Category Archives: Practical Tips

Going it alone…

We love being part of your year… but we know that it’s not feasible for a class to come over and over. We know there are barriers to coming here both within your school, and built in to our application process (Sorry! We try to give new applicants, and applicants who bring new teachers a chance, just because we’re over subscribed, not because we don’t love you! We do!! We adore teachers who see such value here that they want to come back!!)

So I wanted to share what it looked like when one teacher, dismayed that they couldn’t come, decided to “go it alone”

- firstly, they weren’t alone. We’re happy to help support teachers who want to emulate an Open Minds experience without a week at a site. This can look different depending on your needs. Unfortunately we can’t offer financial help, but we’re happy to point you to resources, and walk with you if you come across challenges.

- journals were still a huge part of the year. As if this teacher was planning for a week at a site, they made journaling a huge part of their year. Using the Journey into Journalling resource, they took  time to explore techniques and returned to ones that were successful for their students. They looked closely at objects and art, as jump off points into new units, ideas, and concepts.

- they spent time in new places. They used what was available to them in new ways, field trips became field studies, and any time off school grounds was something to explore with journals, (even trips to the pool! This teacher had students journal before and after the swim… picking up on emotional experiences, concepts of buoyancy, and uses of energy). They also explored places in their school that are less used for study. (How exciting is it for students to go into places they’re not normally allowed… even if it’s just the gym equipment room!)

- the engaged community. This teacher brought in experts that were within their sphere of connection, either physically, or through Skype. Students planned for these visits by examining what they knew about this person or their expertise, and what they wondered, then generated questions.

- finally, they came back! We love seeing teachers re-apply after a few years trying Open Minds concepts on their own, because we know that we’ll learn from you as much as you’ll learn in this place!

Best of luck with your year without us! We’ll miss you, but we can’t wait to hear what happens for you next, so apply again soon!!

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.

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!

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.

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 it’s 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.

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

Second Nature

So I said I would start putting more of my journal pages in the blog, and here I am making good on my promise. When the new exhibits went up this fall, I thought I had forever to spend with them. Now that Lawren Harris‘ works have gone, DaveandJenn‘s The Wellspring has moved on, and Jennifer Wanner‘s Second Nature is going dark this week… I can’t help but think I NEED MORE TIME!!!

I did take an afternoon to spend with Wanner’s beautiful images before the holiday started  – and I used one of the classic thinking routines: See Think Wonder. Using three columns, make note first of what you see, then what you think, then what all those combined make you wonder. Seems a bit basic, but once you try it, you get a sense of actually how helpful it is for organizing your thoughts. Or even just moving your observations to a deeper level. Next time you’re standing in front of something and not quite sure how to feel (which, for me is basically all the time), and give it a try in your head.

My sketchbook entry & an example of the thinking routine See Think Wonder

My sketchbook entry & an example of the thinking routine See Think Wonder

This is the last weekend to see Wanner’s haunting and beautiful exhibition Second Nature at Glenbow, so you’ve still got time if you haven’t seen it yet.

Not that we don’t have some great shows coming up next….