What I'm Up To
My fun, interactive approach to object-based learning for novices
“Object-based learning” is a phrase uttered time and time again in museums. What it basically means is to use the museum’s collections (i.e. what’s on display) to teach concepts. Teach from what you (and the guests) can see. Why is object-based learning useful? Here are three reasons:
Sounds simple enough. But, as a tenet of good museum education practices, it’s sometimes surprisingly hard to do. It can be especially challenging for new docents or tour guides, particularly if they’ve never worked or taught in museums before. I love a good challenge and, as such, I’ve gathered a series of links and discussion points to help new docents or tour guides get comfortable with object-based learning. I use these materials in a larger set of activities over a four-hour session for training new tour guides. Enjoy!
TOOLKIT | Warm-up materials to share beforehand:
TOOLKIT | Discussion prompts:
TOOLKIT | I always kick off the discussion with a personal example:
Close your eyes and picture a plate. Now, picture a decorated plate. Is it very detailed? Are the colors bright? How about those collectible plates depicting blockbuster movies or the holiday-themed ones? Reflect silently: What comes to your mind when you picture those plates? Now, open your eyes.
Whenever I see a decorated, antique, or collectible plate, I never think of food. Instead, I think of my grandmother. She collects plates and hangs them on every available wall space in her kitchen. As a child, I liked visiting her and seeing if I could pick out any of the new plates she’d added since my last visit. We hardly ever spoke about the plates, but they are indelibly etched in my mind simply as “what Grandma’s House looks like.” So, if I see a collectible plate for sale or turn one over in my hands at a thrift store, I am immediately transported back to her tiny, cozy kitchen and her dozens of wall-mounted plates.
How is my impression of a collectible plate different than yours?
I take time to discuss each of the examples (Historical Cooties, then the Pope's Fiat). I invite them to react to both items and then highlight how the group's reactions were different or similar for each. Then, I share my personal example. The resulting conversations are always entertaining and insightful. As a facilitator, I don't steer the conversation. I simply let it flow, reinforcing or repeating the responses I get in a slightly different way, to keep the discussion going. This discussion usually lasts about 15-20 minutes.
Niki Cuccinotto is the Museum Guide & Curriculum Coordinator at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. She also volunteers at Liberty Wildlife Rehabilitation Foundation in Scottsdale, as well as the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in Phoenix. She is active in the Greater Phoenix Emerging Museum Professionals as well as the Museum Association of Arizona. She is also a professional member of the American Alliance of Museums.