Behind the scenes: K-12 Education

This installment of “Behind the Scenes” takes a look at K-12 education at the Museum with K-12 Education Coordinator Toby Swaford.

K-12 Education Coordinator Toby Swaford leads a squid dissection lab

More to Explore: You had a big event last week. What was that all about?

Toby Swaford: It’s the biggest event we do each year; it’s the 4th grade Rendezvous for the students of the Poudre School District. Fourth grade is the year that students in the state of Colorado learn the state’s history, and this event is the culmination of all the things they’ve been learning in the course of the year. It’s a really good way to reinforce what they’ve been studying. And to help us do that we bring in a lot of volunteers from the community, people that are interested and well-versed in so many different aspects of history, whether it be the railroad or the Civil War, handicrafts like quilt making, farm craft, and those people come in and they share their experience and their interests and their passions with those students. And so it’s a nice meeting of different generations and just a good chance to share a lot of different things with the students.

MtE: How many students participate in Rendezvous?

TS: This year it was a 2-day event, it ran on Thursday and Friday, with a total of about 1,300 students over the course of those two days.

MtE: What kinds of reactions do you see with the kids?

TS:  I think the biggest reaction I get from the students is surprise. A lot of them don’t know what they’re getting into and they’re not sure what to expect, and suddenly they get transported to a different place, a different time. We’re not able to bring in an actual train from the late 1800s, early 1900s, but our railmen do such a good job of re-creating the story of the train, whether it be having the students load up a boxcar, or sort mail, and talk about how the trains were used to connect the various towns in northern Colorado to one another, to having the students themselves become the ties and the track and space themselves out and see exactly how the rails were put into place. It’s a lot of fun, it’s very interactive, it’s a really good chance for the students to see what went into creating the world we live in today. The other nice thing to see is how to relate the things of the past to the modern world, whether it be looking at the history of the subject that got us to where we are now, or the science of the subject, the science behind how something like a steam engine works or how a bullet comes out of a Civil War-era rifle, or the math and geometry involved in putting together a quilt. So they really see real-world applications of what they’re learning in school and how those things get used on a daily basis.

MtE: What do you try to accomplish with the K-12 programs here at the Museum?

TS: The majority of the students who come through for the history programs are 2nd grade in the Poudre School District; that’s when they do their local history, and we are a good repository for the story of Fort Collins. So in that case we’re really able to show the students homes of the people they’re learning about, whether it be Elizabeth Stone, better known as Auntie Stone, or Antoine Janis who helped to start the town that became Laporte. But with the addition of the science center coming in, so many things are meshing and gelling into something that’s completely new and very unique. So we’re able to move from a history program about Elizabeth Stone or what going to a one-room school house in 1905 would have been like, that same group of students may then move to an experience of being able to go into the StarLab and learning about our place in the Solar System, or going into a dissection course where they can learn about history in the morning and do a heart dissection or a squid dissection in the afternoon. So what we really try to do more than anything else is to provide opportunities and those experiences students might not be able to get in the classroom. I think that’s the service we not only provide for the students, but for the teachers as well. We’re a really good resource and a really good extension for the classes out there.

MtE: What are you looking forward to in the new museum?

TS: So many things to look forward to in the new museum! I’ve got a pretty good classroom here already in that I’m able to utilize the entire building and courtyard and surrounding environment. But to be in a new facility that’s really designed to be utilized as a museum and therefore an extension of the educational process, to have dedicated classroom space, to have resources like the digital dome–where instead of just pointing out a planet we can do a fly-over of the surface of Mars, really transport the students to another time and another place–I think that it’s just going to be an amazing tool to use to educate and enlighten and get people excited about learning history and science and culture and all the other things we need to know to be the best that we can be out there.

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