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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

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!

Posted in jewish museum of maryland