Sunday, October 14, 2018

Are We There Yet? Creating Deep Learning Experiences

Aerial view of Auckland Museum, with Auckland City Centre in the distance
Each year, I ask each mentee who's spending some time with me to write a blog post.  Here, Claire Lanyon of the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand shares her team's learning as they create Discovery Kits for in-school use.  Stay tuned in early December for the call for the 2019 Mentorship.
The Learning Team

As Learning Manager at Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum, I am responsible for the team who design, develop and deliver learning experiences onsite, offsite and online.  I am part of the Learning and Engagement Team, which consists of two teams, the Learning Team and the Public Programmes Team.  The Learning and Engagement Team were restructured in October 2017, I was appointed in November 2017 in an interim role which became permanent in March 2018. 
Our Challenge
Approximately 10% of Auckland’s formal learners visit for a ‘learning experience outside of the classroom’ (approx 45,000 students per year).  Our target by 2022 is to increase formal learner visitation to 100,000 on-site visits per year, representing approximately 25% of K-12 students in the city. 
We are transforming our offer, there are so many aspects of this journey that I could share.  However, I have decided to focus on one of the projects that has been pivotal in re-engaging with the sector - a key priority for the first phase of transformation:  Discovery Kits.
This isn’t a new idea (as a potential funder pointed out, after speaking to a friend who used to deliver dioramas to schools from Auckland Museum somewhere during the 1930’s - 1950’s!).  However, we were keen to retain the essence, whilst innovating, and I was particularly keen to ensure that we were creating a scalable and sustainable model.  During discussions with the Ministry for Culture and Heritage during a previous role that I held at the Museum, a serendipitous sponsorship opportunity was already in discussion and this opportunity formed the first ‘low-risk’ testing phase for the development of a series of Discovery Kits utilizing Auckland Museum’s collections for authentic learning in classrooms throughout New Zealand.
The First Discovery Kit - Walking with an Anzac
Working with an organization called School Kit, who develop innovative teaching ideas that are robustly integrated with opportunities for authentic use of online sources for learning, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage had committed to producing Walking with an Anzac Discovery Kits that would be delivered at no charge to 1,000 classrooms, reaching 32,000 students.  In order to receive a kit, teachers committed to utilizing the resources within the same school term as delivery.  Auckland Museum was invited as a sponsor as, integral to the work that the students would be undertaking, was one of our online products - Online Cenotaph.
Within the Walking with an Anzac Discovery Kit, were thirty-two objects that related to a story of a specific service person.  As part of the sponsorship opportunity, it was determined that seven of the objects would be reproduced from Auckland Museum’s collection.
A snapshot of some of the objects within the Walking with an Anzac Discovery Kit
The reproduction of the objects was of an extremely high quality, the accompanying resources were pedagogically sound and the feedback from teachers and students was very positive.  We were able to leverage this positive experience and demonstrate to our Executive Team and key stakeholders that this was a model that could form part of our strategy to re-engage with the sector and develop learning opportunities and provide pre and post-visit resources that supports inquiry learning.
The Second Discovery Kit - Are We There Yet?
With this learning experience as a foundation, we were confident that this was an approach that we would like to replicate to support our learning offer for future exhibitions.  2018 is the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand.  To commemorate this milestone, the Exhibition Team have developed a thought-provoking exhibition called Are we there yet? Women and Equality in Aotearoa.  The exhibition tells untold stories and features New Zealand women from all walks of life who have contributed to advancing equality for women.  It reflects on the tradition of Western Museum object collecting, showing whose voices are preserved in Museum collections and whose aren’t - aiming to unpack this and highlight these gaps and unheard voices.
With this in mind, colleagues from the Exhibition and Learning Teams met with School Kit to devise a plan for the Are we there yet? Discovery Kit.  Our aim was to develop a kit that would:
      Be suitable for use in year 7 to 12 classrooms, including all boys schools and schools with a religious character
      Elicit discussion and debate in a safe environment
      Be centered around the school community
      Showcase the exhibition and demonstrate that Auckland Museum is a place for authentic and meaningful learning experiences
During the development phase, we identified an opportunity to highlight and share the amazing work of an Auckland based company called Figure.NZ.  Figure.NZ:
exists to enable everyone to make sense of data and see Aotearoa clearly. Our dream is that when every New Zealander wants to use data, can get their hands on it, and knows how to use it effectively, the nation will be able to shift away from a culture of binary debate and arguments over what the situations are.”
We had a hunch that providing contemporary statistical data, that highlights gender inequality in an accessible format, would provide the students with a strong foundation to support them in making up their own minds about whether ‘we are there yet’ with regards to gender equality in Aotearoa (it was a bonus that Figure.NZ was founded by an awesome woman and potential role-model, Lillian Grace).
Figure.NZ’s business cards were the inspiration for the eight data cards that were inside the Are we the yet? Discovery Kit.  These data cards were designed to support the class teacher to elicit contemporary discussion and inspire the students to want to learn more - the topic was firmly rooted in what was happening in their own communities, right now.  Additionally, 32 blank ‘Draw a Scientist’ cards were provided to uncover the unconscious gender bias that may be hidden within their own classroom walls.
One of the ‘data sentence’ cards, provided within the discovery kit
Supported by comprehensive online resources, the Are we there yet? Discovery kit contains eight objects that can be seen within the exhibition and empowers students to interrogate contemporary data, examine historical objects and develop research and communication skills to unlock known and unknown stories of women from 125 years ago through to today.  Delivered to teachers, who register for the kit, the kits are free of charge and remain with the teacher indefinitely (ensuring a valuable resource for years to come). Utilising vinyl decals included within the kit, the students are empowered to create their own exhibition that highlights the stories of eight women within their communities.  The outcome will be that 16,000 students from 500 classrooms throughout New Zealand will have engaged with and interviewed women from their own communities in order to develop their exhibition.
A snapshot of some of the objects within the Are we there yet? Discovery Kit
The boxes were delivered to teachers during the first week of term 3, feedback so far has been extremely positive with one teacher saying:
“Of all of the kits I have had the privilege to use, this is the one that is making the most impact on my class.  This would be something that I will not rush through and will do each year”
It is early in the term so we have not yet seen the students work.  However, we are already very proud of the results and the feedback that is trickling in from teachers across the country.  We learned a number of things that we will take forward for the next kit:
      The decision to create this came very late in the exhibition design process, whilst this assisted us to make some quick content-based decisions, the timeframe for creating the discovery kit was tight.
      Partially due to the tight timeframes, the website was not ready until the kits were delivered in the first week of term.  Next time, we would ensure that the website is ready before the school holidays to empower teachers confidence in making their own connections for their own classrooms.
      The discovery kits are developed by School Kit who have a number of other kits, commissioned by other companies.  The Are we there yet? Discovery Kit web pages are beautiful but the Auckland Museum branding could be more prominent.  Some teachers visiting the exhibition have not made the connection that the Are we there yet? Discovery Kit was co-developed by Auckland Museum and School Kit.
      We would like to consider how we better help teachers and students have direct dialogue with Auckland Museum, as well as other schools utilizing the kits.
Finally, whilst this is a relatively cost-effective way to ‘engage every school child’ (one of our Auckland Museum’s goals in our current five-year strategic plan), it is an investment (both people and financial) that cannot be reproduced for every exhibition that we have.  Therefore, we are exploring additional business models that also enable revenue generation.  This business model is firmly a ‘loss-leader’ that boldly demonstrates our new learning team vision:
“To empower all learners to understand and contribute to a changing world”

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