Tag Archives: professional development

Summer School Part Two

Well, it’s  October, the snow is already here… and I’m finally getting around to blogging about the summer.  BUT – as a student said to me today “I didn’t get everything in my journal, but that’s okay! I’ll just add more later!!” I’m going to adopt that forgiving and flexible attitude and move on.

So let me share a bit more about my summer… We usually do a lot of intentional learning while we’re not working with students – this year we had two intensive sessions as a team at Glenbow. First we worked with Lana Skauge & Ewa Sniatycka in the museum, to experiment with ways to inject embodied learning into our work, and to accommodate different learning styles. After working with them I’m planning to practice asking students to pair before they share more, to see if it helps the shy ones speak, and I’m going to focus less on asking them to present their work, and more on letting them discuss it together.

We also had an incredible opportunity to work with Blackfoot knowledge keeper Harley Bastien in Castle Wildland Provincial Park. He and a parks staff person led us on a walk, and shared stories about different types of beings in the area, and how they relate to each other. Bastien reminded us that people are part of the landscape, and that our presence in nature is and always has been constant. This gave us all lots to think about.

Marnie and I spent some time with educators passionate about learning though the arts at a gathering of InSEA this summer too. In addition to learning lots of practical ways that arts education can be engaging, we immersed ourselves in some really fun arts projects, which was so rewarding. The art that I made is… well. Not very nice to look at. But making it, in the company of others, was a real highlight of my summer. I think I’ll keep trying to make things (that hopefully look a little nicer) with the techniques I learned, so it was a great reminder that not all projects succeed at first go.

The last part of my summer I spent in Montreal, for a very full week of museum hopping. I was on the look out for a few specific things, especially related to design, so I was able to see a lot of different spaces in a fairly short amount of time. The absolute highlights for me were seeing the Biospehere museum, which gave me so much hope for the climate of the planet and all the cool things folks in different disciplines are doing to respond to it… and the Fondation Phi exhibit about Yoko Ono. Here’s a photo from my summer journal about it.

thumbnail_image1

 

Summer School Part One

 

Summer can be a fun time for a museum educator.

Many of our team members go on to interesting projects during the summer months. Some of us use our teaching skills, and go work at places like the Zoo or Spark. Others take up projects in our areas of interest like archeology, anthropology, and local or natural history. Some of us use summer as our time to engage more fully in arts practice, or take classes… one of our educators is working on an MA at Emily Carr in the summers too.

Me? I spent my summer at a small town museum, curating exhibits, writing, text, and exploring the community’s ideas about who they are.

It was an immensely rewarding experience to look at an exhibit in a different way, not as  the deep looking-sketch book holding-class leading-educator. Instead I had to imagine that person, and all the other type of people that could possibly enter that space, and try to create something that would be engaging for them all. A museum is a place for everyone after all.

The most exciting part for me, was getting to know the community. Learning about all the interesting stories, the parts of themselves they hold dear, and the times when their strength of community was tested and needed. It’s these stories that I hope you see when you visit the small town museum too.

But they’re not always obvious. Not all museums in small communities have the opportunity to hire professionals. Many are assembled lovingly by volunteers or local people. These museums often have great stories, but they can be harder to read, because the folks who put them on display know them so well, they forget to give you the details.

So my recommendation? Visit a small town museum near you. Make a day of it. Go get lunch in some small hamlet, explore their sights, and check out their small museum. Bring your sketchbook… take some time to really connect with an artifact or two. Try out a thinking routine, maybe even ask your family to try one along with you too. I’m pretty sure you won’t regret the journey.

 

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!

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

 

 

Go ahead and sketch with them

sketch by amanda

Early sketch by Amanda – [not pictured, a dinosaur I drew yesterday that looks exactly the same]

By the time I come into your classrooms to introduce the idea of sketching… it’s not really an introduction. Most students have begun drawing at least a bit, and (hopefully) you’ve been working with them on their sketching too.

But what if you’re not particularly “artistically inclined?”

I’ll be honest, I feel like I hit a plateau in my drawing some time around age 14. I knew how to copy line drawings, but I had no clue how to move into drawing from life, and was worlds away from being able to draw real people (I do however have a very large, yet unimpressive, collection of anime style drawings of myself and all my teenage idols). I didn’t know how to learn more about drawing. I had heard (and said) that practice will make you better – but to be honest, after a certain point, your practice also needs to involve a great deal of reflection and analysis, which I didn’t know how to do.

Getting to that point is like shooting a basketball a million times and still missing the hoop. If you don’t know the technique to improve, you likely won’t.

So practice isn’t just about sitting alone and trying over and over, we are social creatures and we develop skills through the study of others.

I never cared enough that my drawing skills were nothing to brag about at parties, so when I hit that plateau, I just quit.

But – since being in Museum School, I’ve had to dust off those drawing skills. Marnie encouraged me, and told me that if I was getting the students to sketch, then I should be prepared to do it too…and absolutely she was right. I connect best with your students when we’re sitting on the floor sketching together. We wonder together, I stop answering questions, and I start asking them.

I learn a lot from watching your students sketch. Their technique, and their perspective. It has taken me some time to figure out how to crack open a conversation and learn from the students while we draw, and I don’t always get there, but when I do it’s awesome.

The other thing I learned is how to draw better. Literally. I took a class. (Okay – so all of us Calgary Campus Open Minds School folks had a super interesting lesson with Ron Wigglesworth, big thanks to everyone who made that happen). It was really stressful for me, way outside my comfort zone, but I think I learned a lot.

Letting yourself learn is an important activity for teachers. I think that when I am drawing beside your students I am letting myself learn too. It changes the dynamic between us.

I’m not going to try and tell you what I learned at the workshop. All I want to share is that it was good to be together working to improve a skill with others, being open to comments and suggestions, and learning from someone with an inspiring vision and a thoughtful approach.

I don’t really think that being a “good artist” would help me be a better educator. But I do think that the skills of sitting and reflecting, looking in new ways, and being critical of my work (or my impact) do help me be the best self I can be for working with your students. That’s also what I’m asking for from them.

 

I think sketching helps me practice that, and sketching together becomes our common learning experience.  We learn together.

Perspective & Productivity

Last week the Open Minds school teachers and coordinators met for a little professional development and a lot of new ideas. The theme for the evening was to look at our environments a bit more closely, and watch out for the things that we often miss. This was a great tie in to some of the more general themes of CCOM

The facilitators, those lovely folks who have the privilege of running one of this city’s most creative and engaging educational experiences, sent us all outside. It was an absolutely beautiful night, crisp and cool and a bit nostalgic with the long shadows in the fading light.

Our first mission was to explore on our walk through a particular lens. As we sat around tables in small groups, we discussed and debated and picked a role. One group chose poets, another chose by-law officers, another mathematicians. The idea was to look at our environment from the perspective of a particular role, and see what we might normally miss.

Our second task was to use a particular journaling technique to capture the insights of our new viewpoint. When teachers join the Open Minds School Program they’ve given a fantastic book called “Journey into Journaling” (here’s a description of the book based on the Calgary model, but described by the good folks over at Museum School London). The book describes all types of different tools to capture experiences through journaling. Some of the favorite techniques of teachers at our table were:

The 60 second sketch

(students put as much detail into their picture as they can, but only for 60 seconds, so a lot of the inhibitions of drawing are lost in the rush of time)

 Character creation

(students make up a character that may have used the object or interacted with the environment)

 Sense journaling

(students record senses connected with the object or environment)

My group chose to take our walk through the lens of a psychologist, using the journaling technique of just looking for colors. As soon as we went outside we realized that perhaps we set our own standards a bit high, and after a short discussion we changed our profession to architects (if only it were that easy!) But it was a great lesson; surely we could have done the exercise as psychologists, it wouldn’t have been impossible, it just felt too hard. How lucky that we, as adults, can just change the assignment to suit our needs. I wonder how assignments would change if I gave children the same power.

My big “ah-hah” moment of the night came as I was journaling. Just seeing the Calgary skyline through colors brought me to some interesting thoughts (nationalism, ecological design or the appearance of it, personal glorification, materials, etc.) and I found it interesting to apply a very specific lens to the view. Interesting and perhaps a little embarrassing, as I was drawing the Bow building in my black pen I wrote “Bow building…. Blue”

AH-HAH!!!

Oh boy. How many times have I looked at that building and not made that connection? But we’re not really trained to look deeper are we? (okay okay….I know I’m not really setting the bar very high here).

On our second walk about we were invited to look through whatever lens we wished, we weren’t bound by our group, nor by the facilitators. I get the sense that the second round was a lot more productive for folks, just because after you’ve been restricted, it’s so much more exciting to be free.

On the other hand, freedom does sometimes lead to chaos, and I know some of us likely just stood around and chatted for our last walk…

I think I’ll leave this post right there & head back to the students… thinking about how I can use their time here to be the counterpoint freedom to their lives at school, and how I can make sure that with freedom, they stay productive and make the most of their time together. Maybe I need to re-think what productivity really is…

A wonderful night, lots of learning, and a great opportunity to connect.

Context and how you use it

 image1-2
 

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.