Rosie Arnold - Education Programs Manager
Hi! My name is Rosie Arnold, and I’m Conner Prairie’s Education Programs Manager. That means I spend most of my time creating programs and activities for both our school and general audiences.
I recently finished grad school, and so my head is still full of research data and technical terminology. One of my favorite things I learned in grad school was a concept called informal or “free-choice” learning. Essentially this means any kind of learning that takes place outside the traditional classroom setting, like watching TV, attending a play, or (most importantly for me) visiting a museum. This type of learning is particularly powerful because it is driven by people’s interests. We are all free to choose when, where, and what to learn. Best of all, research shows that free-choice learning works best when people are having fun!
So that’s my job- to make learning fun. To do that, I ask myself a few simple questions.
1. Do I like what I’m working on? If I don’t like a program I’m creating, how could I expect anyone else to like it either?
2. Would a kid like what I’m working on? What would my fourth-grade self have thought about this activity? If she wouldn’t have liked it or understood it, fix it.
3. Am I creating a “real” experience? I can’t tell you how often we get asked if our fires/bugs/food/buildings/you-name-it are real. (For the record, the answer is almost always yes.) I plan to elaborate on this phenomenon in a later post. For now I’ll just say that most of us live our lives on a screen, so my goal is to create experiences where people can put those away for a while and instead focus on something authentic, tangible, and, dare I say, real.
4. How can I make a “required” subject exciting? Conner Prairie serves approximately 50,000 students a year, and there’s no getting around the fact that most of them must meet certain academic standards. But there’s also no reason we can’t help students learn about required (and therefore often perceived by kids as boring) subjects in a fun way. Need to learn about the causes of removal of Native American Indian groups in Indiana? Go talk to a real member of the Lenape tribe, in Lenapehoking. Have to observe, compare, and record the physical characteristics of animals? Meeting Shelly the goat or Ed the sheep in the Animal Encounters barn will help.
5. Will this spark someone’s curiosity? There’s no way you can learn everything there is to know about a particular topic in one hour-long program. And we’re okay with that. However, history is chock-full of interesting tidbits, and I try to include just enough of them to spark your curiosity. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll go home and want to learn more on your own. And that, after all, is the most powerful kind of learning there is.