Transformation & Process: From Intern to Staff, From Scavenger Hunts to Archival Activities
As winterns turn to spring interns, which will soon bring us to our summer interns, it seems an appropriate time for me to reflect upon my own summer internship at the JMM, nearly two years ago. Fresh from my college graduation, I arrived at the JMM, ready to learn about museum education and to immerse myself into a meaningful project. There’s truly no better feeling than to see a museum utilizing something you worked on, whether it’s seeing your name and parts of your research within an exhibition, or seeing a school group participate in an activity that you designed.
My internship project in the summer of 2012 (which already seems like a lifetime ago!) was to create an activity pack for teachers to use in their classrooms that would make use of our own collection to teach grade school students about immigration to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For ten weeks I researched the evolution of immigration and naturalization laws, brainstormed fun activities that would make the topic interesting and relevant to young children, and chose the objects from our collection that I thought best told the story of American immigration. At the end of the summer, I had a PDF that was 45 pages long (including scanned photos of the objects and an answers sheet) of which I was very proud, but I had the sinking feeling that the link to download it from our website was going to collect layers of cyber dust.
For a few months after my internship ended, and I began working here full-time, this was true. But then Ilene Dackman-Alon started discussing the idea of re-imagining the activities that we do with students in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit. Many of our visiting school groups come year after year, and a few of the teachers were asking whether we had anything besides a scavenger hunt to do. In fact, we were getting a litte bored with the scavenger hunt format as well. This is not to say that most of the teachers disliked our scavenger hunt—in fact, many of them say in their field trip evaluations that they loved the scavenger hunt and why didn’t the other exhibits have them too? But it was clear to us that there was so much more that we could be doing with the Voices exhibit.
At the same time, Ilene had been thinking hard about different ways in which we could align ourselves with the Common Core Curriculum in the public schools. One theme that is stressed in the Common Core—and is a natural connection to the JMM—is the use of primary sources. Ilene asked me to adapt one of the classroom activities that I’d created so that it tied into the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit. I chose one that asked students to use close observation skills to glean information about the process of becoming a naturalized citizen of the U.S. from three different naturalization certificates (the piece of paper that you get when you become a citizen). To add a personal aspect to the lesson, we decided that the activity should be preceded by an educator guiding them quickly through the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit, and then asking the students to take a couple of minutes to write down a quotation from the exhibit to which they related or felt a close connection. After sharing these verbal primary sources with the class, the students are ready to look at documentary primary sources that will teach them about history, identity and citizenship, and maybe even a little bit about bureaucracy!
After a few guinea-pig classes (which showed me that I needed to re-order the questions so that the simplest ones were first), we now have an Immigration Archival Activity that we use either for groups that are starting to use primary sources in their classroom projects, or are simply too old to appreciate scavenger hunts.
A blog post by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.