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Why We Do What We Do

by Christopher Grisham, Tennessee State Museum on

The other day I was sitting at my computer searching online for student engagement.  I was looking for any ideas or techniques that would be a good fit for our already existing programming.  While I was searching, I couldn’t help but click on the images page for my search results.

Don't they look so excited by that computer.

Don’t they look so excited by that computer?

For the most part, I saw the exact kinds of things that you would expect.  I’m sure most of you are even picturing the following right now:

  • students sitting attentively in desks
  • students sitting attentively on the floor
  • listening raptly to a lecture
  • working together on hands on projects
  • working on various forms of technology (computer, laptop, tablet, whatever Star Trek technology we make a reality next)
  • students raising their hands energetically
  • students smiling (lots and lots of smiling)

Of course no individual picture had all of these elements combined (or I would have included it with this post), but you can pick out the common themes.  The one thing that you could tell from each one of those pictures is that, for those kids, the thing they were doing at that moment was the only thing in the world.

That look is what we all strive for.  Whether it is through dramatic storytelling, hands-on projects, exhibit programs, or multimedia presentation, if those students are tuning out the rest of the world, then we are doing our jobs.  If you are like me, this doesn’t happen to every student in every program, but you see it often enough to take it for granted.  When I have already done that program 4 times that day or, after 3 years of Civil War sesquicentennial, you are just tired of hearing about it, I forget to realize how impactful it can be for students.

I have already rambled on enough for now, so I am not going to talk about actual techniques for engaging students (I will do that in future posts).  Plus you can find plenty of helpful hints here, here, here, and here.  What I wanted to do with this post today was to remind myself, and maybe some of you as well, why I not only do this job but enjoy doing this job.  We have the ability to warp reality for a short time and make the world melt away for our visitors.  For the time we have them, nothing matters but the story, or activity, or program.

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