What is the Benefit of Museum Partnerships?

Added to Medium, February 9, 2018

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how important it is for museum professionals to collaborate. Museums can also benefit in forming partnerships to work on projects to bring in more visitors and awareness to our organizations. We can learn a lot from each other on how to draw visitors’ attentions. I was inspired to write about museum partnerships based on my recent experience in meeting with another museum professional and planning visits between two museums. Also, I saw various articles written about partnerships formed for greater purposes for the community.

The articles I came across pointed out that partnerships come in different sizes and ways for their community. Seema Rao has talked about different types of museums and how there is potential for museums to create partnerships that will benefit all parties. Also, museums can also come together to promote their programs, lectures, exhibits, and other events to discuss the importance of art and technology. Another article I came across was an article in an early childhood educators’ journal that discussed why museums are beneficial for young children and how early childhood educators can utilize museums’ services.

In her article, called “What Can Museums Learn from Each Other”, Seema Rao pointed out that in order to maintain and increase audience members “museums of all kinds should be looking to others to see what is working.” Rao discussed what art and science museums have to offer, and the benefits of having art and science museums work together. She stated that “Art museums have already seen the power of interactives, and environmental installations. Science museums could learn from art museums on ways to draw adults.” While there is potential for art and science museums to collaborate, there is also potential for history museums can also learn from art and science museums on drawing more visitors into our organizations.

History and historic house museums assimilate art and science topics in their programs especially school programs. When I worked in history and historic house museums, I have taught school programs that talked about what paintings can tell us about what life was like in the 19th century. Also, in historic house museums specifically I have taught students how to cook 18th century recipes by using mugs since there were no measuring cups to accurately measure ingredients for a chemical reaction. Museums can form partnerships to learn from each other about bringing visitors in and sharing knowledge about topics.

As an Education Committee member at the Three Village Historical Society, I joined the rest of the committee to visit a museum in Connecticut to see what they had about volunteering and the exhibits they have in their spaces including a small section about the Culper Spy Ring. We met with the Director of Education who showed us around as well as answered questions we had about volunteers and developing volunteer programs. We continue to make connections with the museum to share with them our resources about the Culper Spy Ring.

Museums can also come together for educational purposes such as the relationship between art and technology.

There are fourteen Boston-area arts and culture institutions are teaming together to show how technology has affected our relationship to art. Each of these organizations planned a series of exhibits and panels between now and July. For instance, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum has an exhibit called ‘Cool Medium: Art, Television & Psychedelia, 1960 – 1980’ through March 11th; the exhibit explores color television’s relationship to art of the era and its connection to mind-altering substances and spirituality. In Tufts University’s Art Galleries, artist Jillian Mayer creates furniture specifically designed to support human bodies as they interact with cellphones, tablets and computers.

Museums can be appealing to all ages especially young children, and partnerships between museums and early learning institutions recognize they can help children reach their full potential. The NAEYC, an organization that promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research, publishes a journal series called Young Children and one of their editions talked about the importance of creating partnerships with museums.

In the March 2016 edition of Young Children, an article called “Creating Meaningful Partnerships with Museums” discusses why museums are beneficial for both young children and early childhood educators. They argued that museums have much to offer young children, and described in detail how children at various age levels including but not limited to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers benefit from what museums offer.

According to Sarah Erdman, who wrote the article, teachers working with infants have seen firsthand how babies respond to stimulus such as high-contrast objects and bold images. By bringing infants to museums, they would be exposed to museum collections which have a wide variety of sizes, colors, textures, and movement. Also, museum exhibits can help advance language development and teachers are encouraged to talk to babies using rich and varied vocabulary. Finally, museums can be flexible in giving time for infants and their adults to interact with exhibits and because of this they may be explored at a time and pace suitable for infants and often have spaces set aside for baby care.

The article also discussed how toddlers can benefit from interacting with museums exhibits and programs. Museums can speak directly to a toddler’s ability to connect with concrete objects, and the variety of objects can also help toddlers understand that familiar objects such as houses can come in many shapes and sizes. Like infants, toddlers need flexibility and museums are able to accommodate for teachers to create experiences that work for their classes.

As a museum professional who is working in a children’s science museum, Erdman’s arguments are to my knowledge accurate since kids at the Maritime Explorium learn STEM lessons through hands-on activities and events. The Maritime Explorium’s preschool program, Little Sparks, shows children how fun learning can be while they develop the skills they need to reach their full potential.

We should continue to reach out to other museums and organizations to keep our institutions going strong.

What examples of museum partnerships have you experienced or read about? What benefits and challenges have you faced when maintaining partnerships?

Resources:
https://brilliantideastudio.com/art-museums/what-can-museums-learn-from-each-other/
www.wbur.org/artery/2018/02/07/art-tech-collaboration-exhibitions
https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2016/creating-meaningful-partnerships-museums

Museum Education’s Canon: A Focus on Museum Education in Historic House Museums and Science Museums

Added to Medium, October 5, 2017

The September edition of Museum Education Roundtable’s Journal of Museum Education attempts to answer the question it presents throughout the Journal : “Does Museum Education Have A Canon?”

To answer this question, one has to keep in mind that it is not easy to come up with the definitive definition of museum education cannon. There are many different types of museums that exist in the field, and various things that they focus education programming on. All museums have this in common: museum education departments have the challenge of figuring out the right balance of taking into consideration visitor wants and their highlighted objects and/or exhibits when planning their programs.

Journal of Museum Education “Does Museum Education Have A Canon?” has a number of articles discussing the main topic. For instance, Hannah Landsmann’s “Who’s Speaking?” describes the development and implementation of a program at the Jewish Museum in Vienna called “Enfach so? So Enfach” or “It’s that easy? Yes!” students are asked to photograph works that interest them, either because they like the works or because they do not; the program allows students to be the arbiters of what is a central and important object for discussion, shifting the valuation of objects to the visitor-oriented action.

Merete Sanderhoff’s “The Canon, the Web, and the Long Tail” discussed about releasing images of artworks into the public domain that creates a new possibility for the public to challenge the canon or create their own based on access to previously inaccessible images. This means that what people find both interesting and useful is defined not through art educators nor curators but through their own engagement with the works.

Carolyn Halpin-Healy’s “Well-Chosen Objects Support Well-Being for People with Dementia and Their Care Partners” discussed a series of programs called the Arts & Minds programs which aim to promote the well-being for people with dementia and their care partners. Ultimately, the choice of artworks for both contemplation and dialogue is contingent on intersecting criteria that also take into account symptoms of dementia, accessibility, participant interests and the inherent qualities of the art.

As seen in the previous examples the main focus of this edition was on art history canon, but the guest editors did point out that the questions posted in the Journal extend to other museums as well as art museums.

My experience in the museum education field provides some examples that answer the Journal’s question. I have some experience in the art history field but my main experiences have been in historic house museums and a children’s science museum.

An example of working with art history in addition to 19th century history is my work at the Long Island Museum. Like what was discussed in Halpin-Healy’s article, the Long Island Museum has a program that focuses on engaging individuals with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other mental capacities called In the Moment program. Each program encourages discussion which inspire participants to remember their past memories. The programs are adjusted based on the what is on exhibit and what the groups are interested in. For instance, a group may be interested in visiting the museum’s Carriage Museum to learn about the parts of the carriage by feeling the parts and discussing what they see, and they use the things that inspire them to discuss about their own personal past.

While I was at historic house museums in Connecticut, each of the historic house museums find the balance between the focus on objects and appealing to visitors. There are many historic house museums in this country, and each one has to figure out how to adapt to visitors needs using the objects in its collections. For instance, Stanley-Whitman House in Farmington, the Butler-McCook House in Hartford, and Noah Webster House in West Harford have unique narratives that tell a piece of Connecticut history.

Each location has objects displayed in their rooms that illustrate what life is like in the past. The discussions in group tours and school programs encourage visitors to not only engage with but to also make connections with the exhibits and activities that will make the experience personal. A lot of ways that are used in history house museums, especially the ones I worked in, used period costumes to help visitors step back in time to understand history on a more personal level.

Stanley-Whitman House, 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 focuses on colonial history using objects in the rooms. Each museum teacher wears period costumes while using items such as cookware to describe what individuals in the 18th century ate especially in Farmington.

Butler-McCook House is the only 18th century house standing on Main Street in Hartford, and is a time capsule that preserves Hartford’s history and the family’s history. While the house primarily focuses on the McCook family during the late 19th century and their artistic and intellectual interests, the school programs are adapted to the needs of the visiting groups. Public group tours and school groups that walk through the house are encourage to discuss their personal experiences of hanging out at home and they learn more about the McCook family lifestyle at home which would create personal connections to the history presented in the home. Visitors understand the similarities and differences of what home life is like between themselves and the McCook family.

Noah Webster House engages citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. School programs focus on both 18th century American history and the history of Noah Webster who created the first American dictionary by using objects to immerse themselves in what life was like in 18th century West Hartford (or West Division as it was called then).

Science museums also have to address museum education canon in their programming. At the children’s science museum I work in, Maritime Explorium, we encourage students and visitors of all ages to participate in hands-on activities and projects. that promote STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) learning. Each week has a different main focus that encourages children to experiment, have fun, and learn the connections of these activities to the understanding of STEAM. For instance, one of the focuses was the science of harvest that focused on apples.

In this focus, apples are used to create star prints on paper using paints. Also, kids experiment with the browning process of apples. Kids use different liquids such as lemon and lime juice to see how well they can prevent apple slices from turning brown, and therefore make the apples last longer. By using apples, kids not only have fun with apples but also understand how the preservation process can be used to make fruits last longer.

Based on my experiences, I would say that museum education does have a canon. Museum education canon focuses on making educational experiences not only engaging for visitors of all ages but make a lasting impression that encourages return visits.

How would you answer this question: does museum education have a canon? What examples have you seen in museums that prove museum education does (or does not) have a canon?

How Education Supplies Are Significant in Museum Programming

Added to Medium, September 14, 2017.

Supplies for programming in museums are endless and are selected based on the needs of each program. There are various ideas for museums to create school and public programs from, and they are based on each institution’s missions and educational goals. Since there are different ways educators can plan their school and public programs within their missions, we have to plan what supplies and how much supplies are needed as they plan the programs.

For instance, if a historic house museum focuses not only on its history and the family that lived there but also focus on serving the community, programs are planned to support the study of history and connect with members in the community to be relevant in its community.

School program supplies include but are not limited to paper, pencils, markers, crayons, paint, scissors, color pencils, and ink. Public program supplies include but are not limited to supplies used in school programs (depending on what program is planned for what audience), food, drinks, cups, and plates. The previous examples are supplies I have personally used, and have been in charge of the supply inventory in my career as a museum educator.

Depending on what an education department needs, many stores provide the typical supplies needed. If the programs require specific items not found in stores, there are places that museums partner with to provide materials needed. At the Long Island Museum, for instance, they had school and other children’s programming that allow them to pretend to turn over hay outside the barn on the Museum’s campus; the education staff travel to a farm stand that sells hay, and makes a purchase that should last throughout the school year.

An important issue in education programming museums have to address each year is funding for these programs. It is also an issue that educators faces in the school system.

I came across an article from Education Week called “Teachers Spend Hundreds of Dollars a Year on School Supplies. That’s a Problem.” Written by Ann Ness (executive director of the Minneapolis-based nonprofit AdoptAClassroom.org), the article discussed how teachers have spent a lot of their own money to provide the supplies needed for their classrooms. According to Ness’ article, a survey of more than 1,800 public and private school teachers conducted in the 2015-16 school year stated that the average American educator spends $600 of their own money every year on basic supplies and they not only cover typical staples such as copier paper or colored pencils, but also go toward clothing and personal hygiene necessities for students who need them. Ness argued that educators need to have a better way to be able to have plenty of supplies for their students, and the students and parents need to urge their local school districts and state legislatures to adequately fund education that is able to provide supplies for students in need.

This article made me think about how this fact also applies to museum educators who need to purchase items for their programs. For each year, education departments in each museum have to figure out funding for education supplies.

Like educators in public and private schools, many museum educators use the money out of their own pockets to support the programs. At Connecticut Landmarks, for instance, one of my former co-workers would purchase food such as cookies and vegetables for the Cultural Cocktail Hour program that promotes local artists’ works. It is also possible for museum educators could be reimbursed for their purchases especially when there is room in the budget to reimburse them.

Whenever a museum educator purchases items for the program or programs, a receipt is saved so the director of the education department or executive director would sign off on the purchase and provide a check to give to the museum educator. To provide the funds to reimburse the education staff, the education budget includes an amount that has to be spent on supplies and should be enough to provide a part in the budget to give money to educators that purchase items for the museum.

The majority of the funds that support museum programming, and on a larger scale to keep museums running, come from grants that museums have to apply for each year. In each grant application, museums have to address what they hope to accomplish when they receive the funds. When they applied for grants they have previously received funds from, museums must address how much they have accomplished with the grant in the previous year(s) and how the grant would be essential for the upcoming year. This is an understanding that was reaffirmed while I was assisting the executive director at the Maritime Explorium on part of a grant application to keep the museum running programs for visiting children.

To be able to successfully run programs that make an impact on our audiences, we need to be able to get access to supplies.
What supplies do your institutions use for your programming? Are there other ways your organization or institution find funding for programs?

Here is the link to the article I referenced in this post:
http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/08/02/teachers-spend-hundreds-of-dollars-a-year.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news2

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.