Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Promoting Student Learning in Museums, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at free-choice learning and its role in museums.  In this post, I would like to focus on what museums can do to appeal to school districts and educators.

One area of importance to schools is state education standards.  We sometimes hear that schools are only teaching for the test or state standard.  While I do not think this is necessarily the case, it does show how state education standards are viewed at the utmost importance.  To appeal to schools, museums need to show that a visit will not only be educational or intellectually stimulating, but will also meet state educational standards.  Museum educators should tread cautiously here though, as they do not want to make museum tours so strict and rigid that schoolchildren lose interest in the subject matter.  A balance mus exist.  So often, individuals get into arguments over whether or not schools should teach to such specific standards.  After all, we are all very different people with different learning styles and interests.  But this fact does not negate the importance of learning information that will create a foundation to learn more specialized skills in the future.  This is what school is supposed to do for children: prepare them for the real world.

Museums also need to highlight their collections and give schoolchildren an experience they could never have in the classroom.  At the Dickinson County Heritage Center, we offer students the chance to visit a real pioneer cabin, a tipi, and a covered wagon.  These are all real tangible objects and places that allow students to experience the past in person.  We also feature hands-on objects in the museum which help students learn in a multi-sensory way.  Lastly, we typically end a school tour with a ride on the 1901 C.W. Parker Carousel.  The students are taught the history of this fantastic device, but are also treated with a ride.  These are all things that students could never experience in the classroom.

That said, museums should strive to meet on the same level of students.  Many schools have began using tablet computers with all ages of students.  There is no reason museums cannot create tours or programs for visitors to use on these devices.  For example, SCVNGR offers affordable tours that users can access on mobile devices.  This is an area I am currently researching, and hope to develop for our museum soon.  Museums can also meet students on their level in a more low-tech way.

One great way to create outreach to schools is to give in-school programs or presentations.  Since some schools may not have the budget to afford field trips, why can't museums come to them?  Our museum, as well as others, offer Traveling Trunk programs that allow teachers to borrow cases of hands-on artifacts, books, games, and other resources.  With these objects, the educator is able to give a lesson (or lessons) that will engage their students with a small piece of the museum.  Museum Educators could also benefit their institutions by giving programs in the classroom.  Like a museum visit, educators should strive to make these a unique experience, and allow students to view artifacts up close and personal in their classrooms.

Overall, museums can offer visitors unique experiences both inside and outside their institutions, but should never forget to adapt to others' needs, wants, and desires.

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