By Monica Kwiatkowski
Teacher, Cuba-Rushford Middle School
The formula: Take a middle school social studies teacher from Cuba-Rushford Middle School, in an isolated, rural upstate New York district. Team the teacher up with an educational director from a museum a thousand miles away with a collection of incredible artifacts and the drive to connect students to informal learning spaces. Give both the teacher and museum educator training and access to essential technology to promote sharing of resources and the time to develop a lesson. Fold in the Common Core standards and an appreciation for the arts and you have a unique learning experience for students that is engaging, rigorous, aligned to the standards, and illustrative of the possibilities for museum learning in the 21st century.
The learning collaborative project that I have been working on since the summer of 2012 with educational director Sheila McGuire from the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (MIA) has been a rewarding experience. It has challenged me as an educator to think differently about my role as teacher in the classroom. I have always focused heavily on the primary source, but by incorporating a museum partnership, I am able to help share my love of the artifact in an engaging and innovative way. It has made me rethink learning spaces and the museum, and their role in the classroom.
Our lesson structure was based on my classroom content. I was looking for a way to engage students in understanding early Native American culture. Sheila compiled a digital collection of artifact selections from the MIA. Using Glogster, an online interactive poster program, and some guided questions, my students developed their own understanding of an artwork selected from the MIA collection. We shared our glog posters, what we called “digital artifacts,” with Sheila, and she incorporated several of the glogs into her videoconference and directly into our classroom via Blackboard Collaborate. Sheila was able to take my students’ understanding further by guiding them through analyzing pieces of the collection and sharing the expertise that only a museum curator would have at her disposal. To extend the learning experience even further, Sheila and I have developed a writing piece for my students to compare two different artworks from various points of view once the videoconference was complete.
My students have found that there is more to an object than meets the eye, that museums are the source for more information on an artifact, and that you don’t have to physically be at a museum to have a quality museum experience. Not only have they learned a new digital skill, they have learned how Native American art was shaped by the environment. Sheila’s videoconference component of the lesson really opened the students’ eyes to thinking more critically about art, and that pushed their curiosity further. Thus far, it has been a rewarding experience for us.