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FAO Schwartz Children’s Center School Programs

[2007]
A program evaluation with a history museum
The Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY

RK&A was contracted by the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) in New York City to conduct a program evaluation of its school programs.  Specifically, the study explores the degree to which three school programs—Traveling through Time, Leave it to the Beavers, and The Grid—meet their objectives and reveals strengths and weaknesses of the programming. 

How did we approach this study?

RK&A designed the program evaluation of MCNY school programs to use evaluation as a learning tool rather than a judgment tool.  The evaluation took a close look at how the programs are implemented to make program improvements.  The process began with two meetings in which the evaluator invited staff to reflect on the programs, used inquiry strategies to help staff to articulate concrete objectives, and encouraged them to seek clarity about the program. 

What did we learn?

By and large, the greatest strength of MCNY school programs is the method of delivery that museum educators used.  Observation demonstrated that the programs were dynamic, student-centered, interactive, object-based, and exciting.  Educators led students from activity to activity, shifting gears from one idea to the next, all while maintaining a constant dialogue with the group.  Through open-ended questioning and the use of objects and artifacts designed to make students think critically, museum educators helped students construct knowledge for themselves.  On the other hand, the program’s content is a challenge.  As designed, the programs demand that a great deal of specific historical content be covered in 90 minutes and that the information be tailored to the age group and learning styles of students in participating classrooms.  Finally, the take-away activities at the end of the program, which are intended to provide students a hands-on activity and serve as student assessment, did not truly accomplish the latter because of a lack of time and no clear connection to the program’s objectives.

What are the implications of the findings?

RK&A suggested that staff need to come to terms with and reach consensus on the range of content to be covered in each program and be realistic about what is possible.  Narrowing the content would allow museum educators to slow down the pace of the gallery programs to allow more time for student discussion and reflection.  RK&A also recommended that MCNY build in a discussion question for each Take-Away activity to encourage students to make connections between what they have made and what they have learned so that each product serves as another object through which to explore the content.  This discussion may also serve as the program’s summary.  Institutions are not often willing to do this kind of evaluation and reflection, as many do not understand its value.  MCNY should be commended for entering into and continuing this reflective process.

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