- Field trips are a standard of the K-12 school experience, where students may visit a museum, art gallery, science center, or historical site to steep themselves firsthand in the artifacts and treasures on display. But educators can turn these visits into a more interactive experience by helping students personally connect to the exhibits.
- At the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, tours are “student-centered,” says Katerina Romanenko, director of the museum's school and family programs. While museum personnel lead the groups, their focus is not to lecture but to help students develop their own insights and thoughts about the collection.
- “The goal of the tour is to give students tools, help them learn how to navigate and look at the artworks,” she said. “The tour focuses on what do you see, and what do you think.”
At the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, school visits can change in a moment, says Romanenko. Creating a unique experience is critical so when students from PAFA’s three K-5 School and Community Partnership schools come to the museum twice a year, they don't get the same tour, she said. While there may be a focus, such as talking about nature as a subject in painting, tours will change depending on what students notice.
“If a student noticed a bird in the left corner, we may continue to talk about birds and then find birds in other paintings,” Romanenko said. “We are flexible because the idea is to make them look closely and explain their ideas.”
The word “tour” is practically banned at the Denver Art Museum, because to Heather Nielsen, the museum's chief learning and engagement offer, it suggests a passive experience rather than the active one she wants her team to create. The museum began reexamining how it designed field trips six years ago, and engaged teachers to help the team individualize the visits and connect more closely with curriculum.
Nielsen said the best visits help students see themselves represented in the work in some capacity and then feel empowered to express their thoughts. That's what she and the museum focus on when designing these experiences.
“How do you honor what that young person wants and needs when they walk through a museum,” she said. “And then use a collection to find that thing that sparks them.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the grade range and location of students visiting PAFA. This story has been updated to reflect the actual grade range of the museum's School and Community Partnership schools.