Happy Holidays! Museum Education during the Holiday Season

Originally posted on Medium. December 15, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Museum Education Online: Museums’ Position in the Virtual World

Originally posted on Medium. December 8, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Originally posted on Medium. November 17, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on Medium. November 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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