Recently, our ClassFlow Marketplace team had the opportunity to visit The Museum School of Avondale Estates in Decatur, GA. While visiting, we had the opportunity to sit down with Founding Principal and Executive Director of the National Association of Museum Schools, Katherine Kelbaugh, for a quick Q and A session.
Q: Tell us about The Museum School’s model.
A: The Museum School (TMS) of Avondale Estates, is the only museum school in Georgia, though there are about 45 museum schools across the country. All museum schools are loosely built on the principle of getting kids out of school and into the real world. Rather than being confined to a school building, we help students expand their learning journey beyond the classroom and into the world around them. As a result, our Museum School takes learning expeditions about every other week. These learning expeditions are very focused, structured, and organized.
We also have a Museum in a Box program that brings lessons to life by placing hands-on teaching tools directly in the classroom. These interactive learning trunks include hundreds of museum-quality artifacts, maps, costumes, books, tools and documents that make the lessons tangible with real-world materials. We’ve also gotten creative and brought experts and guest speakers into the school. Recent visitors include scientists, geologists, and forensic scientists. Our 3rd graders recently finished up a unit on government and visitors, including a lobbyist, an EPA attorney, and a representative from Congressman Hank Johnson’s office, came in to talk with students. We regularly discuss the roles of bookkeepers, human resources, sales, marketing, and all functions involved in keeping businesses, museums, and organizations running. This helps students think about a wide range of careers. We use the same approach across the curriculum so the expeditions are not just focused on social studies and science. For reading and language arts, we may visit the Wren’s Nest. For math, we may visit the College Football Hall of Fame and do statistics there. Children learn when they are able to really internalize the information by using their hands, talking to experts in the field, and really going deep and engaging in the material.
Q: How do you ensure or gauge student learning after these expeditions and presentations?
A: We have an Exhibit Night every quarter. This acts as a kind of culminating activity to celebrate all the learning that happened over the 9 week unit. The school becomes a museum and about 99% of parents and students participate in the Exhibit Nights. Students are trained as docents for Exhibit Nights. They stand in front of their displays and talk about what they have learned. There are also skits, performances, demonstrations, and experiments that take place during Exhibit Night.
Q: Do you have a list of museum partners or curriculum partners that are your go-tos?
A: We have formal partnerships with 10 different curriculum partners. These include Zoo Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta History Center, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, the High Museum of Art, and the Alliance Theatre. We’ve developed these partnerships based upon the education departments of each museum or organization and the specific programs that directly align with the standards our students are learning. In addition to these formal partnerships, we also have over 40 community and resource partners such as the Avondale Estates City Hall, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Dekalb Farmers Market.
Q: Tell us about the STEM Lab and the Makerspace
A: We have a STEM Lab which is open to all K-8 students. The LEGO kits are definitely popular among kids! We also recently started using Spheros in the STEM Lab. In the Makerspace, among many hands-on kits and projects, we have Makey Makey kits that help students invent and create. We recently did a coding expedition and participated in the National Day of Code.
Q: Are there specific qualities that you look for in your faculty for this exploration process?
A: When we are looking to hire teachers, there aren’t many teachers that have museum school experience. We look for teachers that are very creative and think outside the box. We also look for teachers that support learning that is non-traditional. We don’t have textbooks, so if there is a teacher that is used to lecturing kids sitting in rows while they read out of a textbook, then this would not be a good fit. We are looking for teachers that are not only wanting to constantly grow and challenge themselves, but also that want to challenge their students.
Q: Tell us about your plans for The Museum School in the coming years
A: We want to follow our Museum School graduates as they go to high school, college, and beyond. We also want to keep track of and celebrate their successes. We’re in the process of looking at different software programs that will help us accomplish this goal. We want to be able to say, “As a result of being at TMS, science and social studies scores were elevated,” or “As a result of being at TMS and the 5th grade unit in science looking at cells at the CDC, an increased number of students choose a career in science.”
Museum schools provide a unique approach to learning. The National Association of Museum Schools (NAMS) has identified over 30 Museum Schools in the United States. NAMS was founded in 2014 through a federal grant to the Museum School of Avondale Estates.