to be ableto participate in the 100th conference, and the additional momentsthat highlighted its 100 year history stood out to me; reading the timeline made me realize how much I did not know about NEMA and I am happy to have learned about this rich history. Meanwhile, the sessions themselves have not only been informative but presented fascinating information that I am happy to share with colleagues in New York (including colleagues at the Long Island Explorium and the Three Village Historical Society) and everyone in the museum online community reading this blog post.

If you would like to learn more about each session Idescribed above or have any questions, please contact me on social media or here: https://wp.me/P8J8yQ-4

What are the Best Practices for Historic House Museums?

Added to Medium, May 11, 2018

I thought about more recently about my past experiences in the museum field, specifically in historic house museums. Like all museums, historic house museums take a lot of time and resources to run. As museum professionals, we search through various resources and have discussions among colleagues to figure out the best practices for our museums. I am particularly going to discuss best practices in historic house museums.

Each historic house museum has their own unique stories and artifacts to share with its visitors. I worked at a number of historic house museums in the past, and each have not only their own stories and artifacts but they also have slightly different missions from one another. The historic house museums I was a museum educator for are Stanley-Whitman House, Noah Webster House, and Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House.

The Stanley-Whitman is a living history center and museum that teaches through the collection, preservation, research, and dynamic interpretation of the history and culture of early Farmington. This museum facility is centered on a ca. 1720 National Historical Landmark house, furnished with period antiques to reflect the everyday activities of Colonial life in Connecticut. In 2004, public service areas of the museum, including a modern classroom, a period tavern room, post-and-beam Welcome Center, research library, exhibit gallery, and collection storage area, were constructed to assist in fulfilling its mission.

The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster, the creator of the first American dictionary and “Blue-Backed Speller”, a teacher, lawyer and early abolitionist. Its mission is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding.

Connecticut Landmarks is a state-wide network of eleven significant historic properties that span four centuries of New England history. It’s mission is to inspire interest and encourage learning about the American past by preserving selected historic properties, collections and stories and presenting programs that meaningfully engage the public and our communities. The two historic house museums I worked at were the Butler-McCook House and the Isham-Terry House, located in Hartford.

The Butler-McCook House & Garden, the only 18th-century home still remaining on Hartford’s Main Street, is a time capsule of Hartford’s past and the history of one family. For 189 years the Butler-McCook House & Garden was home to four generations of a family who participated in, witnessed, and recorded the evolution of Main Street between the American Revolution and the mid-twentieth century.

Inside the house, Connecticut Landmarks preserves the house with all the changes that took place over time. The house has original furnishings ranging from Connecticut-crafted colonial furniture to Victorian-era toys and paintings to samurai armor acquired during a trip to Japan. These objects were accumulated over the course of almost two centuries by members of this extraordinary clan, which included physicians, industrialists, missionaries, artists, globetrotters and pioneering educators and social reformers.

The Isham-Terry House is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford. Dr. Oliver Isham purchased the 1854 Italianate house for his medical practice and as a home for himself, his parents and his three sisters in 1896. The footprint of the house remains the same as it was when it was built in 1854 with the three-story rectangular tower added in 1883.

This mansion has 15 rooms that are adorned with crown moldings, ceiling medallions, lincrusta wall coverings, hand painted walls and ceilings, gilt mirrors and valances, stained glass windows, elaborate gas-light chandeliers and many original kitchen and bathroom appliances and fixtures. It is filled with objects of historical, artistic and family significance including but not limited to antique furnishings, decorative arts, rare books, and the Terry clocks made famous by their great uncle Eli Terry.

All of the historic house museums I have worked for and visited focus their missions on community and education. While I have not visited all historic house museums in the country, I know that each one not only has a unique narrative but all historic house museums have to consider many factors that effect how they are run.

For instance, historic house museum professionals have to discuss interpretive planning. Interpretive planning, according to the book Museum Administration 2.0, is about deciding which interpretive messages will be carried throughout the organization, via exhibits, educational programs, marketing, and other forms of communication. At the Butler-McCook House, I was part of the team that worked on interpretive planning projects to brainstorm ways we can draw more visitors in while aligning the interpretive plan with the mission.

There are a number of steps that need to be taken when museum professionals work on the interpretive plan. According to my experience and in Museum Administration 2.0, a number of museum leaders and educators must collaborate to develop an interpretive plan which allows policy, planning, and process to flow out of the themes and messages the plan presents. I met with other museum educators, the executive director, an interpretive specialist, and site administrator to discuss the framework of the plan as well as the interpretive themes. Also, we discussed geographic and audience demographics from previous years. Museum educators were then asked to pick an interpretive theme to brainstorm ideas of new exhibits and tours using the narrative and objects in the collection related to the chosen theme.

Other considerations include but not limited to house maintenance, accessioning and deaccessioning objects in the collections. Also, historic house museums especially ones I have worked in have to figure out what to do with dangerous objects in its collections. I came across an article written by Jessica Leigh Hester called “The Most Dangerous Things You Can See in Museums” which listed a number of museums from around the world with the specific dangerous objects described underneath each museum mentioned in the article.

When I was working at the Butler-McCook House and Isham-Terry House, there were a number of items in the collection that would be considered too dangerous and each one had a solution to be sure they are not exposed to museum professionals and visitors. For instance, both of the houses had medicines used by members of both families who were physicians. Each of these were placed out of arms reach either in a closet behind glass (at Butler-McCook House) or in a cabinet (at Isham-Terry House).

Museum professionals at historic house museums have numerous things to consider, and would need assistance from colleagues and other resources. Last week I discussed how museum professionals find resources and the significance of these resources to assist in running museums. I discovered a website called Sustaining Places which is a site that has resources for small museums and historic sites which cover everything from administration to collections, and from curatorial and exhibitions to education and programming. Also, in addition to other resources from books and museum organizations, there are professional networks especially through the American Alliance of Museums. The American Alliance of Museums has a historic houses and sites network which was organized to create and maintain a welcoming network of museum professionals dedicated to the interpretation and preservation of important public histories, architecture, and culture.

Not all historic house museums are alike, and it is important for all museum professionals to learn and decide what methods work best for their organizations.

If you work in a historic house museum, what resources have you come across on historic house museums?

Resources:
https://www.ctlandmarks.org/
http://www.stanleywhitman.org/
https://noahwebsterhouse.org/
Genoways, Hugh H., Lynne M. Ireland, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko, Museum Administration 2.0, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/most-dangerous-museum-objects
https://sustainingplaces.com/
https://www.aam-us.org/professional-networks/historic-houses-and-sites-network/

How Museum Can Gain Visitors’ Attention through Educational Programming: Homeschool and Other Non-Traditional Programming

Added to Medium, August 3, 2017

Museum educators prepare for the upcoming school year by not only preparing for school programs but also non-traditional education programs such as homeschool days and scout programs. As museum professionals, we recognize there are various groups interested in educational programming museums have to offer. Museums, however, need to continue to expand its offerings and spread the word to those groups to remain relevant for all visitors.
I have had some experience in education programs for non-traditional groups. It is without a doubt a different experience from school programs. At the same time, what all of these programs have in common were the ability to educate and engage students with the materials offered by museums.

Homeschool programming in museums vary depending on what museums offer to their visitors. For instance, my first experience educating homeschool groups was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. There was one homeschool group that came to Noah Webster House, and the students participated in an educational program that was adjusted to accommodate the small homeschool group in one of the pre-existing school programs.

I later experienced working with homeschool students in Long Island Museum’s Homeschool Day program. In May of 2016, there was a Homeschool Day planned in collaboration with the Smithtown Historical Society. Individuals participating in the program were able to visit both places in the same day or choose which place to visit for Homeschool Day. The families signed up with either organization, and they made the decision on whether to visit both places or one of the places. At the Long Island Museum, homeschool students and their families participated in a couple of interactive activities in addition to touring the Museum’s campus. They learned about parts of a 19th century stagecoach, experienced what it was like to attend school in a one-room schoolhouse during the 19th century, and visited the Samuel West’s blacksmith shop. Meanwhile at the Smithtown Historical Society, those who visited the place visited the historic structures and learned how to write with scratch pens (later version of the quill pen).

Many museums created programs that appeal to homeschool students and the majority of these programs helped homeschool students as well as their teachers network with each other. During my research on homeschool programming, I discovered a number of museums that have different programs that welcomed homeschool students and families to their museums. For instance, the New York Historical Society developed the Homeschool Academy which is designed to supplement their curriculum with engaging lessons in their classrooms, studios, and galleries. Also, the Museum of Play had programs geared towards homeschool students.

The Museum of Play in Rochester, New York offer various opportunities and programs for homeschool students to engage with the interactive exhibit spaces. While homeschool students and their families can participate in the Museum’s homeschool activities and lessons aligned with state and national standards, they also have the option to register for school group lessons that can be adapted for homeschool students’ needs.

There are other places that participate in their own versions of Homeschool Day. For instance, the Intrepid Museum of Sea, Air, and Space has Homeschool Days that feature talks and discussions geared towards appropriate age ranges and abilities. Also, there are activities that include an educator-led tour of the Museum as well as a chance to explore various topics through our historic artifacts, photographs and demonstrations. Homeschool students and their families also have time to travel the museum on their own, and can participate in a self-guided scavenger hunt. In addition to the Homeschool Days, homeschool groups of 10 or more students are also invited to take part in the Museum’s K–12 school programs.

Cradle of Aviation in Garden City, New York also has Homeschool Days that include activities such as guided tours and scavenger hunts. Also, when they bring 25 or more students, homeschool families can explore the Museum’s galleries, see a Giant Screen film, and Planetarium Show in addition to attending museum classes. They are welcome to register for any of the museum classes; and the educator-led programs include active discussion, fun visuals, hands-on demonstrations and other related activities.

I also did some research on homeschool programs in Connecticut museums since the beginning of my career in museum education began in this state. One of the examples I found was the Children’s Museum in West Hartford where it has a program known as the Homeschool Series. The Series offers various days in February, March, April, and May which they are able to participate in programs related to science and nature. This museum offers programs that encourage families to engage in hands-on science instruction, inquiry-based learning activities, and cooperative learning opportunities.

The New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut has Homeschool Days that take place on second Mondays of every month between October and June. According to their site, each month features a different artistic element or medium, historical period, or special exhibit, using the galleries as the classroom. Homeschool students participate in inquiry-based learning and flex visual literacy skills with in-depth discussions of works of art, and sessions end with studio workshops that allow them to delve into the creative process.

Mystic Seaport also has Homeschool programs students and families can engage in during their visit. Their homeschool programs are a series of hands-on learning programs designed specifically for homeschoolers ages 4-13, adjusted for each age; each day of the program concentrated on one theme. Also, Mystic Seaport has Homecoming Community Sailing in which students practice boat handling and become familiar with the basics of water safety and wind.

Connecticut Historical Society has Homeschool Days, or events that give families the opportunity to enjoy engaging, educational workshops, tour our galleries, and connect with other homeschool families. There are short workshops on a variety of topics that are taught throughout the day; two Homeschool Days are scheduled at different parts of the year.

There are many museums and organizations that offer homeschool days and programming. While there are some differences, depending on what the museums’ offer, one of the things they have in common are how they offer interactive events that encourage participation in hands-on activities. These activities not only help homeschool students and families connect with each other but also assist with supplementing their education standards.

In addition to homeschool programs, there are other groups and programs that also encourage connecting with other people and engaging with the materials museums offer. Scout groups, for instance, are also drawn to visiting museums for their educational programs.

Boys and Girls Scout programs encourage them to be active members in their communities and part of these programs inspire them to earn badges that showed they accomplished a task and/or skill to move up a level in the program. Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society and the Long Island Museum, for instance, have programs that are adjusted to meet the these organizations standards not only to allow participants to enjoy their visit but also earn the badges they needed for their programs.

Another example of other programming is family programs that connect them with other families and engage them with the hands-on activities. For instance, while I was at Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, I worked during a program called Bookworm Adventures with storytelling as well as crafts and other hands-on activities. The particular theme I worked during was Dr. Seuss, and I assisted young children make green eggs of green eggs and ham using marshmallows and green covered chocolates. Meanwhile, the kids pinned a tail on the Cat in the Hat, played with toys, listened to Dr. Seuss’ stories, and made other crafts.

Museums have so many programs and resources to offer. By extending them to groups including homeschool students and scouts, we reach out to audiences that will have another place to interact with other people and take advantage of what we have to offer in educational programming.

What other museums or organizations have similar programs I discussed? Has your organization considered expanding programs like homeschool programs if it does not have a program already? If your organization has similar programming, please share the accomplishments and challenges your museum or organization accomplished.

To learn more about the programs I mentioned in this post, check these out:
http://www.nyhistory.org/education/homeschool
http://www.museumofplay.org/education/homeschool-students
https://www.intrepidmuseum.org/homeschool-days
http://www.cradleofaviation.org/education/homeschool.html
http://www.thechildrensmuseumct.org/programs/homeschool-programs/
http://www.nbmaa.org/classroom/11
https://www.mysticseaport.org/learn/k-12-programs/homeschool/
https://chs.org/education/home-school-day/

 

Is Children’s Play Declining? What are Museums Doing to Encourage Playtime

Added on Medium, July 20, 2017

When I was on Twitter this week, I came across a tweet from Sage Museum Ed, the American Alliance of Museums’ Ford W. Bell Fellow for Museums & P-12 Ed. She tweeted an article that came to my attention from Huffington Post called “Children’s Play is Declining, But We Can Help Reclaim It”, written by Huffington Post contributor Merete L. Kropp who is a child development and family specialist. Kropp shared data that showed how play has been decreasing over the years. According to the data she shared, between 1981and 1992 there was a 25 percent decrease in children’s time spent playing even though experts in child development have stressed the importance of playing. Playtime has continually decreased over the past 25 years as the article claimed.

Kropp discussed the number of possibilities that contribute to the decline in play and how to encourage children to dedicate their time to play. A few of the examples she briefly discussed about the contributions to decline in play include overly structured schedules, too many extracurricular activities, decreased recess time in school, and increased time in front of a screen. While children find ways to play, they play in small amounts of time in between activities and waiting for their parents or guardians to spend time with them when the adults are occupied with other tasks such as meal prep time and talking on the phone. Then Kropp shared how children should be encouraged to have their playtime with a couple of points including scheduling unstructured time for children to be bored and entertain themselves, providing simple toys with multiple purposes that give opportunities for creativity and problem solving, and following children’s lead during playtime and allow them to negotiate and communicate on their own terms.

This article made me think about how museums have been providing many options for children to engage and play not only during school programs but also during the summer. Museums, especially in the museums I have worked for, can engage children in providing outlets for them to be creative and the desired time to express their creativity. Also, museums have the ability to provide time children can dedicate to, as Kropp pointed out, “participate in complex scientific discovery as they hypothesize, experiment and make generalizations about the world and how it works”.

Museums I work for currently and those that I have worked for have various activities and programs that allow children to express their curiosity as well as their creativity.

The Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, for instance, has various projects and activities that encourage children’s creativity and playtime. Inside the Explorium, there is a bailing boat, or a boat that removes water from the boat, filled with rice where kids can play inside the boat. Kids are encouraged to play with the rice by figuring out how many cups of rice could fill a bucket, how many spoonful of rice can fill a bucket, and which size funnel would the rice come out the fastest. They not only entertain themselves using the rice but they also learn about measuring in the playing process.

Children in the rice boat also have the time to use their imaginations, and create their own play world. With the rice boat, there are toys including sea creatures in addition to white pipes, funnels, buckets, shovels, plastic cups, bowls, and spoons. They use these toys and tools to create endless possibilities for the world and games they create. For instance, one girl pretended she owned her own restaurant and served various dishes using the rice as her creations. Another example of unique possibilities was when a girl today pretended she was able to create a roof using the white pipes.

Also today, a brother and a sister walked in and created two different ways of play. The brother took the pipes and created a maze that would send the rice through on the other end of the pipes. Meanwhile, his sister used the bowels of rice to feed four toy sea turtles and an octopus, and then used two buckets to create their homes (she buried each of the toys in the rice, and pretended to create rooms for these houses). The rice boat is not the only place in the Maritime Explorium where children can have the opportunity to be creative and play.

In addition to working on activities such as puzzles, Legos, drawings, and learning how to turn on a light bulb only using a battery, there is another activity children can create projects however they wanted with limited instructions. Located in the front center of the Maritime Explorium, especially during the summer, there is a project children can work on that changes each week to give them a chance to create something new to take home.

Some of the projects the kids worked on were bug houses, building with paper towel and toilet paper tubes, and seascapes. Bug houses are places where bugs are attracted to and use for shelter outside made out of twigs. Seascapes are dioramas of views of the sea, and were made with either cardboard, Styrofoam cup holders, or paper with the option of adding sand onto their projects; they also have the option of creating their favorite sea creatures to add to their seascapes. Each of these projects had additional tools and materials such as scissors, tape, glue sticks, paper, ribbons, markers, pipe cleaners, and popsicle sticks children can use to make their projects unique and creative.

There are endless possibilities, especially for their building with paper towel and toilet paper tubes projects, for children to make their projects their own unique projects. For instance, one of the girls participating in the building with tubes project, using the tools and materials available, created her own robot.

Since the Maritime Explorium believes in the constructivist theory, museum educators like myself give few instructions on how they are made in order for children to not only do their projects by themselves but they develop their own problem solving skills and express their creative energies. As long as the building is open during public hours, the activities introduced at the Maritime Explorium provide opportunities for children to increase their playtime which coincidently are also encouraged in Kropp’s article.

Another example of a museum that I worked for and that also provide ways for kids to spend time playing is the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. Noah Webster House offers a number of summer camp sessions to allow kids to not only learn more about 18th century America but they also have opportunities to express their creativity.

The summer camp at Noah Webster House in partnership with Westmoor Park, called Colonial Kids’ Adventures, I taught before coming to Long Island allowed children to learn, be creative, and play. Kids have time to learn about 18th century life by performing the tasks individuals living in the time period would have completed such as laundry and mixing recipes to be cooked over a hearth, as well as creating crafts related to the time period including corn husk dolls. They also have time during the day to go outside and play with 18th century toys including ball in cup, stilts, and hoops. I also not only supervised play with the toys but also games that the children decided to play.

When the summer camp children visited Westmoor Park, they participated in outdoor activities that not only allowed them to learn but to play as well. Children learn about outdoor chores on the farm by participating in activities that assist in taking care of the animals including cleaning out stalls. Also, they participated in nature walks throughout the park. Then they played games during lunch breaks and after craft activities. Throughout the program, the children work on their skits which allowed them to express their creativity.

The only rules the children had in creating their skits were they had to be set in the colonial period and reflect what they saw and or learned during the camp. Also, the children were divided into groups based on the assigned family names of people who lived during that period. I assisted them by answering questions they have such as what props and costumes they would need to use for their skits. They created their own dialogue in their stories, and one of the stories I remember was a day in the life of a family traveling through town, visiting neighbors, and eating together at the table. At the end of the program, they performed their skits for their friends and families. Summer camps were not the only way children could have playtime at Noah Webster House.

During public hours and programming, there is a space in the museum that allows children to express their imaginations and creativity. In the lean-to of the 18th century house, there is a space that has a small hearth, cookware, toy food, and silverware that allowed children to pretend to cook and role play stories they come up with. Also, in the rooms off of the lean-to, there is a buttery that stores pretend food the children can use for their playtime and there is another room with a Noah Webster farm set they can play with as well as a sandbox with treasures inside to allow children to find them as if they were archeologists. There are also programs that are geared toward young children that allow playtime and creativity.

Bookworm Adventures, for children between three and six years old and the theme for each program changes each time it is held, promote reading as well as playtime. During the Dr. Seuss themed program I taught, the kids not only listened to Dr. Seuss stories read out loud but they also played with toys, drew and colored pictures, and made crafts. I assisted kids make a sweet version of green eggs and ham using green covered chocolates and marshmallows.

Based on my experience in the museum education field and what I have read in Kropp’s article, I noticed that children not only have a number of things to do in the day but they do need to find more time to play. While the museums I worked for provide opportunities to play, sometimes they are restricted to how long the museums are open and when their adults need to go on to the next thing in their schedules whether it is for kids to attend places such as lessons and/or sports or their adults need to run errands. There are other times that the families also planned other activities to spend more time together. We need to learn to make sure that children can have more time on their own to play, imagine, create, and learn so that way they will be able to understand the communities and society around them more. Museums provide these outlets for children, and should be taken advantage of when the opportunities arise.

How do you feel about children’s playtime? Do you feel that playtime has increased or decreased in recent years? What programs do your museums or organizations offer to allow playtime or time to express their creativity?

To read the article I referenced to, click here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/childrens-play-is-declining-but-we-can-help-reclaim_us_5935c726e4b0c670a3ce6778?platform=hootsuite

Maker Space: Museums Can Benefit from Having a Creative Space

Also posted on Medium, June 22, 2017.

During my experience as a museum educator, I have taught history lessons at mainly historic sites. As I move forward in my career, I have started to learn more about STEM when I began working with the Maritime Explorium where they not only discuss maritime history but also include hands-on activities related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. These hands-on activities are part of the Maritime Explorium’s Maker Space for children and adults can participate in with their children. For those not already aware, Maker Space is an example of the maker movement that, according to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), puts the emphasis on learning by doing that is informal, self-directed, iterative, and collaborative. Museums can benefit from having a space dedicated to hands-on learning because it not only encourages children to be active and entertained but it also provides them learning opportunities. In the museums I have worked for, there have been spaces created as a temporary maker space and as a permanent maker space. Also, the museums I have worked for provide lessons that incorporate STEM techniques with the history lessons taught to school programs.

The Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, Connecticut has two rooms that are part of the addition later added to the historic house when it opened as a museum. One of the rooms is a multi-use room that is converted for various purposes such as gallery space, meetings, lectures and symposiums, school programs, and most relevant to this entry is a space for family fun programming. Family programs include a Thanksgiving program where kids and their family members learn to create holiday related crafts while participating in activities that educated them about the holiday and the history of Farmington.

In the second room at the Stanley-Whitman House, there is a recreated colonial kitchen that is used for public programs and for kids participating in school programs. During the school programs, the kids would learn how to follow recipes such as apple pies and Irish-style mashed potatoes. The kids learned these recipes by going step by step with each ingredient and place the measured ingredients in the bowl to be stirred together. After combining the ingredients, the kids would learn how the mixed ingredients were cooked over the hearth. By showing the kids how food is cooked over a hearth, they understand how long it takes to cook over the fire. Also, teaching the kids about cooking over a hearth not only shows what it was like to cook in the eighteenth century but it shows the chemical reaction of how the mixed ingredients create something new.

Noah Webster House also has rooms added to the historic house when it became a museum. The museum includes two rooms that re-creates what life was like in 18th century West Hartford; the first room is a small room that re-creates the one-room school house that kids attended some of the time, and the second room is a re-created colonial kitchen. In the one-room school house, students can reenact school in the eighteenth century by giving them similar lessons of reading, writing, and arithmetic and explaining the rules of what the schoolmaster/mistress expected in their one-room schoolhouse.

Inside the re-created colonial kitchen, students visiting the museum can learn how to cook inside a colonial kitchen by following the recipes, or receipts as they were called back then. Some of the recipes they created include flatjacks, vegetable stew, and Sunday Night wafers. Students follow each recipe by reading the ingredients and following the directions. Also, they learned about measuring using cups and spoons since measuring cups and spoons did not exist in the eighteenth century; the kids learned how to measure the ingredients without referring to the guidelines found on measuring cups today. Like at the Stanley-Whitman House, the lessons taught in Noah Webster House’s re-created colonial kitchen showed examples of chemical reactions to create food consumed during the eighteenth century and recreated for kids to try the food people in eighteenth century West Hartford (or West Division as it was known then). Today, I teach programs and activities that emphasized on STEM and constructivism at the Maritime Explorium in Port Jefferson, New York.

Maritime Explorium has a space where children of various ages can interact with hands-on activities educating them on STEM lessons. For instance, there are a couple of stations where kids play and learn about balance. One example of an activity that taught balance was a small boat (strings are attached from the mast, located in the middle of the boat, to the boat) where kids can place different small items onto the boat. The second example of a balance activity is a small table with a large circle, and the object of the activity was to put blocks on the circle to make it balanced; this activity is also supposed to resemble a town since the circle had roads and grass painted on and the blocks represented town buildings. Other activities in Maritime Explorium focus on building, measuring, and sending messages with pullies; while some activities remained the same, there are activities that continually change to provide different experiences for children. These activities were conducted in the Maritime Explorium’s maker space which puts emphasis creating projects that encourages them to find multiple ways to make the same projects. The lessons were taught using constructivism, or constructivist theory.

Constructivism comes from the idea that people learning can construct knowledge for themselves. Maritime Explorium believes that by asking the kids questions about what they are working on, the kids can discover for themselves the importance of science and technology through the projects they worked on and understand there are several ways to get to the results they want to achieve the activities’ objectives. I look forward to learning more and more about different activities, and being able to translate what I have learned to the visitors.

I will continue to learn more about maker space by doing research on the subject. For instance, I began reading The Big Book of Maker Space Projects by Colleen Graves and Aaron Graves. Colleen Graves is a teacher librarian who earned many awards including the School Library Journal/Scholastic School Librarian of the Year Co-Finalist Award in 2014, and is an active speaker and presenter on makerspaces and the maker movement on a national level. Aaron Graves is a school librarian with 18 years of experience in education, and is also an active speaker on makerspaces, libraries, and research skills. This book was written as a handbook that not only gives guidelines for projects introduced in the book but it also encourages the reader to create their own projects. By using different resources and gaining more experience in the maker space, I will be able to continue to develop my skills as a museum educator.

Does your institution teach lessons using STEM? What are your experiences in teaching using STEM? Share your experiences teaching STEM.