How the museum experience differs from the classroom
I’m pleased to announce that the Global Digital Citizen Foundation website (https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/) is featuring my writings on their front page, under Latest Posts on the GDCF Blog. The series is entitled Museum Field Trip Workshops, with a new article every 2 weeks. You can find the first article at: https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/museum-filed-trips-exploring-visual-literacy-fluencies-pbl. In future articles I’ll lead the reader through explorations of many of Washington, DC’s great museums.
If you are going on a field trip, I believe it is important to prepare your students by developing their visual literacy, and by integrating the trip actively into your curriculum. However, important as that is, it is not enough. The museum (and field trip) experience takes place in a very different environment from your classroom. That may seem obvious, but let’s take a look at the differences, so that you can help your students maintain their focus to insure they have an engaging educational experience.
The Benefits of a Museum/Field Trip
- Students are energized by the excitement and anticipation of leaving the school environment.
- The transportation to and from the museum/site is often a pleasant open-social time.
- Students have the opportunity to see new things and learn about them in a more unstructured way.
- Students have the opportunity to determine what they learn and how they learn it. Said differently, student learning can be interest-driven, not teacher and curriculum driven.
- Students will experience a more holistic, integrated picture of the information that, in the classroom, may have only been presented in a textual and abstract way.
- Museums, and many other kinds of field trips are multi-media experiences; therefore, learning is enriched and reinforced with superimposing sensory and intellectual inputs.
- Most museums are designed to stimulate curiosity and actively engage the visitor, so you have a very professional partner working with you to help your students learn.
- In some museums you can arrange for your class to meet with a museum educator, often in a private classroom, to facilitate directed learning and/or provide a question-answer session.
Impediments to Learning on a Museum/Field Trip
Your classroom provides structure, limits, and authority to focus student attention and behavior. All of these are seriously diminished or entirely dispensed with on a field trip. Therefore, in spite of your high expectations, the museum trip may end up having little or no educational impact on your students.
- Too often, for too many students, the trip becomes a texting opportunity, or a socializing event.
- In open spaces and without close supervision, many students may simply not have the discipline or interest to pay attention to what they’re seeing.
- Moving through rooms and/or open spaces, students can get lost from the group. Suddenly everyone’s attention is turned to finding the missing student(s) instead of being absorbed in the learning opportunity at hand.
Field trips take students into public spaces. Therefore, even if your students are disciplined and interested, the multi-media environment and the public bustle and noise will most likely be distracting. Also, if you’re in an enclosed public space (like a museum, as opposed to a park or battlefield), you can’t talk to your students as a whole group. Indeed, even in small groups, you will be limited in your ability to lecture or to open a discussion. The multi-media environment and the public noise will definitely distract your students, and your discussions can disturb other visitors. These factors will deteriorate the quality of any kind of small group discussion you might try to have.
Besides the problem of public spaces, your field trip can take you to many different kinds of learning environments. Each place has it’s own narrative and pacing. Consider these four different kinds of museums: American history museum, Holocaust museum, aviation museum, and art museum. Each of these museums has a very different story to tell, and they will probably tell it in very different ways.
An art museum may arrange its collection thematically (impressionism, modernism, Renaissance, etc), but there’s virtually no narrative connecting one object to another, or one room to another. How, then, will your students understand what they’re seeing, or remember the art once they leave the museum?
An aviation museum may arrange its collection chronologically, at least to some extent, and that will help your students contextualize the information. However, such museums are usually exceedingly popular. Your students may experience large, noisy crowds that will be highly distracting. You may find yourself spending most of your time making sure they don’t get separated from the group, and looking for those who inevitably do get separated.
A Holocaust museum may arrange it’s collection chronologically (that’s good), and even if there are large crowds, you can expect them to be hushed and thoughtful (that’s good too). However, the material is usually so emotionally charged and troubling that your students’ emotions may well shut down their intellect. (Indeed, that’s a common response, in my experience.) Very likely they will emerge with intense emotions and a few strong visual memories, but no new understanding or insight into how and why it all happened.
You can expect an American history museum to be thematic and/or chronological in its presentation (that’s good). The material, at least in part, will probably be familiar to your students (that’s good too). Very likely it will not be emotionally overwhelming (third good thing). But here, students will incline to fall back on what they already know. A fact here or an image there may catch their eye, but how can you keep them from becoming bored and turning their experience into a clandestine texting event?
These are some of the problems you may face if you want your museum/field trip to be educationally meaningful. If you would like me to address solutions to these problems in future issues, please write to me, expressing your interest. If you have questions, I’d be glad to field them. You can also let me know about a positive or negative experience you’ve had on a field trip. What did you learn from it, or how can we help you make it better the next time?
Rich sites; provocative articles:
Ken Robinson, in his engaging TED talk, ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley‘ says there are three principles that make human life thrive: “diversity, curiosity and creativity”. Also from Robinson’s TED talk: “If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget.” Take 20 minutes to watch it:
From Inspiration Lab, Rosemont School’s focus on the arts:
“The five C’s of 21st century education: creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and character.”
Wishing you the best,