Learning Lab: Dallas Museum of Art and Perot Museum of Nature and Science

In response to President Obama’s ‘Educate to Innovate’ campaign in 2010, in order to improve student’s participation and performance in STEM, Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and MacArthur Foundation teamed up to offer planning and design grants to libraries and museums throughout the country. “The Labs are intended to engage middle- and high-school youth in mentor-led, interest-based, youth-centered, collaborative learning using digital and traditional media.”

YALSAblog contacted all of the grantees to learn more about these exciting plans and partnerships with their organization. While the details for each place varied, especially by incorporating the local significance to the services and programs, there were several aspects that were pretty uniform across the board. Some of these tenets include the importance of teen input, mentorship (peer and adult), Connected Learning, principles of HOMAGO and of course over-the-moon enthusiasm for supporting teens and giving them all opportunities to become successful adults.

Dallas Learning Lab Today we will read about the Dallas Learning Lab in Texas which is a partnership with the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science from Nicole Stutzman Forbes, Chair of Learning Initiatives and Dallas Museum of Art League Director of Education (nstutzman@dallasmuseumofart.org). Twitter: @nicstutzman

KC: If you have named your Learning Lab, can you share what you are calling it?
NSF: We continue to call it the Learning Lab for now, but will soon have a Teen Advisory Council in place and they will be actively working with us December through June. We hope to have our Teen Advisory Council create a name for the lab.

KC: What is the target age for your Learning Lab?
NSF: The target age for our Lab will be middle and high school-aged youth.

KC: What makes your Learning Lab unique?
NSF: Our lab extends across two large museums that are within walking distance of each other in downtown Dallas. One museum is the Perot Museum of Nature and Science and one museum is the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA).
The focus of our Lab is to explore the intersection of art and science and will be informed by a STEAM-based learning framework (Science Technology Engineering Art Math). Part of this exploration includes building awareness and appreciation of the skills, perspectives, and creative processes of artists and scientists—both where they intersect and separate.
The Lab will also provide opportunities for students to connect with artists and scientists in the Dallas community.

KC: What theoretical framework are you applying to help inform the design and activities in the space? How, if at all, does Connected Learning play a role?
NSF: Connected Learning has been a big influence on how we’re approaching the development of the Learning Lab. We’ve drawn from the HOMAGO and Connected Learning reports by Mimi Ito, et al. and had the opportunity to hear her speak about Connected Learning at the last Learning Lab convening. We’ve been using the framework of interest-driven, peer-support learning that is connected to academic success and career readiness to guide us through the research and design phase to date and we are preparing to introduce our Teen Advisory Council to CL as well, so that they can use it as they’re developing curricula and activities for the lab.
We’ve found the CL and STEAM approaches are great compliments to one another. The interest-driven nature of Connected Learning means that learners are free to follow topics and experiences of their choosing and the STEAM framework means that we’ll have the tools to support a broad range of interests, including interdisciplinary ones.

KC: At the heart of most Learning Labs is the concept of community. How do you anticipate your Learning Lab creating community where it didn’t previously exist in the same way before?
NSF: We have reached out to others to begin developing a “community of contributors” between our museums and other organizations that offer programs for teens and actively play a role in the learning experiences and mentoring of youth audiences. Connecting with area professionals in the arts and sciences is also something that we’re looking forward to in terms of building and expanding our community.
Additionally, the Lab presents an opportunity to cultivate a cross-institutional teen audience between our museums; both the Perot and the DMA feel strongly about committing to and growing teen audiences.
We are excited to have the Teen Advisory Council, which will begin meeting next month, contribute to developing experiences for teen audiences, for the Learning Lab and more broadly within our institutions.

KC: What advice are you taking into consideration in approaching this project-either from libraries/other organizations who have completed or are in the process of similar projects, your own experience, or otherwise?
NSF: The teen voice is a significant and important one to include in the design of this. We have heard consistently from colleagues that including teens in the process and co-creation of this space is important. Our efforts to include teen perspectives include a survey conducted with several hundred teens in the area and the creation of Teen Advisory Council (10 teens) who will work with us to finalize plans for the Lab and prototype experiences.
It has been extremely helpful to have an evaluator involved with the project from the start to help push our thinking forward, develop and begin the analysis of the teen survey, and to provide an outside perspective.
The MFA Houston’s use of a mobile lab within the art museum has helped open up our thinking about the physical space of our Lab regarding its limitations and possibilities.

KC: What components will make your Learning Lab a Learning Lab?
NSF:
• Interest-driven learning
• Peer-to-peer mentoring and collaboration
• Providing a safe space for teens to hang out and explore their ideas independently
• Opportunities to meet artists, scientists, and other experts in Dallas area, supporting a better understanding of careers and career paths as well as real-world learning
• Materials and digital tools available for experimentation, idea-development, trial and error
• Adults and mentors with varied expertise to model the use of materials and tools
• Encouragement of teens to learn by exploring their interests, even if that means they don’t fit into traditional fields or disciplines. The STEAM nature of the Learning Lab will be conducive to such interdisciplinary projects

KC: What types of activities and/or technology do you anticipate being a part of your Learning Lab?
NSF:
• Maker-type activities; i.e. incorporating new media, technology
• Audio recording and creation, video creation, sculpting, painting, sketching, 3-D modeling and printing
• Digital media and web-making tools

KC: What are your plans to keep the Learning Lab dynamic, fresh, and moving forward?
NSF: We will continue research and communication with peer institutions throughout the country working on Labs. We will also continue to foster collaboration and the exchange of ideas with our local network of organizations dedicated to teen programming.
Listen to the teens! (Both our Teen Advisory Council and the teens who participate in programming)

KC: For libraries or similar organizations that haven’t received funding to build their dream Learning Lab, what suggestions do you have where they can start to get ideas or create a similar experience?
NSF:
• YOUmedia community and the YOUmedia Lab at the Chicago Public Library
ARTLAB+ at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture in Washington DC
Walker Art Center in MN
• Yollocalli’s HOMAGO: a Guidebook
Institute for Contemporary Art, Boston Teen Programs and summaries from a National Convening for Teens in the Arts
Mozilla Webmaker
National Writing Project
Connected Learning.tv

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