Rx for Learning: Creeds Elementary and the Virginia Beach Military Aviation Museum

Meghan Raftery

Meghan Raftery is a freelance instructional designer for K-12 public schools, nonprofit organizations and the private sector in addition to managing edjacent.org, an Educator Design Collaborative. She leads professional development throughout the country and in her hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia with a special interest in authentic learning, community partnerships and school redesign. She is also a wife, mother and bookseller in an airstream trailer bookshop called Read Books VB and serves as Program Director for The CROP Foundation.

I recently wrote about Reciprocal Experiences (Rxs) and how they can add a real-world element to any curriculum.

Today I’m going to outline an actual example of an Rx that took place between The Virginia Beach Military Aviation Museum and Creeds Elementary.

The Idea for Partnership

Despite boasting one of the highest ratings of “Things to Do” in Virginia Beach on TripAdvisor.com, museum officials were continually disappointed by the small number of students who visited their museum or even knew it existed.

The museum contacted Virginia Beach City Public School’s Department of Teaching and Learning, expressing interest of a partnership in 2012.

Circumstances actually delayed the project until 2015 when a new building administrator joined the staff. A casual conversation reignited the idea and the original Rx was born.

Getting the Rx Off the Ground

The museum director and staff met face-to-face with the school’s building administrator and a coordinator from the Department of Teaching and Learning. Brainstorming led to the determination that an ongoing, sustained relationship would be ideal for a meaningful partnership.

To frame the students’ experience, it was also decided to put the students in the role of problem solvers instead of creating an elaborate scenario: students would decide how to encourage their classmates to come to the museum!

Early Success Factors

Three important factors set this Rx up for success from the beginning:

1. The building administrator’s enthusiasm.

Difficult, frustrating tasks like securing buses and negotiating instructional minutes can quickly derail an ambitious project, but the building administrator was resolutely determined to make the projects successful.

She secured substitutes, personally introduced the problem to students, contacted division officials and local media, and even made t-shirts for the students.

2. The absolute willingness of museum officials to engage with students on the project.

They constantly went above and beyond expectations, securing free passes for students and their families and offering to come to the school to serve as mentors.

3. The focus on alignment to the division curriculum.

Ms. Conger contacted a Department of Teaching and Learning coordinator to tour the museum with teachers, helping align the project to curriculum standards and discussing pacing.

This helped teachers see the project as a means to addressing their curriculum rather than an extra activity outside of their regular pacing.

The School Role

Classroom teachers toured the museum with a complete list of division objectives for all core academic areas including language arts, math, science, and social studies.

The teachers determined that students would ultimately create a series of media messages to present to other Virginia Beach schools encouraging them to come to the museum as a field trip.

Teachers designed quarterly experiences for students to feature in their messages. The first experience was an aviation STEM design for the Force, Motion, and Energy Unit.

Day 1: The students visited the museum and toured three aircrafts:

  • One designed to fly slow
  • One designed to fly fast
  • One designed to fly a far distance

They were charged with creating a model of each type of aircraft, using the features of the museum planes in their designs. Armed with iPads and questions, students asked museum officials about the design of the planes as research.

Day 2: Museum volunteers visited the school to give expert feedback to students as they designed and tested their aircraft.

Day 3: Students returned to the museum to complete official trials of their models.

Learning targets aligned to unit objectives were prominently displayed and discussed throughout the three days, ensuring alignment to unit content.

Teachers referenced the design challenge frequently in their instruction in all core subject areas.


The Partner Role

Officials welcomed the students and teachers into the museum with open arms. After the initial meeting, the school division provided them with division objectives for the grade level so they could find opportunities for alignment.

The school and the museum worked together to design t-shirts for students to wear when visiting. When students wore their t-shirts to the museum, they were offered free admission with one adult at any time throughout the duration of the project in order to conduct their research.

Officials gave tours, described aircraft, offered expert feedback, and worked with teachers to align talking points to standards and developmental understanding of the students.

Unexpected Results

As early as the first meeting, this Rx had the feeling of something different.

From Ms. Conger’s enthusiasm, to the willingness of the teachers, to the support of division and museum officials, nothing could stop this project from being a success.

  • The students felt connected and engaged with the content they were learning and had the opportunity to make a difference for other students.
  • The teachers learned from the mentors and capitalized on the enthusiasm the students felt for the project.
  • The museum benefited from increased interest from schools to visit the museum and learned how to make a visit to the museum more engaging for elementary students.

This was not just any partnership, but a true reciprocal experience for everyone involved.

This blog is based off of Meghan Raftery’s full VASCD Journal article.

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