We Really Have Covered This Stuff in Class
During our education programs, we ask students questions. Often they know the answers right away. Sometimes it takes a few questions and hints for them to come up with the answers. But on occasion the students struggle and have difficulty coming up with the answers. And I can see the teacher at the back of the group looking a little embarrassed and mystified. And, later, when the students are off doing something else, the teacher will mention that they have covered this stuff in school and that the kids “know this stuff.”
And, yes, they do know this stuff - -in school. In the different environment of the museum, it is interesting how sometimes students don’t know the answer to questions or topics they have just been studying in school. And it’s not that they forget, it’s not that they haven’t been taught it, it’s not that they are not a smart class or that they don’t know it, -- it’s because they don’t necessarily make the leap from the knowledge they learned in the classroom to its application outside of school. Somehow (and especially for kids under a certain age), the facts and information they learn in school does not relate to what they are doing and seeing at the museum. This is the ability to apply knowledge and to see it not just within a very small context but wherever you are and related to whatever you are studying. This is a skill that needs to be learned.
Education of students is by far one of the most important things museums do (and, yes, we all know I’m biased about this). And these education programs are important not just because of the facts that students learn. A large part of the importance is about the experience including helping students realize that the information they learned in the classroom applies outside of the classroom as well. It’s seeing history in the real world. It’s seeing science in use. It’s seeing that a person or date or place they have talked about in school can be linked to a real object or item. It’s the awareness that their teacher is not the only person who is interested in this information but that it’s part of people’s jobs and every day life. It’s about taking information from the theory to the real. This is one of the reasons that it is so absolutely vital that students get out of the schools. And it’s one of the vital ways (though there are many more) that museums support classroom education.
Also encouraging (and humourous) are the days we hear a student say “hey, we’re studying this stuff in school” or “that’s exactly what our teacher said.” Amazing – we’re covering the same topic you’re learning in school? It’s almost like we planned it that way.
And I also couldn't resist the chance to share this picture that was sent to me a while back. The other thing that is great about Museum Education is when you can break the stereotype that museum visits must of necessity be boring.