In their brochure Sharing Science with Children: A Survival Guide for Scientists and Engineers, the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C., offers the following noteworthy tips for those who teach youngsters.
- Make eye contact with the students because they love the personal contact.
- Smile and feel comfortable telling amusing anecdotes because kids love a good laugh.
- Organize all your materials in advance because kids sometimes have a hard time waiting.
- Use student volunteers to help you set up and distribute materials, samples, pictures, and handouts because kids love to feel important.
- Require that students raise their hands to participate because they will probably want to talk all at once.
- Call on many different members of the class because everyone wants to be involved.
- Model good safety practices because kids learn by following role models.
- Give specific directions when distributing specimens because kids sometimes disagree about who has been holding an object longest.
- Use a prearranged signal to get students’ attention during activities (clapping, flipping light switch, etc.) because it is too hard to give good directions unless students are quiet.
- Stop and wait for students to let you continue speaking if they get noisy because they have probably heard the “cold silence” before and know that it means they need to be less noisy.
- Wait to give out handouts to students until it is time to read or use them because if the students have the handouts while you are speaking they will be distracted.
- Wait several seconds before calling on students to answer a question because the whole class needs time to think about the question before someone answers it.
- Enjoy the students, their enthusiasm, and their sense of wonder because they have a fasinating perspective on the world!
No More Docents?
The August 2, 1993 issue of Business Week magazine included an article entitled, A Museum Guide that Follows Your Lead. The article described a new product called Audiomate, a small portable device that resembles a handheld telephone. The device stores up to four hours of audio-based information that can be randomly accessed.
When visitors come across something they want to know more about, they simply enter a three-digit code designated for that object and the Audiomate retrieves and plays the pre-recorded information. The Louvre, in Paris, is the first museum to offer Audiomate. They made it available for the opening of the new Richelieu Wing this past November.
Help is All Around Us
Ever notice how other people’s errors are glaringly apparent, and the words others should have used are easy to discern?
These may be the best reasons why docents, guides, and interpreters ought to invite a peer or staff member to observe their tours and attend their lessons. The invited educator usually has just enough distance from the lesson or activity to make useful observations. The only caveat is that they offer these observations back in the form of “constructive criticism.”
Nobody likes to be criticized. Constructive criticism, however, should not be criticism for the sake of criticizing. Whether in the form of peer feedback or formal evaluations, constructive criticism should provide suggested routes toward more effective behaviors or strategies for similar situations. Constructive criticism does not focus on what went wrong, but offers practical suggestions to help make the next encounter even better and the docent’s performance even stronger.
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“For Your Consideration,” The Docent Educator 3.2 (Winter 1993): 13.