ERIC Identifier: ED278380
Publication Date: 1986-09-00
Author: Hicks, Ellen Cochran
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Museums and Schools as Partners. ERIC Digest.
The museum-school partnership is a venerable institution. Most people
make their first visit to a museum with a school group, and these early
experiences help shape their attitudes--positive and not-so-positive--toward
museums. This partnership takes on new significance as our society expands its
definition of "education" to describe a lifelong process of developing
knowledge, skills, and character that takes place not just in the classroom, but
in a variety of formal and informal settings. Museums and schools both figure in
this learning network, and they have long worked together toward common
In the fall of 1984, the American Association of Museums published a report
on the present state and future prospects of American museums. Called MUSEUMS
FOR A NEW CENTURY, the book was the product of a three-year study by a special
commission of museum leaders. The chapter on museum education ("A New Imperative
for Learning") asserted bluntly that, despite a strong commitment to educational
programming, "museums have yet to realize their full potential as educational
institutions" (p.59). One focus of the commission's concern was museums and
schools: "The museum-school relationship shows considerable potential,...
particularly in light of the recent calls for strengthening the quality of
instruction in science, the arts and the humanities in the schools" (p.68). But,
the report said, "the long relationship between museums and schools has been
marked not only by success but by dissatisfaction and frustration" (p.67).
The success can be attributed to the professionals who plan and carry out
students' museum experiences, but the dissatisfaction and frustration come from
the same quarters. Museum educators say that teachers view museum visits simply
as field trips where their students see interesting things and have fun, rather
than as serious educational activities that complement classroom learning. And
teachers counter that museum educators don't let them know about the extent of
the resources their institutions have to offer. It is a dilemma rooted in the
quality of communication between museum educators and teachers about their
mutual objectives: If museum educators would let teachers know what their
institutions have to offer, teachers would be able to use museums more fully as
instructional resources; and if teachers took the museum visit seriously, museum
educators would invest more in communicating with them. As the Commission on
Museums for a New Century interpreted it, too many teachers and museum educators
see their relationship as an "us and them" situation.
UNDERSTANDING MUSEUM LEARNING
MUSEUMS FOR A NEW CENTURY suggested that to achieve the potential of the
partnership, both museum educators and teachers should develop a fuller
understanding of the nature of the museum learning environment, how it differs
from the classroom, and how the two settings are complementary. Learning in
schools is most often accomplished through verbal communication, with facts and
concepts presented sequentially and in a structured way. In museums, on the
other hand, objects are usually the basis of the learning process, which is less
structured and partially directed by the learner's own interests, ideas, and
experience. (Chapman (1982) provides a good analysis of the nature of museum
When students leave the classroom to visit a museum, they enter a setting
where they are surrounded by "real things" that give a new dimension to the
information they are acquiring in school--a model of the solar system showing
the spatial relationship of the planets, a period room depicting family life in
post-Revolutionary Maryland, or an Impressionist painting capturing both the
essence of an artistic form and the atmosphere of society in another era. In
museums, ideas and concepts are framed in a different "language" than in the
classroom. The student response is different, too. As Harrison and Naef (1985)
describe it, "there are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers, but instead, suppositions
concerning what might have been. The more diverse the group in its response, the
more successful the learning experience" (p.10).
WHAT MAKES A GOOD COLLABORATIVE VENTURE
Since the publication of MUSEUMS FOR A NEW CENTURY, the nature of the
museum-teacher partnership has begun to shift. The proliferation of
collaborative efforts makes it clear that museums are no longer the providers
and teachers the recipients; instead, they share the responsibility for finding
ways to use museums as curriculum resources. Both teachers and museum
representatives must reach out to establish contacts. Teachers should visit
local museums in their subject fields to assess potential resources. And many
larger museums have education specialists whose responsibility is to assist
teachers in getting the most from museum visits.
Regardless of size, museums offer reality that no other resource can provide.
It is important, therefore, that visits be planned when they are relevant to
curricular purposes. The visit should be focused on the exhibits that relate to
those purposes. One of the most frequent errors in visiting a museum with
students is to permit them to wander aimlessly. These guidelines are
incorporated into four ingredients of a collaborative process that leads to a
productive museum visit: (1) The museum staff and the teacher engage in good
planning; (2) the teacher prepares the students and coordinates the visit with
the classroom curriculum; (3) the trip is focused and involves the students in a
structured set of activities at the museum; and (4) a follow-up classroom
session extends and builds on the visit (Mitsakos, 1982).
Teachers can strengthen their involvement with local museums--and ultimately
improve the quality of their students' museum visits--in the following ways:
--Make professional connections through national organizations. The National
Art Education Association and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
both have special groups focusing on museum interests. The NSTA recently formed
a task force involving teachers and museum educators to stimulate informal
science education in museums. The National Council on the Social Studies has
also promoted museums as resources.
--Form local networks. There are many examples, among them the Chicago
Resource Network, a working group of educators representing all the city's
museums and the school system, sponsored by the Field Museum of Natural History.
STEAM (Science Teacher Education at Museums), a program sponsored by the
Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), encourages local partnerships
by making grants to science museums in communities across the country to
initiate or expand programs introducing teachers to their resources. In New York
City, a computerized database called the Cultural Institution Network will make
information about the resources of the area's museums and arts institutions more
accessible to teachers.
--Seek partnerships with museums. The museum-school relationship should be a
symbiotic one. Teachers should look for opportunities to use museum resources,
and ask museum staff to work with them to plan productive learning experiences
that complement classroom activities. Just as museums can offer teachers the
opportunity to enrich classroom learning with museum visits, museum educators
are looking for creative classroom teachers eager to help them shape productive
educational experiences from their wealth of "real things."
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Chapman, Laura H. "The Future and Museum Education." MUSEUM NEWS 60 (1982):
Commission on Museums for a New Century. MUSEUMS FOR A NEW CENTURY.
Washington, D.C.: American Association of Museums, 1984.
Harrison, Michael and Barbara Naef. "Toward a Partnership: Developing the
Museum-School Relationship." THE JOURNAL OF MUSEUM EDUCATION 10 (1985): 9-12.
Mitsakos, Charles. "As Others See Us: An Educator." MUSEUM NEWS 60 (1982):
Nichols, Susan K., ed., with Mary Alexander and Ken Yellis. MUSEUM EDUCATION
ANTHOLOGY: PERSPECTIVES ON INFORMAL LEARNING, A DECADE OF ROUNDTABLE REPORTS,
1973-1983. Washington, DC: Museum Education Roundtable, 1984. Distributed by the
American Association of Museums.
Pitman-Gelles, Bonnie, ed. MUSEUMS, MAGIC AND CHILDREN. Washington, DC:
Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1981.
CURATOR, published quarterly by the American Museum of Natural History, 79th
St. & Central Park West, New York, NY 10024.
HISTORY NEWS, published bimonthly by the American Association for State and
Local History (address below).
JOURNAL OF MUSEUM EDUCATION, published quarterly by the Museum Education
Roundtable (address below).
MUSEUM NEWS, published bimonthly by the American Association of Museums
MUSEUM STUDIES JOURNAL, published twice yearly by the Center for Museum
Studies, John F. Kennedy University, 1717 Seventeenth St., San Francisco, CA
American Association for State and Local History, 172 Second Ave., North,
Suite 102, Nashville, TN 37201; 615-255-2971.
American Association of Museums, 1055 Thomas Jefferson St., NW, Washington,
DC 20007; 202-338-5300.
American Association of Museums Education Committee, c/o Patterson B.
Williams, Director of Education, Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.,
Denver, CO 80201; 303-575-2793.
Association of Science-Technology Centers, 1413 K St., NW, Washington, DC
Museum Education Roundtable, P.O. Box 8561, Rockville, MD 20856.
National Art Education Association, 1916 Association Dr., Reston, VA 22019;
National Council for the Social Studies, 3501 Newark St., NW, Washington, DC
National Science Teachers Association, 1742 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington,
DC 20009; 202-328-5800.