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Teaching Teens with a Dual Curriculum

Teaching with a dual curriculum is an exciting and successful way to involve high school students in museums, while providing collaborative opportunities between museums and schools. A dual curriculum synthesizes materials, objects, and information from two museums — one art and the other history — into one program consisting of pre-visit materials, visits to both institutions, and a concluding activity that is graded by the classroom teachers.

“Students, Schools, and Museums: Art and History of the 1930’s” is a collaborative program created by educators at the Arizona State University Art Museum and the Tempe Historical Museum and social studies teachers in the Tempe Union High School District. Coordination between the two museums and with the teachers has helped this program evolve into a meaningful experience for area high school students for the past five years.

The goals of this program are as follows:

  • Students will increase competency in 1930’s history and art through direct, vivid research of original materials, paintings, fine art prints, music, everyday objects, documents, and photographs.
  • Students are introduced to museum resources beyond the galleries — such as curatorial staff, archives, libraries, collection study areas — and will realize the life-long learning potential of community museums.
  • Museum resources are integrated with classroom learning and the American history curriculum is expanded and enhance through integration of the arts and history.

Participating teachers prepare students for their museum visits using photographs, slides and a video provided by the museums in a pre-visit packet. Students travel to both museums in one day, completing a final project at whichever museum they visit last. A class spends three hours in each institution with a break for lunch. In the historical museum, they examine the history of Tempe as they tour the main hall of the museum. In the art museum, the students view temporary exhibitions and the historic American and Mexican art galleries, laying the groundwork for examining artworks as historical documents.

After this introduction, students are divided into small groups to conduct research on eight different topics pertinent to the 1930’s: lifestyles, commerce/community, migration, federal programs, rural life / agriculture, education, leisure activities / entertainment, and architecture. These topics are represented by original objects and some secondary source material in each museum. Study guide questions help the students focus on each topic. There is one question from each museum under every topic. Accompanied by docents, students conduct their research in galleries, storage areas, archives, and research facilities.

The concluding activity requires students to curate their own exhibition of objects using findings from both museums. Students are given twenty photographs of objects — ten from each institution. Working in groups, and guided by questions, students select objects for their exhibition, and write exhibition labels. This final activity integrates the students’ knowledge of art and history and, through the application of their research, cements their understanding of the 1930’s.

This project, which is incorporated into the classroom study of the 1930’s, is graded by the teachers.

The integrating of two distinctly different disciplines into a dual curriculum breaks conventional academic boundaries for the students. Many have never discovered links between the two disciplines before, and most admit that they have never been in one or both of the museums.

The variety of materials and applications engages the students. The program brings them face-to-face with real works of art and objects of history and exposes them to research techniques and the excitement of discovery. They generally find at least one item of interest in each of the museums.

Each year, museum educators and teachers meet before the program begins to review the previous year’s experiences, set the schedule, and discuss possible modifications. Over time we learned how to create a more effective visit for high school students. For instance, since the students were unfamiliar with the museum, they were easily distracted. To ease their curiosity and help them focus on their research project we added an introductory tour at both institutions. Access to the restricted areas of the museum did not mean much so long as students perceived that they were missing something exciting in the exhibit halls. After a general tour, however, we could hold their attention.

We also learned how to improve the study guides. We adjusted the history questions to prompt investigation rather than the retrieval of correct responses. We changed the art questions, too, making them less analytical and more specific to each of the works examined.

We found that students did not possess many of the skills needed to draw meaning from museum objects, and had to hone our questions in ways that directed them toward elaboration or involvement.

Though students say they prefer to be “free” to investigate based on their own interests, and not to have specific tasks to accomplish, their teachers felt the study guides gave students a focus and directed their efforts and research. We believe that the guide encourages students to conduct their own research and interpretation, and has proven more effective as an educational tool than the standard lecture tour. In addition, the study guides provide teachers with an opportunity to evaluate the students and their projects.

The concluding activity also changed. At first, the final project consisted of oral presentations by each student on a single topic. These presentations were often inaccurate and difficult to correct. Because the students focused on one topic, they did not perceive the connection between the two museums and the overall impression of the 1930’s. Today, the final activity includes materials from both museums and is accomplished in groups. The students self-govern the misinformation through the development of a title and object labels for their 1930’s exhibition. Docents are available to answer questions and guide the students. Later, back at school, the teacher grades the written document, as well as using it as the basis for further discussions in class.

Linking the information and resources of the two museums gives added incentive for teachers to make field trips. Visiting two institutions in one day and having a concrete end product that is directly linked with school curriculum makes this program salable to school administrators. The rapport developed between the teachers and museum personnel has resulted in far better communication and a more effective program.

Creating a dual curriculum can be challenging, but its many rewards are worth the effort. The program fosters an exciting, open exchange between docents, students, teachers, and museum professionals. Docents enjoy the productive interaction with high school students, and the students learn about museums as community resources. Teachers become more aware of the museums as educational allies and as resources, and tend to bring other classes to the museums and become involved in other museum offerings. And, the museum professionals gain insights into teacher and student needs and goals while becoming more effective in our interaction with high school audiences.

Heather Lineberry is Curator/Curator of Education at the Arizona State University Art Museum. Anna Johnson is Curator of Education at the Tempe Historical Museum. Ms. Johnson’s article, “Using Transitions to Teach Touring, ” appeared in the Autumn 1995 issue of The Decent Educator.

[The authors wish to dedicate this article to the memory of Chuck Malpede, Social Studies Chair and teacher for 30 years at Tempe High School, Tempe, AZ. He was instrumental in the development and success of this project, and his enthusiasm for history and innovation was inspirational. Mr. Malpede passed away December, 1994.]

Lineberry, Heather and Johnson, Anna. “Teaching Teens with a Dual Curriculum,” The Docent Educator 5.4 (Summer 1996): 6-7.

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