BANK STREET COLLEGE OF EDUCATION
The Power of Imagination:
Four Outstanding Museum Educators
Sure, visiting a museum can be fun for kids, but according to Janet Rassweiler, a faculty advisor in the museum leadership program at Bank Street, and a 1983 graduate of that program, very serious and deep thinking can—and does—take place. “When classes or families visit museum programs,” she says, “they are discovering together.”
Here are four children’s museums with education programs led by Bank Street alumni that are worth discovering:
Noah’s Ark at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles opened in 2007 and is centered around, not surprisingly, the ancient flood story of Noah’s Ark. Using indoor galleries, an outdoor park and an amphitheater for performances, students work together to experiment with sight and sound to make storms, take part in obstacle course-like adventures aboard the ark, participate in artistic and creative activities, and ultimately explore themes of hope, diversity and the human experience.
“For the most part, it’s about opening a new dialogue,” says Marni Gittleman ’94, exhibit developer and head of Noah’s Ark. In addition, there is ongoing collaboration with area educators to ensure Noah’s Ark’s experience is relevant to local students. Gittleman says to develop this exhibit, she put into practice the Bank Street model: “Go to your intended users and look for relevancy to create a learner-centered experience.”
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. recently launched an initiative to help preschoolers become excited about flight, including a storytelling program and a family kite project. Diane Kidd ’80, the newly appointed early childhood program manager, explains that kids are much more engaged when they have “a hands-on activity to do as opposed to just listening to a story.”
Kidd’s says her two master’s degrees in early childhood education and leadership in museum education from Bank Street have daily practical application. “Bank Street gives a very good theoretical framework,” she says. “It teaches you that each child is unique and how to figure out the best way to get that child to learn.”
Bank Street’s framework helped Kidd in her previous position at the Smithsonian’s Hirschorn Museum, where she helped children make connections in the galleries by, for example, bringing in a real life dancer to work with children as they viewed sculptures of dancers.
The Family Exploration Series at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, takes children on a world tour via pieces of glass from different regions. The glass opens up discussion about the food, dress and customs of each ethnic group, along with song and dance performances.
“It’s a great family day at the museum,” says Amy Schwartz, the museum’s director of development education and The Studio, an educational and artistic glassworking facility that is a department of the Corning Museum of Glass. A 2007 graduate of Bank Street’s Leadership in Museum Education program, Schwartz also coordinates the museum’s developmentally appropriate, curriculum based programs, a concept she says she took straight from Bank Street. “Instead of running the kids through the museum to see everything,” says Schwartz, “we focus on one theme that is related to what they are studying in school.” So first graders studying symmetry would go exploring for examples of symmetrical glass.
The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia offers a variety of must-see exhibits for families and class trips including the Amazing Machine, The Giant Heart, Train Factory and KidScience Observatory, along with traveling exhibits like Star Wars and Real Pirates.
Rita Mukherjee Hoffstadt, senior exhibit and program developer, and 2002 graduate of Bank Street’s Leadership in Museum Education program, says it’s the free-choice environments, where children pick and choose how they want to explore, that help them connect with the science. “Our goal is to take something that could just be in a science textbook and go much more beyond that,” she says.
Hoffstadt says she’s applying her Bank Street-taught teamwork skills and learning theories everyday in her job, where she combines the expertise of scientific advisors and designers with her own background, to create fun and educational exhibits. Next up? The Changing Earth exhibit, which opens in Fall 2009.
If you’re interested in learning more about the work these museum education alumni are doing—or about the museums themselves—here is their contact information:
Marni Gittleman, Skirball Cultural Center, email@example.com ⁄ www.skirball.org
Rita Mukherjee Hoffstadt, Franklin Institute, firstname.lastname@example.org ⁄ www.fi.edu
Diane Kidd, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, email@example.com ⁄ www.nasm.si.edu
Amy Schwartz, Corning Museum of Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org ⁄ www.cmog.org#