When it comes to the value and impact of different learning environments, museums are regarded as superior interactive experiences that foster an excitement for the arts, science, literacy and diverse cultures. For this reason, trips have become significant events on the school calendar, encouraging real eureka moments and bringing topics to life.
Unsurprisingly, many of those eureka seeds are sown in the classroom. Scores of students will tell you that they arrive at the local museum, with little or no preparation, clutching a closed question sheet, which they mechanically fill in. If we accept that museum experiences can be powerful mediators of learning for our students, then we must start by thinking about how to enhance or maximize these experiences. What small strategic steps can we take before our class steps into the brightly lit chambers and halls of our local museums?
Here are some pre museum activities guaranteed to ignite and inspire more of those eureka moments:
This is a stage setting activity that will have your students looking at ordinary objects of today as artefacts of the future. A Nol card, a 10-dirham note, an Arabic calligraphy poster, and a locally printed book – all capture a cultural space and moment in time. Ask the students [and their parents perhaps] to think about ‘endangered pieces’ in their own home and community. A playfully thoughtful activity, it will allow them to have some fun while encouraging them to reflect on the things they see around them – things that in 100 years’ time might hold real historical relevance. This is exactly the mindset you want to promote and support if you want your students to ponder as they wander round the museum. Remember that in order for students to learn something new, it needs to be attached to something they already know, understand or appreciate.
Open-Ended Vs Closed Questions
Teachers know that engagement and motivation in the classroom significantly rises when their students begin to take ownership of their learning. this ownership begins with question asking. If you haven’t already done so, conduct a mini session on the meaning of closed and open- ended questions. Then have your students research the local museum you will be visiting before you ask them to formulate one close-ended question and two open- ended ones. Once these are recorded, pair and share the question sheets across the class. There will be a real buzz at the museum when your students seek to find answers to their own questions and not the standard short answer questions generated by the teacher.
Consider the possibility that children might even develop career interests on your visit to the museum. That would be a precious outcome! Many of them, after all, are interested in the historical fragments on display and will be wondering who decides what they get to see on display. Who assembles the carefully curated collections? Here is a wonderful learning opportunity. Introduce the role and mission of a “curator” as someone similar to a teacher who sets out to educate, excite and inspire us to learn more. A great higher order thinking exercise for the class would be to compare and contrast curators with teachers. In addition, you can watch a video: ‘A day in the life of a Museum Curator’ https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=4qCdSPe2-uc
It is so very satisfying to connect these class based activities with your planned visit to the museum. Planning ahead will ensure that your students experience a cycle of anticipation, participation and reflection.
By Lubna Sarwar
Lubna is a primary educator, author and learning designer. As advisory teacher for the Able & Talented program at Jebel Ali Primary School, she designed and developed a cross-cultural resource for the ‘Thinking Classroom’. Lubna believes that we can create more relevant and imaginative resources for the UAE’s unique educational environment.