MUSEUMS: THE UNDERUTILIZED RESOURCE
BRENT H. BREITHAUPTONE OF the many ways to illustrate various scientific concepts is through the use of visual aids. While materials in the classroom have the advantage of being accessible, materials seen on field trips often have far greater impact because of the novelty of getting out of the standard classroom setting. When asked years later the memorable experiences of various courses, many individuals remember field trips to museums. Unfortunately, even though museums are packed with possibilities for illustrating various concepts, they often are not used at all or not used to their fullest educational potential. Although the logistics and costs of taking a class to a museum may be somewhat cumbersome, the value to the education of the students cannot be overemphasized.
It must be remembered that a trip away from the classroom is not simply a time to let someone else take care of the class (i.e., "museum day care"). It is an opportunity for teachers to come up with a variety of creative ways to teach their classes. Just as with any class exercise, a certain amount of preparation must be undertaken. It is suggested that the teacher travel to the museum ahead of time to see the exhibits and interact with the docent that will be leading the tour. It is useful to prepare a series of concepts that students are expected to learn during their visit. It is important to develop pre- and post-tour activities for the students to prepare them for their visit and reemphasize important concepts. Many instructors do a disservice to their students by not properly preparing them for their visit to the museum.
The following list is a useful guide for instructors before visiting a museum with a class.
A variety of subjects can be taught through a visit to a museum. For example at the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, classes from all over campus utilize the facility in the instruction of a diversity of subjects. Classes in geology and biology primarily use the geological and paleontological displays to illustrate various scientific concepts (e.g., adaptation, evolution, extinction). Many exercises are designed to complement the students' textbooks. In addition, English courses use the museum as a tool to instruct students how to write creatively, by having them describe various unfamiliar objects (e.g., fossil and mineral specimens). Art classes utilize the museum in a similar vein, with students expressing their creative talents, illustrating the specimens in the museum. The uses of a museum in curricula are only limited by the creative efforts of the instructors.
Although many cities have museums with paleontological specimens, even many non-natural history museums have fossils on display that can be used as educational tools. A field trip to a local museum can be a tremendously valuable educational activity for students no matter what the subject being taught.