JMM Insights: Professional Development for Educators

Posted on January 20th, 2017 by

Professional development is always on the minds of the JMM museum professionals, and 2017 is starting off with lots of opportunities for our staff to grow.  Professional development refers to all types of educational experiences relating to an individual’s work. As museum professionals, we often go to conferences and attending meetings that provide us with additional   perspectives and insights in our work.  Visiting other museums is a great way for museum professionals to learn from one another and from other institutions.

Last Friday, the JMM took a field trip to DC to the National Gallery of Art.  Many of us experienced our first Museum Hack. Museum Hack tours are high-energy, personalized and interactive tours that were developed in NYC with the goal to reinvent the traditional museum tour.  Our staff went on a guided hack tour, led by Hannah, our bubbly and vibrant docent, and we experienced the galleries in an entirely new way. We heard incredible, scandalous stories behind the works of art, many of the pieces of art very familiar to us. We interacted with the art and with each other through photo challenges, kinesthetic activities, and conversations. We discussed Andrew Mellon and Leonardo de Vinci and delved deeper to Impressionism and sculpture.  Check out the JMM blog for more on our fantastic experience.

JMM at the National Gallery

JMM at the National Gallery

Every professional’s career can benefit from continuing education that helps him or her stay sharp and develop new skills in their field of expertise.  Professional development is an important way for teachers to refresh and deepen their knowledge of their own subjects and learn new ways to help students learn. Teachers need to be able to prepare their students to succeed in a changing world — they need to be able to teach students how to use emerging technologies, how to navigate evolving workplaces, how to communicate effectively, and how to think critically and solve problems. The more professional development teachers get, the more likely students are to succeed.

Over the past 11 years, the JMM has been providing area teachers with professional development opportunities that enable teachers to keep their skill sets fresh and learn new skills. The JMM promotes the responsible teaching of the Holocaust through a variety of resources and programs to help our educators increase their knowledge of Holocaust history and implement sound teaching strategies. Our annual Summer Teachers Institute provides teachers with quality Holocaust education, incorporating accurate history, appropriate pedagogy, classroom strategies, and teaching resources.

Summer Teachers Institute 2016

Summer Teachers Institute 2016

Over the next four weeks, the JMM will be offering two exceptional professional development opportunities for educators in the area of Holocaust education. Both workshops will take place at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and will provide teachers with the tools and resources to teach about the Holocaust in their classrooms and schools.

On January 27th, we are partnering with Echoes & Reflections, a multimedia program that provides US educators with both print and online resources from three world leaders in education: the Anti-Defamation League, USC Shoah Foundation, and Yad Vashem.  The Echoes and Reflections curriculum promotes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching about the Holocaust. It addresses academic standards, and uses informational texts along with primary source documents to inform learning.  The curriculum also incorporates visual history testimony in its lessons to engage students in the lives of survivors, rescuers, liberators, and other witnesses of the Holocaust.

The focus of this professional development will be on the materials and instructional strategies to effectively teach Elie Wiesel’s acclaimed NIGHT, a memoir about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, and provide additional background that teachers can integrate into their instruction.  Teachers will be given the tools and resources to help their students examine the complex social challenges that they face every day and evaluate the issues of fairness and justice. More information on this program can be found here at our website.

Part Two of our professional development series will take place over Presidents’ Weekend, February 18-20.  The JMM is thrilled to be partnering with CENTROPA and Baltimore City Public Schools for its annual Winter Seminar: History, Holocaust, and Human Rights in the Global Classroom.

CENTROPA is a non-profit historical institute based in Vienna that uses new technology and digital storytelling to connect 21st century students to 20th century Jewish history – and with each other. Since 2000, CENTROPA has interviewed 1,200 elderly Jews in 15 countries from Central and Eastern Europe, and collected and scanned their family photos and placed on a database that is easily accessible to educators and the students in their classrooms.  Many of the most compelling biographies were turned into short multi-media films that are being used in 600 schools in 20 countries.

Teachers participating in the three day seminar (February 18-20) will learn how to use CENTROPAS resources (all available for free) to teach 20th-century European history, the Holocaust, civics, human rights, character education in  Social Studies and history, ELA and literature, foreign language, film, technology, and art classes. Details about the program can be viewed here at our website. More information about costs can be found on the application, located here.

Please share these professional development opportunities with someone you know who might enjoy learning more about these great resources that encourage learning and creativity for our 21st-century students in area schools. These workshops are geared for all teachers in private, public and parochial schools and are great for anyone interested in learning more about these topics.

ileneFor more information, please contact me, Ilene Dackman-Alon, Director of Education 443-873-5178 or

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JMM Hacks the Museum with Museum Hack!

Posted on January 19th, 2017 by

“Professional development takes many forms,” says JMM director, Marvin Pinkert, “whether or not ‘Museum Hack’ represents a path we might follow, in the future it is without doubt a ‘best practice’ in the field of museum tours.  I was delighted that the whole professional team had the opportunity to experience it.”

The Museum Hack logo

The Museum Hack logo

Tracie: When I saw Nick Gray, the CEO of Museum Hack, give the keynote address at the Mid Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM) in the Fall of 2016, I was intrigued. I had heard of the company before, but this was my first in-depth view of what this irreverent organization (their motto is “Museums are F***ing Awesome”) actually does. Gray’s address at MAAM was full of passion for museums and art. He was funny and crass and smart. He reported meteoric growth of his crazy idea (from hobby tours for his friends 5 years ago to a multi-million-dollar business today). The ballroom was full of museum professionals on the edge of their seats.

The Museum Hack motto takes no prisoners and its bright colors are pretty indicative of the exciting and invigorating experience JMMers were about to have.

The Museum Hack motto takes no prisoners and its bright colors are pretty indicative of the exciting and invigorating experience JMMers were about to have.

His presentation wasn’t perfect. At a meeting whose theme was about the importance of inclusiveness and accessibility, the $90 – $150 per person price tag of Museum Hack tours definitely gave folks pause. Gray was only able to say something like “we’re working on it” to the conference attendee who asked him about how very white and mostly male his staff seemed to be. Still, it was clear to me that this kooky guy was on to something. When I got back to Baltimore I told my colleagues about it. We decided that we wanted to learn more. I suggested that we take the whole staff to a Hack Tour of the National Gallery—the closest Museum Hack location. Last week, we finally made it happen.

Ten people stand in a semi-circle facing the camera to the side of the bottom of a large marble staircase.

JMMers are ready and rarin’ to go on our Museum Hack adventure!

The Museum Hack tour was like and not-like any museum tour I’ve ever been on. From the get-go, our tour guide told us that art history, composition, symbolism and all that are really interesting, but that if that’s what we wanted, we should buy a book, because that’s not what she was going to talk about.  From there we did a group, hands-in cheer of “Mu-seum!” (down on the mu up on the seum) and then took off from there to the crown jewel of the collection. We spent a little time talking about the subject of the painting, and then got a lot of history about how the National Gallery acquired it.

A young woman stands in front of a painting while others look towards her. She is holding a tote bag that reads "Museums are Fucking Awesome"

Hannah is positively gleeful as she relates the melancholy tale of Ginevra de’Benci.

The focus of our conversation about the rare Da Vinci painting of Ginevra de’Benci was the intrigue that surrounded it—from the “platonic” love affair that was broken off by Ginevra’s marriage to the James-Bond-esque suitcase in which it was transported to the museum (not unlike one that, as I type, is returning the Friedenwald volumes to the National Library of Israel!). We were invited to play mental and creative games with the artwork we encountered and with each other. In short, it was really fun.

In the few days since our National Gallery Hack, JMM staff have been having an ongoing conversation in various areas around Lloyd Street: “what if we had visitors…” and “we could invite people to…” I don’t know what the Museum Hack inspired, irreverent version of the JMM tour will look like. In fact, it may never happen. But even if there isn’t a direct product we can point to as a result of our shared experience, it has us all thinking about the Museum, our collections and our buildings in different ways.

Devan: As an artist and educator, I enjoyed the Museum Hack tour because it provided an opportunity to explore the works within the gallery while giving more backstory and historical information.  In addition, I would imagine that interactive tours like those would be beneficial for young people who are visiting cultural institutions like the National Gallery of Art as well as others around the country.  Not only would it spark more interest but assist with retention of the information so there’s at least one conscious or subconscious takeaway from the visit for them.

One of Devan's favorite pieces of the day turned out to be Tracie's selection for her museum pose!

One of Devan’s favorite pieces of the day turned out to be Tracie’s selection for her museum pose!

Karen: I’ve already retold some of the stories we heard from our tour guide, Hannah, on Friday. The long, sad story of Ginevra de’Benci had too much detail for me to remember, but I got some great mileage out of how Paul Mellon, art collector extraordinaire, was taken in by Han van Meegeren’s Vermeer forgeries. Hannah kept us interested, and moving for two hours and the time flew, although I have to say I was very grateful when she took a break—and broke the rules—and handed out chocolate.


Shoes were in the way so off they come as Karen participates in one of the more kinetic activities of the day!

Some deductions about Museum Hack’s “rules” for tours that engage: 1. Use naughty words: every comedian since Lenny Bruce (at least) knows it thrills the audience; 2. Tell naughty stories (ditto); 3. Follow the money: isn’t this part of art’s allure? 4. Talk fast and walk fast; 5. Break the rules (see above: we must never, NEVER eat in the museum); 6. Have a through line—a story or activity that can thread throughout the entire tour; 7. Foster a little friendly competition, but not so much that your group can’t bond. Bottom line: I had a lot of fun!


The  Repentant Magdalen

The Repentant Magdalen

Deborah: As a mother who has watched the Disney film The Little Mermaid far too many times to count, I was particularly taken with the story that our amazing tour guide Hannah shared in front of the George De La Tour painting of Mary Magdalene (The Repentant Magdalen). Aside from the fact that the painting is stunning, Hannah connected the painting to a major plot point in the Dan Brown books surrounding a conspiracy to keep secret the fact that Mary Magdalene and Jesus had a child together. She then asked us to think about how this painting might be related to The Little Mermaid.

A conspiracy in action or just a good piece of art theory in practice?

A conspiracy in action or just a good piece of art theory in practice?

We were stumped until Hannah pulled out her trusty iPad and pulled up the scene from the movie where Ariel is singing “Part of Your World” about her longing to be human in a cave where she’s stashed all of her human treasures. Lo and behold, one of the things in her cave is a painting of Mary Magdalene from the same series that we were looking at! (Specifically, the painting Magdalen with the Smoking Flame.) This detail (along with the fact that both De La Tour’s Mary and Ariel have red hair) has led to an abundance of conspiracy theories involving Disney.

Deborah also won the “find a new lover for Ginevra de’Benci” contest, with her entry of Mary Magadelene, theorizing that these two put-upon women could find support and affectionate understanding with each other.

Deborah also won the “find a new lover for Ginevra de’Benci” contest, with her entry of Mary Magadelene, theorizing that these two put-upon women could find support and affectionate understanding with each other.

Marvin: I was impressed with the way that our guide engaged the audience.  One exercise involved finding potential companions for the unhappy young subject of DaVinci’s painting Ginevra de’Benci and capturing their images on our cell phones.  Another involved creating a tableau vivant of Copley’s painting of a shark.  While an art museum is very different than a history museum (the Lloyd Street ark doesn’t really lend itself to a tableau), the thought process about how to put the visitor into the action is something that I hope will animate our future thinking about tour experiences.

Presenting selections for Ginevra's new match.

Presenting selections for Ginevra’s new match.

Graham: While I have been to the National Gallery of Art many times, I have mostly explored the galleries on my own, so I was excited to go on Museum Hack’s tour. I enjoyed hearing some of the backstories about how the art was acquired and shipped to the NGA. I also liked learning about a forged Vermeer painting, international intrigues and exploring hidden corners of the Museum. I found the tour to be very high energy and interactive. It was fun re-enacting John Copley’s painting Watson and the Shark and posing in front of sculptures. It was also entertaining playing games like imagining romances between figures in artwork.

Joanna and Trillion present their best ballet legs in the Degas gallery.

Joanna and Trillion present their best ballet legs in the Degas gallery.

I liked how our guide incorporated technology into her tour, such as with her iPad and our smart phones. I appreciated receiving chocolate halfway through the day as a way to help alleviate “museum fatigue.” I believe that these kinds of tours are a great way to reengage millennials at museums. I look forward to working with our team to see how we may be able to incorporate some of these elements into our tours of Lloyd Street and B’nai Israel synagogues.

Joanna: The Museum Hack tour was a lot of fun, and not only because it’s always better to be in an art museum on a Friday. I’m not usually a tour-taker, but Hannah’s style – presumably typical of the Museum Hack guides in general – was informative, funny, brisk, and colloquial, making for both an entertaining morning (any morning that involves a tableau vivant is likely to be a good one) and a nice validation of my own style of tour-giving, which if not brisk is definitely colloquial.

JMM does its best Watson and the Shark – what do you think, did we pull it off?

JMM does its best Watson and the Shark – what do you think, did we pull it off?

That’s not everyone’s cup of tea, of course, but used in combination with more traditional formats, I think this type of tour can bring in new audiences, and give us a way to tell other, less academic or “main theme” stories about artifacts, art, and documents.  But please, no tableaux vivant in the JMM galleries without making sure there’s plenty of floor space!

Trillion: Working in public programs I was especially excited to attend the Museum Hack tour last week at the National Gallery of Art. I was hoping to find inspiration for future programs and I wasn’t disappointed. One of the things I found most enjoyable was the different ways in which we were encouraged to engage with the collection. Knowing a little about Museum Hack I anticipated posing beside art and recreating famous paintings as a team (technically referred to as tableau vivant) but what I found really interesting was our search for a suitor for Ginevra de’ Benci. It was a wonderful way of ensuring that we continued to explore and engage with the many pieces not featured ono our tour. As we shared our selections at the end of the day it was interesting to see artworks that hadn’t previously caught my eye.

Here's Trillion's selection for a new partner for Ginevra de’ Benci painted by Jean Siméon Chardin.

Here’s Trillion’s selection for a new partner for Ginevra de’ Benci painted by Jean Siméon Chardin.

Rachel: I’ve been to the National Gallery many times before – it’s one of my favorite places in DC to grab a few moments of calm and delight (I particularly love the many fountains and their related, ever-changing plant accessories – this time there were tiny potted orange trees with actual oranges on them!). I’ve even been lucky enough to get a specialized tour from Art Services Manager Daniel Shay (his daughter, Ginevra Shay, now the artistic director at The Contemporary, was once my winter intern in the photography collection!). But it is always fun to get a new perspective on a familiar favorite – and Museum Hack did not disappoint.

Hannah and The Alba Madonna.

Hannah and The Alba Madonna.

Being a “behind-the-scenes” type museum person, I especially enjoyed Hannah’s tales related to The Alba Madonna, including the Soviet sale of Hermitage paintings – and Russia’s desire to “borrow” the painting back at the end of the century. (If you meet Hannah, ask her about Titian’s Venus with a Mirror and its Russian reception!) Overall I loved the blend of facts about the pieces of art themselves with the stories of their journeys to the National Gallery.

Collections Manager Joanna blanches at the description of transferring The Alba Madonna from its original wooden backing to the canvas it lives on today – it was quite a piece of mad, experimental conservation science!

Collections Manager Joanna blanches at the description of transferring The Alba Madonna from its original wooden backing to the canvas it lives on today – it was quite a piece of mad, experimental conservation science!

Based on our post-tour lunch conversations and the many murmurings around the office, I think we can declare our Museum Hack experience a success!

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CHAI: Making A Stand in Upper Park Heights Part 2

Posted on January 18th, 2017 by

Article by Simone Ellin. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part II: Coming Together

Missed part 1? Start here.

A lot was riding on maintaining a Jewish presence in the neighborhood. For one thing, The Associated had made an enormous investment in Upper Park Heights. Many synagogues, a Jewish Community Center, and Jewish Family Services were all located there. The cost of moving these institutions and rebuilding them elsewhere would be substantial. In addition, The Associated had made a commitment to remain in Baltimore City, as evidenced by its 1980 decision to build a new headquarters at 101 West Mount Royal Avenue, just north of downtown.

But there was more. “I don’t think I quite realized the depth of feeling about these issues in the Jewish community or the African American community,” says Gelula. “What happened elsewhere in Baltimore City was absolutely devastating–block-busting and white flight–no one wanted that again.” Given the painful history of relations between blacks and Jews in Baltimore, many of the leaders involved in the planning process were dubious. They were concerned that a Jewish-sponsored program would cause resentment and tension between the black and Jewish communities. “As it turned out,” Gelula observes, most of the fears were unfounded. “Actually, many African Americans were pleased that the organized Jewish community was standing up for these neighborhoods. And they realized that some of the proposed neighborhood improvement projects would help African American homeowners as well as their Jewish neighbors.”

Some "Passover Partners" help a neighborhood senior prepare her home for the Passover festival. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Some “Passover Partners” help a neighborhood senior prepare her home for the Passover festival. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Gelula recalls, “We began operation in the ground floor of the old Beth Jacob Hebrew School building. Initially there were only two employees who had to do everything: events, PR, advertising, homeownership assistance, services to older homeowners, block organizing.” One of CHAI’s first programs after its reorganization was a Sukkah tour designed to bring visitors to the neighborhood. The tour was part of a kick-off to promote the community and to showcase its unique character. At the same time, CHAI organized a homeownership assistance program with loan funds provided by The Associated. Within a year, Gelula hired a community organizer who began to implement block projects targeted to streets that the organization sought to improve and promote. CHAI worked with homeowners on streets like Narcissus, Jonquil, Clover, and Highgate, convincing many households to invest in their homes and streets, primarily in exterior facades and landscaping. CHAI also worked out cooperative relationships with lenders in the area. Later, CHAI organized tours for realtors, reintroducing them to the neighborhood and highlighting the improvements that were transforming the area.

CHAI’s homeowner assistance programs proved popular with both African American and Jewish homeowners. And the block projects had an additional benefit, Gelula notes. “They brought African American and Jewish homeowners together in each other’s homes. Neighbors learned that they had much in common with one another. People relaxed and enjoyed themselves. When a block project was completed, it was not unusual for the owners to feel that the most important product was the success in bringing people together.”

Volunteers from across the community came together to build the Fallstaff School-Community PLayground in 2009. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore

Volunteers from across the community came together to build the Fallstaff School-Community PLayground in 2009. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Fulfilling its original mission, CHAI paid special attention to the needs of older homeowners through a grant it received from Baltimore City. Recruiting volunteers from within and outside of the community, CHAI created programs for neighborhood seniors including Senior Home Repair and Weatherization Days and the Passover Partners Program, when volunteers go into the homes of Jewish seniors to help them ready their homes for the Passover holiday.

CHAI also formed partnerships with other community organizations in the five Northwest Baltimore neighborhoods that it serves: Fallstaff, Cross Country, and Glen in Upper Park Heights, and Cheswolde and Mount Washington. CHAI introduced community volunteer projects that improved neighborhood conditions while also bringing neighbors of different backgrounds together, such as the Fallstaff playground building project in 2009 and the Western Run stream cleaning day.

Continue to Part III: Attention to Detail

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