Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A field trip opportunity unlike any other

This weekend is the grand opening weekend of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The newest museum is the 19th one in the family of Smithsonian institutions. And with all the coverage about the historical significance of this museum, we thought it would be worth taking a look of the power of a simple field trip to a museum.

Several years ago, EducationNext published The Educational Value of Field Trips. The piece begins with a brief history of the field trip once being a cornerstone of public education in America. Schools saw the benefits of these experiences out of the classrooms justified the costs.
With field trips, public schools viewed themselves as the great equalizer in terms of access to our cultural heritage.
The piece goes on to discuss the decline of culturally enriching field trips over the past decade or two. There are a variety of factors beyond the obvious financial ones, including a focus on increased time needed to prep students for standardized test, as well as a shift from "enrichment" to "reward" field trips.

EducationNext highlighted the challenge of making the case for this particular type of enrichment activity because of a lack of "rigorous evidence about how field trips affect students". They then presented research from " the first large-scale randomized-control trial" to examine what students learn from visiting, in this case, an art museum.*

The Crystal Bridges study, done by researchers from the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, involved 10,912 K-12 students & 489 teachers at 123 different schools. To summarize their findings, Jay P. Greene, 21st Century Chair in Education Reform and head of the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, said the following:
We found that students who attended a school tour at Crystal Bridges demonstrated stronger critical thinking skills, displayed higher levels of tolerance, had more historical empathy and developed a taste for being a cultural consumer in the future. We also found that these benefits were much larger, in general, for students from rural areas or high-poverty schools, as well as minority students,
The historical empathy piece particularly sticks out given the current political climate and culture, where diversity and divisiveness seem to be ever present topics and challenges. With NMAAHC's historic focus on elevating the African American story and experience in the United States, it provides a distinct opportunity to tackle some of the tougher conversations, like one which a recent Los Angeles Times piece wrote about, How to talk about slavery.
So, as a network of youth advocates and providers, the opening of NMAAHC provides a unique opportunity. One that truly supports the power of emotional learning, as evidenced by a 2011  report commissioned by the Sovereign Hill Museums Association in Australia, Student Learning in Museums [ PDF]:
When looking at emotional learning, students expressed a desire to be emotionally
connected, while at the same time not emotionally confronted. The students in this
study indicated that they welcomed opportunities to be fully engaged with
provocative questions, fascinating and puzzling exhibits and clear, well-structured
and accessible information (Kelly and Groundwater-Smith, 2009)
This, along with other findings and research, indicate museums provide a somewhat unique space and context for students to get to know subject matter better, in ways that a classroom simply does not.  As a network, we encourage you to keep thinking about how you can integrate the opportunities of NMAAHC and the many other local institutions.

Because, as the Crystal Bridge study demonstrated- even at a micro level- students who went on a school trip to their museum, "experience improvements in their knowledge of and ability to think critically about art, display stronger historical empathy, develop higher tolerance, and are more likely to visit such cultural institutions as art museums in the future."

So consider taking some time as a family, program/organization or just as an engaged DC resident to experience NMAAHC. Because as  Lonnie G. Bunch, III, NMAAHC's founding director, said:
This Museum will tell the American story through the lens of African American history and culture. This is America’s Story and this museum is for all Americans. 
 So if you or your youth  haven't taken a field trip in a while, we know a place you might want to visit.

*While the National Museum of African American History and Culture isn't solely an art museum, it is the "only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture", which includes art in its collection. So while the study might not speak directly to all of NMAAHC's content and subjects, this study is definitely relevant to some of it.

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