What Makes a Great Symposium Breakout?

Madelyn Mayberry, Vice President, National Docent Symposium Council (June 2018)

The NDS 2019 Washington DC team has put out a call for Breakout/Workshop presenters. The deadline is August 1, 2018. Are you thinking of submitting a breakout? What will make it irresistible?

One of the great breakouts I attended in Montreal was presented by docents from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. They modeled a hands-on activity designed for 6th graders to build museum literacy through actually designing an exhibit. Essentially, we learned to be curators. We handled actual art/material culture objects which the docents had brought with them and, after following instructions to "observe, describe, investigate, analyze and infer," we arranged them in a thematic sequence. In a short time, by incorporating a sensory experience, we were studying objects from the past, but also opening up to each other and having fun! It was active, it gave us an opportunity to connect and form relationships.  

Docents and staff from the Huntington Museum of Art (WV) introduced a middle-school study program called "Turn Up The Heat." Museum studios and the ceramic collection are both used to make direct connections between art and STEM fields. The museum's collections have inspired other STEAM tours. One focused on the history of glass-making, another on the chemistry and physics of firearms and a photosynthesis tour of the Edwards Conservatory that asks students to consider "how does the heat and light of the sun turn into food for plants." Several handouts detailed the nuts and bolts aspects of developing a STEAM program from scratch and photos of students and docents in action made the tours come alive. It was an intense and inspiring experience.


Both sessions gave me useful and tested ideas, methods and materials that I could take home and adapt to my situation. But I could get all that just sitting on a hotel chair and listening to a lecture. What made them memorable for me was the active involvement of the senses (holding and passing around objects and debating their meaning) in the first and, in the second, the "you are there" visual documentary that immersed us vicariously in the STEAM tour experience and sparked lively Q and A. Active engagement by attendees is where excitement happens.

What does it mean to create a memorable experience? What do you personally find engaging, inspiring and uplifting? Do you expect time and space for networking? How important is it to have a little fun? If you are thinking of submitting a proposal you might consider these questions as you prepare your application.

The deadline for submitting proposals to present in the 2019 symposium is August 1, 2018.

Questions about the symposium? contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Click here to learn more about Madelyn.  


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