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Monday, March 19, 2012

A Successful Museum-School Partnership

On Friday, I’m heading to Bozeman to talk about museum-school partnerships at the Museums Association of Montana conference.

You may remember awhile back that I sent out a call for examples. Among the emails I received was this one from Malta history teacher Shawn Bleth, describing the local history project his juniors conducted as part of their American Studies class. I was particularly intrigued by this activity for three reasons:

1. Shawn said that it was “the best project” he had done in an long time;
2. the project used no outside funding, and
3. it seems easily replicable.

The project involved in-depth research at the county historical society to write local history articles. You can see the work his students created here.

Details from Mr. Bleth:

“Last year, Malta High School juniors, as part of a joint project in their U.S. History and English classes, took part in a "Local History Project."  The project required that the student groups address a topic of local history.  The only restriction was that it had to be a topic that was not already thoroughly addressed.

“We started by visiting the Phillips County Museum to familiarize the students with the collections and the students took it from there. They were required to engage in authentic research, including: interviews, newspapers and document reviews, on-site visits, etc.  Most of the students spent considerable amounts of their own time at the Phillips County Museum going through their artifacts and collections. The Museum staff was phenomenal in their interaction and assistance with the students.  The finished papers were bound and presented to the museum and school library to add to their collections.  They are also published on our school website: http://www.malta.k12.mt.us/hs/localhistory.html.”

Shawn provided this additional information on the project during follow up correspondence:

“We prepped our students as to what we were expecting the project to look like before we went to museum so they … could frame the visit in that context.  We used the visit as both a way to familiarize the students with the museum but also as a way to get ideas for the project.  The students were responsible for scheduling their own return visits around their schedule as well as the museum's. We expected most of this work to be done outside of class, so this was an ongoing project.  We used about 7 weeks.  This year we are allowing closer to 12 weeks from start to finish.

Publishing the work on the internet and in the museum brought a certain amount of "high stakes" to the project.  We STRESSED the importance of proper citation and quality writing.  Most of the class time we did provide in both the English and history classes was used for proofreading, editing and revisions.  Having an English teacher (Kathie Cary, for us) who is totally on board is a vital part.

The local newspaper did a front page story on the finished product which brought some attention to it.  During the first few months of the summer the product site was averaging over 150 hits per month.  The group that did the "Loring Murders" project received an email from a teacher in New Mexico who had family involved in the actual event but they would never talk about it.  So she actually learned most of the details by stumbling across their story on our site.  That was pretty cool for all of us….

“All the teachers involved agreed that this was the best project any of us had done in quite a long time.  We were really proud of it and are currently in the early phase of year 2.  Our students also really enjoyed it.  We told them that if they did this project the right way, it is possible that they could be the most knowledgeable living person on that particular topic.  That really intrigued some of them.”

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