National Museum of Natural History
& National Portrait Gallery/
Smithsonian American Art Museum
To say this spring didn’t unfold the way we expected it to would be an understatement of enormous proportions! Luckily, the global pandemic didn’t stop us from finishing out the year with two fantastic DCPZ museum workshops.
Just before COVID-19 hit the DC region (officially), a dozen or so educators gathered at Q?rius Lab, part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). We heard from Dr. Joshua Bell, Curator of Globalization, who told us a bit about his work as a curator, academic, and educator (he teaches anthropology at George Washington University). Our discussion with him about globalization and education segued neatly into an activity that museum educators Nicole Webster and Colleen Popson had planned for us.
Based on the upcoming exhibition at NMNH on cell phones, Nicole and Colleen led us through a take-apart activity with a variety of cell phones that spanned from the old “brick” style to much more recent smartphone models. We used the Agency by Design Thinking Routine “Parts-People-Complexities” to explore the systems behind the production, assembly, transportation, and marketing of these ubiquitous and complex machines that we use every day.
Last month, we gathered in a very different way with Elizabeth Dale-Deines and Briana Zadavil White–museum educators from the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, respectively. We had been scheduled to have a workshop with the two museums back in March, but the closing of all of the Smithsonian museums, just 24 hours before, forced us to postpone and then completely rethink how to do the workshop. Briana and Elizabeth, being the adventurous and creative educators they are, adapted not only the content of the planned workshop so that it could fit into a shorter time-frame (down to 90 minutes from the original four hours), but also the structure for participation, so that the interactive aspects of the workshop weren’t lost in the new digital context.
We had over 40 people participate in our first foray into Zoom-powered teacher workshops! Elizabeth and Briana seamlessly led us through several Thinking Routines, including a sensory-driven “Step Inside” and “See-Think-Feel-Wonder” with different artworks from their museums’ collections. With Elizabeth, we focused on the work of Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata, featured in one of their current exhibitions: Chiura Obata: American Modern. Briana gave us a peek into their current exhibition, the Outwin 2019: American Portraiture Today (you can visit it virtually here!), which features the winners of their triennial Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.
Group discussions were facilitated through the chat box on Zoom, while the breakout room function was used to enable small group conversations. Feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive, constructive, and encouraging. While we hope for a return to in-person gatherings next school year, it is good to know that we can still provide the high-quality professional development that we always strive for, regardless of the circumstances.