The MSU Museum Education Team has launched a new program designed especially for young visitors ages 2-5.  See the announcement at




“The assumption has been that because teachers have studied ideas longer, they understand them better and are therefore better able to communicate (transmit) them.  Epistemologically, it assumes knowledge is an object that can be conveyed and owned by individuals, which assumes that students can come to know the world as the teacher does.  That assumption further assumes that students want to know the world as the teacher does.  But do they, and if so, why?”

– From the Preface to Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments by Jonassen & Land (2000)

I recently discovered a very engaging website called “Brain Pickings.” Maria Popova, who produces the site, describes it as

Your LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces across art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology. Pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower you to combine them into original concepts that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful.

From what I’ve explored so far, Brain Pickings is a fun mix of thought provoking content.  For example, the last couple of posts included discussion as varied as presidential campaign art from the past 200 years and the classification of the astronomical body Pluto.  Add it to your e-reader to get something interesting everyday!

I was listening to some medieval music the other day (yes, it might be a history person thing).  Though I was really enjoying it, I noticed was that the music was being played on contemporary instruments.  This gave the music a different sound than when I had heard the same piece played earlier on period instruments.  I began thinking about how “more authentic” using the older instruments was because that was how the people who originally composed and listened to the music being performed would have heard it.  The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that no matter what instruments are played, we cannot remove the “modern us” from the equation.  How different, often, are our expectations for music (instant access, performers can re-record as many times as necessary, etc.).  How different are the environments in which we hear it (concert hall, CD player in the car, iPod, and so on).  Finally, we can never erase the sense that we are listening to something historic, a product of a place and time that is not now.  No matter what, I listen with a modern mind and consequently, modern ears.  But I still listen appreciatively.

Headline of 1920 U.S. Census Form

I was working in a local archive the other day, looking for some information about the original owner of a historic property. My search for information led me to the census records, which I accessed via an internet database. I had some extra time, so I thought I would see if I could find some information about my grandfather’s family, which none of the relatives seems to know much about.

With a few clicks of the mouse, I had accessed the 1920 U. S. Census records and found my grandfather’s name. His entire family was listed: father, mother, older brother and sister, and then my grandfather, age seven. The census told me where they had been born, their occupations, and where they lived.  Finding this information was pretty exciting, and I look forward to delving deeper when I have time.

What struck me most as I read, however, was the way this document seemed to freeze time. Here, captured in this census record, my grandfather wasn’t the old man who had come to my birthday parties or taken me to visit veterans at the local V. A. hospital. Here, for all time, my grandfather is a seven-year-old boy, whose world consists of his mother, father, brother, sister and the street where he grew up. All the hopes and dreams, ups and downs, and mistakes and successes of his life are yet to be. At this moment in time, his life path remains to be decided. Here, Grandpa is not yet grandpa; he is a little boy playing with his toys, running through the warm rain on a summer day, going to school, and wondering what his future holds.

My grandfather passed away over twenty years ago, having lived a long, full life. In this document, though, he is seven forever.

I had dinner at a Chinese restaurant the other night, and I received an interesting fortune inside my after-dinner cookie. The fortune read, “The problems of today will be buried by the sands of time.” I thought this was a particularly relevant sentiment for a history and museum person to spend some time pondering.

Image of a fortune from cookie

First of all, should we comforted or frightened by this idea? What does it mean to bury? What does it mean to uncover? What happens if/when things resurface in some distance future? What will our problems mean to people who are not us? How are we (mis)interpreting what we uncover from the past?

Food for thought after a great meal.