Friday, August 17, 2012

Celebrating a Year of Service

This week, we celebrated a year of dedicated service and the graduation of MuseumCorps, the Museum’s AmeriCorps team.  This group of 12 full-time members and four additional summer members extended the Museum’s reach to children and families in underserved communities throughout and around Providence and had a tremendous impact. There’s so much the Museum simply could not do without the hard work and passion of these committed and talented individuals.

And new this summer, the Museum served 200 children with expanded summer enrichment programming, designed to combat summer learning loss – an average of two months of grade-level equivalency in math skills and three months in reading skills.

Our sincere thanks and congratulations to Abbey, Alex, Andy, Ann, Casey, Jeysy, John, Kassie, Leah, Meagan, Megan, Rebecca, Ryan, Sarah, Stacy and Suzie!

The Museum’s AmeriCorps program is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service and Serve Rhode Island with additional support from Amgen Foundation; Billy Andrade-Brad Faxon Charities for Children; Bristol County Savings Charitable Foundation; The John Clarke Trust, Bank of America, Co-Trustee; Cox Charities of New England Fund; The Hassenfeld Foundation; Frank B. Hazard General Charity Fund, Bank of America, Trustee; Harry M., Miriam C. & William C. Horton Fund, Bank of America, Co-Trustee; Museum Annual Campaign Donors; The Providence Shelter; Talbots Classics National Bank; Textron Charitable Trust; and UnitedHealthcare of New England.

Persistence: A Summer Learning Story

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. This story was shared by Sarah Bonawitz about facilitating the Museum's expanded summer enrichment programming – designed to combat summer learning loss in math and reading – for one of the 15 groups of kids the members served this summer.

“Daniel” is one of those kids who knows how to push your buttons – and knows that he knows how to push your buttons.  Sometimes when we arrived at the Highlander Charter School playground, Daniel would say, “Go home!” or “I don’t want you here today!” Other times he wouldn’t say anything at all and just slam the ball he was playing with into the brick wall.  I didn’t take his comments his personally but I don’t deny my sensitivity.

In the classroom, Daniel talked about how boring the activities were but ignored the challenges offered to him.  His negative comments, however, were muttered almost noncommittally and I saw his readiness to show off his smarts and answer a question correctly. As with most of the children in our club, I couldn’t help but think about what was going on in their lives that made it so hard for them to have fun learning together. 

But it pained me to see how much Daniel, smart as a whip, didn’t want to care about learning. It was like watching a crook covering his tracks in the dirt, but Daniel’s “crime” was being enjoyably engaged in our Learning Club activities. When I asked Daniel where he was going to hang the beautiful painting he made with the paintbrush he created out of recycled materials, he said, “In the trash.” 

Our lessons continued, Daniel coasting through the activities with detached engagement.  He was interested, I could tell, but he didn't want to be.  His intelligence seeped like water through the cracks he didn’t realize marked the surface of his fa├žade of not caring.

On Family Night, I was crossing my fingers that one of our Highlander kids would come through the Museum’s doors.  Within 20 minutes, a woman entered with two boys, both of them wearing matching rectangular hipster glasses.  Taking a closer look at the older boy, I saw it was Daniel!  In glasses! 
“Daniel!  You came!” I exclaimed, coming around to the front of the table.  “I didn’t recognize you in your super specs!” 
“Yeah,” he smiled sheepishly. 
“I am so glad that you came, Daniel,” I said – meaning every word. And he gave me a hug.

The following session of club we dissected owl pellets.  It was perhaps the best lesson of the entire summer.  I settled down with Daniel and “Adam,” another member of our club who really struggled with balancing his behavior and enjoyment of learning, and we had so much fun.  Together, they enthusiastically shared their findings.  Daniel would say something and Adam would add another detail.  I would ask a question and they would both give me completely different but completely accurate answers.
“And look,” Daniel said, showing me a skull, “using the [Identification Sheet], I can match the pictures to the bones I find.  See, this owl ate a rodent.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Because of the teeth.”
“And which is the bottom jaw and the top jaw?” 
“This one is the top and this one is the bottom because it’s smaller.  Here, we can put them back together like this.”
As I watched Daniel investigate and answer questions during the rest of the dissection, I was really happy.  Go Daniel – you’re so smart.  Keep putting things together. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Understanding: Boys & Girls Club Stories

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. These stories were shared by Leah Paladino and John Rossi, members of the team that served 133 kids in a Museum Learning Club at the Boys & Girls Club in the South Side of Providence, where they explored math concepts through engaging hands-on activities.

Hungry for Math
In an after-school setting, it is rare to hear a child profess his or her love for mathematics.  Math is often a subject that students feel overwhelmed by and afraid of.  Leading activities that mix in math at the South Side Boys & Girls Club is thus not an easy task. Hearing children recall that there are three feet in a yard or say that a hundreds chart is a useful counting tool feels great, but seeing them really understand math concept and use it without prompting is the best.

One Friday, several girls were playing with pattern blocks together, making designs and stacking them, when one girl made a “hamburger” out of her blocks.  After pretending to gobble it down and claiming it to be delicious, a make-believe restaurant was founded.  The adults in the room acted as customers while the kids created menus, the food, a waitressing and dishwashing system, and money, all from materials found in the room. 

Without any adult aid, math was incorporated into a child-created activity – adding, subtracting, monetary values and estimation.  Children enthusiastically worked at the “cash register,” adding up the prices from the menu and giving back the correct amount of change.  Of course the prices were outrageous for the amount of food we received, but isn’t that how fine dining works?
– Leah
Leah, Meagan and Learning Club kids at a Museum family night.
A True Scientist
At the South Side Boys & Girls Club, it can, at times, be a struggle with our kids; so eager to learn but stumbling over obstacles in their lives. Some of our kids become disheartened, frustrated and may break down. At these points, we as educators also become frustrated. We have lessons set out for them and we want them to reach goals. But as role models and friends, we also know the importance of calling a time out. Letting kids vent, be silly, or even take a day off from Museum Club are important parts of the learning process. We need to be aware of the ever-changing dynamics for each child, and to acknowledge the difficulties that come with being a kid before they come to a head.

One of our “all-stars,” a fifth grader named D’Zire, had “one of those weeks.” Nothing seemed to be going right; homework and school, interactions with friends, not even our activities. D’Zire was working on string telephones, and we just couldn’t get her voice through the cup and across the string to my ears. Seeing her frustration building, I called a time out. “D’Zire, let’s take a walk and think about this.”

Surprised, she looked up and was at first hesitant. I nodded toward the door, and she calmly got up and headed out. We talked about how she was disappointed with a test score that day, and how she didn’t get to dinner in time at the Club. She just wanted the cups to go right, and not even our designed activity would work for her! I just listened, and when we had done a lap of the club we headed back in. Suddenly, she said, “What if we made the string longer?” “How much longer?,” I asked. “I think three or four inches will do it. Right now, it’s only about five inches long. I think all we’re hearing is each others' real voices, not the vibrations of the string.”

I was blown away. She had been solving this problem in her head the whole time. She is a true scientist, always thinking. She was able to connect the math involved with increasing the length of the string with the phenomenon of the sound’s vibration across it. It was able to travel the greater distance, as long as the string was taut. When she cleared her mind to me on our little walk, it became clear as day to her. She knew how to tackle the problem.

That is our job, rolled into one 10-minute block. These kids are brilliant, sometimes we just need to be there to flick the switch.
– John
John and one of his club scientists.

Impact: Head Start Stories

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. These stories were shared by Abbey Jones and Sarah Bonawitz, members of the team that served 975 Head Start preschoolers in 55 classrooms with fun-filled Museum explorations and a year-long series of imaginative activities to help them understand and value diversity.

Kassie and Abbey during a Head Start classroom visit.
Bringing a Story to Life
As part of our pre-visit orientations to the Museum for children at Head Start centers, we read a book about Nori the Dragon and Tortellini the Tortoise.  The book, in line with our theme for the year, teaches about diversity and approaching the Museum in different ways.  Tortellini, the smaller friend, wanders through the Museum slowly, taking in all the details, while Nori dives into play.

After visiting a classroom at Manton Head Start Center, the children came to the Museum to explore and play just like Tortellini and Nori.  Upon arriving in Discovery Studio, the boys and girls met Tortellini himself.  One girl excitedly gathered her friends around her and selected a book similar in size to our Tortellini and Nori story." And now friends," she announced.  "I'm going to tell you a story about Nori and Tortellini at the Museum!"

Carefully, she took the book and showed it to the circle, ensuring all of her friends could see the pictures.  Then she began to narrate Nori and Tortellini's trip to the Museum, but through the lens of her own Museum experience. "First, they got on a bus," she said.  "Then they went outside and climbed in the green thing!"

I watched as the girl practiced her literacy skills by imitating me.  I saw her excitement as she traipsed through the other exhibits, reliving the story of Nori and Tortellini.  She continued commenting on her play, "just like Nori and Tortellini."  And she finished her visit with a big smile, as she finally met Nori, who peered down at her from the roof of the Museum as she boarded the bus.
– Abbey
Abbey reads the pre-visit story.
But Does it Stick?
Developing a diversity curriculum for preschoolers is no easy task. Diversity is a concept so dynamic and abstract that how could we ensure the children both comprehend and enjoy our lessons?  Despite in-depth planning and preparation, there is always a shred of worry that the lesson won’t be received well or worse, that it won’t last beyond our classroom visit. While we see the immediate impact of our lessons, we don’t really know if the content of our lesson sticks.

We implemented one of our first diversity lessons in Lori’s classroom at Dean Head Start Center, about how we all have similarities and differences in the ways we look, in what we like to do, and in what we create and bring to the classroom.  After reading The Color of Us by Karen Katz, a story of a little girl who learns about the beautiful variety of skin shades through mixing paint colors, we played a game in which the children sorted objects by color and shape.  The game challenged the children to understand that while two objects can be the same shape, they can also be different colors, and even when two objects may both be blue, they can be different shades of blue.  The children were both accurate and creative in their answers and observations. At one point Lori said, “Oh, I like this activity.  I really get it.”  Short, sweet and simple, her comment meant so much and validated the activity that we had planned with such care.

The Head Start team also helped with this year’s teacher workshop, “Embracing Diversity in the Classroom Through Storybooks,” where Head Start teachers responded to different case studies by discussing diversity in their classrooms.  One teacher explained how a child in her classroom wished he could change his skin color because he didn’t like it and sought advice from her colleagues on how to help him.  Lori suggested reading The Color of Us – a resource we had brought to her classroom.

Lori’s few but meaningful words revealed a sense of reflection I had not imagined our activities could prompt. It is teachers like Lori and moments like these that reveal the impact of the Head Start team's  curriculum development and that it does, in fact, stick.
– Sarah
Rebecca, Sarah and children during a playful diversity activity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Inspiration: A Learning Club Story

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. This story was shared by Suzie Doogan, a member of the team that served 200 kids (ages 6-12) from community centers in Providence and Pawtucket in after-school Learning Clubs. They engaged in fun hands-on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) activities, solving problems to design marble roller coasters, launch paper rockets and much more.

Suzie introduces a new lesson to the Learning Club.
Egg drop is a classic activity. Youth are challenged to construct egg catchers or nests in order to protect the fall of eggs that are dropped from a few feet above the ground.

Cheik, age 7, has large, alert eyes and a face that somehow intimates that he's recently heard a good, albeit not-so-clean, joke. He is diplomatic in our Learning Club, saying things during discussion like, "Well, I agree with Deborah a little bit…"

Cheik jumped into the egg-catcher construction with great vigor. He actively described to me what he was going to do as he engineered the catcher ("I'm going to use tape to hold the wheels together so the egg catcher can move") and responded to my questions with great thought ("Oh, hmm... well the wheels might not move if they're taped... maybe tape isn't the best thing.") He checked in with me during great milestones –"I'm going to show you when I'm done" was followed by the exclamation "Now it can move!" He tested his project out along the way, first with the egg outside of it, then with the egg inside.

When Cheik was presented with a long piece of foam, he was inspired to use it to construct a slide for his egg, coming down from the side of the egg catcher. Even though we had already finished building and testing our projects for the day, he was motivated to continue improving upon his already successful design. Cheik inspired us to continue the activity the next day with the extension of constructing the egg-catcher not only to protect falling eggs, but also to provide eggs a different form of transportation.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Warm Welcome

This post about the Museum’s inclusion initiative was contributed by AmeriCorps Museum Educator Abbey Jones.

At Providence Children's Museum, we strive to create an inclusive community for all visitors while sharing the power of play.  When developing the Play for All initiative in 2010, the Museum considered how to best ensure that each child and family member feels comfortable here. 

An inclusion initiative must be as multifaceted and diverse as the individuals it serves – encompassing visitors’ social, emotional or physical needs.  The best way to practice what we preach is by creating a culture of inclusion among Museum staff and volunteers.  Partnering with several organizations including the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council and the Autism Project, staff and volunteers attended trainings about the experiences and needs of children with disabilities and their caregivers when visiting the Children's Museum, which prepared them to serve diverse visitors on a day-to-day basis and during special Welcome Events.

In cooperation with Children's Friend Early Intervention and The Rhode Island Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Museum hosted Welcome Events during regular hours, so that their families could play for free with an organization they already felt connected to, and connect with each other.  Specialists and parents knelt together practicing colors and shapes with their children.  Two boys, initially strangers, left the registration room holding hands with one leading the other through the Museum.  One mother was delighted to be at the Museum while there were other families playing in exhibits using American Sign Language.

These events also introduced many first-time visitors to the Museum.  A mother sat and watched as her two children shared scarves with another boy in Play Power.  “This is my first time coming.  They're having so much fun,” she said.  “I love it!”  She shared with an Early Intervention specialist how easy it was for her to access the Museum by public transportation.

Acknowledging the challenges faced by families of children on the autism spectrum when visiting during regular hours, the Museum partnered with the Autism Project to host an after-hours Welcome Event for their members.  Families were able to play and have fun without the pressures of a typical Museum visit.  Children formed sand and clay in Discovery Studio, engaging their senses and getting lost in a quiet moment.  Families also tested out visual aids of exhibits and countdown timers to help plan and navigate a trip to the Museum.

“He had so much fun trying all the different activities – and no one judged him or looked at him or anything,” said one parent.  “It was great for all of us!”

Inclusion trainings and Welcome Events in 2012 were made possible with generous support from CVS Caremark and Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer Memories of Play (part 2)

Museum staff shared some of their best childhood play memories including these, of favorite outdoor and rainy day play.

During the long, awesome summer months, I almost exclusively played outside in the dirt with my Matchbox cars.  If it was rainy, then it would be Legos on the living room floor.  As an only child, I played by myself most of the time, so creating little worlds with cars and people was a great way to spend my days until school started.
– Tim, Experience Coordinator

My brothers and I used to collect a bucket full of the fallen seeds from our backyard tree. Then one of us would climb the tree and let the seeds all fall down like a swarm of helicopters. It took 20 minutes to fill the bucket and five seconds for them to fall and we would do it over and over.
– Shannon, Families Together Visitation Specialist

Summer vacation on a lake in south central British Columbia was fun, but my fondest childhood summer memories were playing hide and seek in our hayfield; and after it was cut, swinging out on a long rope and jumping into the hay from "high up" in the barn's loft.  A thrill!
– Jennifer, Director of Development

I remember playing house in the hollowed out section of a tree in my backyard with my neighborhood playmates.  We'd use pinecones and dirt for "dinner."  Our furniture?  Rocks and dead logs!  Imagination was our fuel for playing.
– Kassie, AmeriCorps Member

During the summer when I was little we shared a cabin on a lake in Maine with my cousins (and their grown-ups).  Most days we – the four kids – were thrown out of the house to swim, dig, climb and generally just ramble about.  But on rainy Mondays we piled into our massive bright orange car and went bowling.  Only on rainy Mondays.  Other rainy days we might have played board games or caused trouble inside, but if it rained on a Monday – bowling!  And, if we were good, a trip to the hobby shop followed for some new model rocket kits to build and launch the following weekend.
– Robin, Director of Exhibits