Twenty teachers gathered after school in early March for a private tour of the Maya Lin: Mappings exhibition at the Smith College Museum of Art. The tour was led by Aprile Gallant, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs. Gina Hall, Educator for School and Family Programs, and Carol Berner, Department of Education and Child Study, organized the event for Mill River educators to view the exhibition and explore connections to their students. Participants included teachers from six schools (pre-k through college); arts educators; community-based tutors and mentors; an eco-psychologist; and a graduate student in engineering. Everyone seemed excited to come together in person to experience the artwork, learn about Maya Lin and explore new directions for teaching and learning about climate change.
“Inspired and Captivated”
Aprile guided the group through the gallery with intriguing details about Maya Lin’s background, vision and creative processes. Looking closely at the pin river map of the Connecticut River, teachers were bursting with questions for Aprile, from “How was the piece installed?” to “Where are we on the map?” Aprile’s insightful interpretation energized participants’ interactions with the artworks. One teacher reflected about the afternoon: “I left feeling inspired by the provocation and captivated by the beauty of the exhibit itself, and also by how it remains with me as I encounter new maps and as I respond with new eyes to the familiar landscape around me.”
How might we bring this work to our students?
After the tour, teachers gathered in a circle in the gallery to share ideas for engaging students. The dialogue reflected participants’ wide-ranging contexts and interests. As teachers built on each other’s ideas, the list of possibilities for student interactions with the work kept expanding in different directions:
- Make pin river maps with toothpicks in the snow
- Create wax-covered maps of the Mill River pre-and post 1874 flood
- Bring students to the exhibition (yes the museum is open for school visits, contact Gina Hall)
- Conduct oral interviews of Mill River memories inspired by Maya Lin’s What is Missing?
- Make identity maps as a way to explore social justice and social-emotional learning
- Design an interdisciplinary “mapmaking” project-based unit for high school students
- “What if every child created a map of the same place every year, and they were collected over time, so each child could see/reflect on how their perception of place changes over time?”
“What a wonderful experience you provided for all of us yesterday afternoon!”
Many thanks to Gina Hall and Aprile Gallant for inviting the Mill River educators to enjoy a special tour of the exhibition and a rich discussion of possibilities for educators. Be sure to check out the Resources for Teachers compiled by Gina, with relevant videos, links, articles and lesson plans. Please share your activities or teaching ideas inspired by the exhibit (use the comments below or email Carol) and stay tuned for follow-up events this spring sponsored by RIVER (River Inquiry via Exploration of our Region).
Written by Carol Berner. Photography by Gina Hall.