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Field Trip Destinations: Brooklyn Destinations

New York Aquarium

The last time I visited the New York Aquarium, I was nine years old, so this was very exciting for me.  I started out by visiting the Aquatheater for the Sea Lion Celebration.  Here the trainers and sea lions put on a fun, informative show.  The trainers had the sea lions demonstrate how to recognize a sea lion as opposed to a seal (look at the ears!), demonstrate how strong their flippers are and discussed what animals are their biggest predators (sharks!).  From there, I visited the Sea Cliffs exhibit, where I saw walruses, penguins, seals and otters.  I was fortunate enough to catch a feeding of the otters, so not only did I learn lots of fun facts about otters, but I also got to see the animals up close.  Finally, I proceeded inside to Conservation Hall.  Of course, everyone was flocking to the clown fish tank to see “Nemo.”  The Aquarium even paired the clown fish with the blue tangs, or “Dory!”  I loved the Coral Reef tank because the colors are so beautiful and I really liked the exhibits that demonstrated how the Aquarium was growing their own coral and helping to repopulate certain species of fish.  It was a wonderful morning.

As a high school librarian, I would recommend this trip to our science teachers, particularly those that teach Living Environment.  As they study animals and ecosystems, this would be a wonderful way for the students to study these things first hand, as opposed to copying information from an encyclopedia or online article.    I can think of one teacher specifically who always assigns an animal project for his Living Environment classes.  I think they would also be able to pair up with the art teacher and learn to draw the animals and then label all of the identifying features of the animal and how those features help the animal survive.  Finally, I love that the Aquarium had so many knowledgeable employees floating around by all of the exhibits, ready and willing to answer visitors’ questions.  I liked this because I was able to ask them questions that popped into my head right then and there and the answers really stuck with me.  Having been greatly affected by Hurricane Sandy, I cannot wait to see the aquarium completely rebuild and be better than ever!   

Brooklyn Historical Society

Aside from being a beautiful building that is over 100 years old, the Brooklyn Historical Society is just full of amazing resources.  We viewed two exhibits: “Inventing Brooklyn: People, Places, Progress,” and “Say Cheese! Portraits to Pics,” and then we got to explore the library and the adjacent meeting room full of oil paintings.  As a librarian, I most enjoyed exploring the library and seeing all the books on not only Brooklyn and New York City history, but also New York in general.  I got a kick out of the giant card catalogs and had a very difficult time resisting the urge to explore the map drawers! 

I would love to pair some of these activities with books that students may be reading or even with non-fiction articles that they are reading for essay writing.  I would be particularly interested in taking an art or photography class to see the “Say Cheese!” exhibit, as it explores the way that changing technology has impacted how people document their lives.  In the age where everyone’s cellphone has not only a camera, but also a video camera, people are taking pictures everywhere they go.  Best of all, all class tours and programming are free! In addition, BHS has a fairly large online gallery of resources that can allow students to create and curate their own collection of materials.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

We were so fortunate to visit the Garden on such a beautiful morning.  Our tour guide, Carla, was extremely engaging and informative.  I think my students would get a kick out of her dry sense of humor!  We began our tour in the Japanese Garden where we learned that there were two types of traditional Japanese gardens, Hill and Pond and Stroll, and that all Japanese gardens have specific elements that are always included, like water, stone and trees.  BBG created a Hill and Pond garden, complete with a shrine, contemplation benches and meandering paths.  From there, we saw some of the oldest trees in the Garden, dating back to the 1910’s, the Rock Garden, the Vegetable and Herb Garden and the Lily Ponds.  We were also fortunate enough to speak with one of the women responsible for organizing the educational programming, who explained the process for bringing a class. 

I think a trip to the BBG would be a wonderful addition to research across many subject areas.  I can see visiting the Shakespeare Garden with an ELA class and examining the plants that Shakespeare mentions in his plays and thinking about why he made those choices and what those plants can be used for.  I would like to bring a Global History class studying Japan to the Japanese Garden so that they could research the elements that are always in the gardens and what they mean, as well as the traditional structures that are also there and why those were included.  Most obviously, I would love to bring a Living Environment class in to study the different plants and speak to the curator about why he or she choose plants and flowers and how they work together.  I think they would benefit from seeing the plants up close and we even have an app on the library iPads called LeafSnap that can help them find out more information on the spot!  Finally, I think our Cooking Club might enjoy a trip to the Vegetable and Herb garden to get ideas as to how they can start growing their own food, even on their fire escapes!  I think what I love the most is that this is a field trip that can be done at any point in the school year because different plans and flowers are in bloom at all different points in the year.  It might even be interesting to go once a season to see how the environment changes.

New York Transit Museum

About four years ago, my husband and I were waiting on the F platform at the Broadway/Lafayette Station when, instead of the normal subway car, we had accidentally stumbled upon a run of the nostalgia train!  As we boarded with lots of bewildered passengers and many who were waiting specifically for this train, I could not stop looking around.  These trains were the thing I loved the most about the museum—I felt like it gave me a glimpse into the past, into the New York that my grandparents grew up in.  I had so much fun learning about how they dug the tunnels and see how the horse-drawn carriages evolved into trolleys that eventually evolved into the MTA buses.  I had no idea that there was not always the MTA that managed all of the public transit systems and I cannot imagine the subway cars not having air conditioning!  I even loved seeing the evolution of the turnstiles!  So cool!

Anyone studying the history of New York City MUST visit the Transit Museum—just seeing how the City responded to the growing population and need for people to get from place to place can connect to immigration, the Industrial Revolution and American history in general.  The photographs that accompany the exhibits as well as the advertisements on the train are amazing discussion starters.  Just thinking about how the different products advertised spotlight what life was like can allow students to understand what life was like in those years, as well as how life evolved over the years.  I also think the ElectriCity exhibit would be a great way to talk about circuits, power and energy in physics class.  Finally, I think a technology class would benefit from this exhibit by learning how the trains are powered and the different ways that energy can be produced.


The Toy Museum of New York

The Toy Museum was a truly unique experience.  I was expecting a traditional museum where you walk around and just look, but it was so much more.  Much more like interactive theater, The Toy Museum offers younger students a play about the history of toys, how to take care of their toys and how to share with their friends.  I think if it could keep a room full of tired adults engaged and participating, than it would be a wonderful show for kids.  Though there was not much opportunity for touching the toys, there were a wide variety of different toys to look at and there were opportunities for students to volunteer to participate in the show.

I was skeptical as to how I could use this in a high school, but Marlene, the director, explained that after doing a brief introduction on the history of toys, she has students brainstorm and invent their own toy.  She then has them present their idea, while she plays a mom trying to decide if she would let her child play with that toy.  I love the idea of extending this activity to a technology class and having students actually creating their toy.  Or getting students to create board games or video games that have to do with a book that they are reading or a historical event or scientific idea, or really any subject area would work.  I think it would be a very creative way to get students questioning and thinking deeply about a concept, as creating a game around a topic would require the students to have a very comprehensive understanding of the topic at hand.  I think the Museum experience is best suited for younger students, but I love the idea of inventions!

Weeksville Heritage Center

In 1827, slavery was abolished in New York.  In 1838, Weeksville, the first community of free African Americans in New York, was established when James Weeks bought two plots of land and moved his family to Brooklyn.  To help the community grow, the landowners sold the land for a fair price and created a multiclass community that was self-sustaining.  Though all of the residents were interested in creating community and preserving their traditions and stories, a large motivation for this settlement was political power, as only those who owned $250 worth of property were able to vote.  The more African American men who owned their own land and homes in Weeksville, the more political power they had as a group.  At the height of it’s existence in the 1850’s, Weeksville had a population of around 525 people.  This settlement grew strong for roughly 100 years before it was absorbed into the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant.  In 1968, a professor was studying the area and noticed four old houses still standing and learned about the community of Weeksville through his research.

I learned SO much at this site—probably the most that I learned all week.  I loved that each house was set up for a different time period in the history of the settlement—the 1860’s, 1900’s, and the 1930’s.  I can see bringing an American history class here while they were studying slavery and the Civil War.  I also think it would be fascinating to visit this site and the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side and compare the living conditions, as families were living in these quarters during the same time period but the living conditions were so different. 

The Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn Museum has much to offer, not to mention that the educators on staff are excited to work with you to customize programming for your students and tailor it to your curriculum.  The programming is affordable, at $55 for a guided gallery visit and $40 for a self-guided tour.   The museum educators are well versed in the Common Core Standards and committed to examining a few objects closely to work on thinking deeply and questioning skills.  This is a trip well worth the travel and with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden just around the corner, you could visit both in the same day!