Teachers and Museums Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly (And All the Other Good Things!) - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Teachers and Museums Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly (And All the Other Good Things!)

A group of students grouped around their finished Invent-a-Vehicle, all making silly faces and poses!

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day!

And while the museum views itself as an educational resource, some of OUR most important resources are the teachers who bring their students through our doors and take what they learned in the museum back to their classroom. And so today, we wanted to share a blog post about the educator’s experience in our museum – and say a HUGE thank you to all the teachers who enhance their students’ learning through a variety of creative lessons and activities, who support the kids in their classrooms in ways big and small, and who work hard to set the foundation to make the next generation into curious, interested, and engaged adults!

The Birthplace of Country Music is always looking to find great ways to engage with students and teachers and with families looking for entertaining learning experiences. This is an essential part of our mission. We do this in a variety of ways from school tours to educational programming to fun family activities and through all three of our outlets: the museum, the radio station, and the festival. Check out our blog post here to learn more about some of these activities. We are also fortunate that our museum’s permanent exhibit enables us to approach our content from multiple angles – for instance, music and its history, Appalachian culture, local history, and technology, to name a few.

Museum staff member showing a group of female students the instruments in the museum's permanent exhibits.
American Heritage Troop TN5624 touring the museum in July 2017. © Birthplace of Country Music Museum

But we also have the wonderful resource of our Special Exhibits Gallery and the variety of traveling and temporary exhibits that are displayed there – and these present us with the opportunity to bring a variety of other interesting and relevant educational opportunities to our local and regional schools and our community. We hosted the Smithsonian’s Things Come Apart exhibit last summer and fall, and it is a great example of how a special exhibit can address a host of learning goals – due to its heavy STEAM focus, we saw several school groups visit the exhibit and we experienced firsthand how teachers can use our content as a supplement to their curriculum.

One school – Sullins Academy – decided to make the most of all that Things Come Apart offered, and we asked their Head of School Roy Vermillion to blog about their experience, sharing with us and our readers how the exhibit enhanced their learning goals – and was just all around good fun!

“Sullins Academy’s faculty and staff had a chance to experience the wondrous exhibit Things Come Apart last summer right as it opened. We came to the museum for one of our faculty workdays, which gave us the chance to dig deep into this Smithsonian exhibit firsthand and to actually see how touring and working with the content of this exhibit could benefit our students.

Group of teachers working together at a round table to build a structure of colorful straws.
Sullins Academy teachers used their faculty workday to explore the Spark!Lab activity kits that came with the Things Come Apart exhibit. As can be seen here, they took the task of building a structure from bendy, colorful straws seriously! © Birthplace of Country Music

After having lots of fun ourselves, we booked several of our classes to visit the Birthplace of Country Music Museum to see this exhibit focused on various common items that had been taken apart and presented in a most unique and artistic format. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) education is such an important part of our school’s curriculum, and the Things Come Apart tour supported and affirmed the importance of providing such opportunities for our students. The experience gave our students the opportunity to view things differently and to begin to understand the complexity of items and the engineering that goes into the manufacturing of such objects.

The tour enjoyed by our faculty, as well as our students, was enhanced with a fortuitous chance to have a hands-on experience through a variety of Smithsonian Spark!Lab activities where groups worked together to create a product specific to a particular need. These makerspace centers encouraged the groups to collaborate in order to solve a problem, which further enhanced what was taken away from this educational “Beyond the Classroom” experience.

A group of students grouped around their finished Invent-a-Vehicle, all making silly faces and poses!
A group of Sullins students used the Smithsonian Spark!Lab activity kit to build a functional vehicle from wheels and plastic pipe. Photograph courtesy of Sarah Hampton

The principles highlighted in this exhibit also carried through into our classrooms back at Sullins – for instance, prior to visiting the museum, our eighth-grade students actually disassembled a broken cell phone to see all the components and applied what they would see at the exhibit to a real-life experience.

This exhibit was important to Sullins because it gave us a unique educational opportunity to enhance our students’ learning experience. It also served as an inspiration for our students to explore and to experiment as they participated in their own Things Come Apart projects back at school.

Left pic: Male student taking apart a cell phone; center pic: Two female students working on a circuit board; right pic: A group of students with their Things Come Apart science fair display, along with their teacher and school principal.
Sullins teacher Sarah Hampton used the faculty workday, the student visits to the Things Come Apart exhibit, and its related STEAM concepts as inspiration for a variety of learning lessons back in the classroom. Photographs courtesy of Sarah Hampton

We encourage everyone to take advantage of the myriad of opportunities a facility like the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is able to bring to our community. We are fortunate to have the availability of such an innovational entity from which we can garner these unique and important educational opportunities for ourselves and the children we serve.”

The experiences of Sullins Academy’s students and teachers really reflect the goals of our museum: to provide an educational and inspirational experience, one that brings real engagement to those who visit us and acts as a support for learning within our local community and schools. And they also reflect the dedication of our teachers and educators to bring out the curiosity of our children and get them excited about learning.

As we move forward, we embrace the excitement of engaging with students – and all of our every day visitors – in order to share our resources with them and highlight the value that museums – and teachers – bring to communities like ours on a daily basis.

Guest blogger Roy Vermillion is Head of School at Sullins Academy in Bristol, Virginia. Head Curator René Rodgers provided context to his guest post. Thank you to teacher Sarah Hampton for sharing her wonderful pictures of the students at the museum and in the classroom.

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