Why Museums Need Guinea Pigs

Posted on September 22nd, 2014 by

A few days ago we had our first opportunity to test out the educational programs we’d created for school groups visiting The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen exhibit. The 8th graders at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School were brave enough to sign up to be our guinea pigs!

Picture 1

Checking out the exhibit

Going into it, our education staff was unsure if we could manage more than ten students at a time inside the maze. Nightmareish images of children hiding in unseen corners and running roughshod over the interactives flooded our minds. Limiting the number of students allowed in the maze at one time would of course make planning field trips for large groups very awkward. We had to be creative about our use of time and space. The plan we came up with was based on the average group size of 40 students. We would split them in half—20 and 20—between Voices of Lombard Street and The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen. The 20 in Mendes Cohen would then be split again—10 and 10. The first group of ten would be led through the exhibit, while the second group did an archival activity in the Orientation Space. They would switch at 15 minutes, and then, at the half hour mark, switch with their classmates in Voices, and repeat.

Picture 2

Hard at work

We learned a lot by observing a school group go through the exhibit. The first thing we learned—much to our relief—is that it’s not as terrifying to take students through the maze as we’d imagined. We decided that it would not be impossible to even take up to 20 students at a time. The next thing we learned was that we really needed to give the students more time to go through the exhibit. It has so much to offer—from the fun of going through a maze, to the neat objects on display, and the hands-on interactives dispersed throughout the corridors and “rooms”—and no one was benefitting from having to rush through it.

The teacher also expressed her disappointment that we had put as much emphasis on the archival activity as on the exhibit itself. She felt that the archival activity could as easily be done in the classroom as at a museum, and she’d hoped for a more hands-on experience for her students. While I don’t think we should completely discount the appropriateness of utilizing our primary resources during a museum visit (many schools have limited access to these kinds of resources), we did take her critique to heart.

Afterwards, we went back to brainstorming:  how could we supply just enough structure to make the school’s visit intellectually stimulating without making it seem like just another day in the classroom? How could we best get a group of students to not just walk through the maze, but to actually engage with its content? We had previously assumed that these two activities had to be separated—hence the archival activities. Now we needed to come up with a way of bringing the two together.

A major theme of the exhibit is the puzzle of Mendes Cohen’s complex identity. The exhibit seeks to demonstrate the different aspects of his character with his objects, letters, and actions. There are puzzle pieces scattered throughout the exhibit that list his attributes—e.g. “Family Man” and “Proud Jew.” Each of these puzzle pieces lifts up to reveal a question about how we know that Mendes was all of these things. At the end of the exhibit, we turn the question to the visitor: what are the attributes that make up you?

Picture 3

A “make your own” puzzle piece

It was this central theme that led our Education Director, Ilene Dackman-Alon, to a breakthrough idea. For the next school group that visits us, we will ask the students to work in pairs to find each of the puzzle pieces in the exhibit, and to write down the answer to each one’s question.  At the end of the exhibit, we will ask them to think of attributes that describe their own class. Each pair will contribute their attribute to a piece of the class puzzle that they will then get to take back to school with them!

We are very excited about this new plan! It can be daunting to have to go back to the drawing board after working so hard to come up with the first lesson plans, but actually knowing what it looks like to take a school group through the exhibit helped us shape what we hope will be an even better one.

 

abby krolikA blog by Visitor Services Coordinator Abby Krolik. To read more posts from Abby, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Creating An Activity For Children

Posted on July 21st, 2014 by

One of my favorite things that I’ve done during my internship here has been creating and leading activities for elementary and middle school students. Most of the activities I’ve worked on are connected to The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen  exhibit opening in September, but I’ve worked on two that kids have had a chance to try out.

For the first activity I was tasked to create, my co-intern Arielle and I were given a bunch of cards with Jewish and Christian symbols on them that are usually kept in The Synagogue Speaks exhibit. Since there were multiple cards with each symbol, we decided the best way to teach kids about the symbols on the cards would be to create a matching game.

Museum Education Interns Emma Glaser and Arielle Kaden discussing which cards should be used in the matching game.

Museum Education Interns Emma Glaser and Arielle Kaden discussing which cards should be used in the matching game.

Eight pairs of cards are placed randomly in a 4×4 grid and the kids playing the game have to take turns turning over cards until they’ve found all of the matches. It’s especially fun toward the end of the game when they know where some of the cards are and give advice to their friends on which card to pick. Once they’ve found all of the matches, the staff member with them asks the kids which symbols they think are Jewish and which are Christian and discusses what the symbols are. Some of the symbols used in the game are Shabbat candles, a nativity scene, and a yarmulke. The game works best for groups of five to fifteen kids per grid, so it’s a great opportunity to for kids to have a group discussion and ask questions.

Kids from Hampstead Hill Camp playing the matching game.

Kids from Hampstead Hill Camp playing the matching game.

photo 3

Hard at work!

The other activity I created is based on The Electrified Pickle exhibit. It’s a scavenger hunt that’s aimed at getting the kids interested in the artifacts in the exhibit. The scavenger hunt highlights one interesting artifact from each section of the exhibit. When I was creating it, I picked artifacts that I thought would draw kids’ eyes, either because they were striking, like the samovar used in the exhibit, or because they were something the kids would have used themselves, such as a scooter.

Considering which artifacts to include in the scavenger hunt.

Considering which artifacts to include in the scavenger hunt.

Kids have to find each artifact pictured in the scavenger hunt and figure out what it is. Older children also have to find the answer to a question about each artifact, such as what its function was or when it was used. At the end of the activity, a staff member asks the kids what the answer to each question is.

A girl from Hampstead Hill Camp points out an artifact to her friends.

A girl from Hampstead Hill Camp points out an artifact to her friends.

Three kids from Hampstead Hill Camp check out a scooter they found in the scavenger hunt.

Three kids from Hampstead Hill Camp check out a scooter they found in the scavenger hunt.

I have really enjoyed leading activities for kids here because it is very rewarding to see them enjoying and learning from the exhibits here at the museum, and that is doubly true for the activities that I created.

Emma GlaserA blog post by Education Intern Emma Glaser. To read more posts by interns, click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




An Intern Prepares for Electrified Pickle

Posted on June 30th, 2014 by

Hi! My name is Arielle and I’m working at the Jewish Museum of Maryland this summer as an Education and Programming intern.  After two weeks on the job, I can honestly say that I’ve learned way more than I can write.  From observing tours, to working with visitors, to learning how to use Past Perfect, to attending meetings, to planning exhibits, this job has been quite a ride.  In addition, its also been a lot of fun!  I love the work that I’m doing at the museum.  Plus, the people that I’m working with make it even more fun and rewarding.  The community of staff and volunteers at the museum has been incredibly welcoming.  They are so phenomenal at what they do and they are great teachers when it comes to learning how a museum works.

“Intern Wrangler” and Senior Collections Manager Jobi taught all the interns how to handle collections items. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with this artifact – an eye glass case used by Optometrists back in the day – and prepare it for display.

“Intern Wrangler” and Senior Collections Manager Jobi taught all the interns how to handle collections items. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with this artifact – an eye glass case used by Optometrists back in the day – and prepare it for display.

On the job I’ve gotten to play a part in so many awesome upcoming things that will be taking place at the museum both this summer and this fall.  After sitting in on several meetings regarding the Electrified Pickle exhibit and helping put together the set of collections items that will be on display, I can honestly say that the exhibit which will be opening on July 13 is going to be amazing!  Among other themes, the exhibit deals with the Jewish relationship with technology and how it’s progressed over the years.  The topic is very engaging and the collections items we’ve gathered to show on display are fascinating. The exhibit should be very educational and I know we have several exciting programs coming up that will be going along with the exhibit!

As an intern I never expected to have such an important say in the planning of an exhibit, but the JMM is unique because I think it really trusts its interns and treats us like members of the staff.  From this trust and responsibility, I have loved stepping up to the plate and learning by doing, instead of learning by watching.  I have gained so much by attending these exhibition planning meetings and researching artifacts. I can’t wait to help build the exhibit over the next two weeks and watch its success when it opens.

Looking at photographs on the computer program Past Perfect, trying to find the perfect photo to display in the “Electrified Pickle” exhibit.

Looking at photographs on the computer program Past Perfect, trying to find the perfect photo to display in the “Electrified Pickle” exhibit

In addition to helping plan the “Electrified Pickle”, I have also been given the opportunity to work on projects regarding the upcoming exhibit “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen” which opens on September 14, and the chance to help organize the museum’s upcoming Holocaust Summer Teacher’s Institute. It has been a very fun and rewarding process doing both of these things and I can’t wait for the rest of the summer to see how much more I learn!

So, that all being said, I hope you stop by the museum this upcoming summer to check out the “Electrified Pickle” and come back again in the fall to see “The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen.”  I promise you won’t be disappointed! They should be both “Electrifying” and “Ahhh-mazing!” Hehe, get it?

So many Mendes, So little time! Be sure to come back in the fall to meet The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen yourself!

So many Mendes, So little time! Be sure to come back in the fall to meet The A-Mazing Mendes Cohen yourself!

You can even download your OWN Flat Mendes here or pick one up at the front desk next time you visit the Museum!

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is an amazing place and so far I couldn’t be happier spending my summer working as an intern here.

A blog post by Education and Programming Intern Arrielle Kaden. To read more posts by and about JMM interns, click here.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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