“Making History in a Place of History” – More on Youth Geeking Out on Northwest Coast Content

Last week my post on the Museum’s collaboration with Global Kids to produce a prototype for a new family activity guide for our Hall of Northwest Coast Indians tended to focus on the getting-up & running-around activities, like this one:

But actually, much of the time has also been spent observing the cultural treasures in the hall and researching them. This is an example of the GK Leaders using the 1905 report by John Swanton (Contributions to the ethnology of the Haida. Memoirs of the AMNH ; [v. 8, pt. 1]) to research the objects they selected within the Hall. These two teens love this one particular hat, so much so they are always talking about how they can get a print on a shirt, and this video shows how they learn, for the first time, which crest is represented on it:

Here are some GK Leaders using photos they took in the Hall to research more about it with Swanton:


Finally, here is a GK Leader using our Anthro Database to look at the original handwritten entry within the Manuscript Catalog to learn more about her object:


Another highlight for the teens at the end of last week was getting to meet, via Skype, Shoshanna Greene. Shoshanna is a resident of Haida Gwaii, a college student, and an aspiring artist. She will also be creating much of the original art within the Activity Guide. In the image below, you can see how the teens approached the screen to ask Shoshanna questions as she presented to the whole group:

Skype meeting with Shoshanna and GK Youth Leaders

At the end of the week, we asked the teens to reflect on what they had been learning so far. Jevougn said something so profound I asked him to repeat it, but this time on camera:

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Developing a “Need to Know” around Native Cultural Treasures

In my last post, I introduced a bit of the early feel of our Augmented Activity Guide program. (I know… terrible name. We had a good one for a time, but when the program outgrew it we never found a new shell…) Mostly I wanted to show how much fun the teens were having while learning. This post I’d like to share a little more about their growing relationship with the content.

Trying out button blankets in the Museum’s Discovery Room.

Yesterday was day 4 (of 10) within the program. On day 2 they came to the Museum as a group for the first time (and, for many of them, for the first time in their lives). They learned about the Hall of NW Coast Indians, in 45 minutes – a quick visit, to be sure. Then the next day they spent more time with the Museum’s Anthropology Collection Database – a remarkable collection of over a quarter million digitized records of cultural items. (Go check it out!) The Global Kids Leaders were tasked with picking cultural treasures from the Haida Nation that might appear in our activity guide prototype. And on Day 4, after having picked items that caught their fancy, they returned to the Museum and got to look at them in person, with their own eyes, within the Hall.

That experience is mostly what I’d like to share below.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 10.16.45 PMTake for example the item listed as “Catalog No: 16 / 8443Field No: 3,” which you can see here, collected by AMNH’s John Swanton, under the direction of Franz Boas, in 1901, or otherwise simply knows as “spoon.” A search in the database on “spoon,” along with “on View in AMNH Halls” and Cultures set to “Haida,” returns over 30 cultural treasures. But for some reason it was THIS spoon that caught the eyes of the team who selected it. And on Day 4, they were going to find it.

First they had to use the black and white print-out from the web site (image on right) to locate it within the case. Now, frankly, I wasn’t sure it was even in the case. Less than half of our Haida spoons are on display in the Hall – the rest are in storage. But they kept looking. Even with the low light, using their cellphone to explore each spoon, they tried to match the crests found in the printed image with the crests seen behind the glass.

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Sneak Peak at New Digital Project on Hall of Northwest Coast Indians

This week a sizable crew of us from the Museum are working downtown at the offices of Global Kids, Inc, through a two week partnership. The project is teaching the Global Kids youth leaders about our Hall of Northwest Coast Indians, the contemporary Haida Nation, augmented reality, and more. I’ll add to this later but, in short, the project will culminate at the Museum next week with a design document that will offer a new way for children to experience the cultural treasures within the Hall.

As we approach the end of our first week, I wanted to share a few photos and videos of the youth and their work.

In this activity we ran a form of Pictionary, to review the crests we were learning about:

We showed the GK Leaders some original art from an artist with whom we are partnering, Shoshanna Greene. With no explanation from us, the teens were challenged to interpret the drawing, imagine they were lost within it, and then act it out. Here is one example:

To learn about the geography of the North West Coast, the teens received puzzle pieces, then used the Web to research the locations of the different First Nations:


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New video promotion for Pterosaurs: The Card Game

I am excited to be able to share with you the video previously available only within our pterosaurs exhibit. It promotes both our exhibit app and the augmented component of Pterosaurs: The Card Game. Enjoy and please share.

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On Leading a Playful Life: An Interview with Bernie De Koven, Part 2 of 2

Child-1Recently, on the occasion of Bernie De Koven publishing A Playful Path (a book about, in part, how we can bring out the play throughout all aspects of our life) I contacted Bernie to talk about play and museums and, well, all sorts of stuff. (This is the second half of the interview; the first can be read here).

At a certain point towards the end of your book you talk about learning by playing with something, which I think of as play as pedagogy. You know, we use play all the time in our type of work with young people, as an icebreaker to get them to know each other, to get warmed up and adjust from going from sitting in a classroom to getting to be in a more informal learning environment. We also use games, which might offer a playful way to connect with content. But neither is play as pedagogy, which in your book I read as learning by playing with something, and what play affords for learning.

So when you talk about our use of Minecraft to teach science I think what you are noticing is precisely that. We are trying to bring playfulness into the learning experience because of how it can connect youth with each other, with us adults in the room, and with what’s inherently exciting and interesting about the science content we are trying to introduce to them.

Every area of inquiry that we engage in comes from the fact that we enjoy playing with that particular thing. Why do people become paleontologists? Because of the puzzle of it, and the reasoning that goes on. It’s just so much fun for them. As an educator, it’s not like you are trying to make paleontology fun, it’s that you are trying to bring the fun to the surface so it’s more perceptible.

When I wrote The Well-Played Game, the idea was that even in the most competitive games there are, in the most professional games that you can imagine, there is such a thing that transcends the score of the game: the quality of the game. Bill Russell, the Captain of the Boston Celtics, wrote a book called Second Wind, Memories of an Opinionated Man. In the book he talks about that experience. They were playing another team and it was for the trophy (that’s what you play for in basketball, a trophy, right? or some kind of big thing that everybody wants to have but only you can have it if you are good enough? And they were playing one of those games).

His team was just playing brilliantly but they were up by like 30 points, and right in the middle of that he felt, like, “Wow, I wish those other guys were playing better, because it’s just not fun. It’s not a good game. I know we are playing well, but we are not really playing well together.  We are getting sloppy. When we really are playing well, man, we would become like supernatural beings. Not only are we playing well when the other team is playing well, but even the fans can feel it.  We are all at a different level of consciousness, because we are playing so well together.” The reason why I wrote The Well-Played Game is because we tend to believe that only the best players can every experience that kind of thing.

Well, the fact is anybody can experience it if they are able to adjust the game to the level of their skill, rather than to try to adjust their skill to the level of the game, which they can’t because they haven’t devoted 40 years of doing nothing but playing that game professionally. But they can make it easier. They can make it more doable. They can find a way to play it, so it’s fun. And that’s the point of The Well-Played Game and that’s the same point here in The Playful Path: if you are focusing on creating something where you can play, it gives you access to the fun that’s inherent in being alive, in having a mind and being with other people, and that becomes a path into the very core of what makes you alive, of what makes you human, of joy.

That’s what I wrote about that book for.

What does a Playful Path look like in a museum?

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Kind of (not) a Paleo Class: Interview with youth co-developers of Pterosaurs The Card Game

Ricardo Mutuberria, from the Museum’s Global Business Development, sat down during the press briefing for our current special exhibit – Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs – with a few of the #scienceFTW youth participants to learn a bit about their experience in the program developing Pterosaurs: The Card Game. It went a little something like this:

What is your name and age?

Katie: Hey, I’m Katie and I am 14 years old.

David: I’m David. I’m 16 years old.

John: I’m John and I’m also 16 years old.

How did you hear about the program, #scienceFTW?

Katie: Generally I got involved in the museum because…it’s kind of unavoidable when you live on the upper west side. And I’ve been involved in the museum since I was a little kid and so I was on the email list when I got an email for something called “science for the win”, and I thought, “The name of the class is a hashtag. I gotta just give it a chance.”

John: When we were young, really children, like three years old, we got accepted into the Science and Nature Program for the museum, which allows younger children to get involved in science. And from there, because the museum really is very helpful to younger children and getting involved, we started to look around into more of the programs.

How did you learn how to make a card game of your own?

Katie: The way it started was, it was just a class where we would play games about science, with scientists. And then we would critique the game–we would critique the content to see if it was fun. We played some really bad games at first, and then they got slowly better. They were all just games that our teachers found for us. In the first couple of classes, those were just playing science card games with scientists, which I thought was very cool. And then halfway through we stopped critiquing games and instead used what we had learned about what makes a good science game and turned it into…this: Pterosaurs: The Card Game.

What was one of the best things you learned in this program?

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On Leading a Playful Life: An Interview with Bernie De Koven, Part 1 of 2

Bernie De Koven changed my life, before I even knew his name. Growing up with earth balls, and parachute games, and other awesome camp and gym activities were all an outgrowth of his impact through the 1970′s New Games Movement. In the ’90s their two classic books (New Games & More New Games) became a go-to bible for youth development professionals seeking ice breakers and warm-up activities. Jane McGonigal, in her book Reality is Broken, called the New Games movement a game revolution, and cited Bernie’s essay’s in the first book as her favorite. In the introduction to the recent reprint of his 1978 The Well-Played Game, indie game designer and game guru Eric Zimmerman has called Bernie “the closest thing we have to a shaman of play,” and alluded to the impact his work has had on a generation of game designers. 

Recently, on the occasion of Bernie publishing A Playful Path (a book about, in part, how we can bring out the play throughout all aspects of our life) I contacted him about doing an interview. Situated in his comfortable chair, in a room of cloud-painted walls, we had some fun. This is the first part of this two-part interview, and I will sprinkle it throughout with video clips so you can see and hear Bernie in all his glory.

Bernie: You like my clouds, in my background?

Barry: I love it.  Tell me more about your clouds.

We decided to paint the walls, and Rocky said, “Oh, let’s make a cloud” and that’s where I do all my readings for my blog from my book A Playful Path. So – hey - A Playful Path… I have so far sold 174 copies and I have had 30,000 downloads.

Wow. So, it’s available for free? That’s what you are telling me?


Is there an option for those who download it to make contributions?

No. No, it’s just, just there. I mean, it’s very pretty – I like the paperback version, that’s really beautiful – but me, you know, I just wanted those ideas in people’s hands. That’s all I really cared about, that was the whole purpose of this.

I was thinking about legacy, you know? That happens when you reach about 72 and a half.

Before we talk more about the book and we jump into it, I thought maybe we could play a game?

A game.

There are some wonderful games you talk about in your book, A Playful Path, that are word games.

Well as a matter of fact I do talk about word games in the book, yes. Give me a moment while I refresh my mind.

Whatever you would like.

Well, well. Listen. Since it’s you and me doing this, I would like to do the Out Blessing Game.


Because of our shared ethnic predilection [AKA, we’re both Jewish], we understand about blessings. You remember how to play the Out Blessing Game?

For the benefit of those who have not yet read it…

Oh, I am so sorry for them. They can download it for free now – just go to aplayfulpath.com.

So can you remind us how to play?

Yes. It’s a competitive game and I will start by blessing you with something. You might say something like, “May the fruits of your labor never spoil.”

That is a lovely thought; that’s like a blessing. And then I might respond by saying, “And may they all be delicious.”

And then you might respond by saying, “And may they always be ripe.”

And then I might say, “Yes, and may they be available in your local supermarkets.”

And then you respond by saying, “On sale!”

You see, each blessing being more out blessing until you feel so blessed you are speechless with gratitude and blessingnesshood. (Actually, I am now calling this the Endless Blessings game. More poetic and soulful, don’t you think? Making it more in line with the gentler kind of connection that I want people to experience.)

Sounds good. So who begins? You or me?

Well, I would suggest that you begin.

Well, since this is the beginning of an interview with you, Bernie, about your books and your ideas, and you started by speaking to me about legacies, let me begin by saying: Bernie, may all of your passionate dreams about people living playful lives be introduced to many through this interview.

And I might say response: Barry, may not only my dreams be introduced but may your dreams be carried forward further into the institutions of learning throughout the world.

And I will out bless you by responding: And may this playful dialogue touch people.

Oh yeah, yeah. And may they continue it with other people and embrace each other in deeper and more pervasive playfulness.

And in doing so may they come to believe this originated from themselves and they take full ownership over it.

You did it! I am totally out blessed.

So, with that, let’s -

I am never going to play with you again.

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