Teaching and Learning

Transformative Learning: BMCC Students in NYC Museums

Photo of Tibetan art

“Sanggye Lingpa (1705-1735)” is in the Public Domain

Learning is transformative when we experience through our senses the world of embedded meanings that is the creative arts. Integrating visual arts, music, dance and theater into my early childhood teacher education curriculum at BMCC has provided my students with opportunities to discover and create, to deeply notice and question, to expand imagination and construct meaning through authentic and collaborative learning experiences.

In this essay I’d like to share one of those experiences: a class visit in Fall 2017 to the Rubin Museum of Art. The Rubin offers a dynamic and welcoming environment that encourages connection with the art, history, ideas, and cultures of the Himalayan region. Both permanent and special exhibitions are immersive, while special events such as the Friday night gallery tours are aimed at engaging learners at all levels in exploration of art and culture.

I used an ELIC grant to organize a private guided tour for 20 students to an interactive special exhibition called The World is Sound.  For most of my students, this was their first time at the Rubin; for many of them it was their first time in an art museum.

This particular exhibit engaged the senses in a way not typical of a visual arts museum. The idea was to “learn to listen with your whole body.” During an hour-long tour, my students explored how sound and hearing shape their lives, traditions and history.

They walked up the spiral staircase, listening to how the sound of humming from the large metal bowl as the bottom of staircase changed as they climbed. They chanted along with a recording of thousands of people from all over the world saying the Om. They touched the walls to feel the vibrations from recordings of monks chanting and they explored various musical instruments from different parts of Tibet and Nepal.

At one point during the tour, I noticed three students had stayed behind after the rest of the group had moved on to the next stop. They stood in front of a tapestry—not one that the guide had been explaining, but a different artwork.

When I came closer, I heard them talking about different elements they noticed in the design and debating the meanings of the artist’s use of certain figures. They were so engaged in an animated discussion about the tapestry that they hadn’t noticed that the rest of the class had moved on. What more could any teacher ask for?

The following week, their in-class reflections highlighted how the museum tour had helped them to “think outside the box” and how unusual it was for them to interact with museum exhibits. As future early childhood educators, the immersive learning they experienced that day helped them to better understand how to engage young children in the type of transformative learning experiences advocated by educational theorists such as John Dewey and Maxine Greene, whose ideas we were studying.

Have you ever wondered how your curriculum might connect with the art, culture and history of the Rubin Museum?  Join the CETLS Campus Culture Group on Friday, October 18 for an Educator Open House at the Rubin.

The discussion and gallery tour will explore the permanent collection and special exhibits, and offer insight into universal concepts of mathematics, history, art and culture. The 2019 theme at the Rubin is Power. We’ll be exploring exhibits about power and resistance and how to use intentions to empower positive change in ourselves and the world.


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