Middle school "reverse field trips"

By Carrie Kotcho

Because our History Explorer team develops K-12 lesson plans and interactives as well as professional development opportunities for teachers, it’s important for us to stay current with what’s happening in the classroom. We encourage each History Explorer staffer to make at least two “reverse field trips” to observe classrooms each year. With busy work schedules, school holidays, and standardized testing, it’s always a challenge to make this happen. Over the last month, I was able to get out to visit and observe classes at two middle schools, T. Benton Gayle Middle School, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pennsylvania . . . and it was the highlight of my year.

Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pennsylvania
Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pennsylvania

Like any good educator, I do a little information gathering before I head out on a “field trip.” I visit the school’s Web site to get directions, entry procedures, etc., as well as pick up a little background on the school. Things like recent awards, challenges, and even the school’s mascot (Go Panthers! Go Eagles!) help me get a sense of the school’s culture and priorities.

I work with the host teacher to find out where the class will be in the curriculum and try to bring some relevant objects from our teaching collection to share with them. Thanks to my colleague Heather Paisley-Jones, I was able to assemble a really nice group of objects from the WWII homefront to share with the students at Susquenita MS. They were studying the impacts of the Holocaust and World War II on civilians in the U.S. and Europe.

Smithsonian's History Explorer If possible, I also try to arrange a time to meet with interested teachers to give them a demo of the types of resources the museum provides through our History Explorer Web site. But mostly, I watch and I listen. Great teachers are a joy to observe, and I have been lucky enough to see many in action.

We try hard to create resources that bring the best of the museum into K-12 classrooms, and we could not do this without working directly with teachers. If you are a teacher and would like to be a part of what we do, contact at us at thinkfinity@si.edu. There are many opportunities to review materials, participate in focus groups, or join advisory panels. Who knows, maybe I can come and observe a class in your school next year! I’d like that.

Carrie Kotcho is the education technologist at the National Museum of American History.