JMM Insights: Learning By Doing

Posted on April 21st, 2017 by

Want to listen to a pumping heart? Save the day at Ft. McHenry by removing ammunition from a stockade? Turn a pickle into a light bulb?

If you’ve visited JMM in the last few years, you might have done all of the above.  The opportunities to “learn by doing” continue this summer with our next exhibit, Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland now under development.

As you might expect, this exhibit features wedding gowns, accessories, invitations, and even ketubahs that are more than 150 years old.  But in making this experience accessible to people of all ages and all learning styles it will also contain “interactive” experiences.  Despite the 21st century jargon in the name, interactives in museums date back more than a century.

In 1911, Jewish businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald took his 8 year-old son William to the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  There he saw something new in the museum world – instead of halls exclusively devoted to objects in cases, some of the exhibits had cranks and levers and pulleys.  These devices invited visitors not just to observe the scientific world but to understand it through participation. Rosenwald was so impressed with the impact of this new style of museum experience that he became determined to bring it back to America, to his hometown of Chicago – and so began the story of the Museum of Science and Industry, the nation’s largest science museum.

Over the course of the 20th century, interactives migrated from science museums to children’s museums and by the 1980s to natural history and history museums as well.  These exhibit units are sometimes characterized as “activities for kids,” but it is the experience of museum professionals that interactives receive as much of a workout from adults as children, if only vicariously (i.e. “Johnny, try pulling the crank first and then flipping the lever”).

In approaching the interactives for Just Married!: Wedding Stories from Jewish Maryland, we began, as always, with educational objectives…how do we transform the topic into a vehicle for inspiring in-depth exploration and critical reasoning?  What concepts and activities would fit our exhibit themes, while attracting visitors both young and old?  We came up with a mix of puzzles, tactile experiences, and audio rewards to engage the brain as well as the senses.

The meeple family tree

An important part of interactive planning is beta testing. Over the winter, we tested two of our activities, one on the public and one on the JMM staff.
Our seating chart puzzle, designed by our in-house game maven, involves a set of adorable but in-law challenged meeples [wondering what meeples are? (and no, the singular of “meeples” is not “merson”)].  Our meeple families: the color-coded Pinkerts and Greensteins, Silvermans and Goldbergs needs to be strategically seated to achieve a set of goals for the bride and groom.  In this way we hoped to transform a common problem into a 3-D logic puzzle – both entertaining and thought provoking.

A seating challenge!

We set a simple prototype in the JMM lobby and invited visitors to give it a try.  This gave us insight into what visitors found confusing – such as the fact that unlabeled meeples are indistinguishable (so who could say if cousin Steve was sitting where he should be?) We experimented with affixing tiny labels to the meeples, simplifying the game’s rules and clarifying how to reset the game board for the next player.  All of these small adjustments will contribute to successful interactive – a tool that promotes learning (and fun).

Curator Karen takes a crack at matching photos

Joanna’s match-the-photo puzzle was tested out on the staff in a slightly less formal manner (but with scorekeeping, which always adds to the fun). In this activity, players are asked to match the wedding and anniversary photos of several Maryland couples from various eras.  Our collections include some great images, thanks to generations of Marylanders celebrating the milestone anniversaries of parents and grandparents.  Eleven of our staff and volunteers gave the game a try; there were mixed results, score-wise (and yes, one person did successfully match all eight couples), but everyone found themselves engrossed in the challenge.

Marketing and Development Manager Rachel had a tough time as the inaugural tester

These trial games were invaluable.  In the case of the photos, Joanna learned that the original version – a scattering of sixteen photos from eight couples, with no indication as to which images were wedding and which were anniversary – was much too difficult for anyone who hadn’t been staring at the pictures for three days like she had.  A few tweaks to the set-up improved things considerably. Our goal is to make interactives challenging – but not frustrating, often a difficult “sweet spot” to find.Interactives are just one component in turning a space into an experience.  A strong interactive complements, but does not replace, memorable images or artifacts – but the right tools can transport the visitor from “watcher” to “doer” and give them a sense of personal ownership of an exhibit.

MarvinBlog post by Executive Director Marvin Pinkert (with assistance from Collections Manager Joanna Church). To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Volunteer Spotlight on Margie Simon!

Posted on April 3rd, 2017 by

Margie Simon has been a volunteer docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland since March. She retired in June 2016 from Baltimore County Public Schools. She was a librarian at Perry Hall High School for 16 years. Prior to that, she worked at Goucher College for 10 years and at the University of Maryland Health Sciences Library for 12 years. She now works part-time as a librarian at the Community College of Baltimore County at the Dundalk campus. She is chair of the Gemilut Hasadim committee at Chizuk Amuno Congregation, and vice chair of the Yom Hashoah Remembrance Commission.

Margie with a school group in "Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity"

Margie with a school group in “Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust, Humanity”

Margie has been helping with school groups at the JMM during the current Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust and Humanity exhibit.  In her years at Perry Hall, she became involved in the school’s Holocaust education effort and took advantage of many of the wonderful workshops and training sessions offered by the JMM.  She wanted to “pay back” the JMM for all of the education she had received by sharing her knowledge about the Holocaust as a docent for this exhibit.  She finds it exciting watching the students react to the model of Auschwitz.  She believes we are so lucky to have the model because it makes what otherwise would be a room of blue prints come alive for students. We at the JMM also feel lucky to have Margie as a docent. She has been very effective at imparting her passion and knowledge of the Holocaust to students from around Maryland. We hope that she decides to stay involved at the museum after the exhibit closes!

GrahamPost by Visitor Services Coordinator Graham Humphrey. Every month we highlight one of our fantastic JMM volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering with the JMM, send an email to Sue Foard at sfoard@jewishmuseummd.org or call 443-973-5162! You can also get more information about volunteering at the Museum here.

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Museums and Society

Posted on February 23rd, 2017 by

Earlier this week I hosted a group of students from Johns Hopkins University who are taking a class exploring the theme of Museums and Social Responsibility. In addition to coursework and lectures, during which students discuss and debate the extent to which museums serve as vehicles for social change, students also participate in field trips to several museums where they have the opportunity to learn about the many different ways in which museums engage with their communities. Students are also expected to work with a museum of their choice to help design a project that helps a museum respond to a specific challenge.

During their visit to the JMM, eight students toured our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit as well as the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Voices of Lombard Street

During their visit to the JMM, eight students toured our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit as well as the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Programs Manager Trillion leads the tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

Programs Manager Trillion leads the tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue.

We then spent the remainder of our time together in the Lloyd Street Synagogue (LSS) where we talked about how our Museum approaches community engagement through public and educational programs. Students were especially interested in learning about how even though the JMM mainly serves a Jewish audience (and our history and mission are directly tied to providing opportunities for Jewish visitors to connect to their heritage), we also are deeply committed to serving non-Jewish audiences and to providing a venue for discourse and discovery for visitors of diverse backgrounds.

The class checks out "The Synagogue Speaks"

The class checks out “The Synagogue Speaks”

When asked about a challenge that the JMM faces, we talked about how our staff has been searching for ways to animate the LSS beyond our regular public tours. For the past few months, staff has been in conversation with one another as well as with our colleagues at other historic sites and museums in an effort to reexamine our preconceived notions about what attracts visitors to visit and how we can conduct small scale programmatic experiments to help us engage new audiences. Students were interested in hearing about these conversations as they asked terrific questions and offered suggestions for new ideas.

We look forward to working with several of the students in the months ahead and to seeing what exciting new ideas they come up with!

deborahA blog post by Deputy Director Deborah Cardin. To read more posts from Deborah click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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