As most museum educators know, capturing what we do is difficult. The insightful comments and “a-ha” moments visitors have during our programs often go unrecorded. In School Visits at MoMA, we see hundreds of students a day. On Guided Visits with our expert Educators, these students have rich, meaningful discussions about art, connecting to universal themes and their personal experiences. Within our programs, which are about an hour long, students often spend a good deal of time looking closely at works of art, making observations and interpretations, and backing up their ideas with what they see.
In this School Visits video (below), we embarked on the mission of trying to capture a school visit experience here at MoMA. This video was intended for teachers and students alike who wanted to get a sense of what kinds of conversations we engage in, what kinds of activities we do, and how we approach looking at works of art. Prior to filming, we needed a plan. Francis Estrada (Assistant Educator of School Visits) and I mapped out our goals and a possible format for the video. Colleen Brogan (former Digital Learning Project Coordinator) assisted us in storyboarding our ideas. The plan was to capture a full lesson with students and one of our talented freelance educators, Emily Gibson. We planned the “lesson” around George Segal’s Bus Driver. We chose this object for the video because it’s three-dimensional—not the typical artwork in front of which we would normally shoot students—and it inspires rich conversations about society, identity, materials and process, and more.
Frank Sinatra School of the Arts students have been to the Museum many times before, as it is one of our partnership schools. We asked a small group of tenth-graders to come to the Museum one night, along with their Assistant Principal and teacher, Sofia Apostolidis. (You can read Colleen’s account of the video shoot itself.) We got so much footage! We ended up with interviews with all the educators and a couple of the students, and almost a full hour of conversation and activities in front of the artwork.
The challenge, then, was how exactly to edit this footage in a way that captures the essence of a school visit. It proved difficult to pull out examples from the linear conversation between Emily and the students while also having it make sense to the viewer. We worked with our film company, Plowshares Media, to cut the footage and put it together with the interviews. We did our best to create a sense of the “atmosphere” of a school visit; the types of questions we ask students, the kinds of big ideas we touch on with them, and the ways in which students relate works of art to their classroom studies and personal lives. But we also wanted to give a somewhat comprehensive sense of our School Visit program offerings, and our reasoning around teaching with themes.
The big stars of this video are the students of Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. Our educator, Emily, planned great questions for them and we just let the students do their thing. They were so calm and thoughtful within this artificial process. All we had to do was capture their interesting ideas and thoughtful observations about the work of art. Hopefully, sharing their experience will give students and teachers alike (near and far) a sense of what to expect.