Friday, June 25, 2010

Testing a Museum Program: “What’s in the Evidence?”

Because we don’t yet have a building, the Education Programs staff doesn’t get to work with the public very often. So I’m excited whenever I can get one of our programs in front of a group of living, breathing kids.

“What’s in the Evidence?” is an activity developed by our staff, including two of our past interns, to teach middle school students (ages 10-14) about forensic science and its connections to law enforcement. After testing with Memorial Fund staff and one group of students, the activity was just about ready for prime time.

An important component of any program developed by the National Law Enforcement Museum is evaluation, or looking at our programs to objectively examine whether they’re meeting the goals we created them to meet. Read Dean’s blog post to learn more about this process.

Recently, we’ve had three opportunities to test out “What’s in the Evidence” with some more students, each time working with a great group of kids who tried out the activity and helped us pilot the evaluation survey that will go with it. Every time we’ve all had a great time!

Students in Laurel, MD analyzing evidence as part of The middle schoolers solve a “vandalism” that occurred at the Visitors Center through forensic evidence collected at the scene of the “crime.” They analyze handwriting samples, run chromatography tests on ink from different pens, and examine shoe impressions (footprints) and fingerprints. Some groups have been more successful than others at fingering the culprit, but they’ve all learned about what forensic evidence can—and oftentimes cannot—tell us about crimes.

Sound like fun? This summer we’re offering the special opportunity to participate in this session free of charge. That’s right—you provide the kids, the room, and some adults to take part, and we provide the materials and an educational two-hour experience. If you’re in the D.C. area and know of a Girl or Boy Scout troop, science class, camp group, etc., who might like for us to come in and teach this activity, let me know [link to]. I’m also curious to know, if you could do this activity, what would you like to learn about in the area of forensic science?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Connections with the NLEM Collection

Museums often collect individual objects because they are important in and of themselves. Sometimes, however, we are able to make connections among various items and are able to tell a broader story. That has happened with a number of items acquired by the National Law Enforcement Museum over the last four years.

In 2006, the Museum acquired six letters written in 1896 by the President of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners, Theodore Roosevelt.

Letter from Theodore Roosevelt to Yale Univ. Foot Ball Association We were interested in these letters because Roosevelt wrote, “If there is anything that I love more than foot ball [sic] it is civil service reform.” (Pictured at right: Letter, Oct. 30, 1896. 2006.282.1. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.) Most people know about Roosevelt because of his Rough Riders during the Spanish American War, and of course, because he was the 26th president of the United States (1901-1909). But these letters also talk about Roosevelt’s interest in reform while heading up one of the most important police departments in the country, as well as the professionalization of law enforcement in the late 19th century.

Also in 2006, we acquired an 1884 cartoon drawn by one of the most important political cartoonists in the 19th century, Thomas Nast. We acquired it because it depicted a law enforcement officer.

Thomas Nast cartoon of a policeman sending Tammany Hall and Irving Hall away from a government building while Theodore Roosevelt watches from a window Political cartoon, Harper's Weekly, May 10, 1884. 2006.406.36. Collection of the NLEM, Washington, DC.

On receiving the print, we discovered that it was not really a policeman, but a cartoon using a policeman to illustrate Theodore Roosevelt working to improve the governance of New York City by attempting to rid it of its Democratic political machine known as Tammany Hall. Read more about Roosevelt’s reform efforts in NYC.

This cartoon, published in May 1884, shows Governor Grover Cleveland sitting in the window, as Roosevelt attempts to throw out the two political “machines” of the Democratic Party in New York, Tammany Hall and Irving Hall. We need to conduct more research to identify the men labeled as Tammany Hall and Irving Hall.

Roosevelt’s reform work was the beginning of a career in political reform efforts starting in the 1880s, continuing under his tenure on the Board of Police Commissioners in the 1890s, and completed as President of the United States.

What other materials have we acquired that relate to Roosevelt? Try accessing our online catalog and search for “Theodore Roosevelt” and “police” and see what you find!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Putting the Value in eVALUation: Part I--What is Evaluation?

When you hear the word “evaluation,” what do you think of? If you are like most, beads of sweat appear on your forehead as you begin to recall the cranky driving instructor who put the kibosh on your earnest attempt to become a licensed driver with his red pen. Most of us are familiar with (and dread) this type of evaluation, which is defined as “the process of determining significance or worth, usually by careful appraisal and study.”

In the context of museums, however, evaluation takes on more of an emphasis of “analysis and comparison of actual progress versus prior plans, oriented toward improving plans for future implementation.” In this sense, museum evaluation is about enrichment—it is about setting, improving upon, and reaching measurable outcomes.

As Evaluation Specialist at the National Law Enforcement Museum (NLEM), my role in this vein is to help examine the outcomes of our educational programs against each program’s goals and objectives and to make certain these line up with the Museum’s overall mission. While at times challenging, evaluation is the means by which we incorporate accountability and long-term effectiveness into the Museum’s work.

Although the NLEM is slated to open in 2013, the Museum Programs Department is planning to begin a number of its public programs just after groundbreaking takes place on October 14, 2010. With the support of the non-profit Institute for Learning Innovation, we are currently in the process of testing our programs.

Over the next year and a half, the purpose of our testing is two-fold. First of all, over the next several months, our iterative testing (also known as front-end or formative evaluation) will provide feedback about early versions of our programs to inform decisions about how we can best modify and improve them. Secondly, we will use summative testing to evaluate the effectiveness of the final programs based on previously identified outcomes.

In part two of this post, I will outline in greater detail different types of evaluation, discuss our identified outcomes and how we arrived at them, and use our recent testing to help put it all into perspective.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Upcoming June 16 Volunteer Opportunity for Teens

Hello. My name is Warren A. Jefferson, and I am a junior at Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy. I am also part of the Teen Advisory Council (TAC) at the NLEM.

The point of the Teen Council is to help younger citizens better understand the vital role of law enforcement in a democracy by having their viewpoints, interests, and perspectives heard and put into a film to be shown at the Museum’s groundbreaking ceremony in October.

As members of the council, students will learn real life work skills in the areas of leadership, strategic thinking, project planning and team work. The project will be introduced on Wednesday, June 16 at a Pizza Party. Those that are interested in helping on the TAC and the groundbreaking project will meet once every two weeks.

Although the video project is only a short term goal for TAC, we hope that over time, TAC will continue to work with the Education Programs team to give advice and guidance on the development of programs for teens across the country. The bigger goal is to help support the museum in its mission to build mutual respect between the public and the law enforcement profession. By doing so, we’ll be able to contribute to a safer society that serves to uphold the democratic ideals of the U.S. Constitution.

If you know any teens who would like to get involved, email Betsy Bowers, Director of Education. She’ll let me know you’re interested, and one of us will be back in touch with you.

Upcoming June 17 Adult Volunteer Opportunity

Please join Museum staff on June 17 for an informational reception as we officially launch our Volunteer Program. Anyone interested in finding out about the progress of the Museum’s development and volunteer opportunities is welcome to join us. With groundbreaking activities taking place this fall, we expect to launch a few of our educational programs and increase the pace of the Museum’s development, thus providing many new opportunities for volunteers locally and nationally. If you are interested in volunteering or attending the reception, email Vanya Scott, Volunteer Program Manager, or call her at 202-737-7869.