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Traveling Through Time

[2010]
An educational research project with a history museum
Museum of the City of New York, New York, NY

The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) contracted Randi Korn & Associates, Inc. (RK&A) to study its school program Traveling Through Time (TTT). This evaluation explored the extent to which the program enhanced fourth-grade students’ attitudes about history and museums about history in four skill areas—historical knowledge, historical inquiry, historical perspective, and historical reasoning—as related to the history of New York City.

How did we approach this study?

The effects of a one-time 90-minute program can be subtle and difficult to detect through conventional evaluation strategies. To address this challenge, RK&A designed a quasi-experimental research study that utilized a treatment group—students who received TTT, and a control group—students who did not receive TTT. Both groups were comprised of New York City fourth-grade students. Measures of student learning in both groups included standardized questionnaires and interviews. Evaluators developed rubrics to measure attainment of each of the skill areas in the control and treatment groups.

What did we learn?

The evaluation of the TTT program had two overarching goals: first, to examine student attitudes about history, history museums, and TTT; second, and most importantly, to determine whether TTT had achieved its student outcomes related to historical thinking skills. Overall, the student interviews in the treatment and control groups reflected positive attitudes about “learning history.” However, contradictory to conventional wisdom, students were more excited about inquiry-based activities rather than hands-on activities, such as touching objects in the museum. In regard to students’ historical thinking skills, findings demonstrated that TTT positively affected treatment students’ achievement in all of the four skill areas mentioned above. Treatment students almost always scored higher than control students; however, the achievements of both the treatment and control students were modest. Treatment students often scored in the middle of the rubric, scoring the highest in historical knowledge.

What are the implications of the findings?

As noted previously, it is difficult to assess the impact of a single program; therefore, it is notable that the TTT program had noticeable positive effects on student learning. The influence of the program on learning outcomes can in part be attributed to two aspects of MCNY’s approach to student learning: object-based learning and the inquiry approach. The TTT program fosters an engaging learning environment by allowing students to interact with real objects and by encouraging critical thinking through open-ended questions. Although all students scored relatively low in areas related to historical thinking skills, this is most likely due to deficiencies in the way that history is traditionally taught. However, the results of this study suggest that repeated exposure to programs such as TTT can positively impact the development of historical inquiry skills in students.

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