Center of the West
Chapters
1
2
3
4
Share this story
Inspiring the next generation
1 2 3 4
read more

Inspiring the
next generation

An interview with a teacher reveals why Buffalo Bill Center of the West is so wonderful for field trips

By Katie Jackson

There’s no question that kids love field trips. But, what about their teachers? If you ask Cathy McKenzie if she liked bringing her class to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, brace yourself for an enthusiastic “Yes!” The fourth-grade teacher at Parkside Elementary in Powell, Wyoming, recently visited the 300,000-square-foot museum complex with her students. In 11 questions, here’s what she had to say about their ambitious, unforgettable adventure.

photo of teacher Cathy McKenzie from Parkside Elementary, Wyoming
Cathy
McKenzie

4th-grade elementary school teacher
Parkside Elementary

A life-size brown bear in an open-air museum display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Students sit on the floor during a Native American culture presentation at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Q:
What prompted you to take all those fourth graders on a 50-mile roundtrip journey to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West?
CM:

By Wyoming standards, it’s very close to us. I’ve been teaching for 28 years and try to bring my students to the Center three times a year—I’ve visited too many times to count! The Center is a rich resource, which supports much of our social studies curriculum revolving around Wyoming’s history. They also regularly host programs geared toward fourth graders in particular.

A life-size brown bear in an open-air museum display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
A life-size bear brings nature to life.
Students sit on the floor during a Native American culture presentation at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Students discover Native American culture in an immersive format.
Q:
Tailored to 9- and 10-year-olds? That’s very specific.
CM:

The education staff at the museum is the absolute best. The programs they plan are spot-on as far as student interest and instructional content are concerned.

Q:
So how do the Center’s programs and offerings align with what your students are currently learning in your classroom?
CM:

Our social studies curriculum is largely based on the history of Wyoming. We start with the earliest Native Americans who lived in Wyoming and proceed from there in a timeline fashion. When we study the Great Plains Indians, we take the kids to one the Center’s five museums, the Plains Indian Museum, to experience many of the things we read and discuss as part of our Wyoming history unit.

Q:
That must be neat to see how your students apply what they learned in class “out in the field.”
CM:

It is! The majority of our students are not newcomers to the Center. They have visited with their families or on previous classroom outings. But on this trip, we lead the students on a Great Plains Indian scavenger hunt that the museum’s education staff designs especially for them, in order to focus on what they’ve recently learned.

Students sit on the floor during a live raptor presentation at the Draper Natural History Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Anything that was authentic and made long ago by a Native American really catches their attention.
Q:
An educational experience under the guise of a scavenger hunt? That’s brilliant! The Plains Indian Museum’s collections contain more than 6,000 items. Are there any particular pieces or exhibits your students gravitate toward?
CM:

The exhibits they enjoy the most are the tipi scene at the entrance of the museum, the elaborate headdresses, and the earthen lodge. There, a surround-sound recording of a Hidatsa woman explains what life is like in the lodge, and another tribal woman sings traditional songs. In the Buffalo Bill Museum, the kids are fascinated by the talking, life-sized Buffalo Bill hologram-like figure that appears out of nowhere, and the enormous stuffed buffalo. They also love any activity involving the live birds of prey of the Draper Natural History Museum’s Raptor Experience.

Students sit on the floor during a live raptor presentation at the Draper Natural History Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Meet a live raptor at the Center of the West.
Anything that was authentic and made long ago by a Native American really catches their attention.
Q:
It sounds like they have eclectic tastes and interests. Is there a particular exhibit that was an unexpected hit with them?
CM:

The actual pictographs on animal skins and the sweat lodge made with buffalo hides were especially interesting for the students. Anything that was authentic and made long ago by a Native American really catches their attention.

Q:
They are quite a curious bunch who, despite their youth, can appreciate a well-curated collection. How do you think they’d describe the Center in three words?
CM:

Yes, they are curious for sure! I asked two of my fourth graders for their opinions in three words:

“Fascinating, historical, and adventure.” – Rayona

“Interesting, historical, and awesome!” – Landon

A giant wall poster shows Buffalo Bill Cody at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Experience the West—learn by doing—immerse yourself fully.
Q:
Clearly, it’s safe to say the Center is “fourth grader-approved”! But now for the adult perspective: How would you describe the Center using that same three-word response?
CM:

There are a few ways: Experience the West—learn by doing—immerse yourself fully.

A giant wall poster shows Buffalo Bill Cody at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming
Students discover Native American culture in an immersive format.
Experience the West—learn by doing—immerse yourself fully.
Q:
Everything you’ve shared alludes to a very interactive experience where you’re actively engaged—every parent’s dream when dealing with the unsurpassed energy of children.
CM:

So true! I have 16-year-old twin girls, and they’ve visited the Center on numerous occasions—both with me as their teacher and with me as their parent.

Q:
How does the Center compare with other museums you’ve visited and/or have taken your students?
CM:

That’s probably not a fair question because we live in a small town (population 6,000). Our little town museum can’t really compare to something like the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, which is world-class. It’s so rich with resources found nowhere else. How lucky are we that they actually plan programs for our students and invite us to participate?

Q:
You must constantly remind them that they can come back! Did your trip inspire other teachers to bring their classes and/or your students to bring their families?
CM:

Yes, I’m sure!

Discover more about why the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is an ideal place for field trips.