Every summer we organize social studies based professional development opportunities for teachers. These events are always very well attended, and we try to provide fun, engaging, and useful learning opportunities for teachers. Usually this involves not only showing what we offer as an institution for teachers, but we often feature scholars to provide in-depth background on a particular topic and people involved in the education field to give practicle application advice for the teachers. This gives us the opportunity to serve teachers directly in addition to serving their students with field trips.
Every year we ask those teachers, “What are other ways that we can help and support you in the classrooms?” Generally the answers are the same. “Provide primary source materials online.” “Have a way to get these artifacts in the classroom.” “Come to our school.” Quickly we realized that all of their suffestions had nothing to do with what we were doing on-site. They weren’t asking for new educational programming for field trips. They weren’t making suggestions for changing out our perminate exhibits to better reflect the educational standards. They weren’t even suggesting more kid friendly interactives at the museum. Everything they wanted from us was to somehow bring the museum to the classroom. Teachers need day to day support for their lessons. They don’t have time between lesson planning, grading, assessment designing, parent meetings, and, oh yeah, teaching to dig around in archives for primary sources. Becoming an expert in every aspect of history that they are teaching isn’t an option. They needed us to be available to them in more ways than that one or two field trips a year.
So we got to work. We developed a fairly comprehensive website that covers topics in our state’s history in depth with scholarly articles that still atempt to be kid friendly. We put images of many of our artifacts on the website as well. Ideally, teachers that need to teach about early settlement of our state or how the Civil War affected locals will be able to jump online and get all of the background knowlegde they will need to teach their lessons. They will even be able to pull off a few images to provide visuals for their class.
We even brushed off that old traveling trunk program idea and modernized it for today’s classrooms. With help from a huge grant we were able to create multiple trunks that cover multiple topics across our state’s history that we can send out to classrooms. These trunks contain lesson plans, images, primary sources, replicas, and, sometimes, even actual artifacts to bring history to life for students. That program by itself serves about 35,000 students annually across the state and has become one of the most popular things that we offer. We are currently looking at expanding the trunk program to try and meet the demand.
Now we are looking for where to go next. Technology is offering us the ability to be more responsive and flexible than we have in the past. We recently purchased some very basic camera equipment. The goal is to create educational videos for teachers to use in the classroom. Soon we hope to use the equipment to set up Skype in the Classroom to interact with classes that can’t make it us. But to do any of this we have to dedicate time, money, and staff (all scarce resources) to make it happen. We may have to let something else go in order to make these things happen. If we pull a staff person for a week to write a script, shoot a video, edit the video, and post it online, that is one person that can’t be on the floor working with students. We may have to turn a school away. In an ideal world every time we wanted to do something new we could just hire more staff to speciallize in that new thing. The question becomes, in our attempt to reach into the classrooms what is too far? Is there a point that we are becoming detramental to the brick and morter museum and the actual artifacts? Where do we draw that line?
As we are moving forward, I would love to hear the ways that you reach people that can’t make it into your museum.