Tag Archives: place based learning

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!!

When you visit… But Museums Are Boring!?

One of the best parts of being in Museum School is that moment at the end of the week when we do our “closing ceremony” and we talk about all the things that students experienced, saw, felt, and learned to enjoy here. There’s always so many insightful comments from young people and adults, and it’s a wonderful moment for me.

Usually the discussion is pretty diverse; even though it’s the same programs, artifacts, and building, every week these young minds interpret things in their own way and fascinating perspectives always emerge.

However, there is one topic that does often come up. It sounds like this:

“When I first came here I thought it was going to be boring”

Parents always howl when they hear this… I think it’s one of those moments where one person says what a lot of others were thinking.

Now, I know, that by the end of museum school, even if you’re an adult volunteer (and maybe only spent the day), you are going to see museums in a new light. You’re going to know what I know: that this is a sacred space, and it is challenging, rewarding, and sublimely beautiful.

But I can admit, it doesn’t always feel that way.

Museum School is a special place. We work hard to make sure that students grow to see the museum, and in turn themselves, in new ways. We want you to keep having special experiences here, but we know that it’s not always easy.

Museums require a skill set, just like most public spaces. Sure anyone can blunder through a shopping mall, but there’s a difference between the person who spends 20 minutes there, and the person who spends 6 hours. I’m not necessarily suggesting that you spend 6 hours in every museum, but at the very least, I’d like to help you get what you want, find the deals, and always know where the closest washroom is before you go (I’m still using the mall metaphor here, I’m sure you can find the washroom).

You’ve built part of your skill set to enjoy and get the most out of your museum experience while at Museum School. But next time you come it’ll be without the support and scaffolding of the program. So I’ve put together a few notes to help you remember what you already know, and make the most of your next museum adventure:

Your visit probably starts before you come; your visit to the museum will be a bit more interesting if you look at what’s on display, and learn a bit about what you want to see. Knowing things like to social context of the period, or even the textbook definitions of some of the techniques or influences will make your experience much more rewarding.

Don’t try to see everything; just don’t set yourself up for that kind of failure! Most museums take several visits to see the whole collection, and even small museums may take awhile to really appreciate and know. This connects to the previous point. When you walk in, know what you’re most interested to see, and don’t worry about visiting too much in one day.

Remember, it’s quality over quantity; museums generally keep 10% of their collection on view at any one time. They don’t even let you see all of it -never mind expect that you’re going to try to on one visit! Aim to have an engaging experience with a few galleries or pieces. (This is a pro tip if you’re visiting a museum on vacation. You still get to tick it off your bucket list, but you don’t need to pressure yourself into spending the whole day at the Met and missing the DIA Dirt Room or the Cyclone at Coney).

Don’t be intimidated. Art is for everyone. There is no wrong way appreciate a work of art (our security guards might want me to mention, at a distance of about 30 cm… but other than that… no wrong way!) Whatever you see in a piece is what is there. And that’s enough sometimes. Of course, the more you know about the history, connections, artist, genre etc. etc. etc. the more rich the work becomes.. but there is more than enough meaning in most pieces to just appreciate for its own sake. When my mom and I go to a gallery together, we look for the works that have animals in them. You might appreciate colors, or trees… no wrong way.

And lastly… (yes I’ve saved the best…) Challenge yourself. Look deeply at something that doesn’t appeal to you. Pull out that phone and research something or someone you know nothing about. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. Look inside yourself and ask “how do I really feel?” (eep!)

Challenges make our experiences more memorable. As we do our closing ceremony in Museum School usually we will teach the students how to use the singing bowl. They’ve gotten used to hearing us use it when we’d like their attention, and then it’s their turn to command the bowl (and our attention) when we close. But there’s a specific way to use it, and the combination of trying something new and being in front of a group of peers makes the task seem much more challenging that it really is. But in doing that, we help the students remember the experience, and everything they’ve said in our closing circle.

Some remember it so well, that they come racing home and ask you to take them to a museum.

Context and how you use it

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Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Education on Planet Earth Conference, hosted by the Alberta Council for Environmental Education, and I thought I’d share some of the lessons of that day with our community.

It was an auspicious day… the first snowfall of the year started just as the opening remarks got underway. “A good day for an outdoor workshop” the presenters murmured as they looked down at their Chelsea Boots and cropped pants. Just kidding! Teachers are so practical! Everyone (except me) had their down jackets in fold away pockets, Arc’teryx toques, and very sensible looking hiking shoes. That’s definitely one of the things that sets me apart from teachers; I think it’s a disservice to attribute it to left/right brain type thinking (which has more or less been disproved for the moment anyways). Rather I’d like to give credit where credit is due and show some mad respect for the thousands of hours of preparedness training that teachers get every year. Because when your students comes to you with (insert weirdest craziest problem that you could imagine involving say…a stick of gum, a smart board, and 37 elastic bands) the last thing you want to worry about it your wardrobe.

Anyways. I opted for indoor sessions.

Don’t get me wrong, I love being outdoors, I just also love being warm. I attended the conference with a group of youth that I volunteer with, who also happened to be presenting. Their session was about Indigenous pedagogy and how seeing the world through stories led the learner to a different world view than seeing it through facts. As part of their presentation they incorporated many different instruction techniques (conversation, lecture, watching films, interactive gaming, and hands on learning), and centered most of the action around an installation piece we had made earlier in the week; we moved the chairs into a circle and gathered the participants around our own projected image (and sounds) of a fire.

Okay, full disclosure, this wasn’t our idea. Teaching at the 2012 Cree 8 Success conference in Edmonton, noted Indigenous author Richard Wagamese told his students (including one in Chelsea boots and cropped pants) about the power of the setting for storytelling. He had a little floor light/fan thing with some paper taped to it. He didn’t have to tell us where to sit, he didn’t have to tell us to quiet down, he didn’t have to tell us to listen. We knew. Our experiences sitting around the fire taught us that if we would only patiently wait, good things would come. Setting matters. It impacts how and what we learn.

The folks over at the Devonian Botanical Garden in Edmonton understand this point well. Emma Ausford, who coordinates their school education program led a fantastic session on how they transformed the Garden’s educational offerings from a didactic lecture based model to one based on play. She realized that traditional models of “outdoor education” sometimes just literally take the instruction outside without changing anything else. The value of the outdoor environment for education is in its opportunities for discovery, and the chance to take a risk. We found out how this functions in programming when all of the sudden a room full of conference goers were hopping, prancing, and strutting around the room. To be honest we looked more like a crew of awkward children at a Christmas pageant than a vignette from Hinterland Who’s Who… but who ever forgets what character they were assigned (ubiquitous Christmas Sheep!) and which one everyone always wanted (attention getting angel!) and all those other little details from that one childhood night? Play is part of that process of creating indelible memories.

Setting matters, but what you do with that setting does too.