Public Historian’s Perspective: The Importance of Talking About Family History

January 9, 2020

Families are defined in multiple ways, and it is important that we learn what we can about who our families are to help us understand how we came to be. We could also find out who we want to be by learning about our past. Last month I came across an article in Good Housekeeping called “We’re Losing Generations of Family History Because We Don’t Share Our Stories” which made me think about my own perspective about family history as a public historian on both a professional and personal level. I argue that learning about one’s own family history and heritage could be used as an introduction to telling stories that could be shared with other people and learning more about other perspectives.

There is so much we can learn about our past by talking about our stories and sharing them with the next generation. Previous generations have lived through major historical events and we can learn from our relatives about what these events were like from their perspective. Families, especially in the 21st century, are more diverse than it was commonly believed to be 100 years before; therefore, family histories are more complex. As technology advances, we find ways to connect with people around the world including family members who live outside the country. At the same time, family members move away for varying reasons, previous generations grow older and lose memories, children are adopted into other families, and family disputes are some reasons that change and disconnect from family histories. The article I found shared their argument for why we are losing touch with family history and ways to maintain telling stories about our families.

 In Good Housekeeping, they discussed that people usually become interested in genealogy in their 50’s and 60’s and by that time parents and grandparents are already dead or not able to recount these stories. Since I talked to family members at a young age and one of my sisters did a genealogical research at a young age, I feel that this general statement does not represent all people regarding family genealogy. It would be good to see research describing people’s feelings on family history and genealogy, so we have a definitive understanding of how we are losing generations of family history. What I did like about this article is that they pointed out

The solution to this problem is to get people interested in their family histories when they’re still adolescents or young adults, when they can still hear directly from relatives. But how do we cultivate an interest in each other to begin with? By asking thoughtful questions, participating in storytelling, and by focusing on our similarities with our relatives.

By telling the stories when people are younger, they could learn as much as possible to be able to tell these stories to future generations. Asking questions is a great way to start conversations specially to learn more information about family. When I learned about my family history, I asked questions which made me realize how extensive this history is.

I was able to learn a lot about my family history when I was a child and continued to learn as an adolescent. I do however wish that while the senior members of my family were still around so I can check with them about details I am not entirely clear about. What I remember about my family history came from conversations I have had during extended family gatherings and visits with grandparents. I also talked to my grandparents for a school project about what they were doing during World War II; according to my memory, my paternal grandfather was in Alaska and my maternal grandfather was in Hawaii (just after Pearl Harbor) and Japan.

The stories I have heard about my family extend a little bit into my ancestors in the 16th century but I mainly know more about three or four generations back from my generation. My maternal side of the family has mainly an Italian-Irish heritage with living relatives still in northern Italy where my grandfather’s family came from; I also have extended family from my grandmother’s side that I visited growing up at the Christmas parties. My paternal side of the family has mainly an English-Swedish heritage with living relatives still in England where my grandfather’s family came from. When I learned about my heritage, I was inspired to learn more about the culture of the countries my family came from and it sparked my interest in learning about other countries and cultures in the world. Without my family’s willingness to tell these stories and my curiosity, I would not have known about where I came from and been inspired to learn more about other cultures starting with cultures from my own family background.

After I read that article from Good Housekeeping, I took a look at a post from the National Council on Public History (NCPH) website which talked about a conference from a few years ago, the International Family History Workshop in Manchester, United Kingdom. There were a lot of takeaways from the conference that stress the complexity of family history in general. For instance, the international participants of genealogists, sociologists, humanists, psychologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and public historians

…shared an awareness of the ways in which family history methodologies complicate national narratives, especially in settler-colonial and settler-migrant nations. At the same time, the model of “family history” imposed upon local cultures by global information structures and systems often stresses Westernized, Anglophone models of historicity, identity, and family relationships. Hence it may work to occlude, forget, or ignore particular communities and to reify certain ways of thinking about the past and the present. Part of our investigation into family history as a “global” phenomenon within a public history framework must be to recognize the ethical, moral, and political assumptions that are at the heart of these practices.

To study family history in general is complicated because of how every person could view what it means to be a family differently across the world. We should acknowledge how certain ways of thinking influence history including family history. Once I read each of these articles, they reaffirmed that family histories can be complex, and I acknowledge it is important to find out what one should understand about family history.

Have you asked your family members about your family history? What did you find was interesting about researching your family’s history?

Links:

https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/a29610101/preserve-family-history-storytelling/

https://ncph.org/history-at-work/family-history-around-the-world/

https://ncph.org/history-at-work/hold-for-international-family-history-post-from-jermoe-degroot/

Thanksgiving: How We Are Changing the Way We Teach Kids Why We Celebrate

November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving is a few days away, and we reflect on how we teach the next generation about its history. Children in the past began to dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans for school pageants, make Turkeys in arts and crafts, create headbands with feathers and clothing out of shopping bags, design hats with buckles on top, and listen to stories about the first Thanksgiving. When I was a child, I was taught these lessons and since I grew up in Massachusetts, I made a number of trips to Plimoth Plantation to interact with the living history interpreters. We were taught at a young age that Native Americans and the Pilgrims had their first Thanksgiving in 1621 when they shared food and learned to get along. This story was reinforced especially in the media, and rarely did the media challenge the story.

In the 1993 film Addams Family Values the camp Wednesday and Pugsley Addams attend put on a play based on the first Thanksgiving. Wednesday and other kids considered outcasts of the camp were assigned to portray Native Americans and the rest of the kids were cast as food and Pilgrims. The play began with the typical depiction of what our society has taught children about the first Thanksgiving including the Pilgrims finding common ground with the Native Americans. As one of the characters invited the Native Americans to their table, Wednesday breaks from the play and delivers this speech:

You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the roadsides. You will play golf and enjoy hot hors d’oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They have said, “Do not trust the Pilgrims…”

Wednesday’s speech painted a different picture from the play attempted to tell, and is closer to the reality Native Americans face since their land was taken over. And now? The more we learned about Native Americans, the more we are moving away from this myth we were taught for generations.

I was introduced to the truth about the first Thanksgiving during one of my college History courses. Before we left for Thanksgiving, our professor assigned readings from the book The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by James Deetz and Patricia Scott Deetz. The Deetzes pointed out the myth of Thanksgiving which opened my eyes more to how this myth was used as a credible source to teach Early American history and the disservice it does to representing the true nature of the Pilgrim/Native American relationship. In recent years, we have started to move away from teaching children the myth.

Time magazine released an article, which will be in the December 2nd through 9th edition of the magazine, focusing on the change in the way American children are learning about the first Thanksgiving. Their article covered a workshop in Washington D.C. called “Rethinking Thanksgiving in Your Classroom” in which teachers learned a better way to teach the Thanksgiving story to their students and to do so they did a lot of studying to learn about the story. The teachers were part of the movement to change the way Thanksgiving is taught in schools that had been stuck in the 19th century’s nostalgic interpretation of the past. While the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621, it was not a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln declared it to be so to unite a country torn by the Civil War. The late 19th century saw a number of instances of rebranding people and events in the first Thanksgiving to fit the idyllic narrative, and by the 1920s Thanksgiving was the most talked about holiday in classrooms while leaving out details that made the settlers look bad. It was assumed that the Native Americans have disappeared which was why non-Native Americans feel comfortable dressing children in costumes; the reality is there are 573 federally recognized tribes today, and the active Native American culture and communities can be found across the country. The 1960s and 1970s civil rights movement, with the growth of the American Indian Movement, made the difference between reality and the story of Thanksgiving harder to ignore.

 Education Week also released an article that covered the turn to a different way to introduce the history of the first Thanksgiving. In addition to explaining the origins of how the celebration of Thanksgiving began and how the myth began to be taught in schools, they discussed when teachers noticed the need for change. Jacob Tsotigh, a citizen of the Kiowa tribe and the tribal education specialist for the National Indian Education Association, was quoted in the article stating that there is decreasingly less focus on the myth as people are made aware of the history being in actuality a myth as well as the realization that there is a different perspective which needs to be considered. While this myth has been shared for approximately 150 years, the Native American perspective has not been recognized in American schools. According to the article, Tsotigh recommended that to help students appreciate colonial oppression of Natives and the violence ensued from it the holiday should be reframed to honor representatives of Native communities who greeted the small number of European visitors at the time with open arms and believed in sharing with those less fortunate.

As we gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, we should remember to not only express what we are thankful for but to also learn more about Native American culture and their perspectives about the holiday.

I have included additional resources about teaching Thanksgiving for more information. I am thankful to all of you who have either continued to read the blog since the beginning or have just started to read the blog.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Resources:

https://time.com/5725168/thanksgiving-history-lesson/

https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/11/22/as-thanksgiving-approaches-unlearning-history-continues.html

Deetz, James, Patricia Scott Deetz, The Times of Their Lives: Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony, New York: Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2000, pg. 22-24.

Additional Resources:

https://blog.nativehope.org/what-does-thanksgiving-mean-to-native-americans

http://www.seattleschild.com/This-Thanksgiving-educate-your-family-about-Native-history-and-culture/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2016/11/27/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving/

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/11/25/the-invention-of-thanksgiving?fbclid=IwAR3rQIfmcyD29tetwpltW15916fCVsdIoM3dg7V1IAUMgsOyhUe8vywd_wk

How Important it is to Teach Historical Thinking Skills

November 14, 2019

I have learned, as a historian and public historian, that having and utilizing thinking skills are essential for understanding history and the current events surrounding us in our communities. Therefore, I emphasize it is significant to continue as well as improve how we teach historical thinking skills in schools. Before I became a historian and a public historian, I was a student in the public-school system with a passion for history. In addition to going to museums at a young age with my family, I remember reading biographies and history books for kids in the school library where I discovered my childhood hero Albert Einstein (I admired how smart he was, and that we both played the violin).

While attending public school, my history classes focused on learning the significant events in our nation’s history then as I got older there was deeper conversations about historical events in U.S. and World history. It wasn’t until I started college that I was introduced to the historical thinking skills I am more familiar with today. These memories of how history was taught while I was in public school and how I was introduced to historical thinking were sparked when I came across a blog post from Future-Focused History sharing Mike Maxwell’s article in the Social Education, a peer-reviewed journal of articles on theoretical and practical ideas from the National Council for the Social Studies.

What are historical thinking skills? According to the American Historical Association, historical thinking skills are comprised of a number of skills that students should take away from a history class: chronological, historical comprehension, historical analysis and interpretation, historical research skills, and analysis and decision-making on historical issues. Students who study history should understand how to distinguish past, present, and future to identify how events take place in time while being able to look for, find, and interpret information from the documents found from the past, or primary sources. The question that needs to be addressed is: how can improve on helping students develop better historical thinking skills?

Mike Maxwell, in preparation for his article and his book Future-Focused History Teaching: Restoring the Power of Historical Learning, conducted a seven-year study of contemporary history schooling. He concluded that there are two factors that limit historical thinking skills’ potential, and those are: useful thinking requires useful knowledge to think about; and historical thinking skills aren’t exclusive to history.

Historical thinking skills are especially important for future generations of historians to develop and utilize to uncover forgotten history and to keep history relevant. If we do not do a good job in educating students on historical thinking skills, we would be doing a disservice for the next generation of life-long learners. While it is good to educate students about historical events to provide context, this practice encourages students to take the information at face value and not take the time to delve deeper into history with any thinking skills. When we do not use skills, we can lose the skills and serious consequences in interpreting history emerge.

One of the skills, for instance, I remember was taken away from lessons in school was how to read and write in cursive. The problem with taking away cursive is the majority of documents analyzed were written in cursive, and historians utilize those skills to read and interpret documents. Without that skill, we will not be able to interpret documents that have not been previously interpreted and learn more about our past.

Even students who are not interested in pursuing history as a career benefit from learning how to use and develop critical thinking skills. Maxwell’s article in Social Education argued that historical thinking skills could be used in other school subjects taught to students. His article pointed out that

Like history teachers, teachers of mathematics, language, science, and other school subjects may encourage their students to distinguish between fact and opinion; view circumstances in a wider context; seek valid evidence and corroborating viewpoints; consider underlying assumptions, alternative explanations, and unintended consequences. Because such critical thinking processes are general in nature, the educational system does not need a separate discipline of history dedicated to teaching them; other school subjects can adequately handle the job.

Historical thinking skills do not necessarily need to only be used for studying history. They can be utilized in varying subjects as they all require teachers to help their students develop thinking skills for solving problems, developing their own opinions, and have a better understanding of what facts are. Critical thinking skills are used as a part of life in varying situations, which would lead students to becoming more well-rounded individuals.

Discussion Questions: What are your thoughts on historical thinking skills? Can you share examples of historical/critical thinking skills you have used in your work and/or daily life?

Resources:

Maxwell, Mike, “Historical Thinking Skills: A Second Opinion”, Social Education, Vol. 83 Issue 5: pg. 290-294. https://futurefocusedhistory.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/ncss-article-102019-1.pdf

https://futurefocusedhistory.blog/historical-thinking-skills-a-second-opinion/

https://www.historians.org/teaching-and-learning/teaching-resources-for-historians/teaching-and-learning-in-the-digital-age/the-history-of-the-americas/the-conquest-of-mexico/for-teachers/setting-up-the-project/historical-thinking-skills

https://www.socialstudies.org/publications/socialeducation

Interpretation: The Importance of Storytelling in Museum Programs

October 3, 2019

I recently started to have discussions about interpretation and storytelling for current projects I am working on, and they have inspired me to reflect on interpretation in museums and historic sites. Since officially beginning my career in the museum field in 2012, I learned about the importance of translating historical narrative for visitors to understand and to be engaged with the experience. As I continued my career, the discussions among museum professionals I noticed focus on using storytelling methods to get visitors’ attention.

Interpretative programs are significant for all history museums, historic house museums, and historic sites since how visitors see them and enjoy their experiences in these places would affect the way they viewed museums. The Technical Leaflet, a publication of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH), called Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations written by Timothy Glines and David Grabitske went into detail about interpretation and what small organizations can do better for their programs. Glines and Grabitske pointed out that Historical interpretation translates human stories from the past into meaningful thoughts for people in the present. As museum professionals our educational missions we strive for are to tell human stories people can identify with to have a better understanding of the history we present in our museums.

When I began graduate school and my career, I began to see the importance of relating human stories to the public and taking visitor input into account for interpretation. At the Connecticut’s Old State House, for instance, there were many frequently asked questions visitors have asked during tours that inspired staff to do more research to include in the tour narrative. In my blog post sharing my memories about the internship, I stated

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.

By finding out information visitors want to know most about, we would be able to have visitor input in the narrative. When interpretative programs are developed it is important to understand who the audience is and how to capture their attention to explain our relevance within the community and the overall historical narrative. Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, and Judith Koke’s book Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making pointed out that museum planners must apply intentional effort and deliberation if they are to fully integrate visitor perspectives into their plans. In other words, there must be full commitment to incorporate visitor perspectives when considering planning interpretive programs. I saw the start of fleshing out this important point when I was working in Hartford on an interpretive project.

Something I have thought about when I gave tours at Connecticut Landmarks before the project started is the amount of information I tell visitors. Throughout the tours, I would figure it out the appropriate balance for each group of visitors. Glines and Grabitske also stressed the importance of sharing the right amount of information when storytelling. According to Glines and Grabitske, they pointed out that: we must pay attention to the interests of our visitors by telling meaningful stories, making sure not to fatigue them mentally with breathless depth or fatigue them physically with no chance to take it all in. When I started giving tours, I noticed there was a ton of information provided to each educator giving tours. It would be impossible to include all of it in one tour which is why it is important for us to chose what information to include in the narrative we tell. I also noticed that at that point I was more focused on making sure I hit each point than telling a story. The interpretive project I worked on with Connecticut Landmarks seemed to be moving towards telling a story.

While I was at Connecticut Landmarks’ Butler-McCook House, I joined the rest of the staff in interpretive planning meetings to draw in more visitors to the historic house. We realized that by using a theme, not only were we working towards visitors making connections, but it also focused on telling a narrative. Because there are many themes that are found in the Butler and McCook family history, there are different narratives visitors can choose to learn about and keep coming back to see something different than their previous visits. I briefly talked about this experience in my memories blog on Connecticut Landmarks’:

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.

To read a copy of the interpretive project, I included a link here. The Industrial Revolution was an important theme for the tour since we are all affected by technological advances, and to help visitors understand the impact of the Industrial Revolution it is important to use relevant examples.

Another example of using examples to help visitors connect with the historical narrative was while I taught school programs at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society. In one of the chambers inside the house, I talked to the kids about the history of Noah Webster and his work on the first American published dictionary; I also discussed the objects that were displayed in the room. One of the kids asked me about how the bed warmer was used and I did so by describing the process and after asking them if they have seen the movie Pirates of the Caribbean I told them about how one of the characters used a similar bed warmer in one of the scenes. By connecting this object to something they have seen before in modern times, they were able to make that connection and use it to refer to it at a later point when they shared their experiences.

When I move forward in working on a current interpretative project, I will not only keep in mind the experiences I have had but incorporate more lessons I will continue to learn each step of the way.

Resources:

American Association for State and Local History, Technical Leaflet # 222, “Telling the Story: Better Interpretation at Small Historical Organizations”, History News, volume 58, number 2, Spring 2003.

Wells, Marcella; Butler, Barbara; Koke, Judith, Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, Inc., 2013.

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/02/07/museum-memories-connecticuts-old-state-house/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/04/25/museum-memories-connecticut-landmarks-historic-houses-in-hartford/

https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/23/museum-memories-noah-webster-house/

Services Examination: Explorable Places

August 22, 2019

As a museum professional, there are so many services I learned about that offer various ways to facilitate museum practices. For instance, there are services that help museum educators run booking and scheduling school programs. There are also services that help education programs get attention from parents and teachers to learn about field trip opportunities at museums; one of those services is Explorable Places. According to their website, Explorable Places helps parents and teachers find great learning experiences outside the classroom.

I learned about Explorable Places during this past year’s New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) conference. It was in the session I attended called Technology in Museums: when it works, and when it doesn’t, which discussed when it makes sense to add technology to museums; the session asked questions such as: When does introducing technology actually take away from our objective? How can we figure this out before pouring thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a “new” technology product? The speakers, one of them was the founder of Explorable Places, discussed their partnerships to draw more teachers and students to their museum. Since attending the session, I decided to take a closer look at the website to see how this service works.

On the website, there is a place where one can find trips, assemblies, and performances by typing in one’s zip code. At the time of this post, the featured cities are New York, Kansas City, Metro-Denver, and Philadelphia.  In the modify search and search results page, there are five sections to help adults find opportunities and connect with museums to book programs. One can look for experiences by subject, grade level, activity, cost, and accommodations such as lunch space and special education programs. Also, one can look for programs that have the option to book online. When I clicked on one of the museums, a profile of the museum I selected appears which provides a brief description of the museum, pictures, and contact information.

Each profile also includes information on lunch spaces so they know if the museum has a place to eat or if there is a place nearby students can eat, and they provide information about bathrooms. Also, the profile has a section that showed tags for subjects, activities, grades, cost, and accommodations the museum has based on the search results. For instance, I went onto the Children’s Museum of the Arts profile and found the subjects educators teach are technology, arts, art, visual arts, and media/film. Profiles have a section called Learning Experiences which list educational opportunities with information such as a brief information, grade levels, capacity, price options, and duration of program. If a museum’s profile has this feature, adults could book online through Explorable Places portal which will take them to the museum’s calendar of availabilities and will guide them through the steps to book a program at the museum. I see the potential of helping more museums, parents, and teachers form connections to provide and participate in opportunities. Explorable Places’ home page includes links to pages for cultural partners, parents, and teachers to help them find what they are looking for.

For cultural partners, Explorable Places wants to help parents and teachers find them and the programs they offer. If an institution was not found on the Explorable Places site, they can reach out so Explorable Places can add them to the list to spread the word to site members. There are three tiers available for those considering reaching out to the site. The first tier, which is free, allows one to manage the page to include a photo of the site or program, one hundred words to describe what the museum/site does, up to five subject tags (verified for accuracy), and contact information and link. Each tier after the first one has additional features such as highlight learning experiences and unlimited bookings.

For parents and teachers, after clicking on the link it directs visitors to the places webpage. There are places in the states of Pennsylvania, Kansas, Colorado, New York, Delaware, and a couple of places in Massachusetts. Some of the places that are listed on the website are but not limited to Four Mile Historic Park, Old Sturbridge Village, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, and the Gore Place. Also, there is an opportunity to sign up to become a member so one could be informed about new museums or sites added to the cultural partners list.

To learn more about what Explorable Places offers and see if it is right for your site, students, or children, I included the website in the resources section.

Announcement: I will be attending this year’s AASLH Annual Meeting in Philadelphia next week from August 28th to August 31st. Instead of writing a blog post next week, I will be posting my reactions on social media and compile highlights for a post when I return. To follow my reactions to the sessions and events live, follow me on Twitter at this username: @Steward2Lindsey

Resources:

https://www.explorableplaces.com/

NYCMER 2019: https://lookingbackmovingforwardinmuseumeducation.com/2019/05/16/nycmer2019-the-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow-of-museum-education/

#NYCMER2019: the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow of Museum Education

May 16, 2019

It is that time of year again to talk about the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable Conference. On Monday, May 13, 2019, the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER) held a conference for museum and museum education professionals, and this year was special because this is the 40th anniversary of NYCMER. In honor of its anniversary, the theme of the conference was “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow” and was located again at the Teachers College at Columbia University. Like last year, I posted throughout the conference as a social media journalist to cover the sessions I went to.

On the morning of the conference, I went in to New York City with my husband as he was going in to work. By the time I arrived, I checked in and got ready to sit in the keynote session. The keynote session was when NYCMER related announcements and the conference’s theme was introduced and discussed through the keynote speaker. This year’s keynote speaker was Christy Coleman who serves as the CEO of the American Civil War Museum in Virginia. She discussed how she helped orchestrate the merger of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar with the Museum of the Confederacy to create the American Civil War Museum. Also, she talked about how the staff and board of the American Civil War Museum work to fulfill its’ new mission to include more than one narrative of the American Civil War experience including talking more about the Native Americans, immigrant groups, and Mexicans who were often overlooked when educating school children about the Civil War.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

I’m officially at #NYCMER2019 ! Any #MuseumEdChat at the conference this year? I’ll see you around #NYCMERsmj

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg ‏@Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

 We don’t talk about Native Americans, immigrant groups, Mexicans (African Americans escaped to Mexico to be free). There is so much that not many people knew about the Civil War. #NYCMER2019 #NYCMERsmj

After the keynote session, the first morning session I attended was called Empathy Mapping: Teachers on a School Field Trip. Empathy mapping, according to the session description from the conference pamphlet, is the process of diagramming qualitative user data in order to create a visual representation of the user’s needs and pain points. We participated in an empathy mapping exercise to promote user driven change and to improve how educators facilitate school field trips at our institutions. By learning the results from the empathy mapping created by the research team at the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum and participating in the exercise, we would employ the methods we learned to improve our school field trips.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg @Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

  Instructions for our empathy mapping exercise. How to create an empathy map? #NYCMER2019 #NYCMERsmj

The second session I attended was called What We Say and How We Say It: Audio and Verbal Description that Consider Social and Historical Context. In this session, session speakers Justin Allen (New York City-based writer, performer, and art worker) and Kayla Hamilton (visually impaired artist, producer, and educator) helped us learn to answer questions like the following: How might verbal description and audio description present opportunities for discussing the ways artworks and performances address race, gender, and disability? Who or what are we describing, how are we describing, and why? We also participated in an activity where we were given a copy of an oil painting called Baby by Emma Amos and a worksheet to break down key information about the painting and the artist then write down our own description. On my worksheet, I started my description by describing the specific shapes as I would see them from left to right, then describes shapes that looked like a pair of legs, and the person (woman) in the painting; I connected it to the social and historical context by making an assumption that the painting might be a self-portrait and went into detail about the artist’s background.

During the lunch break, I attended the poster sessions which shared various projects and programs that museum educators have facilitated to help move museum education forward and it took place in an informal marketplace setting. For instance, I spoke with a presenter who talked about an arts program that collaborated with other organizations to help educate students about gun issues. Also, in honor of the 40th anniversary, I purchased a tote bag with the NYCMER logo and 40th anniversary embroidered on the tote. After having lunch, I attended the first afternoon session called Big Issues for Young Mind: Teaching climate, race, and other difficult topics. The session was described according to the conference pamphlet as:

As museum educators, we often are tasked with addressing “big issues” with our students. These are complex problems where it is essential to understand the past and present in order to think creatively about the future. In this session, we will use examples from two of these issues– race and climate change– to discuss how we can empower students of all ages to tackle issues we ourselves can find challenging. This session will provide tools to address some of the most difficult topics our institutions cover, as well as how to use the past and present to instill hope about the future.

During the session, we learned about how session presenters Clare Blackwell (School Partnerships Coordinator at Wave Hill) and Es-Pranza Humphrey (Teen Programs Associate at the New York Historical Society) educate school groups about the difficult topics. We also gathered into groups and were given scenarios to discuss among ourselves, then eventually with the rest of the participants, how we would handle the situation if we were faced with them in our practice at our institutions.

Lindsey Steward-Goldberg  @Steward2Lindsey

  May 13

 Possible reasons why race is a difficult topic to talk about. #NYCMER2019 #NYCMERsmj

The last session I attended was called Technology in Museums: when it works, and when it doesn’t. In the session description, it stated that

Right now we are feeling tons of pressure to add ‘technology’ into everything we do. When does that make sense? When does introducing technology actually take away from our objective? How can we figure this out before pouring thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours into a ‘new’ technology product? This session will dive deep into these questions in a roundtable format. Presenters will highlight a few examples of their own tech/museum collaborations (including major fails) and a format for thinking through a technology decision. Then we will break into groups to workshop current technology questions you are facing.

While we were waiting for the session to start, we were encouraged to write down a technology that we are proud of and a technology we wished to not use either for personal or professional use. Once we heard the example of technology that made booking, scheduling, and managing registrations for school programs easier from the speakers Meg Davis (founder of Explorable Places, an online platform that facilitates field trip discovery and registration), Melissa Branfman (Museum Director at Wyckoff House Museum), and Danielle Hilkin (Director of Education & Outreach at the Wyckoff House Museum), we broke into groups to discuss current technology questions faced in our museums and figure out what we could do to facilitate our use of the current technology and how to improve the experience of using technology in our spaces.

At the end of the sessions I attended the Concluding Reception located in the Learning Theater inside the Teachers College. There was a raffle in which I won two VIP passes to the Intrepid Museum. As usual, I enjoyed the conference and I wished I was able to attend more of the sessions because it was hard to only chose the four sessions. Also, I think it would be great to have some more representation of museum professionals that are not in the education field since museum educators often collaborate with them especially curators and collections managers. I once again thank NYCMER for a wonderful and informative conference.

To learn more about NYCMER, visit the website: http://www.nycmer.org

How Education Theory is Used in Museums

May 2, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resource:

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

Valentine’s Day Celebrations in Museums

Added to Medium, February 14, 2019

A lot of us had been celebrating Valentine’s Day today in varying ways, and museums have been as well! We as museum professionals recognize that there is potential for visitors to celebrate within our museums so we open our doors and have programs, activities, and many more planned relevant to the holiday. By offering programs and other initiatives, museums have the opportunity to attract more and frequent visitors to come inside its doors to explore what we offer to the community.

The Museum of the City of New York, for instance, had a variety of programs between February 11th and February 14th. There was a love-themed museum wide scavenger hunt that allowed visitors to search through the museum while interacting with the museum and other participants on social media. When they use the hashtag #MCNYVDay on their posts, visitors can be entered in to win a family-level membership. Another example is the Love Yourself Project 10,000 Campaign; according to the Museum’s website:

The Love Yourself Project uses a simple yet beautiful medium, the origami heart, to invite people to participate in the thought provoking experience of asking: “What do you love about yourself?” The campaign encourages people to inwardly explore and discover what they love about themselves. Through this awareness, the Love Yourself Project seeks to plant a small seed and spread the consciousness of self-love.

It is a wonderful reminder that we need to express self-love as well as love for other individuals. As museum professionals continue to remind themselves about the importance of self-care, it is a wonderful reminder for museum professionals as well to be able to love themselves and get the love and care needed.

The Children’s Museum of Manhattan also offered a number of programs for families visiting the Museum. It offered a Stuffed Animal Repair Workshop in which kids can learn how to stitch, stuff, and repair their stuffed animals; they can also sew Valentine hearts onto them if the kids chose to do so. Children could also learn how to make 3D Valentine’s Day Cards using children’s pop-up book techniques.

At the Long Island Explorium, where I work with visitors of all ages, children had the opportunity during the weekend before Valentine’s Day to create messages in a bottle. They used recyclable water bottles and varying materials such as crayons, markers, yarn, ribbon, and stickers to design their bottle. Once they were done with their bottles, they wrote messages on pieces of paper and placed them into their bottles.

Museum Hack, which offers unconventional tours of museums in cities such as New York City, also offered a number of ways couples can celebrate Valentine’s Day. For instance, they offered a private Valentine’s tour for couples to explore a museum and in the city of their choice. The tours can be customized to a variety of interests including Game of Thrones and 19th century French Impressionism. Also, tours are designed to provide a “behind the scenes” look into museums and they include hidden stories about the art and artists, games and activities in the galleries and fun group photos.

Of course I did not list every museum out there that offered Valentine’s Day themed programming since there are so many out there.

Have you visited a museum during the Valentine’s season? Did you visit a museum on Valentine’s Day (this year or in the past)? What did you do in those museums for Valentine’s Day?

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Check these Out:

https://museumhack.com/valentines-day-ideas-museums/

https://www.mcny.org/valentinesday

https://westmuse.org/articles/sharing-love-museums-celebrate-valentines-day

https://cmom.org/tag/valentines-day/

How We Can Show Policymakers and Teachers Our Museums’ Potential as Educational Resources

Added to Medium, June 21, 2018

Museums continue to find ways to develop the relationships and collaborations with schools whether they are private, public, or homeschool. Even though museums are increasingly being seen as educational resources for school curriculums, education policies in the United States suggest that as museum professionals we need to continue to prove how significant museums are for our schools.

To be able to convince education policy makers the significance of museums, we as museum professionals need to have a better understanding of education policies and keep up to date with current education policies. The Federal Education Policy and the States, 1945-2009: A Brief Synopsis, for instance, provides information about education policies in the United States.

Our education policies constantly change to fulfill our need to improve the quality of education in our nation. Education is a state and local responsibility, and yet the federal role in the schools has grown significantly since the mid-twentieth century, and as a result state-federal interactions in the realm of education policy have become increasingly complex. Both the New Deal and World War II contributed dramatically to the size and the scope of federal activities. In 1944, Congress passed the biggest package of federal aid to education to date: the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act, commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights which entitled veterans who had served at least ninety days in the armed forces to a year of secondary, special, adult, or college education, plus an additional month of education for each month in the service, up to a total of 48 months.

When Eisenhower became president, the increase in children during the baby boom had caused school districts to request federal aid to increase the number of classrooms and teachers to accommodate more children enrolling in schools. Since the Eisenhower administration, each incoming president of the United States faced various circumstances that led to them changing education policies to accommodate current economic and educational situations.

For instance, we had the No Child Left Behind during the Bush administration and the Every Student Succeeds Act during the Obama administration. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 supported standards-based education reform based on the premise that setting high standards and establishing measurable goals could improve individual outcomes in education, and required states to develop assessments in basic skills. According to Julia Kennedy in her article “The Room Where It Happens: How Policy and Perception are at Play in Museum-School Relationships”, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) gave incentives for states to adopt academic standards which prepare students to succeed in both college and the workplace, and narrows the government’s role in Elementary and Secondary education.

In the education policies, museums are not mentioned as education resources. While these education policies do not directly affect museums, it is important that museums pay attention to any changes to the policies. Museums and museum groups such as the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) have kept a close eye on the policy in an effort to become a better partner to the formal education sector. Julia Kennedy pointed out that,

“Policy remains a large divider between formal and informal educational institutions because: public schools are at the mercy of policy with state and local standards; museums are loosely legislated and not governed as official educational institutions; and museum’s strengths as places of lifelong learning are not considered when discussing educational policy.

Current and past policy reflects the perception that museums are just an extension of the classroom; and before any real, impactful, collaborative effort or long-standing partnerships can happen, the relationship between these two institutions must be examined. “

Before we can convince policy makers museums have a ton of potential, we need to get the evidence by strengthening the relationships between museums and schools.

One of the articles that was posted on the American Alliance of Museums was written about how museums can improve the relationship between museums and schools from a teacher’s perspective. There are many complications in planning field trips for both museums and schools; the article described the teachers perspective on the challenges of planning field trips. Meg Davis pointed out it takes time, resources, and local expertise for teachers to plan field trips. To make sure a field trip happens, teachers have to navigate complex websites to find out costs, scheduling protocol and basic logistical details; then afterwards, teachers have to reach out to the organization to schedule the field trip, and that takes additional few days or weeks of back and forth so field trips teachers end up planning are ones that feel easy.

Davis suggested making a few changes to position museums as partners in the future of schools. The changes she suggested in the article were divided into three categories: on the website, in communication, and support students.

On the website, Davis suggested the website should highlight the alignment of each learning experience clearly so the teacher can quickly and easily explain what objective they can achieve through the field trip to their administrators and therefore will have an easier time getting approval. Also, it is important to list logistical information right on the website so teachers will know where the students can eat lunch, use the bathroom, and any offsite places the museum recommends so planning the field trip would be less intimidating. She also revealed that it would be helpful to offer a pre-trip preview so teachers can visit and have the opportunity to plan logistics and objects they want to highlight in advance.

When museums communicate with teachers, museum professionals scheduling field trips should shorten the feedback loop and communicate asynchronously. Davis explained that museum professionals should respond to requests in between 24 and 48 hours and if staff is part-time we should make sure it is indicated when staff is able to schedule field trips so that way teachers would be able to expect a delay and can communicate with their teams accordingly. Also, make sure there is an opportunity to make it easier for teachers to have time to make field trip arrangements since 90 percent of teachers have limited time during the day to answer a call or send an email.

To support students attending the field trips, routines should be facilitated and supplementary materials should be provided to the students. Davis pointed out that “If you have specific routines that teachers and students can follow when they arrive or move through your space, it makes the inherently hectic nature of shepherding 30 students through a new place feel calmer.” Since students are used to routines in the classroom, it will be easier for students to understand there are routines at the museums and to facilitate the visit. Also, if they are not doing so already museums should provide supplementary materials such as pre/post trip materials so students would be prepared with questions before they arrive to the museum. By making various changes and tweaks, museum programs would become more accessible to teachers and the museum-school partnerships will continue to grow and strengthen.

As we continue to advocate for museums and its educational mission, we need to continue to keep in mind what is going on in education policies to strengthen our knowledge of what we can do to better help schools.

What do you think of the educational policies? What is your reaction to the teacher’s perspective of the educational programming in museums?

Resources:
Meg Davis, Founder, Explorable Places, “Meeting Teachers Where They Are”, https://www.aam-us.org/2018/06/13/meeting-teachers-where-they-are/
Julia Kennedy, “The Room Where It Happens: How Policy and Perception are at Play in Museum-School Relationships”, Museum Scholar Theory and Practice, Vol. 1, June 19, 2018. http://articles.themuseumscholar.org/tp_vol1kennedy

 

 

 

Education Programming: How Important Flexibility is in School Programs

Added to Medium, April 19, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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