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Field Trip Destinations: Manhattan Destinations

American Museum of Natural History

With four floors full of artifacts and information, the American Museum of Natural History is one of my favorite places in New York City and, I think, it is the quintessential field trip destination.  Even Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye’s angsty narrator, who hates everything, loves this place!  After a brief conversation with a museum volunteer, I decided to start at the top.  The fourth floor contains my favorite part of the museum—the dinosaurs!  I am always amazed to see these bones and fossils that are older than I can really even comprehend and the giant skeletons, teeth and talons never fail to leave an impression on me.  After proceeding through the mammal exhibits, I headed down to the third floor to see the birds, reptiles, primates and Eastern Woodlands and Plains Indians.  I specifically love the exhibit on New York City birds—it feels so relevant to our every day life.  The highlight of the second floor was the African mammals, specifically the giant elephants!  Finally, I proceeded to the first floor, where I was able to check off a bunch of must sees: The giant canoe and totem poles in the Northwest Coast Indians exhibit, The hall of gems and finally, Holden’s favorite, the big, blue whale!

There is so much to see that I think this would have to be an incredibly well planned field trip.  Teachers would have to go with specific exhibits in mind, which I actually think is preferable.  This ensures that the learning is meaningful to the materials the students are studying and therefore, much more likely to impact classroom achievement in a positive way.   Because this museum spans so many areas of the world and really, the universe, I think it is appropriate for all students, upper-elementary through high school.  All grade-levels learn about the Native Americans, they learn about different ecosystems and biomes and they learn about the planets and Earth Sciences—there is just so much.  There are also lots of materials online that could really help prepare students for their visit. 

National Museum of the American Indian

This museum, located in an old custom’s house adjacent to Battery Park, was absolutely fascinating.  I feel like I learned so much and I believe a large part of the credit should go to our tour guide, William.  He began his talk by reminding us that the most important thing we can do is not to generalize Native Americans because that is what leads to stereotypes.  He reminded us that not all Native Americans wear feather headdresses or moccasins and emphasized that each tribe or nation of people is unique and should not be lumped together.  William really drove this point home with the artifacts that he spoke to us about.  Mayans, Incas and Aztecs are nearly always taught together—even many of the books in my library collection are about all three groups of people—despite our common belief that they were similar, these three groups of people were very unique.  Inca people are from South American, Aztecs are from Mexico and Mayans are from Guatemala and El Salvador.    

Though it was not large, I think that is actually an advantage because it will be much more manageable for students of all ages.  I also like the fact that they seem to cater to teachers and their students.  The descriptions that accompanied the artifacts were concise and the language was accessible for even 4th and 5th graders (according to a classmate!).  I also love that admission is free, which makes this museum accessible to a much broader audience.  And, since the study of Native peoples spans across many grade levels, I think this is an invaluable resource to the NYC DOE. 

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology

This tiny, very manageable museum would be well suited to high school design class.  The exhibit we saw was called RetroSpective and it explored the history of fashion and really examined fashion’s relationship with it’s own history—how it is constantly evolving, but borrowing from it’s past.  It was exciting to see beautiful garments designed by names you always hear celebrities dropping on the red carpet, and I especially loved looking at the accessories.

I think this museum is really only suited to older students.  I could see an art class coming to sketch, as well as a design class coming to gain inspiration.  I think it would be fascinating to bring a women’s history class to see how women’s fashion has evolved and really how the body has evolved.  For example, the shoes from long ago were so tiny, as were the waists of the dresses.   Even though the designers make them for a sample size 0-2 now, I was astounded at the size of the waists on the dresses and I think that would spark an interesting conversation about corsets and beauty ideals.  Admission is free (though there is a fee for guided tours) and exhibits seem to change a few times per year.

The Museum of the City of New York

Located in a beautiful building across from Central Park, The Museum of the City of New York was a seriously unexpected gem of a place.  I so enjoyed all three exhibits that our guide showed us and I would absolutely take a class here.  We began in the museum’s permanent exhibit, Activist New York.  Starting from religious intolerance in 17th Century New Amsterdam and continuing on to the present day controversy of the Islamic Cultural center being built in close proximity to Ground Zero, this exhibit explores so many topics and details how New Yorkers came together to fight for a Common Cause.  Our docent shared so much valuable information with us about the suffragettes, the Jim Crowe laws in the North, the Black Power movement, Stonewall and the Gay Rights movement and even the rise in support for bicycle lanes.  We then moved on to Making Room, where we learned that 33% of New Yorker’s live alone, though the housing system does not really accommodate that kind of living.  This exhibit explores many innovative ways to live in small spaces to accommodate the rise in population heading our way.  Finally, we got to explore A Beautiful Way to Go, an exhibit about Greenwood Cemetery in the Bronx.  Before sending us off to explore, we learned that Greenwood Cemetery was the first green space in the city and that people used to picnic here.  It was the second most visited place in New York, after Niagara Falls!

I think Activist New York could tie in so easily with the Common Core Standard’s push to do argumentative writing.  Students could choose one movement to discuss and take notes on the artifacts, allowing them to develop much more specific, inquiry-based research questions to pursue further.  They also have an expansive online collection that can be used for primary source research.

American Folk Art Museum

According to our guide at the museum, Folk Art is considered “the artwork of self-taught individuals…outside of the Academy.”  In other words, the artwork from people who did not attend art school or any other type of formal art training.  Another smaller, accessible space, the Folk Art Museum consists of three galleries that change 3 times per year.  We were lead around by the director of education, Rachel Rosen, who worked with us as if we were a visiting class. We did a questioning activity, a drawing activity and were able to touch examples of some of the works, which you do not always get to do in a museum!  I found it extremely engaging and, because my school is only two blocks away, I am already trying to talk one of my art teachers into bringing his students!

I was most moved by the Bill Traylor exhibit.  I found it fascinating that he did not produce art until he was in his 80’s, shortly before he died.  I loved that he used whatever materials he could find, often drawing on cardboard, and that he never gave his work titles.  I think all of that makes it feel more urgent, as if he really needed to just get his emotions out in the form of drawings.  I think it would really speak to our students and I think they would really love to know that he did not go to art school; he just drew what he felt. 

Central Park

A New York icon, Central Park is 843 acres full of things to see and places to explore.  I feel like every time I walk through Central Park, I stumble upon something new and it is the only place in the City where I enjoy getting just a bit lost!  The Central Park Conservancy’s website and the App is chockfull of information to help you plan your visit, highlighting points of interest including arches, fountains, gardens and statues.  I enjoyed taking some time to read through the information that the App provides because, though I had seen the majority of the places and sites they list, I did not really know the history behind them.  I particularly loved reading about The Mall and Literary Walk, which is my favorite place in the park because the trees are just so beautiful, no matter which season you visit.  When the park was created 150 years ago, the Mall was the place to see and be seen in your Sunday best—I got such a vivid mental picture of old New York in the 1800’s—men in three piece suits and hats and women wearing gloves and carrying beautiful parasols to protect their skin from the sun.  I just love it!

A trip to Central Park with a class would have to be very carefully planned and, unfortunately relies a lot on weather.  But, it could be amazing to bring a science class here, as there is so much natural history to see.  From the National Weather Service taking measurements from atop Belvedere Castle, to studying the placements of the rocks and boulders brought down by the glaciers, to studying the 275 species of birds that call the Park home, there is much to do and learn from the park and it’s many resources.