2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM


NESBITT, Elizabeth A., Burke Museum, Univ of Washington, Box 353010, Seattle, WA 98195-3010, lnesbitt@u.washington.edu

Museums are remarkable sites for learning in the exhibit halls, in collections, and with museum staff. Natural science museums, or even local history museums, provide a wealth of material to facilitate intellectual connections and to make ideas accessible on a wide range of levels. Charles Dickens, in 1845, described “The plain, monotonous vault of a class room containing the little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim.” Despite our best attempts, there are times when not all our classrooms have progressed far from this model. College instructors for earth science classes rely on labs for students to supply experiences for different learning styles, but too often these end up being paper and pencil exercises. Many of us are searching for ways to address students’ different learning styles and make contributions to experiential learning. Working with museum objects gives the student an unusual and out-of-the-box experience compared with database and web-designed exercises.

Museum visits expose students to a wide range of materials and entirely hands-on experiences. An NSF (1998) study reported that 85% of professional scientist polled named visiting a science or natural history museum as a child as their most memorable science experience. Yet, many science students never visit museums, and those that do rarely understand the intellectual content behind exhibit design and written informational items. Moreover, most people do not see what lies beneath, in the collection rooms which house exhibit materials as well as teaching and research collections. Such materials can be utilized for student projects, directed labs, or investigative exercises to augment regular lab exercises. In addition, student projects can involve designing a content-rich museum exhibit to explain a course topic, fundamental concept, or newly published research. Such open-ended exercises bring students into contact with curators, collections managers, and proficient collection volunteers, enhancing their experience and furthering their scholarship.