All posts by Amanda

Does the fire draw us?

 

In 2012 I attended the Cree8 Success conference in Edmonton; it was a symposium of arts based learning for working with Indigenous communities, and it was a pretty amazing experience.

One of the most memorable presentations was given by the late Richard Wagamese. You might know that name because one of his novels (which was a Canada reads selection in 2013)  was recently adapted into a film.  When we walked into his room, an otherwise normal hotel conference space, we found it transformed by one small object. Normally at a conference, we walk in and sort of act nonchalant while trying to figure out a good spot in the middle ground between engaged but aloof enough not to look like a keener… just me? Maybe. But in this room, there was a small round light with a fan inside, made to look like a fire. The lights were dim, and we all just walked right up to the circle, and leaned in.

It turns out, the gathering power of fire is a topic that Wagamese has explored before. I recently read Dream Wheels, and there were thoughts about fire and the power it has over us in that story as well.

At Museum School we feel that sometimes we get the chance to try things out with teachers; tools, techniques, supplies, styles… things that may be different or new for teachers, that they can take back if they work well, or leave as a memory if they don’t. Sometimes we have teachers say that something we’ve introduced to them won’t work so hot for their current class, but would have been amazing for their class two years ago… sometimes its the other way around. We like to be a place for experimentation – a place to try new ideas, take risks, and explore.

So… here we go on our next experiment. We want to find out how our own little simulated fire might work in our classroom. We’ll be watching to see if students watch it like a real fire. Does it function like a visual fidget device? Or is it a distraction? We’ll let you know what we observe, and we’d love to hear from you after your week too… does the fire draw us?

fite picture

 

 

Learning Gender

Last year, one of the very thoughtful Museum School parent volunteers let us know that some of our ways of speaking about gender were a bit… *historic* (sorry!) We really took that message to heart, and started exploring some of the ways that we talk about people and the roles we assign them, both today (in our teaching practice) and historically (in our teaching content).

As part of this learning journey we asked for some help – the Calgary Centre for Sexuality offers workshops for professional communities to understand gender and sexuality, and some of the ways that these topics are unknowingly (or knowingly) integrated into our work with story. The whole educator team at Glenbow joined in to learn more, and we also had some of the other Campus Calgary & Open Minds sites and team with us as well.

We’re all going to have to keep working on and thinking about gender until we create safer spaces for all students to learn in (there are just mountains of evidence to suggest that safety is integral to productive learning environments). This will require strategic large scale change, as well as personal choices. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have the power to really do some of the things that are necessary for change, (in our life, in our work, maybe in the world at large…I’ll try to come back to this idea in an upcoming blog post) but there are a few small things that each of us can do… Here’s some ideas for first steps…

  1. The Centre for Sexuality folks suggested that children become aware of gender around ages 3-4. This reminds us that when we’re working with students, they’re already aware of gender and interacting with it as a concept in many ways. We don’t need to be afraid that they’re too young for us to talk about gender, because children are already aware that they are living in a gendered world.
  2. Although we constantly make assumptions all day long (it’s a human survival tool, related to our beliefs and experiences), we can be thoughtful about the times we make assumptions, and the times we take a minute to ask for information instead. Creating a climate where asking is welcomed can begin with you. As an educator, sometimes I only have a minute to get students all the “housekeeping” info they need, but I always make time to introduce myself and tell the students what I want them to call me. It only takes a minute to let students know what pronouns I prefer to be called, and to let them know I’m interested to know their name and pronouns too.
  3. Another housekeeping thing that I always make time for is to share the location of our bathrooms. Our site doesn’t have any gender neutral bathrooms but I can let students know that it’s okay to use the bathroom they feel most comfortable in, or the one that matches their identity. This may go over a lot of students’ heads, but for students who are transgendered, it identifies me as an understanding adult, and our space as a safer one.
  4. Creating a safer space is about a lot more than just bathrooms though. We’ve started talking to other folks who work on the floor of our organization about all of us learning to be part of creating a safer space. We’ve also initiated some plans for signs (letting visitors know we’re working to be safer), and some discussions about other things we could do in our respective departments.
  5. When we talk about gender, we often do it kind of… sideways. Like, we’re not sitting down and saying “okay class, now we’re going to talk about gender!” rather, we’re talking about important content, and gender is part of that.  It comes up when I talk about cultural performance in West Africa, when I speak about Warrior history, and when I’m telling stories about our Mavericks. It comes up all the time, but I don’t think of it all the time. So that’s another thing to work on, just being thoughtful about the gendered expectations that exist in our stories and discussions. I believe that awareness will lead to better things.

 

Our facilitator for the workshop asked us how we feel about the word “guys” to refer to groups, and some folks said it was fine, but others felt that it could be interpreted as offensive. As an experiment, I counted the number of times I was referred to a part of a “guys” last week. In one day alone, it was 17 times. That really surprised me…(maybe give it a try yourself and see if it leads to any interesting thoughts or feelings?)

In that vein, one challenge that comes up a lot for us, is how to refer to a group of students without calling them “boys and girls” so here’s a list of ones we came up with:

  • Friends
  • Students
  •  Learners
  • Explorers
  •  Scholars
  • Empathizers
  • Scientists
  • Creative minds
  • Mathematicians
  • Artists
  • Problem Solvers
  • Creative Thinkers

Hopefully this is heading in a more helpful, kind, and considerate direction. Let us know your thoughts.

Places for Understanding Who We Are

In early march, we had a (n actually, not so rare) bit of serendipity at Museum School. As John Ware School was preparing to use the Museum as a place to investigate the connections between citizenship and identity, Glenbow had just opened a contemporary exhibit about artist’s experience of place! The gallery’s pieces, including ‘s Jim Me Yoon’s Regard (which in itself is a reflection of Jim Me Yoon’s moving Group of Sixty Seven), Kimowan Metchewais’ Cold Lake Venus, and Maxwell Bates’ Tourists in Victoria, provided rich opportunities for us to examine national culture, what it means to be Canadian, and how place and identity are related.

If that wasn’t enough, by pure chance, the Glenbow Museum was also selected as a site to host a Citizenship Ceremony on the last day of John Ware student’s visit!

There were a few strokes of luck here, firstly, that everyone at ICC was so very accommodating when we told them we wanted to bring 30 extra people, and their journals, to their ceremony. Secondly, that the students were exactly the special people that they were, because the ceremony was both long and incredibly important; these students fully embraced the need for them to witness, and not detract from the moment for the new Canadians. Thirdly, that their teacher is exactly who she is, because from the moment that we knew we had this amazing opportunity she embraced it, providing scaffolding for the students to understand the ceremony and connecting it to their learning.

Afterwards, the students expressed how surprised they were to see the diversity of the new Canadians, who were of varying ages from very young to senior, and who were from countries across the globe. They also told us how moved they were to watch the expressions of the new Canadians as pride, happiness, and even tears lit across their faces. They were impressed by the seriousness and formality of the event, and noted that when you are living in a culture, it’s hard to identify what makes is unique; but that this was a  Canadian ritual, proof of our distinct culture.

There were several special guests who presided over the ceremony, member of parliament for Calgary Center Kent Herr, Chair of the Glenbow Board of Directors Irfhan A. Rawji, respected Blackfoot Elder Clarence Wolfleg, and author and philosopher John Ralston Saul. We noted the different ways each one welcomed the newcomers based on their own culture and identity, with campaign style speeches, warm personal connections, prayer, and advice.

The highlight for me, was when we finished the week with a sharing circle, sitting under the contemplative eyes of Yoon, and her mother in the Regard works. The portraits told us that there were many meanings to the place we were sitting, and reminded us to be thoughtful about be the people we are, and the place we live.

KHS01482-min KHS01820-min

 

This post was made for the Campus Calgary Open Minds Blog then re-posed here. Head on over there to check out all the interesting things happening at sites around the city!

Strategies for bringing your ELL student to Museum School

One thing some of you asked for this year, was help supporting your ELL students document their learning, and be successful at Glenbow. We’ve been working with a few concepts for a while, testing some new ones out, and asking our colleagues, and here’s what we’ve learned…

 

Keep us in the loop

If you are working with ELL students, give us a heads up. We can work together to come up with some goals for that student, and some tools we can use throughout the week. We have incredible access to visuals that we can use with a bit of extra planning.

 

Practice thinking routines

Everyone should have a thinking routine or two that they’re comfortable with before they come. You may make some accommodations to the primary ones you use for your ELL students. Having a rubric or visual guide for your thinking routine definitely helps uptake for ELL learners (make your own, or download one).

 

Bring your regular routines here

If you have regular routines around things like starting your day, changing focus, lunch and snacks, or going outside, use them here too. You may not be able to bring all your routines, but if you use a special chime, or chart, or tool – feel free to bring them here.  If you have a particular way of getting students attention, let us know and we’ll use yours. We have ways we do things at Museum School, but we’re always willing to adapt and use ways that best suit your class.

 

Teach Hub” recommends learning to Stop & Think… (the following is from their website)

Teach the “Stop and Think” strategy to help students evaluate their own learning. If you observe a student having difficulty in class, ask them to stop their work and think about the following questions: What am I struggling with? What can I do differently? What questions do I have? Who can help me answer those questions?

I think the crux here is, making an environment in your classroom where students know they can and should ask for help if they’re struggling. This is a tough one for sure (isn’t it “neat” how kids deflect when they’re struggling?), so if anyone has strategies for making this work in their classroom, I’d love to learn more.

 

Do some practice sketching

Have students work with object sketching before you come. Your object doesn’t have to be something exotic (although exotic is easier to find that we think sometimes -  my young folks have asked more than once how those “big CD thingies” work, and I dust off the record player for their amazement). It’s just helpful if everyone knows that when you ask them to sketch, you’re asking them to notice detail, take time, and capture the object.

 

Prepare everyone to use labels

Adding simple labels might also be a good beginning step for ELL learners, and it’s worthwhile for everyone to start something like a “word bank” in your classroom. Before a word goes up on the wall, make sure everyone knows what it means (“rough” is accompanied by feeling several rough objects etc.) If the gap between the ELL student and the other students is really big, have everyone make presentations for each word. Ask them to imagine teaching their word to someone who doesn’t know what it means. This activity can also be a reminder that part of your year long inquiry is “slow learning” – really taking the time to explore ideas and concepts.

 

Do you have some strategies for supporting ELL students that have worked well for you? We’d love to hear about your work in this area too!

Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you get a bit wound up about the “holiday season” and its modern cultural implications. In the museum/heritage field, I think its perhaps more common to obsess over ritual, belief, tradition, and preservation of these things. Our everyday thoughts are concerned with the story and the symbols of our culture. I guess I’m concerned that when we do something ritual (from brushing our teeth, to putting up a holiday tree), I know why, and I can confirm in my heart that I believe in its rightness. When mom is hard at work baking cookies I’m not much help, staring with wonder and excitement into the gingerbread, but still asking “why”?

So, in answer to that very important question – the Tate offers giant slugs. Because meaning is what you make it, and we’ve all got a hand in making the traditions, rituals, and beliefs that we pass on – whatever we want those to be!

3812

Rolling back on a concept: Thinking Routines

I wanted to write a bit about Thinking Routines. As a person who is pretty new to them myself, I often wonder how much “common knowledge” there is around these funny little things we do. When I first heard of them, they were definitely spoken of as though a “thinking routine” was like an apple: something that obviously everyone understood what is was, why it was, and what it did. This absolutely wasn’t true for me, and I had to spend some time working with them, using them, researching and understanding them. I thought I would share what I learned, just in case it triggers any interesting thoughts for any of you. If not, my apologies and please carry on to more interesting areas of the internet!

Here’s my first epiphany: “Thinking Routines” isn’t a name for some special tool, it’s just literally a “routine” that you carry out to help you “think.” That’s the most important part. Every day we train our brains to do things, it’s like a muscle so if we work with specific parts of it, those are the parts that get stronger (biology friends please don’t be mad, I mean this as a metaphor). If we train small brains to “think” then they will. The routine helps learners access the process of deeper thinking easily, by strengthen the learning muscle/pathway, and by providing a framework through which to understand new things.

Okay, but some “Thinking Routines” are specific. There are all kinds! At Museum School we use the ones that Harvard developed to promote artful and creative thinking, but anyone can make up a thinking routine for use with learners. There might even be some cases when your made up routines work much better, because you know the needs and interests of your students. So don’t be shy about developing your own.

There’s lots of different ways we can use those routines. Some promote creative thought, others analytical thought, others visual thought… the list goes on. A class that is totally ready when they walk in the museum doors, has been using a few different routines, and is comfortable with 3-4 different ones that serve different ends. We can adapt a lot of our plans to whatever routines you’ve been working on, and you can suggest them when we partner-teach at the museum.

The best routines are adaptable; they can be quick data gathering exercises, or they can be drawn out with detail. We’ll have a variety of time constraints here, so ideally thinking routines also help us be flexible.

There’s a world of literature on how routines help learners, but the most impactful things to my practice has been learning how routines build confidence (learners know what is expected of them so they are able to build independence and self-assurance), and how they establish healthy patterns so that there’s less conflict (less opportunity for rebellion if everyone knows and is comfortable with routines).

We’re always eager to learn about thinking routines, so if you’ve tried some or made up your own, we’d love to hear about it!

Some Starting Points for Considering Cultural Appropriation

At our September Pedagogy night, some of you (very bravely) pointed out that sometimes the work we engage with in museums facilitates cultural appropriation. This is a profoundly important issue for museums, and not just because it’s come up in popular culture recently.

For decades, and especially since 1988 in Canada, museums have struggled with voice, and respecting cultures from which collections originate. But the very reason we have some of these collections is because that respect was missing for a significant portion of our history. Only recently have we begun the work of respecting voice, traditional law, and insider views of culture. So, right now we’re all in a bit of a mess together, and it will take some time and some work to figure it all out.

Luckily, the pop culture awareness of this issue has led to some great writing. Here’s a few articles that have some especially helpful thoughts on appropriation. Apologies for the language – understandably, some people are quite upset. I’ve tried to find articles that present a balanced view, but there are some NSFW words (and images) in some of these.

Kim Tran’s  article in Everyday Feminism  

Nadra Kareem Nittle’s article in ThoughtCo

I also want to share Jenni Avins article, which is a bit tone deaf, but I think speaks to some of the confusing ways we navigate our daily lives in a globalized world working through appropriation concerns.

And a follow up to some of Avins’ questions from Julia Brucculieri. I want to point out that these last two authors are representatives of the dominant culture, but Brucculieri cites people most affected by appropriation in her writing. I’m sharing this as an illustration of how Avins article is off base, but is part of a dialogue that we are really still in the thick of.

Lastly I just want to take a minute to say thanks to those of you that are willing to engage with this material. Its frightening in some ways, and it would certainly be easier to just avoid altogether, but we know Museum School teachers see the value of learning about other cultures for your students and we’re grateful for that.

8 Websites to Start Your Year…

Hello!

I thought I would share some links that could help you get your year situated for big picture learning. These are resources that Marnie and I use often, and that we hope are useful – but as always, we’re open to feedback.

The connection between all these sites it that we hope you’ll check them out at the beginning of the year, and if they’re useful, maybe you’ll integrate them into your practice and preparation for the museum.

 

Thinking Routines

The purpose of these is just to make it easy for your students to enter into a dialogue with an idea, piece of writing, object, or concept. There’s two enormous sites that have all kinds of thinking routines we like, the Artful Thinking Project from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and an extension of that, the Project Zero webpage.

 

Museum Culture

Museum News from the Global Museum has all the most interesting world museum news listed regularly.

This website keeps tabs on museums across the globe. It’s new, so there’s still some bugs, but it’s a rabbit hole waiting to happen for sure.

 

Canada

World renowned for its impact on Indigenous people, and it’s origin story (the network started because peoples of the north took a stand and asked for  programming that reflected their culture and communities), Aboriginal Peoples Television Network has a great website. Contrasting their news section with other stations is always especially interesting. Like everything else in the world.. this channel is not universally liked.

The Virtual Museum of Canada is a great way to understand an exhibit without ever having to leave the classroom. If your students arrive with the understanding that an exhibit is like an overarching idea or story, and the pieces all fit together in some way, and by looking at them together you can learn so much more about each individual artifact… well you won’t even need us.

 

Glenbow

There are a few Glenbow sites that you might find useful over in the section for teachers. We also really encourage you to have a look at our main website to see our exhibit schedule and stay up to date on the interesting things happening here. If you regularly communicate with parents, you might remind them about our Free First Thursday program if their young folks are itching for another visit after their week.

You may also want to explore our collections. We’ve got a lot of interesting belongings and art here that can certainly supplement your work all year long.

Working to know truth

Some of you folks requested support connecting with resources to teach some of the harder parts of Canadian history in grade appropriate ways. There is just a ton of stuff online at the moment, so please consider this a jumping off point, but I’ve gone hunting of some really stellar resources to get you started..

1. First Nations Child and Family Caring Society’s Spirit Bear

This national organization based on the Squamish First Nation worked towards the betterment of families through research and best practice sharing. They recently developed the Spirit Bear Campaign (a book and a bear with teaching materials), and also have some classroom curriculum guides on their website (I feel they’re a bit dense, and sometimes seem off grade level, but there is so much in each one, and many ideas can be adapted).

2. This Beautiful Map of Indigenous territories worldwide 

This map is still in development, but it’s a great tool to just pull up whenever you’re talking about a place. It helps add history to conversations about place, and reminds us of the layers on the land that stretch back in time.

3. The provincially developed lessons plans 

These have been through several iterations, and much consultation. Some Glenbow folks have helped with this process too. We’d love to know if any of you are using these, or what you think of them.

4. This Book List from CBC

There are a lot of Reading to Reconciliation lists, but many of them don’t have age listings with each book. This list does, bu it’s otherwise a bit sparse. Please add a comment if you know if a better one.

5. Canadian Museum of Human Rights Toolkit

This page has a whole directory of lesson plans that can be searched by grade, subject, province, and language. It’s an excellent resource for all kinds of difficult topics, not just Indigenous subjects.

 

P.S. – If you’re looking for sources of adult education… Marine recently took a MOOC and I am a near constant reader – we’d be be happy to make recommendations or exchange resources etc.

The math is there, whether we artists like it or not…

“Focus for a moment on an object in front of you. How do you understand its shape? How would you represent it by drawing it? Imagine turning or rotating it. What would it look like then? How could you create something with the same shape?”

This is spatial intelligence, and its fundamental to math, but one of the most interesting places to think about it is in art. Spatial intelligence combines physical knowledge based on visual cues world with abstract thought, and research shows that spatial training improves children’s ability to understand math.

This type of thinking & research helps us understand just how flawed and silly that old “you’re either arts or math brained” thinking really is. Want some real world proof? This summer Marnie and I spent some time in the National Building Museum (which we were not very excited about – we have our own stereotypes to deconstruct I guess). BUT… it was amazing. We happened to catch an aptly named exhibit (Fun House) by a team of artists/architects that reminded us just how entwined art thinking and math thinking are.

When we’re looking at art, or creating it, we’re thinking about space, shape, distance, angles, and design. All fundamental concepts in math. Admittedly this is a different way of thinking about math than our curriculum’s describe (feel free to tell skeptics that students counted the stairs). In museums, we’re rarely doing the math that is most thought of when we say “math class”… we’re doing the math that is foundational to our understandings of those concepts. Museum math is math that helps us understand.

Take, for example… the work of Rebecca Mitchell and Andrea Kantrowitz at the Visual Arts and Sources for Teaching week long teacher institute. During a two hour workshop, they had students study one object, and one dance performance. Each student looked at each piece from their own perspective, and recorded.

“We gathered the teachers back together and placed the drawings of the sculpture on the floor. After a walk around the circle to look at all of them, we discussed the variety of approaches – while some people showed multiple viewpoints in one drawing, others focused on what they could see from their vantage point. Next we looked at everyone’s notes/sketches of the dance, which revealed even more variety. Some people focused on one dancer’s movements, while others watched for overall patterns among all of the dancers. Still others counted steps, traced arcs of the movements, or looked for relationships between the dances and the grid below their feet. All of these approaches yielded successful results, and the variety of solutions enriched the group’s understanding of both the sculpture and dance.”

All this learning, led the group to explore how artists (or anyone) moves from concept to three dimensional work. In other words, how does an object, art, dance etc. get made? How does one move from theory into the physical world? Design thinking, iteration, testing, math.

If that’s not enough for you… there’s actually a Museum of Math, and despite their website’s… uh… ugliness… (sorry. Back to the arts/math issue again), it’s actually got some useful tools (including award winning math lesson plans).