New Directions and Reflection

There is some fun stuff going on at SEEC these days. Over the course of the past year and a half, we’ve seen some big changes. Our teachers shifted from using a theme based curriculum to a more emergent approach. They are encouraged to experiment with new ideas and ways of doing things. They are being challenged to be extra thoughtful about their classroom environment. Our museum educators are listening to what the students’ interests are and providing museum visit suggestions that support each group’s individual interests. SEEC educators are helping with our new Saturday workshops for families with children between 6 months and 6 years. As we give parents and children a chance to explore the museums, experience hands-on activities and share stories, we discover new and better ways of doing things from one week to the next.

Cardello in Classroom.In addition, we have educators thinking about the role museums could play in supporting a child’s sense of self identity. The result of this long term action research project will be an article featured in the Museums & Society journal later this year. Another fascinating project that one of our museum educators is working on with our three, four and five year olds is based on current work of the Smithsonian’s Office of Policy and Analysis. movementEach child is given a choice about which of four activities they would like to participate in during their museum visit that day. Once the students arrive at the museum, the class splits up into four small self selected groups and a different teacher leads each pre-planned gallery based experience. The theory that is being explored states that there are four major types of experiences to which people are drawn: Ideas (conceptual thinking), People (emotional connection), Objects (visual language), and Physical (physical sensation). What SEEC is wondering is whether these traits are easily identified and determined in very young children.

These activities reflect a new direction for SEEC. Watch for more information on the development of SEEC’s Center for Innovative Early Learning (CIEL) where this spirit of experimenting, taking risks and wondering together is embraced.
History Connections

Upcoming Teacher Workshop

LTOWell, we have made it to January. That delightful in between month—the month where we leave the stretch of holiday breaks behind and take a deep breath before the chaos of spring begins. Our students are settling back into familiar routines but experiencing the expected adjustments that time away from school brings. As educators, we too are experiencing the adjustment, searching for renewed inspiration in the face of the winter blues, unpredictable weather, and in my case, growing preschoolers. It seems almost daily one of my students leaves early for their five year preschool check-up.

We are also in the period of resolutions: Join the gym. Use your phone less. Sleep more. Build up your savings. Be more creative in the classroom or museum. In the midst of the screaming gym ads and hyper students, come join us for some respite and rejuvenation. SEEC is offering a space to renew your creativity, collaborate with peers, and take some deep breaths. Our premier seminar, Learning Through Objects, is almost upon us (February 27th & 28th). This seminar brings together educators from a diverse set of learning environments such as classrooms, museum galleries, and cultural centers. Presented by our staff and representing work from our 25 years of learning with young children in museums, LTO may be the perfect antidote to the winter doldrums.

A LTO alum wrote of her experience, “I walked away not only refreshed and inspired, but also with a variety of ideas for how I can incorporate museums, objects, and artist studies into my classroom teaching. I am looking forward to sharing the lesson plan and field trip ideas I learned with my colleagues and of course to sharing the activities themselves with my students.” Additionally, for those in the DC area, LTO is accredited by the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education and counts as CEUs. Come be renewed, come be refreshed, and check one or two of your resolutions of the list. We look forward to seeing you.

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Full registration info can be found here. Keep that “save money” resolution as well, register before February 14th for our Early Bird Rate and plug in discount code SEECPD14 for an additional 10% off!

Onwards!

Kindergartners and Exhibit Design, Part I

That there is a national emphasis on the value of early childhood education goes without saying.  So it makes good sense that museums are starting to think more about how they serve this audience.  At the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, our students generally visit museums 3-5 times a week; it’s a space in which they are comfortable and familiar.  So when  staff at the National Museum of American History wanted to understand more about how young children interact with exhibits, they thought of SEEC.  Through a series of discussions, the staff agreed upon using Little Golden Books, an exhibit with obvious kid-appeal, to examine how children felt about their exhibit design.  Similarly, SEEC wanted to see the exhibit through the eyes of their students in order to inform our own teaching practices and professional development.  Finally, we decided to experiment with SEEC’s Kindergarten class because, at the end of the year, they will be asked to create their very own exhibitions.  The experience seemed like a great way to support their endeavor.

ClassCircleWe planned two visits to the exhibit.  The first visit was simply to familiarize the students with the content and the layout of the space.  Prior to going to the museum, Sara Cardello, Museum Educator, planned an interactive, hands-on lesson in which the students identified parts of the exhibit; i.e. object, case, label etc. and introduced them to Golden Books.  Almost all of them immediately recognized the Golden Books and were anxious to share their personal stories with the class.

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We headed over to the exhibit and first, met with the exhibit designer.  We then took turns walking through the exhibit in small groups, each with either a classroom or museum educator.  During that time, the children got to look and ask questions.  Educators came prepared with specific questions to encourage them to think about the exhibit.  Below are some of the questions and some of their answers.

What do you see, notice, or what is the exhibit showing you?

  • Really old books
  • TV screen helps us read the booksExhibit2
  • Some of the books have interesting ideas
  • Each display case has a theme: doctor, transportation, mining, cooking
  • Measurements along the sides of the larger illustrations
  • Really old (again)
  • Some are dusty
  • Some are new
  • Golden strip


What do you hear?

  • Wanted to hear the stories
  • Kind of loud because we are all in here
  • No music
  • Too loud
  • Conversations about all of our observations

What are you learning, thinking about, what would you add?

  • Who is in the picture with Mickey and Donald?
  • Beautiful, looks painted
  • I see some letters, and I see the same letters, but different pictures (referring to Little Golden Books)
  • I would add a kids book, like Toy Story 3, even though these are kids books
  • I would add toys that you see in the books to play with

Who is the exhibit for, who would like this exhibit?

  • Me and my mom would like this, she read these books
  • My grandma likes to read
  • Grandma and grandpa would like them because they haven’t seen them in years
  • Bullies would not like it because they do not like books
  • Giants would be too big and they like to break stuff

In addition to these questions, we had some open-ended discussions based on their responses to the objects.  Here is an example of one such discussion. 

When looking at the case displaying the Here Comes the Parade the students quickly identified Donald Duck and Mickey, but were stumped when it came to Howdy Doody.  This was a great time for us to look at the label and see if we could get some more information.  Although the name didn’t ring a bell, it did give us a chance to talk about when the book was made and how our parents or grandparents might know about this character.  I asked this group if they could tell me where they thought the characters were and after some investigation, they concluded it was a parade.  This line of inquiry prompted me to share my own experiences watching the parade on Thanksgiving morning.  This encouraged others to share their own Thanksgiving traditions and/or recollections of parades.  It was a great conversation and before we knew it, we had been standing at that case for close to 10 minutes, which is considerable for a Kindergartner.

Following the visit to the exhibit, we had a chance to debrief as a whole group (there are 18 students in the class).  Below is a glimpse of that discussion. 

What did you notice?WrapUp2

  • A new book, Little Red Hen
  • An interesting book about cars
  • A girl cleaning up
  • Boy and girl playing doctor
  • I noticed #65 on one of the books

Who would like this exhibit?

  • Grandma and grandpa would like it because they haven’t seen them in years
  • Grandma and grandpa would like the books because they would remember them
  • Moms and dads like books, they would like to visit

How did you feel about the exhibit?

  • Really like it because they are lots of interesting books to see
  • Cool. Cool books, cool answers, moms and dads would like it too
  • I felt surprised when I saw the spine but then I realized that’s why it’s called Golden Books

What would you add or change?WrapUp1

  • More books!
  • Add books that you might know
  • You could bring your own Golden Books once you were done with them
  • Add a book or a chair to look at books
  • I love Golden Books
  • I would add airplanes, they are more interesting
  • I would add my own books

What questions do you have for the curator or designer?

  • Why did you choose Golden Books?
  • Why do they make Golden Books?
  • Dinosaurs are big and you have to think about cases and storage, you have to think about the size of objects for exhibits

How much did it cost to build this exhibit?

  • $100 because books can break easily
  • $60 because book are expensive
  • $15 because it is a really big exhibit

Kindergartners and Exhibit Design, Part II

exhibit eval page 1

Kindergarten Exhibit Survey, Pt. 1

exhibit eval page 2

Kindergarten Exhibit Survey, Pt. 2

In our last blog,  we discussed the first part of our experiment with SEEC kindergartners visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Golden Books exhibit.  When we left off, they had just concluded their first visit.  The following week, they went to the museum again and like the previous time, we split them up into small groups of three.  Each group had an adult and walked through the exhibit with an educator and were given a “survey.”  After these were completed in the exhibit, they headed out to a small circle to discuss their observations with another educator.

The Results

1) Look at the other people do they like this exhibit? Visitor Graph
Comments:

  • Looking closely
  • Beautiful
  • Pretty good
  • Really liking it
  • Liked it
  • Enjoying everything
  • Looking at computer
  • Looking at all sorts of books
  • Enjoying it
  • One person was normal, so…so-so
  • Some were in to it, some were not
  • 1 vote for all 5 choices
  • All the people were different

2) Look at the objects; do you like how they are displayed?Objects
Comments:

  • Lots of color, some were dusty
  • Loved them
  • They books were having a good time because they were safe in the glass and no robbers were breaking in
  • Could not see, too tall
  • Pretty good
  • Pretty good, a little bad though because it only showed one page of the book
  • Didn’t like, hard to see

3) Look at the lights; do you like how they are used?
Lights Graph

Comments

  • Dark but good
  • Pretty good
  • 1 vote for Liked
  • Orange, it was ok, and I liked it
  • ok

4) Look at the colors; do you like how they are used?
Colors Graph

Comments

  • The ceiling was green, there were good colors
  • A lot of white

5) Look at the signs, are they helpful?

Signs Graph

Comments

  • Really focused about creation, someone worked very hard

6) Look at the computers; do you like how they were used?

computer Graph

Comments

  • I clicked on two books
  • You could look at the books, I pressed the button and it read the story to us
  • Really cool
  • I touched it
  • I didn’t get to touch it
  • I chose different books, it was awesome, and not too tall
  • I liked pressing buttons
  • Zooming in was cool
  • It shows the books

7)  Look for things you can touch, did they help you enjoy the exhibit?
Touching Graph

Comments

  • Only one thing to touch
  • Touching the computer
  • Computer was just ok
  • I wish there was more stuff to touch, more computers with newer books
  • No touching uhhhhh

Outcomes

I was surprised that they found the lighting and signs appealing.  Like any exhibit featuring paper, it is a dark space, and I assumed that would be unappealing.  Interestingly when the exhibit designer talked to the students during their first visit, he mentioned that the low lighting help protect the books. I wonder if that made a difference.  I also wonder if it was the spotlighting to which they felt drawn.  Despite the overall darkness, light was strategically positioned to make the cases pop. There was minimal distraction.

I was also intrigued by their positive reaction to the signs.  Many in the group are emergent readers and I thought the labels would have been of little or no interest to them.  I wonder if they were responding to the fact that the educators, many of whom were not familiar with the exhibit’s content, used the labels to help add to their conversations.

That they responded positively to the colors and book illustrations was no shock.  Children are naturally drawn to strong, vibrant visuals.  They are also naturally drawn to things they can touch or tinker with.  The opportunity to play with the computer at the end of the exhibit got them very excited and made them notice more about the objects in the cases, encouraging them to revisit objects and think more deeply about some of their conversations.  Interestingly, the computer engaged many of the children, but not all.  Some of them were frustrated  because they weren’t certain how to work it, but I guess usability for young children is another topic entirely!

Although we didn’t measure this in the survey, its important to note that the children responded to the content of the exhibit.  They were familiar with Golden Books and could make connections to the illustrations, many of which depicted children playing.  At SEEC, we encourage our educators to utilize familiar objects or themes when teaching.  Finding this thread can be difficult when considering the often nuanced and complex nature of many exhibits. Still, I would encourage museum staff to consider how they can incorporate familiar elements as a way to engage a young child’s interest in new content.

 

Government Shutdown Blues

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Our family workshops typically run four consecutive weeks. Somewhere around week three, we slip into a sweet spot. The kids are familiar with me as a teacher. I find myself getting hugs and requests to hold hands on our walk to the museums. The parents get comfortable with each other and the framework of the class. Nobody seems to be judging anyone’s parenting and everyone is enjoying time together. During our first fall workshop, Marvelous Museums, we made it to our sweet spot and then had the rug pulled out from under us. SHUTDOWN!!!!

Politics aside, I was really disappointed that the continuity of the class was interrupted. Developmentally, pre-K children benefit from consistent and frequent experiences. If you are a parent, think about what happens when your child returns to school/daycare after a vacation. It takes time for them to re-acclimate themselves. For example, there is one boy in my class who found it very difficult to share his thoughts with the group. By the third week, his answers came easily and in much louder and clearer voice. Similarly, by the end of the class the children know the safety routine for walking to the museum. The time is takes us to walk is sometimes cut in half because the children know what is expected of them and are excited to reach their destination. Most of all, there is a camaraderie that is established among everyone, which is easily lost. The shutdown has taken away from the meaning and impact of our family workshop experience and while, in the big picture, it isn’t the end of the world, I can’t help but feel frustrated. After all, it is no easy feat to get families of young children into museums on beautiful fall mornings.

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Discussing what is art at the National Museum of African Art

Of course the children enrolled in SEEC’s lab school are bearing the brunt of the impact. Our workshop attendees come once-a-week, lab school students come everyday, many of whom have been coming everyday for years. Consider the effect on the infants who are transitioning to group care for the first time or the kindergartners who are going to have to make-up this time off. And because most of our students were just settling into their new classrooms, the timing of the shutdown could not have been worse. Students were still busy acquainting themselves with a new environment, new teachers and in many cases, new friends. I know many parents are enjoying their time with their children. But, I also know that students are missing their friends and the familiar framework of their school day.

To counteract these blues, I am posting photos from our recent family workshop as a reminder of what we did accomplish. I am feeling optimistic that we will be able to get back to our job of educating soon.

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A boy and his grandmother explore what the meaning of this object.

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Families work together to look at an object and describe its’ features.

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Careful looking, a child decides which object she wants to learn more about.

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Creating collections from items found on the National Mall and sharing with the class.

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Reading Babar’s Museum of Art

Smithsonian Pre-K Classes

Renaissance Composition 2

Acting out a Renaissance Composition

In our first blog, I talked about what the museum education department does at the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center. Just to recap, we have two educators who work specifically with our classes here at the lab school. Our director, Betsy Bowers, heads our professional development efforts (more on that later) and my main responsibility is to promote and coordinate our outreach efforts for families who are not enrolled in the school.

Comparing Jackson Pollock paintings

Comparing Jackson Pollock paintings

With Labor Day in our sights, I thought it was the perfect time to take a look ahead at what we are doing for our community families. Last year, we started offering preschool courses. These courses took place over a four-week period, meeting Saturday mornings. Each course had a theme (more information) and met for two hours. In the first portion of our morning, we would do some sort of introductory activity. This activity ranged from exploring a discovery box featuring cultural objects to comparing two paintings. Almost always these activities were meant to be done independently, meaning child and caretaker working together separate from the teacher. (These classes are very literally family classes, so caretakers play an important role). After our initial work, we would come together in a circle to discuss what they had done. Our discussion led us to an introduction to the museum visit.  

Cary teaching

Using hands-on objects to teach in the galleries

After bathroom breaks and the putting on of coats, we head to the museum for what is typically a 20-30 minute visit to one to two objects. During our visits, we use hands-on objects to engage the children in a multi-sensory experience and inquiry to guide the conversation. Museum educators are likely familiar with these approaches of object-based learning and the inquiry method. For educators who are unfamiliar with these approaches, let me suggest SEEC’s line of professional development seminars and/or MOMA’s inquiry course offered through Coursera (just completed it myself, very informative).

F2003.2

Freer Gallery of Art
Shiva Nataraja, ca. 990
Chola Dynasty, India
Bronze
Purchase–Margaret and George Haldeman, and Museum funds F2003.2

After our visit, we head back to the classroom where we wrap up with a final project.While it’s most often an art project, I do not limit myself to that platform. This is extremely helpful for two reasons; first, sometimes it is not developmentally appropriate for children to recreate the art they have just seen and second, sometimes it’s not culturally sensitive to recreate the art either. A good example of the first scenario is when I did a lesson on the Renaissance and I wanted to talk about composition. They were not up for the challenge of creating a masterpiece that depicted, balance, dynamism and fluidity. However, they could connect to these concepts by acting out their own birthday party photo and seeing the results. And when we do our class on Hinduism and visit the Freer’s Shiva Nataraja, we opt to look at videos of Bharatnatyam dance, do a sample of mudras and keep a beat with bells on our ankles. All activities are meant to build upon the concepts introduced through the lesson in a way that is interactive and self-directed.

This year we also offering infant and toddler class, so keep an eye out for future blogs about these audiences. In the meantime, let me know what is working for you with young audiences in your museum!

An Intern’s Perspective of SEEC

BethAnne_2
Written by: Beth Anne Kadien
Rising senior at Georgetown University – SEEC Summer Intern

I started in January doing behind-the-scenes work for SEEC’s Museum Education department, creating a database for the objects and prints that are used in SEEC classrooms. This summer I continued my internship, but in a more hands-on way. My experiences have been varied and always interesting. Moving from archival work to observing and leading classroom lessons was incredibly rewarding, both in what I had the opportunity to learn, and the witty student commentary. I came home to my roommates each day with a new story about the kids, which I have pared down to a top three favorite things overheard at SEEC:
1. One student looking over at me and asking “Hey, do you wanna put your stuff in my cubby?”
2. Asking a student where a colleague and I should get lunch, with a response of “Well do you girls like toys? Because then you should go to McDonalds.”
3. Receiving a superhero alter ego and superpower from one of the Koalas. “You’d be Star Girl, and your superpower would be shooting penguins out of your hands.”

BethAnne_1

What I learned, while less entertaining, will have a long-term impact on my career choices. Here it is, the top 3 (okay, really 4) things I learned from SEEC.

1. I am more creative than I thought. One of my proudest accomplishments, making a photo projector out of a shoebox.
I wrote lessons for both SEEC classes and their weekend family workshops, with a range of topics from food to the science of colors and pigments, to transportation. These all seemed incredibly daunting when assigned, but now I know how to better think out-of-the-box so that I can create an age-appropriate and interesting lessons.
2. Even if you think you have enough work, ask for more. One of my extra assignments was helping to write family programming for a partnership with a museum in my hometown of Memphis. It was so worth it!!
3. Be mindful. One thing that is common in the various people I worked with at SEEC is that each employee takes the utmost care in considering others. Museum educators go to great lengths to be a resource to their classroom teachers; teachers know their students’ dietary needs, pet’s names, favorite things, and greatest fears better than I know my own. Each decision made is made with consideration to how it will affect the teachers and students. This is something I greatly admire about SEEC, and it is now a model to which I strive in my on-campus job.
4. Actually the most important thing I learned, is that Splash Day is the greatest day, but you need to remember a change of clothes or else it’s a very cold metro home.
BethAnne_3
This summer has been incredibly rewarding, and I am more than grateful for the opportunities SEEC has given me.