Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Conversation with Carly Baumann & Mary Scott Hackman

Meet the educators responsible for Discovery Studio and other Museum programs: Education Programs Coordinator Carly Baumann and Early Childhood Programs Coordinator Mary Scott Hackman.

What’s your background?
Carly: I first came to the Museum to be part of the 2003-04 AmeriCorps team, from a background in education, and worked with Learning Clubs developing hands-on activities and after-school programs. After my AmeriCorps year, I worked in Providence after school and taught elementary school and returned to the Museum in 2007 as a staff member.

Mary: My background is in early childhood. Prior to coming to the Museum in April 2008, I spent a year teaching Head Start teachers at Ready to Learn Providence how to weave literacy into their curriculum. Before that, I was training early childhood educators and teacher assistants in the Providence school system.

Describe your role(s) at the Museum.
M: My focus is bringing information about early child development and things that appeal to children ages 1-6 to the Museum. I plan programs, oversee the AmeriCorps team that works with Head Start (ages 3-6) children, and think about what’s best for our youngest visitors.

C: Both Mary and I help shape the learning experiences children and families have at the Museum and identify learning targets. I design programs for kindergarteners and up and mentor our AmeriCorps members working in the after-school community to develop hands-on curriculum to Museum standards and philosophy while guiding their growth as educators.

M: Carly and I have also have a responsibility to the wider community of sharing the Museum’s philosophy about the ways children learn with other educators.

C: And with other staff, too – Experience Coordinators, Play Guides, interns. Not just procedures of what we do but the why.

In general, what’s the role of Museum programs?
C: Museum exhibits are designed to be handled and experimented with by thousands of children. Programs allow us to take the same philosophy of hands-on learning and expand it to materials and tools that are messy, risky, small, delicate in ways we couldn’t do in exhibits. They allow us to be more spontaneous and try out new ideas while offering activities, challenges and support for children to be independent and creative.

What’s the goal of having a dedicated program space like Discovery Studio?
C: We are creating an environment specifically designed to be an inspiring place to hold our programs. Currently we have flexible rooms that can be anything. Flexibility has been important to maximize our space, but it means hauling materials from the basement, moving tables and stools for every program. We want the experience to be more efficient for staff while giving visitors access to more materials. It’s really a learning space. It will always there – we can put things up on the walls and keep them there, or change it over time.

M: Components of the Studio that will help all of us are opportunities to store things there, to have sand and water tables available at any time as well as manipulatives and books. We’ll have a tortoise and living plants, to give children opportunities to observe. And a nook, a place to retreat to – a quiet space for a family to read a book, with comfy pillows.

C: We’ve thought about how design works with different ages. We wanted to play with levels in Discovery Studio – higher tables for activities designed for older children, lower tables for toddlers and preschoolers. When visitors walk in the door, they’ll instinctively know what’s appropriate for them. Of course anyone is allowed to explore any area of the Studio, but it allows us to better respond to the needs of visitors.

M: We’ll also have areas in the room where children’s work is displayed so visitors can see what happens there and the types of experiences they can have.

C: We also have the opportunity to try something new, to have ongoing art or creative projects that children can continue to come back to. Another piece of our learning is giving visitors access to these experiences as long as the Museum is open. Sometimes experiences will be facilitated, but other times they will be self guided, with hints and ideas.

What inspiration did you draw on in planning the space and the programs?
C: Primarily we drew on what we’ve learned from the programs that we run, that we respond best to visitors when we offer multiple ways in, when we invite them to experience materials in different ways.

M: And when we give a longer window in which to explore – we designed the space and program time so that children can drop in and leave and come back, that there’s no pressure to complete or finish. Open-ended time is important to the child’s process. I’ve also been influenced by the words of [Reggio Emilia founder] Loris Maliguzzi, who said that rather than teaching children anything, giving them materials to interact with is the way we should be educating. Children need the time and the space to manipulate materials.

C: Immersing ourselves in other studio environments, from art studio spaces designed for children to nature labs. Each of us involved in this project has drawn on spaces where we find inspiration.

Why and how are you documenting what happens in Discovery Studio?
M: The Museum is already documenting, through the blog and collecting great stories. The visitor experience has always been elicited, via exhibit “talk-back” boards, the “show-off” shelf in Shape Space and directly from the visitor. We want to continue that in Discovery Studio by capturing a moment a child has and making it come alive.

C: We’ll have a permanent place to show children’s work, photographs, quotes and tell the story of the learning happening in the Studio. It gives us a chance to develop our own professional practice, to talk deliberately about the kinds of learning we’re supporting and how we can do better.

M: Documentation also shows children how much we value what they’re thinking, and that’s a really important message we want to give our visitors.
Documentation wall prototype.
What are you most looking forward to once Discovery Studio is open?
C: For me, seeing where the visitors take it. We can only plan up to a certain point. What’s really going to make this space magical is what children bring to it, and we can learn from them.

M: I am so excited that the room will appeal to a very wide range of development and age – to see an 11-year-old alongside a 2-year-old in the same space, each doing an activity and being industrious, and that so much of an exchange will go on because of that.

C: Learning Clubs will also be held in Discovery Studio and I’m so excited to see this space used for the hands-on activities our AmeriCorps member develop for children who have such limited access to beautiful materials in their classrooms or community centers.

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