Friday, April 28, 2017

Engaging Millennials? There’s an App For That!

Or in this case, a few dozens of multi-colored sticky notes…

My attention span concerning most things lasts about five seconds, ten if I’m lucky. A quick cursory glance at the TV as I change a picture’s filter, my cramped fingers nimbly scrolling through pictures from last night during a lecture— you get the picture. The ironic thing is, I didn’t realize how stunted my concentration really was until Dr. Sarah Minegar assigned myself and Centennial SCA Abigail Parsons with a challenge: how long could we go without tapping the home buttons on our smartphones? How long could our attention spans last before we checked back into technology? The answer is about fifteen minutes, excluding sports practice of course. It was with this tricky task that our process of prototyping began.

Headed by Dr. Sarah Minegar, myself, Abigail, and fellow intern Joshua Knighten, our brainstorming sessions began with a copious amount of colorful sticky notes and, more importantly, energy boosting candy. Our mission seemed simple enough: to seek out new ways in contesting flaky millennial engagement when at Morristown’s park (i.e. that 200+ year old cannon is way cooler than your next tweet, but how do we engage you into focusing on it?). The answer, we quickly realized, was not to discard technology from the equation, but to include and consider it as part of each student’s life. Kind of like a third arm, a functioning part of who they are. If you removed an arm, you would find it difficult to function. The same goes for what has become— especially in the lives of younger millennials— an integrated part of their day-to-day routine: technology.

The process of learning and research in conjunction with technology— specifically in this case, cell phone and computer access— is possible! But to do so, a greater understanding of a broad range of personality types was needed, and there are many! The quiet one, the jokester, the too-cool-for-school (or in this case “museum tours”) crew— a variety of personalities that, funnily enough, were the most evident in high school kids (at least in my experience). With our personality types and learning styles gathered and assembled cutely on a rainbow of Post-It notes, our true prototyping challenge began: how do we creatively engage a expansive group of personalities, all with different needs? The answer was a huge conglomeration of posters, sticky notes (including my favorite, the mustache Post-Its), and a whole lot of brainstorming. One of the most important elements developed by our awesome team were the ever helpful Focus Cards. Breaking students up into smaller teams, these cards would aid each individual in the task of concentrating on a sole motif, which they could then discuss with their group. When combined, the Focus Cards accomplished the task of engaging each student, allowing them to build off of one another’s research within their groups.

Once we had had accumulated all of our research, it was time to test it out! With our research gathered under our arms and a tricorn perched on my head, our group began our lighthearted, chirpy walk up to the music hall. We rearranged the rows of chairs into a circle, a ploy to keep attention and discussion better circulated, and began our trial runs. It was here that the Focus Cards began their development. Eventually we made it to the mansion itself, where we discussed how best to affiliate students with life in past centuries. Upstairs, we discovered that the bedroom used by George and Martha Washington had excellent lighting. So of course, a selfie break was necessary.
Our efforts were challenged during a visit from a group of French foreign exchange students— the very first group of students to participate in our approach of teaching millennials. We soon discovered that the students— an extremely attentive and eager group— flourished throughout all of our planned activities! For the finale to all our hard work, Chief of Cultural Resources Dr. Jude Pfister played two ghost recordings captured within the mansion, much to the delight (and horror) of the students. The next time our little dream team met, we broke out the Post-its and markers to collaborate on what we thought worked, and what we’d change. Overall, we decided, our efforts were a success and we planned our next iteration based on our observations.

Many a millennial’s heart can be summed up is with a simple, four letter word. Wifi. Or, more precisely, free wifi, which, coincidentally enough, Morristown’s National Park offers. But in a world of rapidly enhancing technology, there must be a method in which teachers are able to redirect students’ attention by instilling an environment of focus and awareness within museum settings. The answer? Prototyping, hard work, and a bag (or three) of candy.

This blog post by Morgan Haller, Centenary University.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mark Twain & The General

April 23, 2017

2:00 PM

Scenes from:

Mark Twain & The General -
One act Opera

Libretto: Jewel Seehaus-Fisher,
Music: Robert W. Butts

Washington's Headquarters -
Morristown National Historical Park
30 Washington Place, Morristown, NJ

Admission FREE


Don Sheasley as Ulysses S. Grant

Timothy Maureen Cole as Julia Grant

Brian Jamieson as Mark Twain

Elizabeth Wooten as The Cook

Civil War Veterans: Anthony Shashaty - Douglas Anderson - Tom Loughman

The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey conducted by Maestro Robert W. Butts

Towards the end of his life, President Ulysses S. Grant is dealing with financial pressures and cancer. He attempts to write his book on the Civil War, tended to by his wife, Julia. Mark Twain, himself in financial difficulties, offers to publish Grant's book which has remained one of the landmarks of American literature.  While Grant was writing and battling for his life, veteran soldiers would pay respects outside his house, their stories being the inspiration for Grant's completing his book.

The concert performance is part of the 2017 National Park Week.
It is sponsored by Morristown National Historical Park and Eastern National.   

On display will be the hand corrected proofs by Mark Twain of an article called "To My Missionary Critics" which appeared in the April 1901 edition of the North American Review.   It dealt with the Boxer Rebellion in China.

Dr. Jude Pfister, Chief of Cultural Resources at Morristown National Historical Park, will be on hand to answer questions related to the museum and its vast manuscript collection.

Jewel Seehaus-Fisher (d 2015) was one of New Jersey's leading playwrights, a pioneer in women's theater. She wrote several plays which were produced across the country.  Her musical theater collaborations included Gesualdo and A Night in the Wilde Wild West.

Don Sheasley has been one of New Jersey's leading baritones for several years.  He has sung major roles with opera companies throughout New Jersey.  Among his frequent collaborations with Maestro Butts and The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey have been the Count in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Rigoletto in Verdi's Rigoletto, Don Alfonso in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, The Commendatore in Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Giorgio Germont in Verdi's La Traviata,

Brian Jamieson has sung musical theater, cabaret and opera.  He premiered the roles of Gesualdo in Gesualdo, Sherriff Willie in Wilde's Wild West, and Mark Twain in Mark Twain & The General.

Timothy Maureen Cole has sung with opera companies in New York and New Jersey.   With BONJ, she has sung The Countess in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Damon in Handel's Acis and Galatea. She has also appeared as The Woman in Maestro Butts's setting of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart.   Ms. Cole is also co-host of the popular podcast Not Just a Movie.

Elizabeth Wooten is a student of Carol Yahr. A recent graduate from the Vocal Performance program at Montclair State University, she has performed in the staged Handel Cantata titled "Erotic Madness", Ida in Die Fledermaus, and scenes from Midsummer Nights Dream (Tytania), Il Mondo della Luna (Lisetta), and Idomeneo (Ilia). She has also performed Papagena in Die Zauberflöte with Opera Theatre Montclair and scenes from Ariadne auf Naxos (Zerbinetta) with the New York Summer Opera Scenes Program.

Anthony Shashaty, Douglas Anderson, and Tom Loughman have appeared in several opera and musical theater works with BONJ, Bell and Barter Theatre, Opera at Florham, and Eastern Opera.   They originated roles in Maestro Butts's settings of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask ofAmontillado.   They have also appeared together or separately in productions of Puccini's Tosca, Verdi's Rigoletto and La Traviata, Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore as well as originating the roles of the Veterans in Mark Twain & The General.

Photos Above: Don Sheasley - Brian Jamieson - Tom Loughman

Monday, April 3, 2017

From Reese’s to Results: The Prototyping Process

How do you keep a millennial generation student focused? This question almost has a tinge of humor in it for most, as many parents and teachers struggle to capture the attention of their younger audiences, constantly at opposition with their children’s cell phones. Modern technology, specifically cell phone use and internet access, has changed the game of studying and researching for the students of today. Over the course of two months, Morgan Haller and I, led by Dr. Sarah Minegar, began to brainstorm and prototype solutions, seeking to meet this new challenge. Our mission was this: how can teachers create an environment of scholarship and concentration for millennials to single-task and discover in museum studies?                                                                                                                                 

We began with Sharpies, Post-Its, and a bag of candy. Naturally, this is how the best ideas are born. The three of us laid some ground rules for our idea development: our groupthink would be a safe, open place for idea-sharing, where the thoughts of our group members would serve as catalysts to our own. Our first topic of discussion was around our initial, personal observations about how technology had affected our lives, and we expanded from those points. During the course of our brainstorming, we discussed a variety of student personality types to broaden the accessibility of the activities. We kept the needs of each student in mind as we turned ideas into actions and began to prototype. Soon, we had posters of Post-Its, and columns of possible activities to expand upon.

During our prototyping weeks, we made sure that notepads, markers, and Post-Its of many shapes and colors were available to encourage our creativity. After assembling the activities into their most basic forms, we were ready for a mock trial. We carried our supplies around the park to our work stations and set up shop. These trial runs allowed us to test the fluidity of the activities on a micro-scale to predict their success with actual students.

To break the traditional “classroom layout,” which can lull students into auto-pilot, we arranged the chairs in a circle to keep energy and attention at its prime. We began with a “gripe session” allowing the students to actively complain about how difficult the document may be to analyze. This would provide a safe, almost humorous space for kids who may have an uncontrollable funny bone, or may feel intimidated by the difficulty of the activity. After the group’s confessions of how unmanageable the manuscript was, it was time to look at the document’s layout and format in group discussion. This activity prepped the students for the primary documents they would encounter in the activities to come.

Technological, visual, and informational literacy were our focus points. We developed activities that surrounded these ideas using the park’s primary resources – exploration of a historic site, manuscripts, and galleries. Joshua Knighten, a fellow intern, helped us develop the manuscript-analysis table, depicting the many elements of paper-making and handwriting that occurred during colonial times. Across a three table layout, our group designed a layout of primary resource documents with accompanying modern texts to put the historic manuscripts in context. 

To aid the students’ exploration and discovery of their resources, our team developed Focus Cards that centered the individual’s research on a single topic. These cards encouraged students to explore with a single theme in mind, and then to share their ideas with their small groups, uniting the different Focus Card perspectives in discussion. After the small groups had discussed among themselves, we encouraged students to expand out to the larger group and share their findings publicly, with a lead instructor suggesting and answering questions.

Our hard work was put to the test this past Tuesday, when a group of French exchange students became the first class to try our millennial teaching techniques. With an exceptional attentiveness and willingness to learn, our French students excelled through our prototyped activities. Our first class was a success, and we will prototype until perfection as our future students visit Morristown during the summer of 2017!

This post by Abby Parsons