BSC Office of Communications

News from the Hilltop

October 11, 2010

Birmingham-Southern education students put theory into practice in design of Vulcan Museum training materials

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Birmingham-Southern education students have put theory into practice through an engaged study partnership with Vulcan Park and Museum's Education and Outreach Program.

Emily Wallace
Emily Wallace (red sweater) leads a summer tour group at Vulcan Museum and Park.

The BSC students, under the direction of Associate Professor of Education Dr. Louanne Jacobs, redesigned the teaching materials used by the park and museum for student visitors kindergarten through 12th grade.

Among the materials designed by BSC students were grade-specific teaching guides for use prior to a Vulcan field trip, docent guides for use during the visit, and post-visit reading lists, science experiments, and suggestions for incorporating art, music, and dance.

Phil Ratliff, Vulcan's director of education, first approached Jacobs about providing input into the redesign of the teaching materials.

"He wanted to fine-tune the educational materials currently in use to better meet the needs of students in a developmentally appropriate manner while also meeting Alabama State Course of Study objectives at a variety of grade levels," explained Jacobs, who serves as president of the Education Board for the museum and park.

So Jacobs brought the task back to her BSC students and asked for their ideas. She invited them to think of ways to apply everything they knew about developmentally appropriate practices to teaching kindergarten through 12th grade students in the Vulcan Museum. She took the students for a visit to Vulcan and before she knew it, the class had embraced the project and a teachable moment had turned into full-fledged classroom ownership.

"It's the moment every teacher hopes for," said Jacobs. "The moment when students take possession of an idea, put feet to that which has heretofore been only theory, and begin driving the curriculum is the moment when learning becomes real.

"The students found Vulcan Museum to be a laboratory for liberal arts teaching—filled with opportunities for connecting chemistry, physics, geography, politics, and classical literature"

Mary Beth Pickney was one member of the curriculum design team. "It was fascinating to study the museum so extensively and see in it more academic potential than I would have ever thought possible," recalled the senior elementary/collaborative education major from Nashville. "When I first went through the museum before our project began, I only saw knowledge that lay on the surface. After we had explored the museum's many connections to school curricula, I began to look deeper at the many possibilities for educational enrichment in the outside world."

"The Vulcan project gave us as students a chance to practice a technique we will hopefully use as teachers," noted Emily Wallace, a senior elementary/collaborative education major from Vestavia Hills and another member of the design team. "We were given a task that required us to synthesize so much learning we had already gained, about childhood development, retention of information, ways to engage students in an age-appropriate way. We were also given gradually larger amounts of independence as this task progressed."

Pickney and Wallace are Harrison Honors Scholars at Birmingham-Southern.

The BSC education students concluded their study by field testing and refining the new materials. Jacobs led docent training this past summer using the student-developed materials.

“The docents were thrilled with the new material. They are wonderful folks, incredibly knowledgeable about Vulcan, about the park, and about Birmingham. They now have the tools to share their knowledge in a more effective manner with young visitors. This is only the beginning of this partnership.”

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