Learning beyond the classroom walls: Mildred Elley students use tools, experience to expand horizons

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PITTSFIELD — To help her students go above and beyond in their studies, Mildred Elley School professor, Marcia Mayper, likes to get her students out and beyond their classroom walls.

In the past, she's taken students on field studies to places like the Norman Rockwell Museum, to a worksite of contemporary artist Jarvis Rockwell, and the Berkshire Museum.

So what does a cultural site visit have to do with a class titled, "Word Processing and Presentation Applications?"

For the past several years, Mayper has had her students create presentations based on site visits. She says it's a way of making a lesson more engaging.

"Not only are they using this tool or application they've learned about, they're using it to help produce things they now know, and hopefully it's enjoyable," Mayper said. "I am a strong proponent of using the cultural venues in the classroom, getting students out of the class to experience offerings that are local and beyond when possible."

Her current class on Monday morning showed their final PowerPoint presentations on the large screen of the Berkshire Museum's Little Cinema, based on their three previous visits to the site.

Museum Director of Education and Public Programs Craig Langlois said that while the museum regularly partners with schools, "This is the first program that we've done in this capacity, in terms of adult learners doing real world skills."

"Marcia's a very passionate educator who's very focused on her students' experiences," he said.

The Mildred Elley students visited the museum's permanent exhibits, from Louis Paul Jonas "World in Miniature" to the live aquarium, to this fall's exhibits including "American West" and "Festival of Trees 2015: Westward Ho Ho Ho!" During each visit, Mayper asked participants to take photos to document their experience, and to fill out worksheets, prompting students to reflect on what they liked at the museum and why, and how they think they museum serves as a valuable asset to the community at large.

The students then used the Pecha Kucha format to build their presentations, with 20 slides advancing every 20 seconds, a style that's featured in the museum's Pecha Kucha Nights.

On Monday, as they would for a job, students were tasked with showing an interesting and informative presentation that showed their technical and presentations skills, as well as their ability to research and present findings.

Student Alecia Herrick's hands were shaky but her voice was steady, as she detailed displays from the aquarium to the museum's prized mummy, Pahat. Amanda Parkington showed how even as an adult, one can still play and interact with many exhibit features. John Beckwith related his own personal Native American heritage to the artifacts on display from North American tribes, while Scott Muir's presentation focused on museum artifacts, like minerals and maps relating to his hometown of Stockbridge.

For Tina Levesque, the class offered a chance to see the Festival of Trees, something she hadn't seen in years.

"It was personal," said student Jessica Dehn of the experience.

"This class was something I'll never forget," student Christina Bona said.

Mayper said the presentations yielded to her a better sense of her class, "their way of presenting, handling nervousness, seeing their presentations on a large screen, interacting with each other, personal interpretations and camaraderie. Lots going on with them, and I was so pleased we could use the museum."


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