Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh





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A school group has an electrifying experience at Carnegie Science Center.

Creating Sparks

Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh’s Education programs support teachers and inspire young minds.


September is here, and children are back in school. And at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, back to school season means teachers turn to the museums for information, ideas, and support as they plan their curricula and field trips for the school year. Each year, approximately 200,000 school children from kindergarten through high school visit the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.


While school groups visit the museums throughout the year, March through May is the busiest time for field trips. In the spring, visitors will find rows of yellow buses parked outside and hundreds of eager students roaming the exhibitions inside. “It’s not uncommon to drive by the Science Center on any given day in May to find 12 or more buses lined up waiting to drop students off or pick them up,” says Roland Gagne, director of Education Marketing at Carnegie Science Center. “At our peak, we’ll see more than 2,000 kids every day.”   Teachers should schedule museum trips early in the school year to assure they get the time they want.


Making Learning Fun

While most students think of their field trips as a fun day out of the classroom, their teachers know that a visit to the museums is a unique way to bring their coursework to life. “Teaching today can be a very tough job,” says Richard Matthews, director of Science for the Pittsburgh Public Schools. “And Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh is doing everything it can to make our jobs easier. They really want children to come to the museums and get excited about learning.”


To support teachers in their ongoing quest to broaden their students’ experiences and make learning enjoyable, the Education staff at Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh have developed tours, classes and special programs for students that are creative, innovative, and interactive. In addition, each of the four Education departments offers special teachers-only workshops that introduce educators to the museums and show them how they can supplement their curricula with museum visits. Each course meets the criteria set by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Act 48, which requires teachers to pursue continuing education credits.


“It can be difficult for some teachers to see how or when a visit to the museum fits into their curricula,” says Megan Burness Yin, head of school and teacher programs at Carnegie Museum of Art. “So we work with them to show that whether they’re focusing on the arts, social studies, language arts, or science, the museums have something valuable to offer their students.”


Children Learn by Doing

At Carnegie Museum of Natural History, students can learn about almost anything on Earth. Whether a class is studying geology, mammals, Native American culture or Ancient Egypt, trained museum educators work closely with teachers to design visits that will support the specific subject matter each class is studying.


For example, an elementary class studying dinosaurs might enjoy a docent-led tour of Dinosaur Hall, including a stop at PaleoLab to watch how fossils are removed from stone, followed by a stop at BoneHunter’s Quarry to try their hand at unearthing fossils themselves. In this way, the material they may otherwise only have discussed in the classroom or seen in books is brought to life before their very eyes. At the end of their visit, the children leave full of excitement and wonder, and the teachers leave with post-visit materials that help extend the learning experience into the classroom.


“We strive to make a big impact on the children and teachers who come to visit us because we want them to come back again and again and discover something new each time,” says Diane Gryzbek, chair, Division of Education.


Across town at Carnegie Science Center, discovery takes a slightly different form. There, teachers and students learn science by doing science. “At Carnegie Science Center, we encourage students and teachers alike to learn about math, science and technology by exploring it,” says Roland Gagne, director of Education Marketing. “By participating in the activities, shows and exhibits we offer, children learn how math and science are all around them.”


Whether preschoolers are learning about how things work, middle schoolers are learning about Earth science, or high schoolers are learning about the human body, there’s something for every child at Carnegie Science Center and UPMC SportsWorks. The combination of interactive permanent exhibits, hands-on science workshops, and OMNIMAX movies make learning about science an adventure.  


“My kindergarten class was learning about soil and trees. We talked about how plants get their energy from the nutrients in the soil and air, but it wasn’t until we visited the Science Center and attended a life science workshop that it all started to make sense,” says Michelle Markovich from the Gateway School District. “They loved it because it wasn’t just sitting and listening. Everything was hands-on.”


If Art Could Talk

Every year, students come from all over western Pennsylvania and beyond to participate in Carnegie Museum of Art’s guided gallery visits and studio-based programs, which focus on the power of art to strengthen students’ analytical thinking skills. “We’re not interested in lecturing about works of art. Instead, students are encouraged to make observations, ask questions, and exchange ideas about what they see and the role of art in their lives,” says Megan Burness-Yin, head of school and teacher programs. “By doing this, they begin to develop a personal point of view about what’s important.”


By developing and communicating their own ideas about art, students begin to develop an understanding of how all forms of visual communication—from fine artwork to advertisements—convey ideas, and, more importantly, they begin to think critically about the things they see. Similarly, students who visit The Andy Warhol Museum are encouraged to explore the museum’s collection and to think and talk about how the works of art relate to issues society faces today.  


“At The Warhol, our education programs emphasize critical and creative thinking. Through our artist-led tours, we teach children that both making art and viewing it are creative processes. We encourage students to explore their own personal responses to artwork and give them the information and skills they need to examine the world critically and creatively,” says Jessica Arcand, The Warhol’s curator of education. “Hands-on art-making activities give young people a sense of all the creative ways they can influence the world around them.”


While tours and lesson plans provided by the staff at The Warhol and Museum of Art can be customized to meet a group’s specific needs, most teachers find that the general focus on interpreting the art and sharing opinions is more than enough to stimulate the learning process.


“I took two classes of third-graders to the Warhol and I asked them what they expected to see,” says Zee Ann Peorio, a local elementary school teacher. “What they experienced was totally different than what they anticipated. They saw that art isn’t just a picture on the wall. It can be an environment you walk into, something you interact with, even something you can touch and feel. Andy Warhol really impressed them. I see an influence in their artwork and the other things they do. They’re more observant and pay more attention to details. They not only learned about art, they saw how it affects their lives.”


Connections That Last a Lifetime

By helping teachers show children how and why the things they learn in the classroom are important in real life, the museums serve an invaluable role. “Our job in the Education division is to help children make a connection between what they’re seeing in the museums and what they’re learning in the classroom in a way we hope they’ll never forget,” says Diane Gryzbek.


“Learning can and should be fun,” says Roland Gagne. “If it is, children are likely to learn and retain more. That’s why our staff strives every day to find new ways to make education exciting. You never know which child is waiting for just the right flicker of inspiration to become the next Van Gogh or Madame Curie. We want to create that spark.”




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