New Year’s Resolutions in Museum Education Field for 2017

Originally posted on Medium. December 30, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Holidays! Museum Education during the Holiday Season

Originally posted on Medium. December 15, 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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!

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

Originally posted on Medium. November 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing about Museum Education

Originally posted on Medium website on October 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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