While the past two years of virtual and hybrid learning have been unusual and challenging for students nationwide, Carol Hockett, Hinsta Family Manager of School and Family Programs at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, has been determined to expand the classroom experience for Pre-K-12 students in the greater Ithaca area through art.
For years, Hockett has directed Pre-K-12 field trips at the Johnson Museum. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hockett began to lead the field trips through virtual classroom instruction. Additionally, for the past year, Hockett has made visits to schools as classes have returned to in-person. Hockett completed over 350 virtual school visits, and in 2021, she reached over 6,100 students through her classes.
With regard to the content of the classes, Hockett plans each class to be unique depending on what a given teacher’s current curriculum is.
“We are taking the art resources and building out that curriculum connection so that you have an enhanced learning experience that is connected to the museum and to the bigger art world,” Hockett said.
Jenna Griffith, an eighth grade English Language Arts teacher at Dryden Middle School, has had her classes participate in the Johnson Museum’s programs for three years.
“What we learn in ELA connects really well to art. The students learn to identify metaphors and motifs in the paintings,” Griffith said.
Griffith has used one such exhibit at the Johnson Museum to teach migration in the context of crises.
“The artwork in a particular exhibit was made by refugees and immigrants, so it was powerful for the students to see the same concepts we discuss in the classroom in the modern, real world through art,” Griffith said.
Other teachers have praised Hockett’s methods. Rebecca Siegrist, a sixth grade Social Studies teacher at Boynton Middle School in Ithaca, told the Sun that Hockett provides supportive affirmation to the students’ insights, encouraging students to think freely and confidently.
“The students make so many analogies and really take the artwork to heart. They show great critical thinking and they totally rise to the occasion because [Hockett’s classes] are something that spark a lot of curiosity in them,” Griffith said.
When the Johnson Museum hosted in-person field trips before the pandemic, for many students, the Johnson was often the first art museum they had ever been to, and Cornell was the first university campus they had ever set foot on.
“For many, this is the first and only art museum they’ve been to, and maybe their first trip to a college campus, or their first interaction with artwork from another culture. So this is a very transformative experience. We’re looking forward to when this day comes back.” Hockett said.
With Cornell University protocols currently prohibiting Pre-K-12 field trips at the Johnson, Hockett’s virtual classes fill that gap.
“Even though we’re not at the museum in person, it has still been an enriching learning experience,” Griffith said.
Siegrist further elaborates on how Hockett and the Johnson have been able to take advantage of virtual learning, and have provided students with unique pieces of digitized art.
“We were learning about ancient China, and one of the pieces of art [Hockett] brought in virtually was a 3D model of the Great Wall of China that the students could manipulate on screen. My students, especially my computer science-minded students, were fascinated by how an object on a 2D screen could look 3D,” Siegrist said.
Siegrist also remarks that virtual learning has the additional benefit of allowing the students to hyper-focus on one piece of art instead of being distracted by everything else in the museum.
Most importantly, the Johnson Museum’s programs have had a lasting impact on the students.
“Students were coming to me a month later during their lunches and study halls to talk to me about an exhibit [about immigration]. It was truly life changing because it changed how they felt about their classmates and community…They didn’t just think about this at the museum, this was something they really spent time processing, reading about, and talking to their families about,” Siegrist said.
While the Johnson Museum remains closed to those who are not part of the direct Cornell community, Pre-K-12th grade students in the greater Ithaca area remain excited to keep attending the programs.
“Every time Carol joins us virtually or in person, my students are always like ‘when is she coming back?’ right away,” Siegrist said.
Correction, March 7, 10:05 a.m.: A previous version of this story misstated that Hockett’s class reached 1,600 students and misstated that she conducted 350 in-person visits. She conducted 350 virtual visits and her classes have reached 6,100.