I’ve written about Mary Madden before. Mary is the amazing Education and Outreach Director at the Kansas State Historical Society. And she and her tiny staff do incredibly big things.

Mary recently shared with me a book that looks very interesting. Titled Teaching History with Museums: Strategies for K-12 Social Studies: Strategies for K-12 Social Studies, it provides an introduction and overview of the rich pedagogical power of museums. Mary says

This is the gold standard.

So you know it’s good.

Part of what the book attempts to do is to overcome the typical end of the year “let’s take our kids to a museum to kill a day by giving the kids a scavenger hunt” sort of museum visit.

The authors show how museums offer a sophisticated understanding of the past and develop habits of mind in ways that are not easily duplicated in the classroom. Using engaging cases to illustrate accomplished history teaching through museum visits, this text provides pre- and in-service teachers, teacher educators, and museum educators with ideas for successful visits to artifact and display-based museums, historic forts, living history museums, memorials, monuments, and other heritage sites.

Each case is constructed to be adapted and tailored in ways that will be applicable to any classroom and encourage students to think deeply about museums as historical accounts and interpretations to be examined, questioned, and discussed.

Among many other useful things you can find in the book, Teaching History with Museums offers a nice list of ten things you can do to take full advantage of the true power of history museums.

  • Visit the museum prior to bring students
    Allows you to see what kids will see, meet staff, and plan logistics.
  • Collaborate with museum staff to plan activities for students
    Mary from KSHS is a history / education goddess. Why would not use her skills and knowledge to plan your trip?
  • Take students to museums to learn both content and develop an analytical and critical stance towards history
    The full power of a museum includes the chance to develop a richer understanding of history, not just simply looking at stuff.
  • Build visit activities around curricular goals and explicitly connect the visit to classroom work
    Rather than stand-alone activities, museum visits are the most effective when they are ties to our classroom curriculum.
  • Plan both pre-trip and port-trip activities
    Your trip is wasted if your kids are not prepared before hand. But kids need to also reflect on what they learned after they’ve learned it.
  • Conduct extensive research
    Do a bit of due diligence – look at the website, talk with other teachers, call the staff.
  • Provide a balance of structured activities and freedom of choice during the visit
    Kids need specific guidance but “playing” during unstructured free can also encourage powerful learning opportunities.
  • Establish a norm of museum visits as a scholary endeavor, not a day off
    Hold kids accountable, communicate high expectations – this is a learning activity.
  • Provide school adminsitartors with a strong rationale for your visits to history museums
    Museum visits cost money. Make sure your principals understand the purpose. If nothing else, show them a dog-eared copy of this book.
  • Select chaperones carefully and provide them with support and expectations
    I understand how hard it can be to find volunteers for this sort of thing. But the more clear you are about their roles, the more comfortable they will be.

There are some other useful resources out there. Try these on for size:

Have fun!