Friday, 25 May 2018

CLOSING TRADITIONS; OPENING MINDS

MUSEUM INNOVATIONS

BY: KEELAN CASHMORE

Who remembers taking field trips in grade school? I know I do. And I tend to remember them as some of the best days of actually being in grade school. There was nothing like spending the day somewhere else. It could be a museum, a zoo, a historic house, or a science centre. It didn’t matter at all. What mattered was we were still learning, but also experiencing something outside of the classroom and getting the chance to try something new.

The Magic School Bus. Source.
At this point you’re probably wondering Keelan – why are you talking about field trips? What does that have to do with museum innovation?

And to answer that, I’m going to tell you about Chevron Open Minds, a program I learned about when I started my internship, that operates at The Rooms in Newfoundland. Essentially, Open Minds invites teachers to bring their students to the museum for class for an entire week!

Chevron Open Minds Logo. Source.
“This innovative program is based on the Open Minds education concept, which emphasizes the value of allowing students to slow down and become immersed in new and engaging learning environments. Students participate in a curriculum based, interdisciplinary program developed by their teacher in consultation with the Chevron Open Minds Coordinator. Each week is unique and is based on the needs of the teachers and students.” (Source

Naturally, I was curious to see if this program was offered anywhere else in Canada. I was thrilled to find that it also operates in Calgary, Alberta, with the Calgary Zoo, Glenbow Museum, Cross Conservation Area, and the Telus Spark Science Centre, and in Fort McMurray, Alberta, at the Heritage Village.

In learning about this program, I was curious – why don’t more museums and schools adopt the Open Minds program?

From what I learned in conversation with instructors, and my own research, there are several reasons why Open Minds wasn’t as common as I thought it would be (Source Implementing the Open Minds Education Concept in your Community):

1) Museums and schools tend to view each other as “peripheral” – Education programming is considered an “add-on”, not an integral part of the museum experience.

2) In the school world, field-trips are thought to be “frivolous” or “non-essential” inclusions into the curriculum, as opposed to “legitimate” learning pathways.

3) Schools are not necessarily considered the “real world” and being consistently “locked” in classrooms can limit the kind of learning taking place.

4) Museums tend to place children through a series of activities without focusing on what they already know or what they want to learn – and they often have little involvement from the teachers.

5) There is a disconnect between the two, and it takes a willingness on both sides to be able to work together and make the program successful.

Essentially, Open Minds strives to bring schools and museums in sync with each other. Instead of having a field trip with little to no context and a limited link to learning, the museum and instructors work with the curriculum to maximize learning. This incorporates new experiences and provides a new and enriching environment outside of the classroom.

Personally, I think this is incredibly important. Not just for children as students now, but also in fostering a lifelong appreciation for learning in museums, and how the combination of these different worlds can help individuals think and grow in new ways. So often students get bogged down with school and homework, and instead of fostering enthusiasm and eagerness for learning, the focus is on completing assignments and memorizing enough information to pass an exam.

By promoting a want for learning, these programs are also promoting a different interpretation of museums. Instead of thinking of museums traditionally, as places filled with old objects where patrons must be quiet and not touch anything, students will hopefully see them as dynamic spaces where history comes to life, and where visitors are free to explore and experience them as individuals.

Source.
Overall, I think this link between “structured learning” and “field trips” will aid in helping children develop an appreciation for something my peers always thought of as “boring”. I look forward to seeing how this program develops, and how it helps shape the next generation of future museum attendees (and scholars)!

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