For most kids, stepping through a museum’s doors for the very first time is a momentous occasion. They might be transported to ancient Greece,18th century America or the world of modern and contemporary art and design. Research shows that these trips are more than just for fun—visits to museums can have a strong positive impact on learning and cultural competence.

In a recent study published in Education Next researchers found that a visit to the museum can  improve students’ critical thinking skills, build historical awareness, and enhance empathy. In fact, the study, which surveyed students after a visit to an art museum and students in a control group, found that students from rural schools showed a 33% improvement on critical thinking assessments.

While there are clear benefits to visiting museums, many schools aren’t able to include them in the curriculum. Fortunately, new web-based programs bring the museum experience to classrooms everywhere by providing access to original works of art and design and supporting materials.  

This February, the RISD Museum at the Rhode Island School of Design launches Teaching Notes, a series of free lessons featuring works from different times and cultures. The RISD Museum’s Teaching Notes draws on the principles of object-based learning, inviting students to use artifacts and works of art as valuable primary sources to learn about  objects produced by artists and designers from ancient times to modern day. By introducing students to an ancient Corinthian helmet or a 19th century painting of a city scene, the RISD Museum  encourages them to ask insightful questions, make creative interpretations, and get excited about the world and perspectives opened up by exploring works of art and design.

Teaching Notes features art and design from the RISD Museum’s collection along with discussion questions, suggested activities, and supplementary content designed to encourage observation, analysis, and creative interpretation of works of art and design. Teachers can adapt the materials to meet grade-level expectations and learning objectives and students are invited to tour collections of curated art and artifacts exploring four key topics: Think Like An Archaeologist; Exploring America; Artists’ Ideas, Materials, and Process; and Gods and Heroes.

To explore Teaching Notes visit risdmuseum.org/teachingnotes

Image: Ernest Opper, Fire-Engine on Broad Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey, ca. 1889. Museum Works of Art Fund. RISD Museum, Providence, RI.