Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Challenges of Teaching with Museums

By Cynthia Wallace-Casey, PhD
University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton)

Did you know that there are more than 1,500 museums in Canada?  Museums encompass many disciplines of study, including history, science, nature, and the arts.  Their collections range from tangible objects to intangible ideas, and their methods of presentation range from static displays to participatory environments.

From a pedagogical point of view, museums present rich learning environments, where constructed narratives are communicated through the use of sight, sound, touch, smell, and emotion.  Within such narrative constructs, as Trofanenko and Segall (2014) have pointed out, pedagogy is often positioned “to assume particular assumptions, perspectives, and views about the world and its people” (p. 1).  In this sense, while museums can provide powerful sites for learning, they can also be exclusionary and restrictive.

As teaching tools, museums also present their own distinct challenges.  This is because what constitutes learning in a museum involves multiple sensory experiences, personal interaction, and extended learning outcomes that change over time.  For this reason, learning in a museum is seldom immediately apparent or easily assessed (Wertsch, 2002, p. 114; see also Falk & Dierking, 2000; Kelly, 2011; Wallace-Casey, 2013).  Falk and Dierking’s (2013) Contextual Model of Learning, identifies four broad contexts for analyzing learning in a museum setting: personal, sociocultural, physical, and temporal.  Such a model also acknowledges (regardless of age or subject discipline) that “Learning begins with the individual. Learning involves others. Learning takes place somewhere” (Falk & Dierking, 2002, p. 36), and learning continues over time (Falk & Dierking, 2013).  This model, while reminiscent of constructivist pedagogy, recognises the complex nature of learning in a museum, and calls for more robust measures for assessment that extend beyond mere appropriation of a desired narrative claim.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Student Narratives and Public Memory in Museums

Image credit: Matt Buck, Wikimedia
By Cynthia Wallace-Casey, PhD
University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton)

I would like to draw your attention to a history education symposium coming up on December 1 in London (England) at the Institute of Education. This seminar series brings together three international scholars to explore what young people know about the past and their sources of knowledge.

Dr. Jocelyn Letourneau, of Laval University (Quebec), will discuss a pragmatic approach to teaching history, intended to move students “outside the thinkable they’ve been accustomed to in living in a particular society and being subject to its broad representations.”

Dr. Arie Wilschut, of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, will focus his discussion on the Dutch national historical consciousness, in particular, “we” versus “they” perspectives when talking and writing about the past.

Dr. Stéphane Levesque, of the University of Ottawa, will discuss the function of narration in orientating a community (and the individuals who share a membership in that community) within the context of time and nation.

All of these presentations speak to historical consciousness as a reflection of the present. Indeed, as historian E. H. Carr (1990) once wrote, history is “an unending dialogue between the present and the past” (p. 55). In this sense, we “see” the past within the context of our present.

As Letourneau has pointed out, it can be initially difficult for students to step outside of the narrative to which they are accustomed, and to “see” the past from a different societal perspective. In this sense, while shared narratives can serve to orientate individuals as members of a community, they can also serve as blinders. My own research focused upon narrative constructs in a community history museum. Over a period of 14 weeks, an entire class of seventh-graders explored the use of evidence and sources in the museum.

The promise of historical thinking in museums rests with enabling students to interact with museum narratives, using more than pre-existing “mythistoires” (Létourneau , 2014) as their single point of comparison for validating or denying historical claims (Husbands, 1996; van Boxtel, 2010; van Drie & van Boxtel, 2008; Létourneau, 2014; Nakou, 2006; Trofanenko, 2008). As Jones (2014) and Savenije et al. (2014) have found, when museum collections are used simply to support a particular narrative claim (rather than reflect critically upon that claim), students in this age group accept the authority of the museum, while selectively adapting portions of the narrative to reinforce their own pre-existing understandings of the past. In this way, they re-interpret and rationalize portions of the museum narrative to accommodate their own world-view.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Margaret MacMillan Launches the 2015 CBC Massey Lectures

By Cynthia Wallace-Casey, PhD
University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton)

What makes good leaders? This was the question that framed Margaret MacMillan’s opening lecture in the 2015 CBC Massey Tour, which commenced last week in Fredericton. It was the first in a series, including stops in St. John’s, as well as upcoming lectures in Victoria (September 30), Calgary (October 2), and Toronto (October 7). During each presentation, MacMillan draws from her recent publication History’s People: Personalities and the Past (2015), to explore the qualities (both positive and negative) of individuals who have shaped the world in which we live.

In this first lecture, Dr. MacMillan focussed upon leadership and the art of persuasion. Drawing from the examples of Otto von Bismarck, as well as William Lyon MacKenzie King, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, MacMillan laid out an interesting argument for “good leadership.” Good leadership, MacMillan explained, demonstrates four key characteristics:

1. Timing and opportunity;
2. Instinct and determination;
3. Capacity to bring others along; and
4. Driving ambition.

MacMillan began by elaborating upon the political career of Otto von Bismarck. She described in colourful detail how the Prussian leader ruthlessly bullied his way into power – through good luck and good timing. Thus, by adopting a complex strategy of international trickery, von Bismarck managed to bring about a union of German states. He possessed few admirable qualities. He was determined, ruthless, and did not worry about principles – yet was opportunely elected to Prussian parliament at a time when things were beginning to change.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

How to Reinvent Project Based Learning to Be More Meaningful

By Thom Markham
Mindshift
March 24, 2014

This is a crucial time for education. Every system in every country is in the process of figuring out how to reboot education to teach skills, application, and attitude in addition to recall and understanding. Helping students be able to grapple with increased problem solving and inquiry, be better critical and creative thinkers, show greater independence and engagement, and exhibit skills as presenters and collaborators is the challenge of the moment.

That’s why so many educators are using the project based learning (PBL) model. PBL has proven to be a means for setting up the kind of problem-solving challenges that engage students in deeper learning and critical inquiry. It requires students to research, collaborate, decide on the value of information and evidence, accept feedback, design solutions, and present findings in a public space—all factors that create the conditions under which high performance and mastery are most likely to emerge. The rise of PBL, in fact, is a success story for education.

Read more...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

De-constructing Cabinets of Curiosity: Arts-based Inquiry Project in Historical Thinking

By Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD candidate
University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton)

This arts-based inquiry project was intended to complement and extend upon my PhD research, regarding how a heritage community can assist middle school students in deepening their historical consciousness. This activity specifically related to the photovoice component of my research. It was intended to serve two purposes: a) to extend and disseminate my research to a broader public audience, by facilitating the development of a gallery-style photo exhibition that illustrates students’ abilities (through their eyes and in their words) of engaging in historical inquiry within a local history museum; and b) to reveal the nature of their ability to think historically in a museum
setting.

Read my full report here...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Using artifacts to teach social studies: What’s the story?

Credit: Melynda Jarratt, New Brunswick
Sports Hall of Fame, 2015
By Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD candidate
University of New Brunswick
(Fredericton)

In the interest of expanding upon my previous blog contributions, I’d like to introduce you to a project I’m currently working on, which involves object-based learning. Collaborating with a provincial history museum (The New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame), we are currently developing a unit of study that focuses specifically upon artifacts, sport, and war. Through a series of six lesson plans, teachers will be able to access a variety of primary and second sources, to compare and extend upon the artifact source, and thus reconstruct a “story” around each individual owner. This involves adopting a particular disciplinary approach to the past, which is commonly referred to as “material history” or “material culture.”

Material history, as often practiced in object-centered history museums, represents a unique approach to historical inquiry. As Hood (2009) has pointed out, “most historians are not equipped to do object-centered research” (p.177). For this reason, the challenge of “reading” an object that does not contain words, can be daunting for most anyone, if they have not learned the craft of material history inquiry.

With my own dissertation research involving seventh grade students, I found that participants particular enjoyed the sense of unbridled wonder that came from approaching their museum as a collection source. Object-based inquiry, although challenging for all, was also doable by all. Students quickly picked up on the technique, and in the process broke away from the official museum story, to create their own sense of meaning – a meaning that was grounded in evidence.