Last week I wrote about exposure as a goal for field trips, and readers debated whether exposure was passive. As I stated in a reply to this post, I don’t think exposure is passive for the visitor, but I do think that it can be a way for the museum to be passive, by abdicating responsibility for the visitor experience. But how does a museum plan programs that make exposure as powerful an experience as possible?
I thought that this week I would share how we are trying to address this at the PlayHouse. One of the challenging things about blogging is that you share ideas that you then have to live up to. Which has made developing field trips feel like a high-stakes-endeavor. Although on the flip side, there is a sense of accountability to the field, as well as the teachers, which is perhaps useful in ensuring that we aim high.
Last week we piloted a new field trip offering, entitled “Explore/Challenge/Become” (perhaps a bit clunky – other suggestions for titles are welcomed!) The field trip was developed by our Education Manager, Rachel Carpenter, and myself in partnership with a team of 12 teachers. The pilot class of five and six year olds, from a local year-round child care center, belonged to one of these teachers. The teacher, Sarah, had a substitute for the day so that she could watch all the groups and stay to reflect and revise after the trip.
Here is the field trip format, incorporating the adjustments we made based on our pilot program:
When children arrive at the museum they enter a classroom, and there are old fashioned, unfamiliar toys on the tables. They are encouraged to try them out. While they play, educators (interns and volunteers) circulate, asking kids the key questions of the visit:
- What could you try? What might happen if you tried that?
- What do you wonder?
- What did you discover?
After five or ten minutes, before they leave the room, the lead educator – a paid PlayHouse Instructor – works with the students to make up a gesture to go with each question, and students are reminded to think about these questions while they are in the museum.
Kids have an hour to play and explore the six exhibits, under the supervision of teachers and chaperones. The chaperones each receive a laminated card that has a museum map on one side, and the key questions, along with tips for engaging students, on the other.
After their hour in the galleries, the kids return to the classroom. There are now 3 to 6 stations around the classroom. In our pilot we had one station with things kids could put in tubs of water, and sort them as something that sinks or floats; one station with hand puppets; and one station with a hair dryer (held by an intern) and things that kids could try to make fly in the air stream. After trying each station kids decide which interests them most.
In their newly formed affinity groups, students return to the galleries, to engage in a 30-minute project based on the station that interested them. For example, the children who were most interested in what sinks and what floats make boats at the water table, and see how much weight they can hold. The kids who enjoyed the puppets work together in the theater area to put on a play. And the students who were interested in what would fly conduct an experiment with the Bernoulli blower. Each of these groups is led by the PlayHouse Instructor, an intern, or a volunteer.
Each small group ends with a reflection, during which they discuss what they discovered, what else they could have tried, and what they still wonder. After that, the entire class regroups in the classroom, and revisits the key questions. They spend a few minutes thinking about what else they would like to try, what they are still wondering, and what they still want to discover.
For each of the 3 to 6 gallery activities, the teacher receives a handout for parents describing what the kids did, and a resource sheet with the lesson plan from each activity as well as ideas for classroom follow up.
Our hope is that students will discover new interests, develop questions, experiment in the exhibits, and leave understanding that experimentation is a way to find out more about something. Sarah, the classroom teacher, interviewed students after the visit, and will be sharing their responses with us next week. And our summer Research Intern, Amanda, is helping to start thinking about evaluation tools, which will be more fully developed by the 2015-16 Research Intern. (The Research Interns are paid cognitive psychology majors from Bradley University, who work closely with their professors on their PlayHouse projects, and are nominated for the internship by their professors and paid for their time.)
The big picture idea for this model is that instead of positioning field trips as a lesson within a larger unit, or a way to test or add to classroom knowledge, museums function best as a place to help kids discover and pursue what interests them. The biggest challenge of this model will be developing strategies to really work with teachers, and support them in following up.
I welcome feedback on this model. Have you tried similar things, and if so, do you have advice or can you share your findings? Does this seem misguided in any way? Where might a model like this lead us?