One method that I’ve found to help me “lead by discovery” in the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, NY, is an exercise that I call “What If?”
The students are given some basic information at the beginning of the tour to acquaint them with the history of glassmaking and the various processes necessary to make certain types of glass. They learn something about the tools used in this process. Then, I allow them time to look independently at the museum’s collection of Contemporary Art Glass. After about ten minutes, I call the group back together and give them a challenge.
“Pretend for a moment that you are a glass artist. Select a piece of glass in this gallery and prepare to tell the group:
- Why you made it
- How you made it
- What tools or manufacturing process you used
- What you would call it
- Who you would make it for
- Who you would give it to
I then select two boys and two girls and send them off to make their selections. I sometimes have them work in pairs to give more timid individuals the courage to explain their thoughts to peers. Students not selected to make presentations act as the panel of judges, and a prize, usually a postcard from the museum gift shop, is offered for the most innovative discussion.
With a little coaxing from me, we go through the list of things I had suggested they discover, explaining and discussing with the group. I am always amazed at the retention of information, the ability to organize an impromptu presentation, and the inventiveness of the students.
This type of exercise seems to stimulate a more personal level of interest in the collection, and it empowers the children to expand their ability to see a collection in a new light. It gives them permission to draw their own conclusions from basic information they’ve been given and to formulate their own personal perspective. It validates their ability to make choices and determinations on a more mature, “adult” level.
Mary Peterson, docent, Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York
Peterson, Mary. “It Works for Me…Sharing successful techniques, thoughts, and ideas.,” The Docent Educator 10.3 (Spring 2001): 16.