Play, Investigate, Interpret, and Explore: Outdoor Odysseys at the Blanton

Backpack for Outdoor Odysseys: Fountain Expedition
Backpack for Outdoor Odysseys: Fountain Expedition

About 10,000 K-12 students visit the Blanton Museum of Art each year, and for most, it’s their first trip to an art museum. Sometimes groups are so large that they cannot be accommodated for gallery lessons at the same time. In these cases, half of the students wait outside on the Blanton’s plaza, while the other half of the group explores the museum with gallery teachers and docents. After an hour, the groups switch. What do teachers and students do while waiting in this “plaza purgatory?” Typically they eat a sack lunch and then have free time to lounge and linger. Noticing this lag time got the Blanton’s education team asking: What can we do to make waiting more productive and engaging for young visitors? What if they learned about UT with the aid of a walking map? Could a scavenger hunt across campus help kids envision themselves as college students?

A design-thinking workshop was convened to figure out where a map could guide K-12 students and what they might do along the way. Meredith Word, the Blanton’s graphic designer, and education staff and interns trekked around campus putting themselves in the shoes of the average fifth grader. This small team of “design thinkers” came up with four distinctive activity maps that could each be completed within thirty minutes. The design-thinking team also decided that the activity maps should have the common feel of campus exploration and investigation. Each path would engage K-12 visitors with important aspects of campus life and get them curious about college.

Francesca Balboni and Sarah Abare
Francesca Balboni and Sarah Abare discuss
post-it comments during the design process

The ideas from this initial design-thinking session have evolved into a series of Outdoor Odysseys, which the Blanton will be launching this September. Each Outdoor Odyssey includes a map with activities; two backpacks containing supplies will also be available for groups to check out at the Blanton’s Visitor Services Desk (one per group). Outdoor Odyssey maps will include activities that can be accomplished with and without the backpacks. The maps, available for download on the Blanton’s K-12 webpage, highlight Landmarks (public sculptures around campus) and promote the development of looking skills.

Outdoor Odyssey: Go Green will be the first of the series available and focuses on green spaces adjacent to the Blanton Museum of Art. There are team-building games like Zip-Zap-Zop as well as classic field games like sculpture tag and keep-away Frisbee. Another game, Investigator, asks students to use magnifying glasses to make observational drawings and oil-based clay to create relief prints. Through these activities, participants are encouraged to play, investigate, interpret, and explore.

Francesca Balboni
Francesca Balboni jots down ideas for what will become Fountain Expedition

Next in the series will be Outdoor Odyssey: Longhorn Loop. While Outdoor Odyssey: Go Green concentrates on staying near the Blanton to engage in play, Outdoor Odyssey: Longhorn Loop walks in the steps of those who attend UT, taking K-12 students to Gregory Gym, the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, and around the dorms at Jester Center. The accompanying Texas orange backpack includes compasses, binoculars, and sketching materials. The third and fourth installments of the Outdoor Odyssey series will be released in the spring— with Outdoor Odyssey: Library Lookout (a scavenger hunt) and Outdoor Odyssey: Fountain Expedition (a longer walk with a worthwhile payoff). Each of these four maps and backpacks will encourage teachers and students to view the UT campus in new and empowering ways. Curiosity is welcome, inside the galleries and outside.

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