Museum Practices, December 11, 2008, Term Project Final Paper
My term project for this semester consists of a comprehensive compilation of materials for the two Social Studies programs, Native Americans of the Mid-South and Life on the Tennessee Frontier, at the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. This project contains several files and documents that I found scattered around the education department when I arrived there to begin my job as Social Studies Instructor. Before even beginning to think how to make this project work, I had to find all the documents that relate to the social studies programs.
I began by looking through several binders in my office and in the education department library. In these, I found notes, scripts, outlines, and even video recordings of the programs. Sorting through these was a very daunting task, and much of the material contained within was irrelevant. After discarding plenty of refuse, I began to come up with a simplified outline and detailed script. The existing outlines were perplexing, and the script was incomplete, but I was able to coordinate the outline with a new PowerPoint presentation. Instead of the existing scripts and PowerPoint presentations, which did not accompany each other very well, I created a different presentation with formatted slides that are easier to follow and flow better than the preceding. I developed the script that follows this presentation over the semester and changed as students groups came through to attend the programs.
I tried to create a script that would create a positive learning environment for field trip visitors. My previously reviewed book How Students Understand the Past by Elaine Davis was very helpful in the development of a script. As the book explains, students learn and understand much better when they are actually involved rather than listening to a lecture. Often, educators do not have access to the artifacts that we at the Pink Palace do. While presented to groups of up to one hundred students, the programs do try to accommodate as many student volunteers as possible. The fact that students actually get to try to grind corn or try using throwing sticks facilitates learning according to Davis’ book more than just an address would. In addition, even if I am not able to call on every student to volunteer, I make sure to pass around several small items such as a mastodon rib fossil, a rabbit fur, and a small ceramic vessel.
As students began to attend the programs I teach, I had to modify the way that I teach different age groups. The education guide that we send to teachers every year before school starts tells that we offer the Native Americans program to grades Kindergarten to second grade. However, when looking through curriculum standards, it appears that students learn about Native American cultures later in elementary school, and thus many of the classes I received were fourth grade or fifth grade. The script and presentations I developed, while malleable, are generally at a fourth grade level. When I had my first group of Kindergarteners who do not understand many of the terms I use in the presentation, I had to adapt quickly. When in front of this group of seventeen students I was luckily able to adjust the program to focus primarily on touching and feeling and trying things. Being a small group, the teacher and I allowed every student to try to grind corn, play stickball, and touch every animal skin available.
I now realize that while I was able to adapt to this group, others may not be able to if they take on teaching the Native Americans program. Therefore, the next step in further improving this project will be to develop separate scripts for different age groups. Students on a kindergarten or first grade level are obviously in different stages of cognitive development than students in a fourth or fifth grade class. Over the school break, I plan to develop these scripts to add to my project. Not only will it be helpful to me to have a written and planned way to present material to younger or older students, but it will make the information available to others in the department should they have an interest or need ideas for adapting their own programs for different age groups. In addition, a group of special education students in grades kindergarten to second grade made a reservation this fall to attend a Native Americans program. Having no experience with teaching special education students, I asked a fellow student with such practice to come and help with the presentation. Unfortunately, the school cancelled the class before I was able to learn about teaching these students. This is another example of information I can gather in the future in case no one is available to help teach me how to teach special needs children.
Integral to teaching these programs, I included a list of items needed to present these lessons. In addition, pictures of the set-up used in the Mansion Theatre to present the Social Studies programs help instructors to know what items they need to use throughout the programs and what is the easiest way to set them up for use. I have also organized and catalogued all of the items in their designated area backstage of the Mansion Theatre. Anyone can now easily find everything in clearly labeled individual plastic containers. I placed the taller items such as spears, digging tools, and a model dugout canoe in a large rolling trash can for easy set-up and storage.
Another part of the workbook is a collection of curriculum standards that the programs cover. Schools that attend programs at the Pink Palace include not only Tennessee public schools, but also Arkansas, Mississippi, and the Catholic Dioceses. Each area has different curriculum standards, but it was easy to find these standards on the states’ education websites. Knowing what standards the programs actually cover was not nearly as difficult as transferring the information into the Excel documents that accompany this compilation. The Excel documents are organized by state, and then by grade level. The document contains the number combination assigned to each standard along with a description of what that standard is. Making these standards available to the teachers who attend programs at the museum helps them to more easily plan a trip and justify it to their administrators.
Once I gathered all these materials together, I began to organize them in a concise binder where anyone can find and understand the contained information. First, I divided the binder into two sections, one for each program. A table of contents at the beginning of each division provides a reference to what is contained in the section, and both have the same table of contents and pertinent information. The order of the documents within each segment is ordered in such a way that one can start by reading at the beginning and by the end have all the information needed to teach the program. For example, general information or an introduction to the material is the first page of the binder. The curriculum standards the presenter must understand to convey the material that teacher expect follows.
A handout with Pre-Post activities that is available to teachers is next in the binder. This is important to the education instructor so he or she will know what students may already have covered in their classroom prior to arriving at the museum. Next are the presentation materials. The checklist is first, as instructors must set up the displays and worktables before students arrive. Next is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation that the instructor can familiarize his or her self with before presenting. The slides contain pictures of the items and concepts covered in the class, which are helpful to understanding exactly about what one is supposed to be talking. The outline is next, and it is helpful to have when presenting in case the instructor looses his or her place. What is possibly the most important part of the presentation, the script, follows. After this information are several handouts and activity sheets that I found around the office. They relate to Native American culture and the presentation, and possibly, in the future we may use these on the website as pre-post activities.
A CD is also included with the document that contains all the information presented. Instructors in the education department can use this CD disk on any computer and then use it during classes to project the accompanying PowerPoint on a screen for the students to see.
With the inception of this assemblage of materials, any instructor within the education department should be able to pick up this folder and teach the programs covered. This binder may help to avert a crisis should an emergency occur and the person assigned to teach the program could not be there. In addition, when a new person is hired, he or she will not face the same problems that I did.
Furthermore, this project has provided a template for other programs within the department. There are several science labs and presentations in similar states as the earlier social studies programs, but with this model, these programs may become more organized and understandable, too.