Category Archives: Partnerships

A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 1

Keeping in mind the possibilities and pitfalls detailed by the literature, we offer this model of a museum-based partnership between the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the DC public school system (DCPS) and a local retirement home. The partnership will take the form of a learning project and result in documenting historical change and civic life in Washington, DC. The partnership will be constructed according to the six-part process outlined in the article An Alliance of Spirit: Museums and School Partnerships.

As a national museum located in Washington, DC, the NMAH has an interest in documenting history on the local and national levels, in addition to local events that reflect national trends, or local events of national significance. Through this project, the museum will collect primary-source histories of the events that transpired in the tumultuous 1960s. Through contact with museum staff, students and seniors will discover its operations “behind the scenes.” Students will experience history in a new way, making the discipline (and museum) more accessible. Feeling they have contributed to the understanding of history, seniors may be drawn to further volunteer at the museum or participate in public programs. By asking for community input, the museum will position itself as a listener amidst its community.

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Initial Program Planning

Part 3 – Front-End Evaluation 

Part 4 – Program Design and Development

Part 5 – Formative Evaluaton

Part 6 – Program Implementation

Part 7 – Summative Feedback 

Part 8 – Summary


A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 2

The first task the museum faces is reaching out to its partners in the DC public school system (DCPS) and a local senior home. To succeed, each partner’s strengths and needs must be recognized and accommodated. The NMAH’s mission is “inspiring a broader understanding of our nation and its many peoples. We create opportunities for learning, stimulate imaginations, and present challenging ideas about our country’s past.”

This program is appropriate for students in the 12th grade, whose social studies focus on DC: Government and History. The curriculum’s guiding philosophies outline the goals of this curriculum unit: “Citizens in our society need to understand the current condition of the world and how it got that way and be prepared to act on challenges as they confront us. … For intelligent citizenship, we need a thorough grasp of the daily workings of our own society…” The 12th grade curriculum focuses on a few key themes; one is struggles against political oppression and racial injustice, another is the spread of economic, political or cultural ideas across borders. Both these are very relevant for discussing the racial tensions that existed in the United States in the 1960s, and how these were manifested in Washington, DC. The curriculum also covers other salient aspects of life in the District: an increase of population and its affect on low-income and African American neighborhoods, and the efforts to overcome various forms of discrimination by various civic leaders.

Seniors have plenty of time and life experience, yet tend to be an overlooked sector of society. This project offers them a meaningful way to volunteer their time and share their experiences with a younger generation. This program offers them a way to re-connect with their community, both as conveyors of past history and as educators of the younger generation.

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A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 3

    One important issue worth addressing is how each group within the partnership perceives the others. For example, seniors might expect boisterous, iPhone toting youth who have little respect for learning, while the students may fear seniors with physical disabilities or worry about not being taken seriously by their elders. Unaddressed, these uncertainties are capable of derailing the partnership.
    All three partners should understand the level of output expected, and ensure that it’s both academically sound and up to museum standards. Both the museum and seniors should be familiar with DCPS curriculum standards. It must be emphasized that this is not an open-ended oral history project, but rather a directed, hands-on learning experience for the students. Therefore, the scope of information offered by the seniors, and the scope of the final projects must be limited, in order to best complement the 12th grade curriculum.

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A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 4

Teachers will ensure that the program is designed to both meet DCPS curricular standards and be engaging for students. Therefore, students will learn through a wide range of techniques. An open ended conversation with the seniors will offer an opportunity to contextualize class material. Taking photographs will offer an outlet for visual and artistic expression. Finally, students will demonstrate their understanding with a poster, including both images and a summarizing text. This project also prepares students for college, where semi-independent work is the norm. Many schools cite the cost of transportation as a barrier to field trips (cite reading). Therefore the museum staff will travel to the school for half of the meetings. Seniors, who generally do not work and therefore have time, will also travel to the school. This project may be a powerful motivator for seniors to leave their homes and give them a sense of purpose.

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A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 5

A meeting will be held between museum representatives, DCPS officials and the director of the senior home. The future meetings will be outlined, and each partner will critically ascertain whether their goals will be sufficiently met. Last minute questions will be raised, and the program may be slightly tweaked to accommodate last minute concerns.

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A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 6

The first meeting will open with an icebreaker, and will focus on fostering a comfortable environment for the participants. Then a curator/historian will present several photographs and discuss photography as a mode of historical documentation. This part may be delivered by David E. Haberstich, who is an associate curator whose expertise is documentary photography. The second meeting will take place at school. Paired, students and seniors will begin the process of inquiry. Each side will come prepared: students with a list of questions about past events, and seniors with a number of photographs from that era. These will both start-jump and define the conversation, as the students and seniors discover where their interests, knowledge and experiences overlap. Museum staff will facilitate and aid the teams in defining their interests. The third meeting will be a visit to one of the sites photographed. Here the task will be twofold: capture a follow-up photograph, and complete a report on how the location has changed. The fourth meeting will take place in school, where each duo will decide how to frame their photographs. Again, the museum staffperson will offer guidance. Which aspects of history do they find most salient? How each generation relates to the site? How the site has changed over the years? Should the pictures be presented through a personal or historical narrative? Students and seniors may hold additional meeting to finalize their presentation. Each team will design a poster that includes the images and text; this poster will be professionally produced by the museum. The final meeting will be at the museum, and each pair will present its poster. The posters will rotate between temporary display in the museum, school, and the senior home.

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A Historian, Teen and Senior Citizen Walk Into a Museum – Pt. 7

All three partners will  evaluate the program first, participants (students and seniors) will be surveyed as to whether the experiences was educational and pleasurable. Next, each partner organization will evaluate whether its needs were met. Were teachers satisfied by the learning process? Did the outcome fulfill DCPS’s academic standards? Was student learning  effective? The seniors will be asked to evaluate whether they felt sufficiently valued, and whether they perceived the program as worth their effort. For the museum, was the level of history being documented high enough?
If needed, the partner organizations may make changes – more or less museum involvement, a more defined assignment, or any other ideas that may seem relevant. Meetings may be structured differently, added, or reduced.

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