Zen and the Art of Educational Programming

Posted on June 27th, 2018 by

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

The Vanishing Elephant

As I have been working with our staff on the “Vanishing Elephant” educational program, I have been contemplating the steps that it takes to build a successful educational program. I am convinced that even though it may seem chaotic at times, there is an underlying process. While some may call them by different names, here are the basic steps:

1. Conceptualizing

2. Drafting

3. Visualizing

4. Revising

5. Implementing

6. Revising

7. Modifying

Conceptualizing and Drafting

Conceptualizing is the seed of an educational program; it is the idea that is inspired by its subject. This is the broadest and haziest stage, but it is always exciting because the possibilities are, literally, endless. The program, however, really begins to form in the drafting stage, which takes the inspiration and begins grounding it in reality; this is the stage where we have a general outline of activities and begin prototyping the items and props.

I arrived about halfway through the drafting stage for the “Vanishing Elephant” program. By the time I began work on it, the outline had been decided:

Visitors will be divided into five groups and each visitor will get a magnetized card; the card will have a question on one side, and a playing card face on the other. The visitors will get some time to find their answer in the exhibit and then check their answers together as a group. Then based upon a particular arrangement of their cards, the teams will have to crack the message hidden in the card faces.

Additionally, fabrication on the program had already begun. The questions were already developed, and the magnetized board and cards were already out for production. During this stage, I helped prototype the code books and began the fabrication process on those.

These are some of the magnetized playing cards for the “Vanishing Elephant” program! Take a moment and see if you can answer the questions! (The answers are #25: Al Jolson and #21: 16 years old).


One of the things that challenged me during my student teaching semester was classroom management (the layout of the room, what materials to have prepared, when to hand out said materials, timing activities, etc.). I overcame this by visualizing the lesson step by step from the perspectives of my students and myself. During this visualization, I focused on the practical aspects of the lesson, rather than the content, and made sure to prepare myself accordingly. The same technique can be applied to the creation of education programs.

After independently visualizing the “Vanishing Elephant” program and meeting about our concerns, the education department decided to make some changes…


Someone much smarter than me once said that all writing is revision… the same could be said of lesson planning and educational programs! Once the program has been visualized, oftentimes changes need to be made. The beauty of this step is that it is proactive; these changes happen before the program reaches an audience. For the “Vanishing Elephant” we created two new worksheets, got an easel for the magnetic board, made bags for easier organization, and added time for the visitors to first explore the exhibit and “get their ya-yas out!”

The program at this point definitely looks different than it did in the drafting stage, but that is a good thing!

We developed these two worksheets during the revising stage to help maintain visitor engagement with the program!


The next step is to introduce the program to a group of willing test subjects. It is critical in this stage to be both fully aware and completely honest with yourself regarding what is going well and what is, frankly, not. It is because of this personal honesty that can lead us once again to the revising stage, to change and improve the program.

For “Vanishing Elephant,” based upon feedback from our first testing group (thank you again to our wonderful docents and volunteers), we decided to not go over all 25 questions as a group, but rather choose 10 of the most important ones.

But Marisa – you mentioned zen in your blog title! Was that just a clever reference to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or are you actually going to talk about the concept of zen?

It’s both! Zen actually does have something to do with educational programs, and it comes in the form of modifying! Sometimes, no matter how carefully planned, things do not go as anticipated. Sometimes there are more students than anticipated; sometimes visitors arrive late. Sometimes an item goes missing, a space can’t be used, or the visitors need a specific accommodation. No matter the reason, education programming requires us to be flexible, to roll with the punches, and to allow our instincts to lead us.

It just goes to show that in planning for educational programs, our work is never truly done!

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Holocaust Education at the JMM

Posted on June 7th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

A few months ago, a report came out that more than one-fifth of millennials in the US, (a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century), haven’t heard of or aren’t sure if they’ve heard of the Holocaust according to a study which was commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Additionally, 41 percent of millennials believe two million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust; and two- thirds of millennials could not identify in the survey what Auschwitz was.  According to the news release on the findings, the survey found critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as detailed knowledge of the Holocaust.

I was a little surprised by the report, as I see Holocaust education as one of the primary topics that we focus on at the JMM, with many teachers choosing to bring school groups to learn about our historic synagogues, Jewish customs and see our exhibitions that are related to the theme. In addition, every summer we offer a three- day workshop, Summer Teachers Institute, which provides educators with tools and resources on the best practices in Holocaust education.

Yesterday, I was very happy to see that the study was WRONG! We had a school group from DC public schools visit the Museum.  The teacher was previously a Baltimore City Public School teacher who was very familiar with our education program. Her students (3rd to 5th graders) had just finished reading, Number of the Stars (1989), a work of historical fiction by American author Lois Lowry, about the escape of a Jewish family (the Rosens) from Copenhagen, Denmark during World War II. The story centers on ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen, who lives with her family in Copenhagen in 1943.

When the teacher made her reservation for the field trip with Paige, JMM’s very capable Visitors Services Coordinator, the teacher knew exactly what she wanted her students to take away from their visit. She wanted her students to learn more about Judaism and visit the historic Lloyd Street Synagogue; she wanted to have her students participate in one of our most popular education programs, Lives Lost: Lives Found: Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees 1933-1945; and she contacted the Baltimore Jewish Council so that the students could hear personal testimony from a survivor of the Holocaust.

The students’ visit was perfect timing, as it was the second day for our summer interns, and I felt that having the interns observe the school group, would help the interns see first-hand, the education program in action at the JMM.

The students from the DC public school were fabulous. They were engaged in the archival activity program relating to the Lives Lost: Lives Found: Baltimore’s German Jewish Refugees 1933-1945; exhibition. The students loved seeing the Lloyd Street Synagogue and loved learning how to read the Hebrew Alphabet.

The most profound part of their time at the JMM was watching the students as they listened very intently to the testimony of Mrs. Herta Baitch, who told her story of coming to the United States as a child with the German-Jewish Children’s Aid Society and moving in with a foster family here in Baltimore. Following Herta’s testimony, the children had the opportunity to ask questions, many of them thoughtful and also amusing.

After a lot of clapping, the children literally got themselves into a receiving line, and each student went up to Herta to thank her and hug her. It was such a spectacular moment!

Our education department is very proud that these students had such a wonderful engaging field trip experience yesterday, and hopefully that experience we offered will make the students better citizens and future leaders to ensure that our history and the Holocaust will never be repeated again.

Registration is now open for our 2018 Summer Teachers Institute – you can find more information and the registration form here.

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It’s All About Making Connections…

Posted on April 16th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement Ilene Dackman-Alon. To read more posts by Ilene click HERE.

Sometimes, being the Director of Learning and Visitor Engagement can be very stressful-trying to meet deadlines, meeting school groups, developing education resources.  Many days are harried, many days are just plain FUN, and at the end of the day- our work is about making those meaningful connections.

Let’s go back to last Thursday. The school group from the NAF Academy has arrived at the JMM – their visit includes a tour of the historic synagogues, where the students will learn about the different immigrant groups that used the building and about Jewish rituals and traditions.  The students ask great questions and enjoy learning about Judaism and Baltimore history less than 1 mile from their school.

This group was the first group of students that went through Amending America: The Bill of Rights.  The students were given a gallery guide to help them self-guide through the exhibit.  The students were engaged as the meandered through the gallery.   I looked up and I saw one of the students call out to his buddy, “Hey, get a picture of this!”  I looked up and instantly- a smile came to my face- this student saw himself at the March on Washington D.C in August 1963.

He was connecting to the exhibit, he saw himself as one of the protesters marching for civil rights back in history!  Our hope is that students find personal connections to our exhibits.

Less than 15 minutes after the group left, I hopped in my car and headed to John Carroll High School in Bel Air, Maryland.

John Carroll is a Catholic High School in Harford County and the JMM has a strong relationship with the school.  We were invited to be a part of the #TogetherWeRemember program that honors the millions of victims that were killed during the Holocaust and other genocides that have occurred in our lifetime.  #TogetherWeRemember combines, technology, art, and activism to transform remembrance to of past atrocities into a powerful tool for building peace in the present.  I went up to John Carroll because I volunteered to be a reader of names of victims.

Never would I imagine that reading the list of names would be so incredibly powerful. I was given a list of about 100 names, all who were victims of the Holocaust.

As I began to read the names, I noticed a common thread, the first names were either Moises, Chaim or Chaya.  In fact, these three names were the only names that I read for the 10 minutes.  As I got further in the list, it struck me that I kept repeating my own Jewish name, Chaya.  In fact, I repeated the name 44 times throughout the 10 minutes.

I got off the podium, slightly drained and emotional.  I was thinking about the 44 women who perished during the Holocaust- their families- and if anybody ever says their name and remembers that they once lived during the 20th century.  So powerful.

This Thursday, April 19, 2018, you can be a part of this powerful program too as the JMM is hosting a #TogetherWeRemember program @ 7:00 p.m.

Sign up, bring a group of friends, make your own connections and be a part of this transformative program.


Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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