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Powerful Partnership

May 13, 2008

For those that know me in real life, you know I’ve long been fascinated with museums and other “non-formal” educational institutions. You know, the places that many home-school families buy memberships to and use as hands on labs throughout the year, but that the kinds of places we work in kind of sort of discourage us from using too much because its probably not on the test.

Last fall, I challenged some of the participants in my Lead Teachers program to think differently about what they do. Use technology to communicate in some new way. Open a new door for students.

A museum educator and great friend for many years, Gaye-Lynn Clyde, happened to be in my class, and offered a program that had been done in person at the museum for the past 5 years. Students would collaborate on a project throughout the semester, working with various departments at the museum, to develop an exhibit. Nothing too groundbreaking there, I know. Classrooms have been creating mini-museums for years. But in this case, these kids would actually get to create an exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum that would really go on display! And in the process, the exhibit would have to pass all of the same standards that any other exhibit designer had to go through to get his or her exhibit on display.

Peggy Fleck, a teacher at Wileman Elementary in Delevan, took us up on our challenge. Located an hour away, her students got to visit the museum once in person in February to talk about what their exhibit might look like. There were several great ideas, but Delevan has a rich heritage as the home of the Barnum and Bailey Circus, and winter home to more than two dozen circuses in the 19th century. We decided to bring back the rich tradition of the Great Circus Parade to the Streets of Old Milwaukee!

Each week these kids put in considerable personal time developing artwork for rack cards, circus posters, costumes, floats, and more. The Nickelodeon was the stage for the circus, and the parade ended up there. A barker in the hall drove museum patrons in to see the show! Every other week, students in Peggy’s 4th grade class, an hour away from the city, video conferenced from their classroom with curators, image specialists, educators, and many more people at the museum as they consulted on how they would bring the circus back to town.

I hope that videoconferencing wasn’t the focus of this project. At the same time, I know that without these great communications technologies, this project would never have been possible. Years from now I hope these kids are still all fired up about what they have done, even if they don’t remember the role that our technology played in making it happen for them. THAT is great technology integration!

Have you ever been part of something truly life changing?

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