A spontaneous observation of energized museum learning

I’ve just begun a new partnership with the Museum of Applies Arts and Sciences (MAAS) as their inaugural Visiting Research Fellow. This is an exciting new adventure for both the museum and myself. Most importantly for me this is a significant new opportunity to be able to explore my research in museum education. My fellowship is focusing on how we can utilise young people’s personal social media use – specifically how they photograph their experiences and share these via various social media platforms that enable them to compose a narrative, share their insights, and pose questions to a community of peers. I’m really interested to investigate how we can utilise these personal online behaviours in education spaces to further promote engagement with objects, spaces, content, and meaning making.   But more on that later.

My adventures in the first two days have allowed me to have such inspiring conversations with curators, museum educators, volunteers, the communications crew, and even the director. I love the fluidity of the space for learning opportunities – formal and informal. I’ve been intrigued by quite a few experiences since being here including those being in the form of organized conversations and spontaneous public observations of interactions.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.44.28 pmThis morning was one of those spontaneous moments I just have to share. Moving through the exhibition spaces and between floors I came across an open carpeted floor space that was covered in rows of large bowls. In them gold bottle lids were piled, shining in the museum low-level lighting. “What’s going on here? How intriguing” was the comment I made to a colleague I was walking with at the time. To my delight a museum educator came up to shed insight with an invite to return in an hour or so to witness 80 primary school students engaged in a learning experience with these bowls.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.44.59 pmI went off to another area of the museum and finished a couple of tasks before returning later to discover this space within the museum filled with laughter, excitement, energy and 80 young people, their teachers and two museum educators enthralled in an exploration of the Eureka Stockade. The bowls were indeed gold pans, and the golden bottle lids gold. Young people were in costumes, there were small groups of students problem solving together while others were trading in gold fields business, and most importantly there were public still interacting with surrounding exhibitions (with some even stopping to look with the same big smile I had on my face!). The discovery and inquiry into key aspects of the Eureka Stockade were being acted through a carefully designed game involving dramatization, small group work, whole class discussions, and questioning defined by learning by doing.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.44.47 pmAt key moments in time a museum educator would yell out “Eureka” which was followed by a collected response of “Eureka”. Oh my noise in a museum! How cool I thought! This was followed by some quick instructions or a posing of a question that the students then needed to go about and solve.

What I loved about this museum learning experience was the strategies engaged with to communicate with the students by the museum educators. At no stage was there a raised voice, a reminder to listen, nor extended periods of wait time. The students were engaged, the museum educator was engaging, and the learning task was inspiring and motivating. Clear expectations of how the game was to be played out were set that allowed for a learning community to be quickly established. The students were smiling and the listen to each instruction so they could continue with the game.

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.45.22 pmDrama, costumes, props and a script took the young people through an experience that unpacked the learning focus. Interdisciplinary skills were engaged with throughout the process. I observed cooperative teaching and learning strategies, group roles to enable inclusive involvement, problem solving, communication, posing of questions, and reflective and metacognitive thinking while inter- and intra-personal learning was engaged with. A no stage did I see one student who had to be guided back into focus. There was interaction, problem solving and inquiry. Most importantly the young people were trusted to engage with the content that promoted the generation of a memory that provides a connection to history, the past, and context to now.

When have you observed a learning experience that has just glowed with energy? What strategies have you observed being used?

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