Monday, October 8, 2012

Museum School Partnerships

We at the Montana Historical Society are proud as punch. Last Friday, the American Association for State and Local History recognized Best Practices in Museum Education: Museums and Schools as Co-Educators with a Leadership in History Award of Merit.

Cosponsored by the Montana Historical Society and the Montana Office of Public Instruction’s Indian Education Division, this innovative project targeted six Montana communities: Choteau, Columbus, Cut Bank, Great Falls, Hardin, and Livingston. The goal was to foster partnerships between local historical societies/museums, schools, and content experts in order to
  1. Engage students in community study; 
  2. Encourage student participation in presenting and preserving the past;
  3. Create new partnership models that offered genuine, intergenerational, heritage education opportunities;
  4. Better incorporate Montana’s Native American history and culture into both museum interpretation and school classrooms;
  5. Provide museums and schools a platform for gaining access to tribal perspectives on local history and developing partnerships with local tribal representatives;
  6. Facilitate authentic, respectful interactions between students at on-reservation schools and off-reservation schools; and
  7. Reach parents and other family members of participating students, thus expanding the audience for local history.
The program was designed to offer flexibility, so that each museum-school partnership could tailor its project to its own community while meeting project goals. Achievements included student-written publications on local history topics (Great Falls, Columbus, Hardin). Direct classroom exchanges between on- and off-reservation schools contributed markedly to breaking through lingering prejudices (Livingston, Choteau). One historical society (Cut Bank) reported an increase in the number Blackfeet visitors—evidence of the project’s success in building bridges.
Ultimately, all the projects emphasized collaboration—between schools and museums, students and adults, Indians and non-Indians—which created conditions for large social impact. There is lots to love about this project, but among my favorite things was the opportunities it provided for students to create work for authentic audiences—by conducting research that was shared with the public in published booklets or museum exhibits, for example. 

“Finding Authentic Audiences for Student Work” is the title of the presentation I’ll be giving Thursday, October  18, 1:00 p.m.-1:50 p.m., and Friday, October 19, 8:00 a.m.- 8:50 a.m., at MEA in Billings, where I’ll talk about this IEFA program and other model projects I’ve come across over the last 15 years.

I’m always looking for new examples. If you have a project where students conducted historical research for reasons besides a grade and for an audience beyond their teacher, drop me an email (mkohl@mt.gov). I love learning about new projects and would welcome the opportunity to to include information about yours in my talk.

p.s. For more on Museum-School partnerships, see this post on a Malta Museum-School partnership project and this post I wrote back in January 2012, soliciting examples for the first draft of a talk on this topic, which I gave at the Museums Association in Montana's annual meeting last April.

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