The Thing's "The Thing"

Institute for the Humanities holds workshop on object-based teaching

Joanna Madloch

Jim Harris talks about objects in the Cosla Collection, Kasser Theater

            "Getting students' attention and increasing participation" was the goal of an Institute for the Humanities workshop for high- and middle school teachers held on Friday, April 24, 2017.  It was led by Dr. Jim Harris who is Andrew Mellon Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford, England, and Dr. Senta German, Associate Professor in the Department of Classics & General Humanities at Montclair State University, and formerly also a Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum. 

            Object-based teaching aims to encourage students to talk about what they can see in an object -- not about what they know (or think they know) about it.  Although it has its roots in museum docent-ship, object-based teaching is suited to the teaching of almost any subject, including STEM subjects. "Seeing" is an intrinsically egalitarian activity that sets all students on a level playing field, without regard to prior experience or knowledge, and is therefore ideal as a method of introducing new subjects or the discussion of sensitive topics. Recent education research has shown that object-based teaching and learning not only extends the depth of comprehension of a lesson but also extends the length of lesson recall.  

           A total of 23 teachers, whose subject areas included Classical & World Languages, Math, Reading, Special Education, Social Studies, English Language Arts, French and Spanish, attended. They represented 17 New Jersey schools, including 13 high schools and 4 middle schools.  After an explication of the object-based teaching approach by Jim Harris and Senta German, participants in groups of three applied what they had learned -- in the session entitled "BYOO . . . Bring Your Own Object" -- to an item that they had brought with them to the workshop.  A computer mouse, a shell, and an Eiffel Tower key ring were what brought together a teacher of language arts, math, and social studies, for example! 

           The morning concluded with a "hands-on" session looking at the Cosla Collection of painting and sculpture on permanent exhibit in the Kasser Theater on campus (photos above).