Museum Pilots New Schools Program

In a typical year the Princeton University Art Museum serves about ten thousand schoolchildren on class visits to the galleries. As the time for construction of the building neared, the Museum’s education department and the Docent Association began preparations to shift to an in-schools program with the expectation that this program would pilot new education offerings that would continue to be used during construction and after the new building opens. The education team spent the early part of 2020 interviewing and surveying teachers to understand their curricular needs, pedagogical preferences, and the logistical and technical challenges of bringing such programs into their classrooms. Based on that feedback, the education staff worked with consultant Claudia Ocello of Museum Partners Consulting to create inquiry-based teaching modules targeted to elementary, middle, and high school students.

The new teaching modules are designed to engage students actively with works in the Museum’s collections. Using digital and 3-D reproductions, these hands-on, learner-driven activities are intended to help students understand the connections between art and culture and to invite them to become active participants in meaning making while providing opportunities to practice and enhance critical thinking, focused looking, and analytical skills. Each module centers on an essential question or concept. For example, a third-grade class can choose the “Exploring Community” module, in which they consider two questions: How am I connected to the past? What do communities from different places and times have in common? Seventh-graders might instead focus on how the arts can express and influence culture.

This spring, the Museum’s volunteer docents received training in the new lesson plans and pedagogies and presented them to regional schools virtually. The education team has been collecting feedback from teachers so that the program can be refined and rolled out fully in the fall of 2021 (should the public health situation allow). The docents are enjoying the opportunity to develop new ways of interacting with students.

This new format will provide greater opportunity to connect with teachers and students in underserved districts who have not previously participated in the Museum’s education programs, because of either practical constraints in the schools or space constraints in the Museum.

It has been a pleasure engaging with students on the new inquiry-based learning model. With this model we are looking at art together and taking the time to observe and share what we see. I am constantly amazed by things that the students see which I have never noticed in artworks that I have looked at many times. We are all learning from each other. It’s so rewarding to see their minds in action as they make connections between the various artworks and themes such as community and family.

—Sandy Kurinsky, docent

I have been very excited about using the new pedagogy in virtual touring and look forward to the in-person classroom experience. It is a joy to watch students make discoveries about the artworks through close looking and critical thinking based around an essential question. Throughout the exercise, they work both individually and collaboratively to peel back the layers of the artwork so that they can understand it on a deeper level, create a context for it, and then connect their conclusions to contemporary culture. By the end of the session, you can feel the students’ sense of accomplishment!

—Allegra d’Adamo, docent

Frances Lange Public Schools Program

For almost thirty years, the Museum has collaborated with Trenton Public Schools on a multi-visit art initiative, the Frances Lange Public Schools Program, made possible in part by the Frances Lange Art Museum Education Fund. In its most recent iteration, one hundred second- and third-grade students visited the Art Museum eight times during the academic year to learn about the history of world culture through works of art on view in the galleries. Back in their home classrooms, the students kept journals and created their own works of art inspired by their visits to the Museum. The program culminated with a regional exhibition of the students’ work. Throughout 2019–20 docents and the Museum education team worked with the Trenton teachers to create a new version of the program to be launched in person in the fall of 2021. A longtime participant in the program shared:

While we are disappointed that we won’t be able to visit the Art Museum while the building is closed for construction, we are really excited about the Museum’s commitment to bringing meaningful and inclusive programs to the local schools. We are so grateful to the Museum for its support during this very difficult year. The Zoom programs created opportunities for cultural engagement as well as social and emotional learning. We look forward to partnering with the Museum to bring programs into our classrooms that provide students with engaging opportunities to discover the power of art to educate and inspire.

—Suzanne Hatley, visual art teacher, Parker Elementary