How do you define educational success?

On Tuesday, several Smithsonian educators, and myself, attended a session of the Museum Education Roundtable.  (  The discussion focused on defining educational success in museums, and how differing educational approaches not only help to determine results, but differing definitions of success as well.

The speaker was Margaret Lindauer, faculty member of Virginia Commonwealth University, and an experienced evaluator, having assessed the educational impact of exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of American History, among others.  She outlined four approaches, commonly attributed to curriculum, and how the relationships between teacher and learner change, as do the outcomes.

A laissez-faire plan allows a visitor to self-direct and pursue their own interests, with a desired outcome being an enjoyable experience.  On the contrary, the Tylerian method is what we most associate with a traditional classroom – a teacher imparts knowledge to the learner with success measured by how well the learner grasps major themes.  In a constructivist approach, the teacher facilitates through provocative questioning, placing the emphasis on a learner’s self-generated solutions.  Answers are not absolute, but success involves the visitor generating their own answers.  Finally, a narrative path  turns both teacher and learner into storytellers, where facts become stories, and the learner ultimate relates their self-knowledge into the broader, contextual narrative of the program.

It was interesting for us all – educators from the Freer/Sackler to NASM to American History – to think about the approaches used at the Smithsonian, and their effectiveness.  What seems most clear is that no methodology is objective nor comprehensive – the same exhibit might employ all of them to great success.  Rather than neat boxes, these approaches seem to represent a spectrum to consider while evaluating the museum as learning environment. 

Traveling exhibitions available from the National Museum of Dentistry

The National Museum of Dentistry is pleased to announce the availability of two traveling exhibitions: The Future is Now! African Americans in Dentistry and Branches, Bristles and Batteries: Toothbrushes through Time.

The Future is Now! African Americans in Dentistry pays tribute to the extraordinary men and women who paved the way for African Americans’ success as dental professionals. With dramatic portraits, poignant memoirs and stories of individual and collective achievement, this exhibition inspires and educates visitors of every age.  The exhibition includes a moving photographic timeline of  the complex and inspiring story of individual accomplishment, educational advancement and organizational success from the 1860s through the present day; and provides a valuable new point of engagement with the youth of a host’s communities, with the potential to spark an interest in considering dentistry as a lifetime career.

The exhibition is appropriate for a wide range of museums, including institutions devoted to science, health, and history.  It is presented in partnership with the National Dental Association, and is available for a cost of $5,000 plus incoming shipping costs.  

Did you know that the first modern toothbrush was invented in the late 1700’s?  Filled with fascinating facts and fun activities for the whole family, Branches, Bristles and Batteries: Toothbrushes through Time allows children and adults to “brush up” on truths about toothbrushes while helping to develop habits that ensure good oral health. 

Targeted to elementary-age children, the exhibition includes interactives that encourage healthy eating, the importance of brushing, and an understanding of the toothbrush’s role in history.  It provides an excellent opportunity to partner with local professionals to promote dental health education outreach. 

The exhibition is appropriate for science, health and children’s museums, and is made possible by the support of United Concordia Companies, Inc.  It is available for a cost of $5,000 plus incoming shipping costs.

Educational and marketing materials, installation instructions and condition reports are included in the registration packets of both exhibitions.  To learn more about these exhibitions and for booking information, please contact Scott Swank, DDS, Curator at 410.706.8704 or 



A visit from the Booth Western Art Museum

 A few members of the Affiliations staff had the pleasure of meeting with Seth Hopkins, Director of the Booth Seth is a Northerner heading up the Booth in Cartersville, Georgia. The museum’s collection focuses on contemporary Western art, including cowboy art! On permanent exhibition are presidential portraits, civil war paintings and Western themed ephemera. Although the museum’s mission is to exhibit and interpret Western art, they are lucky to have a collection of 14 serigraphs done by Andy Warhol. Seth is looking forward to collaborating with the several other Affiliates focused on western art and heritage.

Exterior of the Booth

Mayflower 2

Desperate Voyage

Mark your calendars!  On November 19, the History Channel will debut a film called Desperate Voyage, about the crossing of the Mayflower in 1620.  Some of the film was shot at the replica of the ship, Mayflower II, owned and interpreted by affiliate Plimoth Plantation.

Plimoth Plantation will be holding premier screenings of the film in Boston and Plymouth in early  November. Keep an eye out for the Mayflower’s 50th anniversary festivities, taking place summer 2007.  congratulations Plimoth!


An afternoon of Chinese Kunqu Theater

On Friday, August 4, some Affiliations staff attended an explanatory demonstration of this fascinating art form, a precursor to a real Kunqu performance at the Freer/Sackler Gallery entitled ‘The Palace of Eternal Youth’.

Named an ‘Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ by the United Nations, kunqu is classical Chinese musical theater.  We learned that a single performance may be made up of 50-200 scenes, so one performance of kunqu, performed at Lincoln Center in NYC, lasted for 19 hours!  (We were assured that the performance at Freer/Sackler would be much shorter.)  Until well into the 20th century, kunqu was gender segregated – not only the acting troupes, but the audiences as well!

Qian Yi singingIn the picture here, acclaimed young actress Qian Yi demonstrates the precise movements of kunqu.  Each character has a different way of walking which indicates their role – consorts of the emperor glide very slowly, almost imperceptibly, while maids rush around in circles, walking quickly heel to toe.  Scholars have yet another precise walk.  Ladies of the court always keep their hands in a precise configuration, to evoke the beauty of orchids, with fingers spread and articulated. 

As one might expect in a Chinese art form, yin and yang are implicit, even in movements.  Before pointing right, an actress will weave her hand around to the left, and vice versa.  If a character has to bend down to pick a flower, he will first rise up on his toes.

Many different Chinese dialects can be used in a kunqu performance, but it is the clown that most frequently mixes dialects.  Qian Yi also demonstrated how kunqu sounds, and the extensive use of melisma – a word I didn’t know until today!  Melisma is the technique of changing the pitch of a syllable of text while it is being sung.  It is said that melisma achieves a hypnotic trance in the listener…. certainly true in this case, as we could hardly stand to leave once she started singing!

2006 National Conference

It has been a little over a month since our memorable annual National Conference. All the Affiliations staff members would like to thank the Affiliates who were able to join us to commemorate our 10 Year Anniversary. Here are some pictures for your enjoyment!

Smithsonian Resource Fair


Office of Exhibits Central Tour

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Congressional Reception


10th Anniversary Reception

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