Mise en place: Preparedness in the Classroom

Posted on September 20th, 2018 by

A blog post by Museum Educator (and former JMM intern) Marisa Shultz! To read more posts from Marisa, click here.

Cara Bennet’s pop-up exhibit Just Desserts: Baking and Jewish Identity (which is on display here at the Museum until September 27th), inspired me to think about the relationship between cooking and teaching!

Whether it’s kneading challah, baking kugel, or folding hamantaschen, I really love to cook; it’s an activity I take part in almost every day, save for when I have leftovers from the night before. To me, cooking creates a sense of togetherness and connection, both with those whom you are cooking for, and with the author of the recipe. Plus, little is better than enjoying the fruit of one’s labors in the form of a homemade meal (and yes, that pun was intended!).

These are hamantaschen that my friends and I made while we were living in Prague, Czechia a few years ago. It was a wonderful shared experience, and I got to learn about how different Jewish communities celebrate Purim.

Have you ever heard of the term mise en place? It’s a fancy French term they teach aspiring chefs in culinary school that roughly means “everything in its place.” For the chef, this means not only having already chopped, measured, and prepared all of the necessary ingredients before even beginning a recipe, but also having all of the necessary equipment (even the humble tea towel), in their designated spaces. Plus, this means that the chef has read the recipe at least once or twice, understands what needs to happen, and has already essentially choreographed his/her movements to ensure that everything goes smoothly while cooking.

Now, I’ll admit, I don’t always cook or bake with the idea of mise en place in mind; in fact I’m pretty bad at it. There I am panicking in the kitchen, simultaneously counting the seven cups of flour that goes into my challah recipe while trying to remember what ingredient goes into the mixer next! Luckily for me, this organized chaos approach, has worked well for me most of my life, and I’ve only ever had to throw out one batch of challah dough.

This is challah dough that I braided into a round shape for my family’s Rosh Hashanah celebration. I started making challah from scratch about a year ago, and I am so glad I took the plunge! Luckily for me, this one came out perfectly, despite my organized chaos in the kitchen.

But, when it comes to teaching a class or leading and educational program, I don’t like taking those kinds of risks. I don’t want students’ experiences to be marred by a lesson or program that I stumble over because I wasn’t prepared when they walked through the door. When it comes to teaching, I adopt this concept of mise en place. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be things that have to be adjusted or even changed on the spot. Flexibility is still an important and necessary piece of the education puzzle; however, this approach does mean that I can prepare a great deal ahead of time to help the program run smoothly. To do so means not having to worry about those things while actively teaching. This means that before the students have walked through the door, I have double checked that we have enough materials for the expected number of students, and that all of my materials are in their places for swift and easy access. This means that I have reviewed the steps to the program and my own choreography.

What is so great, I have found, is that when I approach teaching with the concept of mise en place, those worries of how much time should I give them in the exhibit, or did I remember to bring my answer key to the orientation space, all melt away. What I am left with is the ability to focus on the students’ learning and to enjoy the experience.

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The Interdisciplinary Approach

Posted on July 25th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Marisa Shultz. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

One of my least favorite expressions in the English language is: “I’m an English major; I can’t do math.” As an former English major myself, I’ve heard this phrase a lot: in restaurants when it’s time to split the check, in classrooms when not enough copies were made, and in all of the other various places where people in the English field are asked to deal with numbers instead of letters.

I went to a liberal arts college, Gettysburg College, if you want to be specific, and at Gettysburg, I was taught to appreciate the interconnectedness of the academic disciplines. In my English classes we talked about history, linguistics, and philosophy (three fairly obvious choices), but also science, politics, fine art, religion, and, yes, even math. In my mind, being good at English and being good at math are not mutually exclusive, and sometimes even, knowledge in both is essential to navigating and understanding our world.

This is an image of Pennsylvania Hall, one of oldest buildings of Gettysburg College’s campus. Fun fact: it was used as a hospital for both sides during the Civil War.

Okay, I feel a bit better after venting about that, but what does my very specific pet peeve have to do with museums and museum design?

Perhaps there is a more formal or codified term for this, but the interdisciplinary approach is when an activity, program, tour, lesson plan, whatever it maybe, bridges the gap between one academic discipline and another. Sometimes that bridge is small: taking the time to talk about the historical context of the Holocaust while teaching a book like Number The Stars. Or maybe the bridge is a bit bigger and you’re analyzing how Lewis Carroll infused Alice in Wonderland with hidden mathematical patterns and concepts. These examples are, of course, both geared towards an English classroom, but museums can take the same approach too.

I saw several really excellent examples of the interdisciplinary approach while touring the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Natural History and National Gallery of Art this past Friday, and I’d like to talk a little bit about one of those examples and how it was a vitalizing force for the museum.

The interns decided that we were going to take a really interesting and unique tour at the National Gallery of art entitled: Dragons in Art. I really, really like dragons, so I was super hyped to see some paintings and learn more about this motif.

Pictured above is a sculpture depicting Saint George killing a dragon. This work is rather rare, as it was made in the 1500s out of alabaster which is a particularly fragile material. Additionally, during the reign of King Henry the VIII, many sculptures of Catholic figures were destroyed; this one survived because it was in Spain at the time. This piece was one of the stops on our Dragons in Art tour.

So not only was the topic interesting, but Bela Demeter (the docent) used to work at the National Zoo as a herpetologist and more specifically he worked with the zoo’s snakes. Demeter designed this tour based upon his particular and different interests and expertise. He hand-picked the paintings and designed supplementary materials, and he brought some really interesting and unique knowledge to the tour: he could tell us about what kind of snake was in the painting, whether or not an artist had actually seen a snake or was just giving it their best guess, how the snake and dragon motifs are intertwined, and how their portrayal changes based upon culture.

He could do this because he embraced his background, and because he was willing to bridge the gap between science and fine art. What he created was a one of a kind tour, and I left having felt that I had engaged in a special experience, one that was frankly, unforgettable.

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From Game Design to Scheduling: JMM Interning is More than Meets the Eye

Posted on July 11th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Justine “Ellie” Smith. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Over the course of the last five weeks I have gained valuable knowledge about the inner workings of programming and education at the JMM. Before coming to the JMM I had no idea about how much planning it took for museums to host events and create successful educational opportunities. So much goes into putting on a program and the small details really make a difference.

For the opening of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, we transformed the lobby space into a cocktail area. We set up a buffet and bar as well as seating areas. Each of these areas was then decorated to fit with the magic theme. We built houses of cards that adorned the tables and crated flower arrangements with magic wands that we placed throughout the space. To add to the ambiance of the space we hung the concept art for the exhibit on some of the walls. To give the space some more visual intrigue we created a mobile with playing cards and suspended it above the buffet area. These small details really made the night special.

For the Magic of Jonestown Festival we worked to create interactive magic themed crafts that children could create at the JMM table. After some experimenting we figured out how to make magic wands with smoothie straws, construction paper, and electrical tape and how to make magicians hats out of paper. The kids who came to the table really seemed to enjoy the crafts and it was something special for them to take home.

Before starting this summer, I thought programming was just speakers and book signing but it is so much more than that. It is all about creating experiences that connect people with the museum and offer them something different. I have been working on programming for Stitching History from the Holocaust which will open in the spring and it is a lot more challenging than I expected. The process of finding the best fit for our events is challenging but completely worth it. After seeing how popular the Houdini programs have been I cannot wait to finalize the program ideas for the spring and I can only hope they will be as popular.

The education department here at the JMM works very hard to connect to schools, camps, and other groups. We are not only working to education children but also their teachers. We host the Summer Teachers Institute which focuses on Holocaust education. This year we are focusing our attention on primary sources in the classroom. Teachers learn valuable skills which they can take back to their classes which creates a higher standard of Holocaust education. We are in the preparation stage for this event currently. We are creating schedules and emailing confirmations to those who have signed up.

Closer to the event we will have a lot of other preparation to do such as folders and gathering materials to share with the teachers. The Summer Teachers Institute was one of the main reasons I wanted to work at the JMM. Holocaust education is extremely important but is often ignored or glossed over in the school system. By providing teachers with resources and lesson plan ideas we can makes sure this important topic is discussed in classrooms.

The education department also hosts school and camp groups. We have educational activities to do with the kids. The first school group that came in was here to learn about the Holocaust and to hear from a survivor. We did an activity using pictures from our collection and asked the kids to explain what they thought was happening in the picture. The kids loved interacting with the primary sources and were able to be creative when coming up with their answers.

For Houdini we created the vanishing elephant game. Kids are put into group and each child is given a question (which are based on the Houdini exhibit). The kids then come back together and the answers reveal a code. They then have to break the code and reveal a secret message.

Our first camp group did an excellent job but it was clear that if we had younger kids this was not going to work. So we got to work on creating a version of the game for younger children. We changed some of the questions and eliminated the code breaker books. This new version allows for us to host a larger range of age groups. Seeing kids go through the exhibits and ask questions is what makes it all worthwhile. Knowing that we are providing a memorable and educational experience to these groups of kids is extremely rewarding.

I never thought that crafting, game design, and program creation would be part of my summer at the JMM but I am grateful that it is. Through this internship I am getting to see everything that goes into the program and education departments. It may be challenging some days but it is necessary. We are providing unique experiences for all patrons, the youngest to the oldest, and that is what a museum is all about. We are connecting to people on a deeper level through our programs and educational opportunities. These connections create lasting impressions and memories that will last a lifetime.

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