Home Is Where the Science Is: Kingsbury Elementary Field Trips at the Pink Palace Museum: It’s a Small World at the Pink Palace (No, Really)

By Elena Delavega

As the second-semester round of field trips begins, we are starting to feel very comfortable and getting into the swing of things. Everyone knows where to go, and the children are starting to display behaviors that indicate that while they love and respect the museum, it feels natural. This is not to say they are not in awe of the fabulous exhibits and activities the Pink Palace museum and the Education Department have to offer, but rather, that the museum is a place where it is natural to be, and where great joy and excitement happen in an environment of peace and belonging. We want them to feel that they belong in a museum, that it is a home for them.

On February 22nd, 2013, 89 4th-grade children and 6 teachers came to learn about cells, microscopes, Nano-technology, and measuring. On March 22, 2013, 71 5th graders and 3 teachers received the same field trip. While the field trips of the first semester were very different for the 4th and 5th grades, the trips of the second semester are the same. This is because students must master some of the same objectives according to the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP.

On each field trip, the children were divided into two large groups. One group went downstairs, where the children were further subdivided into two groups and received lab classes that included microscopes and real liver cells! Dena Gil and Lindsey Bailey performed lab assistant duties for both field trips, showing that social work students are capable of ANY job functions.  The second group went upstairs where they learned about the Nano-scale from Christy Phelps and Joy Steorts. After this lesson, this group was subdivided into two smaller groups. Bridgette OgunMokun explained the nano-structures in Blue-Morpho butterflies, while Werner Viser showed the students the amazing properties of nickel-titanium alloys. After lunch, the children who had received lab classes went upstairs, and the children who had not had the opportunity to explore microscopes went downstairs to the labs. Photographer extraordinaire Maggie Landry took over 160 pictures each time.

The 4th grade children were accompanied by a substitute teacher, which gave us the opportunity to explore what a different observer may see vis-à-vis our field trip program. She was very impressed with the work we do, and clearly interested in all the activities. She said that she had no idea that she would get to participate in such an experience when she became a substitute, and she was amazed at the children’s behavior and interest.

Because these tours took place on Fridays (not our usual tour day because Fridays tend to be rather crowded at the museum), we had the opportunity to observe the interest our project generated among other visitors. A group of high-school teens from another low-income urban school were at the museum on February 22nd. They stopped by our touch-cart tables to observe the presentations with great curiosity; these kids, for whom the presentations had not been developed were so interested that they joined the circle and listened intently for a long time, showing the power of our program to attract interest of even older teenagers.

In talking to various teachers and students over the course of this project, I have learned that it is the structured components that they like the best. The fact that we have associated the activities with TCAP objectives and that we have made a concerted effort to match the activities to what is happening in the classroom concurrently is a great benefit to students and teachers. Alex Eilers and Emi McFarlen have done an extraordinary job of fine-tuning the museum presentations so they will be perfectly consistent with learning objectives and classroom events. And fun!

As usual, we had no chaperones for either field trip. This is a pattern that we have observed very consistently throughout the year. Parents do not show up. This may be the result of lack of time due to employment, an issue of lack of transportation, or some other as of yet unidentified barrier. Why are the parents missing out on a fabulous experience that has absolutely no cost to them? Is it the fact that they not speak English and fear they would feel out of place? This is an interesting and tantalizing idea because if we can help the children feel at home at the museum where they very rightly belong, then we may be breaking through some of the most pernicious elements in the inter-generational transmission of poverty.  We will have to conduct parent interviews to explore this question.


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