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zeducation

“We now know that kids today learn differently than we did, and it’s because of a fundamental difference in the their lives compared to ours at their age … “

When I was young it was easy to get excited about science. Neil Armstrong had just become the first person to walk on the moon, we were introduced to microprocessors, video games, lasers, black holes, microwave ovens, and pocket calculators.

Science museums were the place to go for a jolt of inspiration.

I remember a school trip to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History around 1980 and seeing an actual moon rock from one of the Apollo missions.  We all just stood around with wide eyes looking at it under glass. I’m sure my kids today would be less enthralled.

Museums are trying to keep pace with technology.  Even the word “museum”, feels old and dusty now; bones, ancient pottery, dioramas of a T-Rex and a Triceratops in an eternal battle scene in front of a faded wall mural of angry prehistoric volcanoes and giant dragonflies.  I bet some day we’ll see a Museum of Museums.

On my way to work I pass a sign for a “History Museum” and it occurred to me that it was redundant, take either word off the sign and I bet you wouldn’t loose any visitors.  For this reason a lot of science and history “museums” are becoming science and history “centers.”  Don’t get me wrong, I love these kinds of places, but I’m worried about them.

Telling Stories

I work in advertising, my company makes commercials.  A big part of that job is telling stories, short stories that inspire people with emotional messages to get them to think in ways that benefit my client. It’s not as bad or deceptive as it sounds, really (and it’s not like Mad Men).  “Inspiring” is a good word for what we do and with it there is storytelling.

At some point it hit me: storytelling, inspiration, emotional messages…I could use these skills with my kids, get them inspired about things like science and learning.  I’d done it a thousand times, but instead of inspiring someone to buy cereal I would be inspiring someone to find excitement in things like science, biology, and chemistry, or whatever they seemed drawn to.  I could find interesting narratives, show them things that hooked me when I was young.  But as I write this I’m thinking, do kids learn the same way we did at their age?

Hang on a second, my five year old is asking if she could play on my iPhone.

Getting ‘Digital Natives’ Engaged in Science and Museums

We now know that kids today learn differently than we did, and it’s because of a fundamental difference in the their lives compared to ours at their age.  Everyone younger than 10 years old has never known a time when technology wasn’t everywhere.  Smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Youtube, instant messaging, multi-player online games … they’re immersed.

When I was young we had three television channels, scheduled programs, no computers, and a phone that was attached to the wall.  My kids have hundreds of choices of channels to watch, the ability to start and pause programs, and access to a phone that is over a million times more powerful than NASA had during the first Apollo missions.

Kids today drive their own experiences, make their own choices, and accept that digital gadgets are part of life.  They socialize, communicate, work, and hang-out on their devices. Their brains work in a fundamentally different way, and because of this they also learn differently.  They are comfortable in that digital world.  They are native.

Like most parents I am worried this is a bad thing.  We can limit the screen-time, but we should also realize that screens are going to be around for a long time.  Alan Watts wrote, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

“According to a 2014 report by The Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are over 35,000 museums in the US.  That’s more than the number of Starbucks and McDonalds, combined!”

Science museums inspired the young me, and I was hoping it would do the same for my kids. Unfortunately, our recent museum trips have been a little disappointing.  There was a lot to read and see but unfortunately not much to amaze my kids.  As I said before museums have it tough right now.  Today, if you want to know about space travel, or alligators, or coo-coo clocks, you probably wouldn’t think of going to a museum; you would type it into Google and follow the info.  Are museums a thing of the past?  I hope not.  What role can they play in a high-tech society? How do they become relevant?

According to a 2014 report by The Institute of Museum and Library Services, there are over 35,000 museums in the US.  That’s more than the number of Starbucks and McDonalds, combined!  So it’s a demand issue and not a lack of supply. For Museums to survive, they’re going to have to adapt to their new audiences.  If you look at museum mission statements you’ll notice something interesting: the word inspire appears more than the word educate.  Museums don’t want to teach, they want to inspire. They want to inspire visitors to learn more about cars, or space, or history, or coo-coo clocks, or electricity, or volcanoes.

If museums could just connect with today’s youth they might have a fighting chance. I spent lots of time trying to figure out a way for museums to connect with Millennials and GenZ -thus becoming more inspirational, relevant, and valuable for our communities.  S.T.E.M. education through project-based-learning, citizen science, learning grids, cooperative and user-driven technologies, those are things we can all get excited about.  Those are things that generations with the need to drive their own experiences and follow their own interests can get excited about.  Those are the things in which museums should become involved.

Connecting museums with local schools is part of the solution.  Museums already get over 55 million visitors a year from schools, schools love museums and museums love schools.  What if the museum exhibits match the school curriculum? What if the exhibits encouraged citizen science projects?  What if local schools can add content to the exhibit such as science experiments, student made videos about climate change, or volcanoes, or honey bees?  That’s the future my team is now working towards.

The Digital Makerspace for Generation Z

In the last few years, a small group of designers have created a system called the Zed Digital Makerspace. (Zed stands for “generation Z Education”)  It is a network system that connects schools with museums to promote S.T.E.M. education through project-based-learning.  Students drive their own experiences, build their own projects and learn about things like programming, design-thinking, and paper prototyping through workshops at the school that become part of an immersive digital experience back at the museum.  It ties the museum to the school and to the community in a unique tech-friendly way.

Stories in the Sky – TMS from Artifact Design on Vimeo.

If successful, our program would act as an example of how museums can serve an important role in our communities and in education.  If it isn’t successful, something similar will be. Every time technology changes, new opportunities arise.  In the case of museums, it’s ALL about finding a way to connect with, and inspire newer generations.  My kids are growing up and will have kids of their own. That generation (Gen Q? Gen VR? Gen NANO?) will be different in ways we can’t predict yet. But, however these future kids learn, we’ll all have to take notice and design our tools to match the way they learn, and not the other way around.

Here is a link to our site if you would like to join the Zed movement … www.storiesinthesky.org.

Or CLICK HERE to check out our Kickstarter campaign!

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teach-with-movies

Site Offers Indexed Lesson Plans Built Around Movies for an Array of Academic Subjects

Do you sometimes find yourself thinking about how you can spice up a lesson with some engaging visuals, a pop culture reference, some humor or drama, or something else that gives it that extra “pop!”? Or … have you ever been watching a good movie and thought, “Wow! This totally relates to one of my lessons”?

Well if you’ve experienced either of these notions, this site is for you (and even if you haven’t, you’ll probably want to check it out anyway).

TeachWithMovies.org offers a collection of lesson plans and curriculum materials using movies to inspire, inform and motivate your students. There are subject-specific sections for English, Social Studies, Sciences, and Other Subjects (which include Math, Health, Music, and numerous other subjects). These subject areas are often broken down into sub-categories (for example, Social Sciences is broke down into US History, World History, and Civics).

Some lesson plans are built around the movie as a whole*, and some are geared towards specific movie sections, a.k.a. “snippets”, providing the opportunity for shorter, more focused lessons.

*TWM does not advocate for having kids sit through movies in classes as a regular practice:

“WM doesn’t advise using a lot of movies in the classroom. We suggest that teachers show one, possibly two, full-length movies a semester. What TWM advocates is using full-length movies in a way that inspires, opens new vistas, drives assignments, and changes perception. The uses are myriad and the benefits many. When 11th grade girls tell you that the film Water, a movie about widows in India in the 1930s is the best movie they ever saw, you know you’ve opened a new window on their world.”

Sample Lessons

“PRECIOUS”Here is a lesson based on PRECIOUS, taken from the extensive index of movie adaptations (“movies adapted from books that are frequently assigned reading in english language arts classes”). Note how the lesson includes identifiers for which academic subjects it can work for, how it relates to social emotional learning, and the moral and ethical emphasis of the lesson.

  • SUBJECTS — Health; ELA (for cross-curricular assignments); Psychology;
  • SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Child Abuse, Self-esteem, GBLTQ; Parenting; Taking Care of Yourself;
  • MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility, Caring.

“HOOSIERS”: I found this lesson while checking out the Social-Emotional Learning index, which contains a dozens of categories, ranging from “Alcohol and Drug Abuse” and “Ambition” to “Teamwork” and “Work/Career”. Note how the lesson has lots of general Discussion Questions, Social-Emotional Learning questions, and Moral-Ethical Emphasis questions.

Introduction to Volcanoes and Tectonic Plates Using “VOLCANO”: This lesson is available under Earth Science, and it is also cross-indexed under “Snippets”. There are three portions of the movie used for the lesson, each about 20 minutes (the relevant segments are identified with start and end times).

“CONTACT”: I came across this lesson in a section labelled “Reward Films” (“The promise of a film as reward for tasks accomplished has always been a manipulative device favored by teachers who themselves love a good movie now and then. But reward doesn’t mean brain-dead or useless. The key is to use the class to do something different that will help students.”). The film is also cross indexed under these Subjects: Religions/Judeo-Christian, Science Fiction, Space Exploration, ad Mathematics, as well applicable Social-Emotional Learning and Moral-Ethical Emphasis indices.

As you can see, there are quite a few indexes built in TeachWithMovies that can help teachers find good movies with specific lesson goals and objectives in mind.

So stop by TeachWithMovies and check it out, or click through to their FAQs page to learn more.

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