JMM Insights May 2014: Project Mah Jongg & Education

Posted on May 9th, 2014 by

Since the successful opening of Project Mah Jongg, The Education and Programs Department has planned some wonderful programming for adults in connection with the exhibit.  We’re particularly excited for our Mother’s Day Mah Jongg Madness event this Sunday and our upcoming “The Art of Mah Jongg” talk with Robert Mintz, chief curator at The Walters Art Gallery on Sunday June 8th.
In addition to our Sunday programs we have been delighted to welcome a charming stream of mah jongg mavens to the Museum. These groups of ladies are coming down to the JMM during our early morning opening hours; often armed with their  own mahj sets and accoutrements for play (if you’re looking for a few mah jongg themed items yourself, don’t worry, our museum shop has got you covered!).  It seems that the ladies are making the JMM a destination for the day (something we highly recommend).  The first order of the day, of course, is visiting our special exhibit Project Mah Jongg; then it’s a leisurely browse through the Museum shop and a visit to the neighborhood for lunch only to head back to the lobby for some intense game play, and then finish up the day taking advantage of the synagogue tours – a full day indeed!

Talmudic Academy 2014

Talmudic Academy 2014

While these lovely ladies are a natural audience for all things mah jongg, the challenge of the exhibit for our department was how to present Project Mah Jongg to school groups? Learning to play mah jongg can be challenging and we couldn’t actually teach a group of students how to play the game in twenty minutes. Mah jongg takes practice to really understand the strategies and even just learning the different symbols on the tiles takes time. We knew we needed to develop an experiential learning opportunity – a way for students to engage and apply academic understandings through hands-on experience, while simultaneously learning new information about the world around them.

Younger students learning at play.

Younger students learning at play.

For inspiration, we turned to the mah jongg handbook. We started by looking for key words that described the game, keeping in mind that students from third to twelfth grade would need to understand.  Success! First we had to familiarize students with the building blocks of the game: the tiles! So we concentrated on the basic symbols – bams, craks, dots and jokers.  Then we tackled math concepts: doubles, triples, quads and quints, consecutive, sequence – a perfect way to fuse classroom learning with the basics of how to win at mah jongg.  From there we developed a hands-on experience where the students could actually play a modified version of the game and apply simple math strategies.  Younger students were given Mah Jongg Mats where players take turns picking tiles, working to complete their mats using the new math concepts that were introduced earlier.  Older students were given a modified card for mah jongg play and used rules similar to the card game “rummy,” using the mah jongg tiles to mimic the different types of hands for play on the “card.” In this way we elevated game playing into an exercise in set theory and critical thinking skills.

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Our older students are equally fascinated!

Project Mah Jongg really pushed us to think creatively with our educational activities and we were nervous – would the students understand?  Would they be engaged and enjoy playing the modified version of the game?  Well, we are excited to report that the students and their teachers have all commented how much fun Mah Jongg is!  Both versions of the game are proving to be popular – most students really seem to enjoy playing with their friends. All of our teacher evaluations have indicated a positive feedback for the exhibits and the engaging learning activities connected to our exhibits.  The teachers for both the younger and older grades have even inquired as to where they can obtain sets to bring back to the classroom!

ileneA blog post by Ilene Dackman-Alon, Education Director. To read more posts from Ilene, click here.

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Transformation & Process: From Intern to Staff, From Scavenger Hunts to Archival Activities

Posted on April 28th, 2014 by

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!

Leading an Immigration Archival Activity

Leading an Immigration Archival Activity

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.

Deep in thought!

Deep in thought!

Ilene helps students decipher their documents

Ilene helps students decipher their documents

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

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




From Intern to Staff Member to Higher Education and Beyond

Posted on February 24th, 2014 by

The past six months have been life-changing for me, largely due to my work with the Jewish Museum of Maryland. I gained so much valuable knowledge this summer from working as an intern in the Education and Programs department, helping with school and camp groups as well as assisting with and creating new programs for visitors of all ages. My experience led me to the conclusion that I should pursue a career in museum work, with a focus on the public side of museum operations.

I studied dance and English at Goucher College, and have since learned the art of teaching and performing static aerial arts and flying trapeze. During my internship, I often discussed my future goals and plans with my supervisors and fellow interns. Within the museum field, there are many different areas of study, and thus, many different paths to choose. My background in performing arts gives me the unique advantage of absolutely loving public speaking. Consequently, the time I spent working as a docent for tours and as a guide for groups helped me create some of my favorite moments of my internship. I learned so much from these moments, including the idea that if you gain the trust of visitors and students, they will open up to you about their curiosity, and give you the opportunity to share more of your knowledge with them.

My experiences working with visitors and helping to run the public side of the museum made me hungry for more. I loved coming to work every single day. Even though my internship was ending in August, I wasn’t ready to leave the museum. I consulted Ilene about the coming year. She and I agreed: I should become a Museum Educator. I could come to the museum on a part-time basis, allowing me to keep the same hours at my other job. I could continue working on curriculum development, helping to update the new education Facebook page, and, most importantly, working with school groups on tours as well as facilitating educational programs with them. It was a great opportunity to spend more time learning first-hand about working in museums.

I also made the decision at the end of the summer to apply to graduate school, but still didn’t know exactly what field to choose. I enjoyed learning so much; I honestly had trouble deciding what I didn’t want to study. Additionally, I had difficulty choosing which graduate school strategy was best for me; would I be served better by getting a degree in a specific field of study? Or, if I pursued a more general degreesuch as Museum Studieswould it hinder more than help my career because of its lack of focus? Lucky enough to be working in a museum during this confusing time, I consulted essentially every person I worked with on a regular basis. Although I received many suggestions, I eventually realized that I knew more than I thought about which path I should take. Nonetheless, hearing about the different journeys of those with whom I spoke helped to more brightly illuminate my intended path.

I made my choice: I am now applying for a master’s degree in Museum Studies. Museum Education was a field that I felt was too similar to my previous graduate studies—a graduate teaching certificate for TESL. Other museum degrees, like Exhibition Design and Preservation, were fascinating to me, but I wanted to broaden my scope of potential employment. There are Museum Studies programs all over the US, but after consulting several long-time museum professionals, I felt confident that, if my primary goal was to find a job in the museum field upon finishing my degree, George Washington University was my best bet. The fact that GW is one of the oldest and best-known programs in the field, as well as the endless possibilities for flexibility of curriculum, customization of concentration, networking, and internship choices the program offers made my choice to apply very easy. I chose the exhibition and public engagement concentration, which puts the focus of the master’s degree on the study of the visitor relationship with the museum.

I am now in the final stages of completing my application, and I can say that my experience at the Jewish Museum these past seven months has been truly invaluable to my professional progress. Without the JMM internship, and subsequently my experience as a Museum Educator, I would be miles from reaching my goal of lending my perspective to a field of work that I have come to love so much.

Marissa WalkerA blog post by Museum Education Marissa Walker.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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