“The More Things Seem to Change, the More They Stay the Same”: Theory to Practice Across Disciplines

This blog post was written by Rebecca Ljungren, Education Programs Manager with the National Women’s History Museum.

When Corinne Bailey Ray told us to put our records on and let our hair down in 2006, I didn’t think her lyrics (which had a recent resurgence in the Ritt Momney cover!) would speak so clearly about my experience with education theory and practice. In the last decade, I’ve watched how grounding my practice in approaches like those developed at Project Zero can have an impact on all learners and create a foundation for practice across disciplines.

I began my work in museum education as a science and history educator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. More recently, I have begun working as a history educator at the National Women’s History Museum. Many learners might think that the topics explored in these institutions would not be connected. However, teaching objects and stories across science, engineering, history, art, politics, and more can all benefit from the use of similar pedagogical techniques. From space shuttles to works of art to protest posters, I’ve recognized firsthand how important developing a relationship to theory is as a practitioner and how pedagogical techniques often designed for specific topics or environments can expand beyond the bounds of the original intention.

For example, one Project Zero-inspired pedagogical approach that works well in museum education practice is close looking. Though there many close looking techniques (from Visual Thinking strategies to Visible Thinking Routines), when they stem from constructivist and inquiry-based approaches, they facilitate learners’ curiosity and knowledge-building with what is right in front of them.

In a recent DC-Project Zero workshop at NWMH’s current exhibition, We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist DC, at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, educators from across the DMV and I engaged in close looking together using a Project Zero thinking routine as the basis for the conversation: Values, Identities, and Actions. While museum educators are not often with learners long enough to facilitate students’ developing the routine long-term, we discussed ways that classroom educators can use the routine to create the foundation for deeper ongoing explorations. Though the routine often points to 2D and 3D objects as the intended exploration subject, it can be used in many other ways – one teacher in the recent workshop even explored a song featured in the exhibition using the routine. On another occasion, during a field trip using the same routine, a student studied a quotation from a speech. Thinking routines like Values, Identities, and Actions can therefore work across topics and contexts. Using this routine, the values that a learner might think about, the identity of the creators/recipients, and the potential actions the learner is asked to consider can all be explored without in-depth prior knowledge of the work at hand.

I’ve had the honor of working with educators from across the DMV as part of DCPZ and WISSIT, and I continue to learn from so many of you about how you apply pedagogical tools that include not only all learners but also many different topics that you wouldn’t usually include in your curriculum. So, whether you’re a science teacher looking to try an art activity in your classroom, a history educator looking to include math as you learn about a prominent mathematician, or any educator looking to expand your practice across content areas and contexts, let’s take a nod from Corinne Bailey Rae: Let your hair down, and rest easy knowing you may already have the skills in your back pocket to engage these topics thanks to pedagogical approaches from Project Zero!