Schools and Museums: Ideas and Implications

Below are ideas and implications derived from Fall 2014 interviews focusing on school visits to museums. This page will continuously change, as interviews are conducted. Ideas are not static; new information and ongoing discussion lead to new ideas.

1. Museums need to have and communicate clear outcomes for students. See this post for further thoughts on this.

2. School visits to museums should be longer – or at least, longer visits should be an options. Aside from a 60-minute tour, museums might offer:

  • A worksheet for students to complete on their own or in small groups. Worksheets might be created with the goal of helping students learn to become independent museum goers. Or students could create something that helps museums reach out to their families and friends, letting them know what they might learn or do at the museum.
  • A classroom space in which teachers can lead their own post-visit discussions, or work on related or unrelated material. This would allow teachers to reclaim a little of the time lost to a field trip, and/or to deepen student learning through connection-making and discussion. For museums without a great deal of extra space, this might be tables and chairs set up in an underutilized gallery space.
  • A space to create. This could be in the galleries or the classroom, and might be open-ended materials exploration or a structured activity. When students create BEFORE the visit, activities should help them think about what they will see, and tours should encourage them to share what they made with what they are viewing. When students create AFTER the visit, activities should help them reflect on what they saw, and extend their learning.

3. Museums need to provide a space for children to eat lunch. Sorry, folks – there’s just no way around it. If the challenge is clean up, put the custodial work in perspective of all of the other effort and time that surround school museum visits. If the challenge is space, think creatively: is there an outside space that could be tented (and, if necessary, equipped with a heat lamp)? A nearby restaurant, office building, or other business that might partner with the museum, perhaps in exchange for a corporate membership or other similar benefits?

4. Museums should invest in teachers. Often, the same teachers bring their classes to museums year after year. Imagine if, the second time a teacher booked a tour, museums offered a free pre-visit classroom session, and resources to help teachers lead this pre-visit in future years. If the exhibitions are static, teachers might even be trained to give tours to their own students, if they wanted.



7 thoughts on “Schools and Museums: Ideas and Implications

  1. Pingback: Schools and Museums: What if we tried a whole new approach? | Museum Questions

  2. I think the above list is right on target! We do the following and our program (18 years old) continues to grow and thrive, with support from all the local school districts. We have never seen an attendance drop, continue to get good community donation support for bus funds, and are successful in education grant writing.
    1. We clearly communicate curriculum ties, skills development, etc. to our school patrons. All of our gallery teachers know and achieve those goals during tours. And I work with teachers and district administration in the development of all tours and programs to ensure that we are creating useful programs.
    2. Our tours last a minimum of 90 minutes, include guided discussion techniques, gallery activities that are self-guided and collaborative, and always include a project that builds on the ideas or techniques that are covered in the gallery.
    3. While most of our tours can be scheduled either before or after lunch, we do offer a lunch space and gallery teachers are asked to monitor and work with clean up.
    4. We play an integral role in teacher training in the district – providing in-service day workshops on a regular basis and currently working on a collaborative pilot project to bring Visual Thinking Strategies to the district teachers. They are so excited about the visual evidence aspects and the transfer of skills. And I find that including them demystifies the museum and make them more of a partner.

    I spend a lot of time thinking about the type of learning that is going on in the museum setting and why that learning is different and valuable. What can I provide that the classroom can’t? In recent years we have begun to focus on skills as much as, if not more, than content. How can the processes of visual art – looking, thinking, making – transfer to school learning? We have discovered our museum can be a place for kids to bring their knowledge and apply it, to learn about thinking that goes across subject matter boundaries, and how to be effective communicators and collaborators.

    • Kathrine, our program sounds very similar–90 minute to 120 minute tours, small groups (we try for a ratio of 6 to 8 students per docent), we provide relevant thematic worksheets or sketching assignments to complete on tour and for up to 32 students, we can present a studio art activity. Since groups rotate through the studio, some do the art before the gallery discussion, others mid or post-gallery discussion. We charge $3 plus tax flat fee per student, all adults are admitted free and we give a one-time use family pass to every student.

      We also support in-service teacher workshops at the museum, some free and some with a nominal fee to cover materials. I know some art teachers in another county that get a group of their peers together and arrange their own daylong workshop here–these are fun, but I generally work with principals or administrators to offer on-site teacher workshops, not as many as I once did since mostly these are done at schools now.

      We do not have a designated space for kids to eat lunch after or before a visit–in good weather they can (and do) eat on the south lawn. I should have been adamant about space when our education and program wing was being designed, because it really makes things so much easier for the teachers. For any of you in the planning stages of an addition, do take it seriously and push for space so groups can have a bag lunch on site–it’s worth it.

  3. Love #4. I wish more funders and museum leadership were receptive to focusing on deeper over broader engagement. In the case of your suggestion with the teacher booking for a second year in a row—this is no way a business would let that repeat customer go unrecognized. They’d make a pitch for additional services, as you’ve suggested.

    In what context were you doing these interviews?

    • Excellent point about for-profit businesses, Barbara.

      The interviews were all done for the blog, in the interests of learning how people are thinking about field trips. I thought I would update this implications page regularly, but to be honest, I have not. It is on my to do list now that I have wrapped up the interviews!

  4. Pingback: Why can’t the goal of museum field trips be exposure? | Museum Questions

  5. Pingback: Schools and Museums: Ideas and Implications, Part II | Museum Questions

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