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Education Faculty Anticipate Big Discovery at Glazer Museum

Published: May 25, 2010

Unable to resist the curiosity within, several UT faculty members leaped head-first into the web-like cage of steps that simulate the cycle of water, in this case the path of leaves a raindrop uses to get from cloud to ground.

Glazer Children’s Museum President and CEO Al Najjar gave education department assistant professors Patty O’Grady and Pattie Johnston and Professor Hunter O’Hara a tour through the museum slated to open Sept. 25.

“Everywhere the children go, they’ll be educated without them knowing it,” O’Grady said. “That is key.”

There are streets and street lights, similar to the museum’s North Boulevard precursor, Kid City/Safety Village. A kitchen will include international play foods. There is a wind tunnel for testing paper airplanes. Six reading libraries, a stage for theater productions, a Port of Tampa mockup and art lab all focus on children birth to 10.

O’Grady and O’Hara have been working on the museum’s education committee at Najjar’s invitation. Najjar said 36 percent of the museum’s staff is devoted to education.

In terms of assessing if children are learning like planned, Najjar said the tools can be as fixed or casual. Johnston, whose specialty is assessment, said the tools used will be informal like observing children playing. Either way, Najjar said his interest is what happens down the road.

“They are discovering on their own, experiencing on their own,” Najjar said. “We want kids to start discovering the unexpected. To look for solution in the ‘wrong’ places. It’s not about the exhibit. The ultimate exhibit is the child itself.”

O’Grady’s background in exceptional student education made her a perfect fit for the museum’s disability taskforce and special projects subcommittee, planning summer camps, parents’ night out and impromptu exhibits. O’Hara is on the exhibit’s subcommittee, helping with details like signage and the role of staff within the exhibits.

“The most powerful thing you can give a child of any age is relevance,” O’Hara said. “All these exhibits are in their world. It’s very concrete.”

Located across the river from UT at 110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, the proximity to the University and the opportunities for hands-on learning for its own students make the multi-million dollar children’s museum a rich, creative, educational tool.

“I think of the museum as an urban playground,” said O’Grady, who can picture her students coming on Sunday morning when the museum will open only for children with disabilities. “It becomes a learning lab for our students with an infinite range of opportunities.”

Taking instruction outside the classroom benefits both children and young adults. It allows for interpretive and improvisational education, encouraging them to be fully engaged in their learning, O’Grady said. This is experiential learning at its fullest definition.

And not just for education students. O’Grady, O’Hara and Johnston see the opportunities for campus-wide involvement. From nursing students leading health talks to chemistry students demonstrating labs to film students engaging children with video cameras, they see the possibilities as endless.

“This was a chance for the education department to pioneer this relationship,” O’Grady said.

“The most important thing is that there is so much opportunity we can’t even imagine it all,” O’Hara said.

“By the end of the summer, a lot of us will have plans to be over there,” Johnston said. “We’re so excited. We just want to go and do it.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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