‘Museum teachers’ bringing field trips to classrooms

When Peggy Labrie shows the children how to measure how high they can jump, they ooh and aah as if t

When Peggy Labrie shows the children how to measure how high they can jump, they ooh and aah as if they’re watching a circus.

“Cool!” they cry, watching her with rapt attention.

Labrie stuck a small wooden knob on a velcro chart to mark her height, then jumped, placing a second wooden knob on the chart to mark her distance from the ground. The distance between the two knobs, which is measured in centimeters, tells the class how high Labrie has jumped.

Labrie also shows the children a lot of things, including how to measure their height, their ring size and their foot length.

The clusters of desks in this third grade classroom at Arongen Elementary School in Clifton Park represent different stations, and each contains equipment for the children to use: scales and weights, measuring cups and measuring spoons. At one station, the children measure parts of their body, at another half a cup of beans.

Labrie is not the teacher of this class.

She is a guest, a “museum teacher” from the Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum, the only all-traveling museum in the country. Measures for Measuring, the program she’s running, is the most popular of the museum’s 60-plus programs, which are delivered in schools, community centers, camps and other educational settings.

The Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum has an office on Mohawk Street in downtown Scotia, but there are no exhibits or activities there, and visiting children expecting a museum would likely be disappointed. The museum travels to schools within a 50-mile radius, and teachers can request programs in a variety of subjects, including math, science, social studies, English/Language Arts and character education.

These programs, which are designed for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, are taught by 26 “museum teachers,” many of whom are retired teachers themselves.

“All of the programs have a hands-on component,” said Diana Bennett, the executive director of the Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum.

This school year the Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum booked 2,256 programs, a slight increase from last year.

Bennett believes the museum’s services are appealing to cash-strapped schools that might lack the funds for expensive field trips; the museum’s program guide describes “the cost-effective field trip that comes to you.”

“It’s a very economical field trip,” Bennett said. “We’re getting more calls from first-timers and schools we may not have heard from for a few years. Many schools are cutting field trips.”

Other popular museum programs include Simple Machines, which teaches students about levers, pulleys, and such; What’s the Scoop?, which teaches students the history of ice cream and how to make ice cream using coffee cans; and We’re More the Same Than Different, which uses puppets to teach kids about disabilities.

The basement at the children’s museum headquarters is full of program supplies.

There are kits for building pan flutes and kaleidoscopes, and bins affixed with labels such as Butterflies and Weather.

The Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum was formed in 1978 by three young mothers.

They started with three programs, of which two — Mirror Magic, about kaleidoscopes, and The Inside Story, about the body — are still popular today. In that first year, the museum visited 2,000 children in the Scotia-Glenville area.

“The traveling museum concept caught on quickly,” the informational material states. “It was a time when school budgets were being defeated, with field trips likely to be one of the first things to be cut. At the same time, interest in hands-on learning was increasing. The demand for programs grew and the geographical area expanded each year.”

The museum is constantly developing new programs to keep up with schools’ changing needs.

This year, the museum has started offering Beaver Hats and Wooden Shoes, a program on Dutch history, Fraction Fun!, about basic fractions and Listen to This, which helps children develop listening skills. Sometimes programs are discontinued; a program on Christopher Columbus was shelved last year due to declining interest.

One new program, The Cherry Hill Case, was designed by Historic Cherry Hill, a historic house museum in Albany. The program, which asks children to “become detectives of history investigating six people who lived at Cherry Hill in the mid 1800s,” represents a new partnership for the children’s museum and Historic Cherry Hill. Rebecca Watrous, the education director at Historic Cherry Hill, explained that the museum is undergoing a multi-year renovation project, and was looking for ways to expand its off-site programming.

“We really wanted to reach out, and this is a way for us to reach a wider audience,” Watrous said.

Measures for Measuring is designed to be fun, but it’s also practical: These students are be tested on this material in the New York State math test.

“Measuring is something you’ll do your whole life,” Labrie tells the kids. “We’re constantly measuring things. How many of you guys like to bake?”

The question inspires an enthusiastic show of hands.

Labrie, of Glenville, taught elementary school years ago, but quit full-time teaching to raise her kids. She said she learned of the Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum when she invited a museum teacher into her own classroom. “I thought, ‘I’d love to do that,’” she said.

“I enjoy it a lot,” Labrie said of her work, for which she is paid. “It allows me flexibility as a mom. I go in, and I am the special. The kids love it.” She also teaches programs on the tropical rainforest, dinosaurs, frogs, spider silk and offers a virtual field trip to a farm.

Wendy Wollner, the classroom’s regular teacher, flits from station to station, helping her students and giving them advice.

“I want them to be stronger in measuring,” she said. “We’ve learned this material in class, but this is good reinforcement.” She said it’s a “pleasure to watch them watch somebody else teach them.”

The Scotia-Glenville Children’s Museum received a permanent charter from the New York State Board of Regents in 1990, and is a member of the Museum Association of New York.

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply