Story 02: Education of a Dropout

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Sidebar: MATCh Kits Tryout

Written by Mike Spock

MATCh Kits project developer Gengene and I were standing at the front of an old Boston classroom, desks bolted to the floor. The teacher stage-whispered to us that we should not be disappointed if the small boy walking down the aisle did not do our tryout activity very well, after all, he hadn't done anything right all year!

Moving the museum out into the classroom, we were field-testing an elaborate multimedia primary grade kit on classification. The task was to study closely the features of nine plexi-boxed birds, divide them into two or three groups, and explain what the classifying criteria were for each group. We wanted to see if these abstract notions would come to life using real objects in natural grouping activities.

The boy looked intently at the mounts, turning each box over and, taking his time, organized the birds into two groups: three toes in front and one behind versus two in front and two behind. He completed the job, telling us his criterion and brilliantly picked out details from the birds that even we had missed. The next classifier was a girl who was the star of the class. She looked uneasily at the boxes sitting untouched on the table and turned her attention to the adults. All her energy was focused on trying to get us to confirm the names of the birds. She seemed overwhelmed by the challenge of really looking. Clearly, one child was a skillful reader of the real world, the other was only comfortable with words and people. It reminded me of the profoundly different way I learned to deal with the world compared to my more conventionally facile Fieldston classmates.

Funded, as near as we could determine, by the first federal museum education grant, the MATCh Box (Materials and Activities for Teacher's and Children) curriculum development project (often called MATCh Kits) confirmed that a rich classroom environment in the hands of an observant and flexible teacher could serve the needs and talents of every student a decade before Howard Gardner published his multiple intelligences model. Eight MATCh Box units were eventually published nationally and taught a lot of tough subject-matter to lots of challenged kids, and became a powerful tool for training teachers at university schools of education.

Next: Sidebar: Opening the Visitor Center