It feels a bit strange to be writing this post, a bit ghostly if you will(hello end of October!) You see, I’ve been haunting the museum school for quite some time, and this is most definitely not my first time on this blog…
My name is Amanda Foote, and I’m your new Museum School (assistant) Coordinator. As part of my role here, I’ll be working with Marnie in schools and at the Museum, and I hope to make a few contributions to this blog too. I thought I’d tell you a bit about myself so we can get acquainted… I believe that learning is significantly influenced by relationships, so I’d like to start some with the Museum School Community (no status update necessary, we can be just friends).
I first heard of the museum school as a fed up administrator working in a school system and deeply yearning for educational change. Every day I saw smart, creative, wonderful children, become frustrated and disengaged. I saw a system that was supposed to help them become their best, reduce them to their worst, and then punish them for the way they respond to the process. I started looking for alternatives, and one which particularly inspired me, was the work being done in the Glenbow Museum School.
To be honest, it was no accident that I stumbled upon their program, I am admittedly a museophile. Ever since I was a kid sitting in the front row of a Parks outdoor amphitheater watching a ranger wearing a beat up old bear costume and singing about poop, I have been fascinated with display, interpretation, and experiential education. Of course, I didn’t have the words for it then (if only I did, perhaps my poor confused parents would have better understood what I meant when I told them I wanted to be a dancing bear when I grew up). But through my education in Ecotourim and Outdoor Leadership, Heritage and Northern Studies, and Museums, I learned the language & tools of the trade.
So from an early age, I’ve been thinking about the ways that education happens. But I think many of us have. For me, and for many kids, the memory of that outdoor stage is far stronger than the collective experience of all my days in grade school classrooms, no matter how well intentioned our teachers were. The experience was transformative. Don’t get me wrong, there are teachers who can and do create transformative experiences (and on the other hand, there are parks interpreters who definitely don’t, I’m looking at you geologists with powerpoints). But the key is the environment. Schools are not set up to deliver transformative learning experiences, and in my opinion, the teachers who can create them out of the regimented systems of those places are straight up miracle workers.
And to some extent, that’s not really the point of schools either (now there’s an interesting discussion hey? My inner Oblio says that’s a discussion for another day). But it is the purpose of the museum. Or, to me it is. So when I get an opportunity to work with a young person, in a museum, that’s my goal. I want to help them have a learning experience that transforms them in some way… in any way… because human beings should be lifelong learners, and if I can expand the classroom into other spheres, and give young people new ways of seeing and knowing, that’s what is going to make this world a more creative, kind, and just place.
And that’s why I’m so excited to be here.
A few years ago I was in Washington DC for a conference. Before the conference started I decided to see all the Smithsonian Museums. Yes, all the museums. I failed but did learn something about viewing museums in the process. It is exhausting. Exhilarating but completely mind numbing, feet hurting, eyes burning exhausting. I began to think of museum visiting like a marathon. I just wanted to get through it. Then, an epiphany with two works that actually had some life changing impact. Both were the paintings by Mark Rothko and both had a well placed bench. Maybe it was the bench that changed my thinking! I finally made it to the National Gallery and saw exhibited in a chapel like space high up on the Tower floor, paintings from the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. This picture is from Houston but the team of curators and installers of the exhibit in Washington did an amazing job of copying the intent.
I sat down. I stayed for a long time and and stared at the subtleties of what could be mistaken for all black canvases. When I did leave I felt rested and restored. I searched out Rothko’s other works in the Phillip’s Collection. A beautiful room designed specifically for the paintings and once more, with a bench. Again, I had time to let the colours vibrate and surround me.
This blog post, written by Susan Spero for Art Museum Teaching speaks perfectly to this idea.
After reading this article and reflecting on experiences that have become indelible in my past, the two factors of comfort and time often appear. A student in a classroom visit before coming to Museum School asked me if there would be ‘routines’ there. I asked her if routines made her feel comfortable and she replied that they did. I told her yes and then thought about our role in providing a safe and ‘comfortable’ place for learning. Maybe we do need to be challenged and made uncomfortable at times but we need a place of comfort to return to for that learning to sink in, to become indelible.
We need a Rothko bench.
We have wrapped up three weeks of Museum School and time is flying. Some upcoming events at Glenbow that we are excited about are the opening of three new shows, Family Fun Day and some great lectures and artist talks. Click on our Calendar of Events for dates and descriptions of the happenings here until January.
One challenge I have with museum visits is how and what will I try to turn into an indelible memory. Certainly slowing down, sketching and reflecting are all part of the process – but what is the trigger, the key that makes one memory stick and another fade? With 28 museum school classes and over 100 other classes that I work with it is hard to remember something from each of them. For me, an emotional tie, a connection with how a student is feeling usually forms an indelible memory. Here is an example of that. We had a student who was having a hard time with the exhibits. They were scary. At one point he could not participate with the group and was taken to a place of his choosing by Michele, the museum school coordinator. She was surprised by his choice; the ferocious Palden Lhamo from our Art of Asia Gallery.He drew and drew, careful not to look at Palden Lhamo straight on.
He asked Michele to read the descriptive panel with the Sculpture. In it are some words that didn’t have the same importance until connected to the emotions of this student, “Palden Lhamo symbolizes the strength which each human being requires to confront and overcome his or her own negative emotions…” Indelible.
Serendipitous. Somehow everyone finds what they need in this place.
This week we welcomed the Museum School Teachers for 2015/16 to a two day workshop at Glenbow. Wow! What a great group! They were enthusiastic, energized and inspiring.
We kicked off the first morning embodying aspects of the word ‘Museum’. This is WONDER!
We did some work with the fantastic paintings of John Brocke, practicing some thinking routines and playing with found poetry.
Our afternoon was spent looking at our treasures behind the scenes on the 7th floor Cultural History Collection. This led to a discussion about the importance of objects and the importance of preparing students for memory work.
We wrapped up our afternoon with a discussion about what makes a memory indelible and ‘Write and Swap’ activity.
It was a full two days that left me thinking, as it always does after museum school workshops, that our students are in very good hands!
Embodying art and embracing ambiguity!
Just returned from a week of aesthetic education immersion at the Lincoln Center for the Arts in New York City. The action packed week truly gives meaning to the importance of reflection as I am still trying to sort my notes and organize my thoughts almost one week later.
Michèle and I were fortunate enough to take a similar version of this course two years ago and at the end of that week we both agreed that it would be beneficial to repeat. Lincoln Center Education is guided by the writings of their late philosopher in residence, Maxine Greene.
LCE (Lincoln Center Education) developed the Capacities for Imaginative Thinking to provide a model for assessment for teaching with inquiry. They are called capacities rather than skills of knowledge to accentuate the inexhaustible amount that can be learned from works of art.
Noticing Deeply to identify and articulate layers of detail in a work of art or other object of study through continuous interaction with it over time.
Embodying to experience a work of art or other object of study through your senses, as well as emotionally, and also to physically represent that experience.
Questioning to ask questions throughout your explorations that further your own learning; to ask the question, “What if?”
Making Connections to connect what you notice and the patterns you see to your prior knowledge and experiences, to others’ knowledge and experiences, and to text and multimedia resources.
Identifying Patterns to find relationships among the details that you notice, group them, and recognize patterns.
Exhibiting Empathy to respect the diverse perspectives of others in the community; to understand the experiences of others emotionally, as well as intellectually.
Living with Ambiguity to understand that issues have more than one interpretation, that not all problems have immediate or clear-cut solutions, and to be patient while a resolution becomes clear.
Creating Meaning to create your own interpretations based on the previous capacities, see these in the light of others in the community, create a synthesis, and express it in your own voice.
Taking Action to try out new ideas, behaviors or situations in ways that are neither too easy nor too dangerous or difficult, based on the synthesis of what you have learned in your explorations.
Reflecting/Assessing to look back on your learning, continually assess what you have learned, assess/identify what challenges remain, and assess/identify what further learning needs to happen. This occurs not only at the end of a learning experience, but is part of what happens throughout that experience. It is also not the end of your learning; it is part of beginning to learn something else.
Our teaching artists for the week. Making learning visible was an underlying current that saw the walls of our classroom completely covered by the end of our five days.
The week was packed with live art, gallery visits, arts immersion and unit planning. The instructors modelled the unit planning we would be doing. All of our live art viewing was preceded by immersive art making, writing and discussion. After the art experience, we would respond with more art making to enhance our understanding.
My take away was the importance of allowing for imagination within all learning, and planning a unit in Social Studies or Math can (or should!) start with a guided live art experience to provide a platform for the capacities for Imaginative Thinking.
Another bonus of visiting other cities is the opportunity to see other gallery educators at work. We participated in four different styles of art gallery tours, Museum Hack and an Adult guided tour with LCE at the Met Museum and Family program at the Whitney Museum and a guided talk tour of the Tenement Museum. All very different. Museum Hack is the new kid on the block in museum education. Fun, immersive and something I would love to try in Calgary! Barbara Ellman, an artist and educator, who we learned from at the Lincoln Center and watched with families at the Whitney was inspiring. Her tours were interactive, welcoming and challenging. There was a balance between wondering and doing that was perfect. The Tenement Museum was disappointing. After a week of immersive, student/audience driven learning and after hearing so many good things about this museum, the tour was a ‘stand and listen/talking head’ tour. The guide was interesting and passionate about her subject but I couldn’t help but think how the tour could have been so much more!
So, an excellent week of diverse and challenging learning experiences!
Last month saw 50+ site based educators gather in Calgary at Glenbow Museum and City Hall to network, share ideas be inspired. We are a loosely knit group that spans the country – from BC to Newfoundland and the USA. Every couple of years we gather to rekindle the flame that got us all started in the first place. Here are a few highlights -
Our week started with a keynote delivered by the education rock star, Laurel Schmidt. Laurel grabbed our imaginations right from the get-go. We were asked to recall one memory from the past that led us to what we are doing now – and then – what it was about that memory that made it ‘Indelible’.
Our sites work because they inspire curiosity, and with that the desire to dig deeper to find answers. Learning is personalized and the rewards are authentic and intrinsic. Having an author read and reflect on your writing builds authentic confidence in your abilities. We learned about the importance of novelty when learning and how brain science supports what we do and how we do it at our sites. All in all an inspiring morning filled with ideas to reflect on and act on!
The key takeaway for me was networking with peers in every type of site – from historical sites to nature sites- we all have the same goal of making learning authentic. A lunch time Pop Up Museum themed with “Mining the Gems” was an excellent overview of what we do and gave us a chance to see the work being done at other sites.
A workshop showing the process of creating the new direction within the Alberta Curriculum was enlightening as it followed the method we use when creating programs and weeks for our teachers. Start with what is important, a big idea, and fan out to find the questions that can be explored.
If, Then, So… Cool template to think about in our planning!
We wrapped up the conference with a panel of stakeholders that was visually journaled by Calgary Graphic Recorder, Sam Hester.
We wrapped up with the founder and driving force of Beyond the Classroom, Gillian Kidd. Gill shared the stage with Margaret Holtschlag, founder of “The Big Lesson” in Michigan. Always good to reflect back on why we do what we do and why it is important!
Can’t wait to get this group together again in a couple of years!
One of the favourite stops when Museum School goes behind the scenes is with a little dog that was brought from Calgary to Flanders in the First World War. Pat or Paddy, ‘joined’ the #4 Field Ambulance Corps while they were training at the exhibition grounds in Calgary. He liked a good meal and these soldiers were assigned to eat at one of the nicer café’s in Calgary because there were far too many men to fit in the military mess hall. Pat eventually hopped on the train and joined them for their trip across Canada and eventually across the Atlantic in a troop ship to England where he arrived, April 28th, 1915.
On arrival, the soldiers had to sneak Pat ashore as he didn’t have permission to be there. Luckily a military band was aboard and they put Pat in the bass drum when they arrived in Avon-mouth and got him on dry land. The first thing Pat did when he was released was race into a nearby field and chase the sheep. An anecdote from that day reports that the Colonel said to the Sergeant Major, “You have to get rid of that dog!” to which the Sergeant Major replied, ” Then you have to get rid of the men.” Pat stayed.
After some training time in England the troops were sent to Belgium and were involved in the battles of St. Eloi, the Somme, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendale.
There is some information about Paddy in Glenbow’s on-line Maverick’s Exhibit. There are images in the section titled War and the Home Front, First World War. Information about the WW1 Field Ambulance drivers can be found in “Stories from the Archives”.
Here is Paddy, front and center, with the #4 Canadian Field Ambulance taken in 1918. Of the 81 men who joined this group, 28 remained after the war. See the Red Cross band he is wearing as a collar.
One of the soldiers, Sergeant Harry Howell, was an excellent sketch artist and had plans to create a book after he returned from the war. The book was never published but Glenbow has some of the original sketches in the archives. Here is one with Paddy (or Pat):
After the war ended, the soldiers wanted to bring Pat home. He wasn’t able to travel and was taken to a taxidermist in England who created the Pat we have in our collection. He went to all the soldiers reunions and in 1972, was donated to Glenbow by a soldier’s family. He was on display from 1976 to 1990 in a WW1 exhibit on the 4th floor and now resides in our Military History Collection.
Adrian has been our First Nations Educator for the past year but his history with Glenbow goes all the way back to his time as a volunteer docent in 1989. His background as a History Major as well as service with the military and a strong link to arts organizations means he is the perfect fit for sharing stories in almost every area of Glenbow! His work as an educator in the Niitsitapiisini Gallery is layered with family connections. His mother, grandmother, and aunts are all pictured in the gallery as well as objects and plants that he has used throughout his life. For Adrian, this makes the space more like “home” than a gallery in a museum.
Adrian’s favourite part of the job of Museum Educator is sharing his interests and making the stories relevant and fun for students. As a volunteer he learned sign language so that he could share stories with hearing impaired visitors. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and popular culture and he weaves this into his programs, using video game rules and rewards for learning about how different cultures meet their needs.
One of Adrian’s favourite objects is a shirt with the tadpole symbol on it. The tadpole design speaks to overcoming adversity and accepting change.
- Shirt Kainai, early 1900′s elk hide, porcupine quills, natural dyes, weasel pelts Owned by Owns Different Horses
What would Adrian add to the Glenbow if he curated an exhibit? The answer to this shows the overlap between Adrian’s many interests. He would include, as an extension of the Warriors exhibit on 4th floor, a gallery exhibition of photographs depicting Cemeteries from wars Canadians participated in and where thousands of Canadians remain. This would be an ideal exhibition for Glenbow, honouring Military, History, First Nations and Art.
Meet Marcia Slater.
Marcia is our Collections Technician in Cultural History. She accepts, processes and looks after our Western Canadian History collection which has approximately 120,000 objects. That is a very big job! She loves history and the variety of this vast collection which continually allows for new discoveries, new stories and new things to learn. An object that recently captured her interest is this ladies’ cigarette case with matching cigarette holder.“It’s a beautiful set, in its own case, beautifully made, with just enough wear to show the owner used it. It’s enamelled in peacock blue and very stylish, which reflects its era (1920′s) and belonged to a very interesting Alberta woman (Canada’s first female meteorologist). It’s also interesting to consider it in the current context, in which smoking is becoming increasingly unacceptable.”
Marcia often takes Museum School students “Behind the Scenes” – maybe she will show you more of her favourites!