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The HEAP Collaboration: One of a Kind

Written by Leslie Swartz

Similar to other university Asian Studies outreach centers, such as those at the University of Michigan, Columbia, Stanford, and the University of Illinois, the purpose of HEAP is to expand public knowledge, understanding and appreciation of China and Japan and to advocate for the globalization of school curricula. Most outreach centers do this exclusively though professional development for teachers and curriculum development for students. The Harvard East Asian Program at The Children's Museum is—and always was—different. Unlike other outreach centers, HEAP is a partnership with a museum, and a children's museum at that.

At TCM, learning about Japan and China begins at a very young age when attitudes about differences among people are first formed. The museum's highly engaging exhibits and public programs on China and Japan are the first encounters many young people have with these cultures. The design of these powerful immersive museum experiences was intentional: equipped with rudimentary skills learned at TCM, it was hoped that children and families would be inspired to pursue a lifelong interest in learning about people from cultures different than their own.

The collaboration has always been a brilliant one. All university-based outreach programs face the dual challenge of finding an audience and translating university research/teaching into pre-collegiate educational practice. TCM has that audience—the museum already worked with teachers and students—but it also has an approach and philosophy of teaching and learning that is very attractive to a broad audience of students and teachers, children, and adults. Through HEAP the museum can apply its pedagogy to learning and teaching about Asia, making the learning fun and inspiring children and adults to want to learn more. From Harvard's point of view, the museum is a great distribution system with an ideal and built-in audience.

Many faculty in the Greater Boston area have worked with the museum. Some have been deeply involved with TCM for years and have made enormous contributions. Harvard University language teacher Yori Oda continues to serve as an honorary museum trustee. Merry White, Boston University anthropology professor, does extensive work with the museum on Japanese society and education. Ezra Vogel, a luminary in Asian Studies and now Harvard Professor of Social Sciences, Emeritus, has always been a strong supporter of the museum's work and has no doubt lobbied behind the scenes at Harvard on the museum's behalf. Faculty with children have particularly appreciated TCM's hands-on, object-based approach to learning. Over the years, HEAP has served a remarkably large annual audience of close to 300 teachers through professional development, 1,500 students through school programs, an additional 5,000 students through multimedia kits on China and Japan, and at least 5,000 more people through public programs for families on China and Japan. Extensive work with teachers has provided them with the background knowledge and quality curriculum to expand learning and teaching about China and Japan in their schools.

Next: Curriculum Design: What Do Teachers and Students Need?