Monday, December 9, 2013

More about Hanukkah--and Museum-School Partnerships

My recent post on Billings' Hanukkah story garnered some good response. I learned that this year is  the 20th anniversary of the 1993 hate crime and community mobilization (I could have done the math myself, but I hadn't.) According to a recent Billings Gazette article, there will be several commemorative events over next several months, culminating with a conference in June 2014.

I also learned that in honor of this anniversary, Bruce Wendt's West High students are interviewing people involved in the 1993 mobilization and are working to put together a museum exhibit that will be displayed at the Western Heritage Center.

Their collaboration is worth looking at as a potential model for other communities. This project is just the latest in a long partnership between Bruce's Billings West American Studies class and the Western Heritage Center. Other student-created exhibits the Western Heritage Center has hosted have included a
  • Millennial Exhibit: Students choose a decade and then decided what event in the Yellowstone region best represented the century from 1900 to 2000. The students then worked with Kevin Kooistra, the curator there, to choose photographs. 
  • Leadership Exhibit: This exhibit focused on the concept of leadership. In this case, each junior chose one individual in the community as an example, did an interview, wrote an essay about their choice, and then again worked with Kevin to design the exhibit. The WHC held an evening open house and invited the students, their subjects, and the community.
  • Women’s History Exhibit: Last year, to complement WHC’s exhibit, “A Mile in Her Shoes: Montana Women at Work,” students researched Billings women who have impacted the community. Their work was displayed in its own gallery.
Other communities have also conducted successful museum-school partnerships. You can read about some of them here, here, and here and I highly encourage ambitious teachers to look for ways to partner with local museums beyond fieldtrips.
However, for those interested in exploring the idea of working with your local museum to produce a student-created exhibit, I interviewed both Bruce Wendt and Kevin Kooistra (the museum curator) to find out what makes their remarkable partnership from both the teacher's and the museum's perspectives.

What makes it works, according to Bruce:
  • Work is conducted as part of an American studies class, last two periods of the school day.
  • Bruce (who teaches both English and Social Studies), has the same 30 kids for both hours.
  • Students enter the class knowing they will have different expectations than other classes.  
  • Parents sign a permission slip allowing students to travel to the museum in personal cars.
  • The Museum staff is flexible and willing to work with the students without the teacher present.
Bruce said, “The key [to the project’s success] is the WHC. They are willing to work with high school students and put up with their foibles.  … In the past Kevin [Kooistra, curator at the WHC] has been willing to work with kids without me. For example, I will be engaged with a portion of the class at school and 7 or 8 students travel to the WHC to work. The next day a different group goes. Obviously, both Kevin and I have to be flexible on how we conduct business.”

What makes it work, according to Kevin:
  • He treats the kids as professionals. "I tell them, 'This is an exhibit—this is going up in our gallery—it’s serious'.”
  • He also tells the students: “Being a community historian gives you a ticket to do things and talk to people you wouldn’t normally get to talk to. Pick the person you want to meet."
  • Kevin sees his job as guiding students through the process: "I share mistakes I’ve made and let them make mistakes."
  • Students do archival research/and or conduct interviews on topic of their interest: they reduce that to a paragraph and image. (Another teacher once told me—longer writing pieces are harder, but you can get students to do great paragraphs.)
  • Often they take a very basic question: What makes a great leader, for example.
  • Kevin allows students to follow their own interest--even when it means expanding how he imagines the exhibit. 
  • The payoff for the museum is the reception and opening. With the leadership exhibit, the museum hosted parents, kids, and leaders all on hand—and got great media attention.
If you want to try this with your local museum, here are a few things to keep in mind (again, from Kevin and Bruce):
  • You've got to realize that exhibits take TIME.
  • Museum exhibits can cost a little money—but not a huge amount if the museum is willing to construct an in-house exhibit.
  • It is important to keep the topic manageable—narrowly define the focus.
  • It is important to keep the size of the group manageable (Kevin works with a class of 25 to 30 students and wouldn’t want to do more than that.)
On the other hand, working on museum exhibits offers great benefits for students, not least that the experience provides an authentic audience for student work and allows students to contribute to their communities through what the Montana Heritage Project used to call "gifts of scholarship." The work students do crafting an exhibit also aligns nicely with common core standards. Could a student help create an exhibit without doing all of the following?

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.9 Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.11-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.WHST.11-12.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

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