A few years ago I got a chance to tag along with a school group at the Royal BC Museum for a few hours, a sort of spin-off activity to a facilitation project I was working on at the time. I was really impressed with the educators at this wonderful venue and was thrilled to see their facilitation skills in action with the kids.

Lately I’ve been thinking again about museums and educators who work in museums, and I’ve been curious about the skills they use to not only teach their visitors of all ages, but design exhibits so that people will learn from them. I’ve been interested to know what kind of insights I could glean from thinking about education in a different kind of context than that in which I normally work.

Because of this, I was inspired to sign up for the Art & Inquiry: Museum Teaching Strategies for your Classroom course from Coursera recently. It’s a free MOOC put on by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City and I’ve found watching their videos to be engaging.

Today one of the videos I watched talked about and showed examples of museum educators using the inquiry skill of “close-looking” with school children. I must admit that I hadn’t heard this term before, and it intrigued me to see the educator and the children she was working with using old slide projector slides (with the photo cut out) as “viewfinders” to look through at a work of art. (See what I mean at 1:24 minutes in on this video.) The point seems to be that using the tiny viewfinder helps people look at just some of the art at one time, which perhaps allows them to employ a keener eye to see some of the details of the work. Alternatively, the educator had the children step back to look at the art from farther away, with their own eyes, to see the big picture. In this way perhaps they could see something else that they hadn’t yet noticed.

Use your fingers as a viewfinder for ‘close-looking’ – what do you see?

While we may not have a chance to look at art these days to use the skill of “close-looking”, I think we could still think about how to apply it to projects of our own. Or perhaps even our teaching practice. So, zoom in on something that you’re working on right now. Look at just a piece of it. What do you notice? What do you see? Make a viewfinder of your own with an old slide or a piece of cardboard, or just put your hands up into the shape of an open square and look through. What’s different? What can you learn from this new perspective?