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

Making an impact

Did you know that there have been studies of the long term impact of Open Minds sites? (Maybe I already mentioned it)

Gillian Kydd, who pioneered the program made a video recording of students who participated in Zoo school 7 years earlier. Through that experience we learned some interesting (if slightly anecdotal) things, including:

- Students remember tactile and sensory things (like smells and playing with snow)

-Students don’t often recall programs, or activities that they did. They remember the things they saw more than the tasks they completed

- Upon reflection, the students realized that the experience taught them that there were more ways to learn than the “classroom method” and that these other ways were valid and important

- Each participant shared their intended career path, and attributed that path to something they learned at Zoo School (so the learning is deep, and the lessons are sustained although perhaps not immediately recognizable)

And…

- Students totally forget facilitators, but they have strong memories of their teacher and parents (if they participated) from that time.

This idea is well established in research – emotion and learning are closely connected and student teacher bonds are an important part of student success.

 

But don’t worry – we don’t get down on ourselves because we’re ultimately forgotten! Because for the brief period that your students are here, we know we’ve captured their attention.

Thank you Marnie! from Nakoda AV Club on Vimeo.

 

 

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….

It’s okay to be uncomfortable

My partner and I have an agreement, and it involves me seeing a lot of movies that I really don’t want to see (but in exchange he accompanies me to Haunted Houses, which he hates). This week I found myself at yet another theater watching something I really would have rather watched at home. REALLY. It was the kind of movie where you feel uncomfortable with the content, but also with the laughter of those around you. I just wished I had a journal, a pause button, and a chance to google before deciding if a joke was funny or not. In short, it was a very uncomfortable 103 minutes.

But… that’s okay (and not just because it means next October I get to go to the haunted corn maze again). Sometimes uncomfortable is where you need to be.

In my life, there are not too many places that I go where I feel uncomfortable. I can generally set up my day to avoid things that make me squirm. This isn’t so for many people, and it’s a facet of my privilege that I live life this way.

I used to work for a First Nation. I could always feel the dread welling up in me whenever I knew I’d have to stop at the Gas Bar. At first I just thought it was because I worried that I didn’t belong there. I’m a sensitive person, and I felt that maybe my presence wouldn’t be welcomed in that space. That’s probably partially true, but I think the more relevant reason I didn’t like going there was that I wasn’t used to being a minority. It felt uncomfortable. When I finally put a name to my feeling I understood a little better what folks of color, and others who may be marginalized, might be feeling in situations where they are the minority. They enter those situations a lot more than I do. It was important for me to identify with that type of discomfort, and learn from it.

My discomfort in the movie was more closely related to the discomfort people seem to come across in Museums… the feeling of not being sure how you feel. Art can be controversial, it can be shocking, it performs all sorts of roles and functions. And it can be really uncomfortable not to know what it means, or how you’re supposed to feel about it.

I see that particular kind of discomfort when students look at artifacts from other cultures, or non-representational art for the first time. This discomfort illustrates a gap in our knowledge. It forces us to ask, “What does this mean?” So the discomfort really comes from a place of vulnerability. Not knowing, and not wanting to make a mistake.

During this movie, I sat there, wondering how to feel. Which is not exactly a fun experience, but certainly not a bad one. It forced me to wade around in my own thoughts. To dig through the files in my brain, and to swirl around the puddle of feelings to see if there was any sense I could make. This process, has led me to interesting conversations with my partner and friends. It’s let me to engage with ideas in my own mind, and with others. It’s helped me to grow.

Sometimes it’s alright to be uncomfortable, to let some silence hang in the air if no one seems to have the answer. To let kids grapple. To leave a question unanswered for a while. To put ourselves in positions that we’d be more comfortable avoiding. Ultimately, a little discomfort can lead to… lots of important things.

Blogs are Digital Journals!!

So, every few weeks the Calgary Campus Open Minds team (all the folks who coordinate sites, and all the reps from CBE and CCSD) get together to compare practices, share insights, and conduct a book study. These meetings are inspiring, because we learn about the exciting things happening at other sites, and also because we learn about the tools that other coordinators are using which work well.

Our colleagues over at Zoo school mentioned that they have been sharing their journal entries with teachers, and I had the super obvious revelation that this blog is in fact a digital journal. So I think over the next while, I’ll start interspersing pages from my journal between the more traditional blog entries. Let me know what you think!

 

Journal by Amanda

 

 

The Museum Balancing Act

 

One of the things that you learn in any foundational museum studies course, is the sizable role that P.T. Barnum had on the development of museums, particularly in North America. Depending on the type of museum person you might look back on this part of our past with shame, or enjoy it immensely.

I don’t condone the shady practices; Barnum’s reputation for animal care is rumored to be the original impetus for PETA (just kidding), and his care in purchasing artifacts was downright embarrassing even by historic standards (he had all manner of artifacts with questionable provenance and authenticity). But Barnum forces us to recognize that museums are not purist, objective, academic institutions, they usually need to make money to survive, and they always need to maintain public value. As the great educator Seymour Skinner once said “Every good scientist is half B. F. Skinner and half P. T. Barnum.”

Okay, that’s a complicated statement. But regardless of how you feel about his academic legacy, B. F. Skinner did do some pretty entertaining things… like teach pigeons to play ping pong. (My favorite part of that video is where he claims it’s a “real game”).

I digress… but what I’m trying to say here is that our field has these interesting and divergent origins, one as the lauded ivory vault of knowledge, and another as a cabinet of curiosities; and we’re still sort of dancing between these two worlds today.

When you picture the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you’re meant to imagine that imposing building, all important, and filled with facts and knowledge. That’s why many museums are designed the way they are. They’re supposed to be intimidating, it encourages you to believe in, and believe the value of, the stories they tell.

For P.T. Barnum and his ilk (namely the world’s fairs), exhibitions were for the masses. They were entertaining, and often academic rigor was sacrificed for audience engagement (that’s an understatement, and by audience engagement I mostly mean showing things that people would pay money to see). But folks like Barnum understood that in order to be relevant – museums had to be interesting, and there is value in that beyond money for modern institutions as well.

Museums today are nuanced spaces, but still they manage this same complex balance. It’s the tension we experience every time we pick up an artifact in Museum School. Does the artifact have more use in a grade school student’s hands? Or in a credentialed researchers? Does the spark of imagination create value, or is the value inherent and it’s our job to safe guard it? Does this question feel any more important if the artifact in question was made by a people who would like it back? This debate has gravity.

 

 

I am still curious about those cabinets. I’m interested in that part of museum history. If you are too I recommend The Feejee-Mermaid and Other Essays in Natural and Unnatural History, Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, and Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums. Don’t those all sound like fun titles?

Fun trivia moment… have you seen the Feejee mermaid in Banff? This one is actually a merman, but it’s the same concept.

It’s a little late for Halloween, but here’s a scare anyways!

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To get back to my point…

The balancing act occurs every day in museums across the world, and I think also in the hearts of the folks who work with artifacts and the people who could benefit from access to them too. The role of museums is debatable, and we do well to debate it often.