Musuems as Educational Tools

This article is an archived article written by Kevin Geary, Curator of Education, and published in the Grand Haven Tribune

Museums are excellent educational tools which service a wide range of community members, from pre-schoolers to senior citizens.  Museums, as well as libraries and other arts organizations, offer a variety of programs and services that make it a partner in learning.  The Tri-Cities Historical Museum, which serves the communities of Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, Grand Haven Township, and Spring Lake Township, is an example of how museums work effectively with other community partners to provide quality learning opportunities for local residents and visitors alike.

Partnering with local school districts to teach students is a key function of any museum.  At the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, we accommodate students and teachers interested in a variety of topics. 

Many subjects of local and state history are interpreted, such as Native American, the fur trade, the lumber industry, pioneering era, agriculture and farming, and the Victorian Period.  Aside from history, the museum's collections and exhibits can be beneficial to science and art curriculums as well.  The museum's Ice Age Imperials exhibit attracted thousands of visitors, among them many local school students, who came to interact with the exhibit and strengthen their knowledge of science.  Our exhibit, Form + Function:  Ethnographic Art from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, encourages and awareness of diversity and benefits students studying multicultural history and art.

Museums help teachers to go beyond the boundaries of their classrooms.  Field trips to the Tri-Cities Historical Museum and other points of interest in the community allow children to see and explore new things and ideas.  The Institute of Museum and Library Services recently created a report and web site, Museums, Libraries and 21st Century Skills, which is based on the work of a national task force of library and museum leaders.  The initiative reported on the critical role that museums and libraries play in helping citizens, particularly students, build such critical 21st century skills as information gathering, communication, problem solving, creativity, and global awareness.

The staff and docents at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum are proud to help students learn and gain the important skills they need to be successful in their futures.  We strive to incorporate the various learning styles that students are known to possess; auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners abound in each group of students we work with.  Auditory learners benefit from the information we impart to students verbally.  Visual learners benefit from the wide array of artifacts that are on display in the museum or which are brought into classrooms via our loan kits, which cover a wide variety of topics.  Finally, kinesthetic learners benefit from the ability to touch and interact with objects from the museum's collection.

Acknowledging student learning modalities leads to much more interaction by students during the presentation made to them.  This leads to student questions.  What is that object?  How does it work?  What was it used for?  Why is it called that?  Those questions then allow us to turn the learning responsibility back on the students.  We draw answers out them by asking such questions as, "What does the object remind you of?" and "What words would you use to describe this object?" or "How are these two things different (or the same)?"  Leading the children to learning, rather than simply telling them the answers to all of their questions, helps students to retain knowledge.  An example of this would be when a staff member or docent is touring a class through museum and the group comes upon an item in the Lumbering Camp.  The item looks every bit like a large, wooden mallet or hammer.  Through questioning techniques, students come to learn that the object is a log mark, a critical piece of equipment used by every lumbering company to help identify the logs it produced.  I have later encountered students who bring their parents back to the museum and have overheard them explaining the log mark to their parents.  The learning stuck.

So, how can visitors learn in museums?  They learn not only from the staff or docents, they learn by seeing and they learn by touching artifacts.  They learn through questioning, and they learn critical thinking skills.  These skills include comparing and contrasting in order to see similarities and differences; identifying and grouping things that belong together; describing objects they see or interact with;  and they predict what something did or what might come next.  Mastering these skills is crucial to the future success of students.

To summarize (another critical thinking skill students need to master), museums make great learning partners for schools.  Museums can play an important role in ensuring a student's successful academic career by reinforcing the curriculum presented to students in the classroom.  We at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum take pride in partnering with local schools to support their curriculum and student learning.  We invite inquiries from all local teachers to find out how the Tri-Cities Historical Museum can play a role in their students' academic achievement.

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