Story 09: Beyond Museum Walls

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How did the new progressive education of the '60s impact both schools and the museum?

Written by Patricia A. Steuert

The MATCH Kits were developed as curriculum units, each lasting several weeks, on specific topics including Grouping Birds, Eskimos, The City, House of Ancient Greece, and The Japanese House. Authentic artifacts were combined with activities that required children's active involvement. Beautifully designed, these materials provided memorable experiences for students and teachers. MATCh Kits were developed, tried out, evaluated and circulated through the museum's loan department for more than twenty years. Later, the museum contracted with American Science & Engineering (AS&E) to produce some of the kits commercially, and AS&E sold them nationally to school systems.

The materials were painted or printed in bright colors and the objects were packaged to be handled safely by children. The activities and teacher's guide were based on an interactive model of teaching found in many progressive schools and the British Primary Schools. Children moved out of their desks, worked in groups, made models, observed natural objects and described them in detail. From the evaluations we learned that many teachers looked forward to that time of the year when they taught The Japanese House MATCh Kit and students remembered what they learned years later.

After a few years, the MATCh Kits proved to be too expensive for many schools to purchase or rent from the museum. Although most schools rented them, it cost about $1,500 to purchase one. The two-to-three-week immersive topic focus worked for some of the more innovative school systems and their teachers but it was just "too much time" for many other schools. In the late '70s, the museum received a grant to redevelop many of the activities in the Match Boxes into smaller Discovery Kits that could be used on the museum floor with visitors or rented by schools and community centers for shorter periods that better suited their needs.

Fred Kresse described the new and improved Discovery Kits in a local education journal:

When we first started out with this project, we were working under the wrong conception. We used to call the boxes 'Material Aids for Teaching Children.' This implied that we were going to arm the teacher with bigger and better tools to stuff more and more learning into children. Unconsciously, we were setting out to design materials for teachers to use on children. We soon realized that this negated the very essence and joy of learning and teaching. We now call the boxes Materials and Aids for Teachers and Children, and we are trying to design them to guide both teachers and children in a common exploration and to enlarge the dialogue between them.

The philosophy of engaging materials, including real artifacts, remained a constant in all materials development projects for more than twenty years.

In the early '70s, Program Developer Phylis Morrison introduced staff in the Visitor Center and the Resource Center to new ideas for learning about other cultures, arts and sciences in a paper called "Those Upward Lines." She and her husband, Philip Morrison, consulted with Mike Spock on the new Visitor Center and also with Frank Oppenheimer who was simultaneously creating the Exploratorium® in San Francisco.

Next: How did the museum get into the teacher training business?