Looking back to look forward

In the next few months I’ll be expanding my content creation for Mondays @ the Museums to provide new live and recorded videos on a number of topics related to museums and the world of informal education. While putting together my budget projections for the upcoming calendar year, I had to ask myself “why” again. Why am I continuing on this path with my Mondays @ the Museum project? When the world goes back to a semblance of “normal” and we are able to travel and visit museums in person again, where will my business model fit in? Where does the long term sustainability come from? Eventually I will have to work on Mondays again for my full-time museum job and I won’t have the same time or income gap to fill as I did when this began. So, what is the spark that keeps this idea alive for me as we move towards the future? 

As I ponder these questions along with others, I remember that this project isn’t really new. This idea of providing access to practical and fun ways to make learning and especially learning at a museum engaging and long lasting is an old idea of mine and this isn’t the first time I’ve taken action on it. 

In 2006 I made the mistake of opening my mouth in a meeting and sharing an idea of creating a teacher professional development course at the museum I had just started working at. Instead of laughing it off, my supervisor took me seriously and gave me the green light to move forward with the idea. 5 years later and after multiple pilot versions and failed attempts,  I had developed a successful, multi-stranded, year long course for K-12 teachers that used our museum and it’s collection as an anchor-work for learning how to integrate music, theater, dance and visual arts into the public school classroom. Not only had the idea “grown legs” as my director once told me, it was garnering positive feedback from the teacher-students and our museum colleagues from other museums.

Tonight, before sitting down to consider what to write for this week’s blog, I felt compelled to read through the “Forward” that I included in my annual program report in 2010. I also read a wonderfully kind article that had been written reviewing the program and its conceptual and administrative development. Reading these documents reminded me that this isn’t my first rodeo. These projects take determination, time, risk, collaboration, tears, flexibility, adaptation, a clear vision and support along with so much more. 

As I look back to look forward, I start with the concluding sentence of an article written by my former MESC colleague, Cynthia Querio, for the California Association of Museums about my old program:

“‘Teaching Our World through the Arts’ proves that the successful contemporary teacher program seeks to go the distance, recognizing that the museum’s mission is met not only within its physical confines but in the classroom of every teacher who is exposed to the museum and who walks away with new methods to teach the arts.”

And I finish by sharing my words and vision from 10 years in the past. I don’t really see that this has changed. Mondays @ the Museum is for the teachers as much as it is for the students and visa versa. I’ve clearly found the niche I feel comfortable repeating.

2009-2010 Teaching Our World Through the Arts Final Report “Forward”:

I began development of Teaching Our World Through the Arts based on a personal dream to help general studies educators create an educational space that connects and intertwines all subjects, through the looking glass of the Arts. I hoped to open new paths for teachers to  instruct their students, using the arts as a lens, to learn on their own, to think for themselves, to find, to search, to question and to create an opinion in which they believe and can defend with confidence.

I approached Teaching Our World Through the Arts believing that Music is Science at work, Dance is Math in action, Theatre is History & Literature as expressed physically, Visual art is all subjects combined. Science is math and Visual Art and History; Math is Music and History. How can we separate what we experience as a whole in our lives every day? I hoped that I could begin to expand teachers’ perspectives so that we can have schools where a Science class consists of studying Physics through Dance, sound waves and quantum theories through Music and Scientific methodology through History and Math and Theatre and Visual Art. Each class the students attend is separate but part of the whole. The goal of education is not to graduate drones that have memorized facts and theories but to create humans who live and understand and experience and search and find and question to the fullest and still cannot tap the crust of our earth, its history, it’s environment and its many complexities.

I looked at integrated arts education as a chemistry problem. How do we combine the arts atom with the science atom so that it combines to create a “scieartence”? How do we combine the electrons and protons of the arts to the electrons and protons of math to create “math-art?”

In Teaching Our World Through the Arts we explored multiple paths into the world of arts integration using various pedagogical methods, theories and philosophies. Some of the methodologies that we presented were clearer than others and each teacher took away what connected with them personally. As in every learning process at no point in this course was a definite answer reached regarding the best practice of arts integration, however the emphasis lay in the exploration of multiple theories, inquiry and personal reflection. This course’s intention was not to create a philosophy on which arts education policy could be developed but to create a safe space for teachers to learn as students, to think for themselves, to find new ideas, to search where they hadn’t looked before, to question each other and to create a form of arts integration that worked for their classrooms, which they are passionate about, can defend and implement with confidence.

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