Category Archives: Museums

general museum interest

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!

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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).

New Forum – Review your Journal

ahhh… the eternal quest… for the perfect journal.

Is it easier to write in your journal if you actually like it? Does it matter if your journal falls apart before it’s full? Soft cover or hard, which do you prefer?

These are the questions we sometimes grapple with, and we know you’re pondering this too. Personally, I’m not very good with these types of details, I’m a bit of a utilitarian in some ways, so I’m more interested in the supply chain than most of the other details.

But generally, we know that there are some benefits and drawbacks (and some fatal flaws) to different journal designs. We recommend that you use something coil bound, with a hard cover so it can be easily carted around and written in while standing or maybe sitting on a carpeted floor.

Lately though, we’ve seen the same white coil bound books. If you look at your Journey into Journalling (I forget why the extra L – it’s on purpose though) book, on page 8 you’ll see the main problem with these… the coil pops out. Magically. ;)

I find them a bit big myself. But I’m not the end user here – your students are. If you think they are “magically” inclined i.e. they are likely to methodically work a coil out of place until they have a dangerous eye poking spring  and a wild collection of loose papers, you might want to consider a different journal.

But which one?

I’m hoping that we can compare notes. If you happen to be a journal writer, or if you’ve found the perfect book (or the imperfect one) in your work with students, please head on over to the forums and post a review. We’d love to know what your journey into Journalling has taught you about… well… the journal.

Well, it happened again

Every year, I say I’m going to keep the blog going, even through the busy season…

Spring is when we’re simultaneously thrilled for all the schools that are joining us till June, and wildly busy confirming next year’s participants. Also reporting. Lots of reporting.

This year we had the added fun of planning summer PD for ourselves which actually, turned out to be pretty darn fun.

But each year around this time, I look back at the blog and start to feel guilty. Here’s the thing though, all I’m thinking about is that I should have done it. I’m not remembering all the other extra little things I had to do, or help with, or take on, that stopped me from doing what I intended to do. When I have moments like these, I try to remember my spoons.

That’s right. I wrote spoons.

Have you ever heard of spoon theory? It’s one of my favorite ways to explain personal capacity. I borrow it (regularly) from disability theory, and Christine Miserandino.

Basically a spoon is a metaphor for a unit of energy that an individual has. People have a different amount of spoons, and they are replenished at different rates. Some days you may have more than others. Things like illness and stress cause you to have less spoons, and although most people can refill their spoonfuls by sleep, those with chronic pain  or sleep disturbances may have trouble filling theirs. Today I might have 10 spoons, but if I get a good sleep tonight, I could have 15 tomorrow. Tasks take up different amounts of spoons, but I get to quantify how many. Today I might choose to spend some of my spoons on walking the dogs, but after work spoons, and commute spoons, and making a stressful phone call spoons, that might not leave me enough to wash the dishes. And thats okay.

I like spoon theory because it acknowledges how different our capacities might be at any given moment, and asks us to define our abilities internally, rather than in comparison to someone else’s achievements. I recently met an ultrarunner… he has more spoons in one day than I’ll have in my whole life. And that’s okay.

Some students have lots of spoons; they have healthy happy lifestyles and have lots of support. Not all students are like this. Some barely show up with any spoons (and the ones they do have sometimes get spent on things they want, rather than the things we want of them). Same with us, sometimes we have lots, sometimes not so much. And thats okay.

Are you picking up my theme here? I’m forgiving myself for not doing everything I had planned, because I know I tired my best. my best fluctuates daily. I’m also not taking it personally when the people around me don’t live up to their commitments, including and especially the little people. I know you all try your best too.

Museum Advocate

Recently I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Museums Advocacy Day in Washington DC. Admittedly, it was an academic exercise and I did very little advocacy for Glenbow with American politicians. What I did do was learn how the American Alliance for Museums  (AAM) advocates for museums, and what museums without patrons are doing to ensure their sustainability. I also spent as much time as possible in actual museums.

Advocacy  Day was so interesting! The premise is that arts and culture organizations are perhaps lacking lobby skills, so the AAM gathers everyone up and tells them how to make a good case for their museum. Some of this year’s key points were the contributions museums make to employment, taxes, and community, and how they are most often endorsed and enjoyed across political lines. The take away for me in terms of advocating for the Canadian museum industry, is that relationships with politicians are key to actually getting things done. The AAM suggested building those relationship with stories to help them understand why your cause matters, and show them how to relate to your museum personally. I definitely felt empowered leaving the meetings, and encouraged that even small folks like me can help impact the minds and decisions of politicians.

And after the meetings… did I ever have fun! For those that haven’t been to DC, it’s basically a museum mecca. The National Mall is a giant park full of museums, monuments, parliament buildings, and of course, the White House. The mall is lined with a ring of Smithsonians, which are the national repositories for many collections. The newest of these is the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It’s so new in fact, that they use timed entry to let folks in. I had to be up and fighting for my ticket at 6:00 AM (lucky it’s an online thing). I’m still sorting through all my feelings about that museum, it was so impactful, but it didn’t help me feel any better at all about the current issues black folks in America are dealing with, so… complicated! My usual go to when I’m feeling muddled is the academic literature, so maybe I’ll write some more when I get there.

Another museum I made it to was the Newseum – which came super highly reviewed. It’s not in the Smithsonian family, so it was quite expensive. But, they know you’ll never get through everything in one day so your ticket is good for two. What I really enjoyed about that museum is how relatable everything was; they did an amazing job of connecting the past and today. Everything felt really personal, and the concepts from the history of news publishing were always connected forward to events from the public memory. The one omission for me was the future of news… which I think is a pretty pressing issue. I’d love to see what the team at Newseum does with that issue.

I also made time for some Historic Houses. I just love the feeling you get when you walk into an artifact. I love the tension between the real history and the restoration – the space between authentic and imagined and how that interacts with your visceral experience (this is also why I love haunted houses).

I dragged my journal everywhere with me, but didn’t really make time to work in it. If anyone has tips about how to get your head out of that “in the moment” and into the “reflection IS in the moment” space, I’d love some help.

Okay – Guess I’m headed back to work!

Memory Sketch

Memory sketching is one of the thinking routines that we recommend getting your students used to before coming to the museum. Basically, you have them look at something, then later, ask them to sketch it.
You can work up to this by giving them an object to sketch, taking it away, and having them sketch immediately. This builds up the skill so students aren’t so intimidated when they’re tasked with drawing something they haven’t seen in a while.
Doing this helps them build skills in pattern and design element recognition. Also it takes some of the pressure off making exact sketches. Like most things we do, it’s helpful for you to lead by doing. Show them your messy abstract drawings of everyday things and they’ll know it’s okay to try.

book photo Journal drawing