Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The BIG Event! Trainees share their experience of helping plan the event and running object handling - Rachel McLaughlin & Jenny Hulmes

Rachel (Joint Museums) shares her experiences of the event

From the 23rd to the 25th of July, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History , the Pitt Rivers Museum and The Museum of the History of Science  hosted the BIG event 2014. BIG are the British Interactive Group - a network for educators and communicators of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). The event is for skill sharing and peer learning as well as a chance to catch up with other people in the sector. 

I helped set up the first session – the BIG mingle. This was an icebreaker for the attendees to explore the Pitt Rivers and the Museum of Natural History, to meet each other and see the range of objects which the museums hold. We used objects from the Joint Museums and the Museum of Natural History handling collections which represented the three host museums.

Part of the Joint Museums Handling Collection

The mingle involved 39 objects on 13 tables around the 2 museums. The BIG attendees visited some of these areas and “collected” objects to use in a hypothetical education session. At the end of the event, a winner of the best session idea was chosen, and they won a cuddly mammoth!

To set up the mingle, the 39 objects were researched and photographed by Aisling (the OUMNH trainee) and me. There was a very wide range of objects, from Victorian medical instruments to fossils and a 3000 year old Egyptian carving. Researching these objects was very interesting and learning how to take a recognisable photo of them drew a lot on what I learnt in my archaeology degree. It was also great fun to get up close to a lot of objects in a short space of time.

My personal highlights were the stereoscopic image viewer and the jar of shellac from the floor of the great exhibition in the crystal palace.

Shellac from the floor of the Great Exhibition, Crystal Palace

Jenny (Museum of the History of Science) shares her experience of  the event

Once a group of attendees visited an area manned by ourselves and volunteers, they were confronted with a ‘pick and mix’ of different objects ranging from a 1940’s breast exhauster to a velociraptor skull. Our role was to pass each object around the group and offer a brief description along with some gripping “WOW” facts. 

After all the objects had been introduced, the group had to agree on which object had the most potential in forming part of an education session. Some individuals were pretty adamant which object they wanted to choose, especially if the rest of their objects (which they had already collected) adhered to a certain theme such as medicine or the natural environment. One member of a group even asked a trainee on the sly whether she could downplay the importance of the objects, so the one which took his fancy had more of a chance of being selected! Thankfully bickering and major disagreements were avoided with each group settling for a majority vote to determine their choice.

Trainee Corie at her object handling table

 All in all the BIG mingle proved to be a motivating and enjoyable activity with the ice being successfully broken with the aid of objects.  The attendees showed curiosity and interest in the museums’ collections, especially the more unique and obscure. We had a fantastic time, despite it being a particularly hot day inside the Museum of Natural History, and were grateful for the opportunity to build on our knowledge of collections outside our own Museums; I was intrigued to discover that astronauts’ visors have a thin layer of gold to help protect them from the glare of the Sun and that if all the world’s refined gold was collected, it would fit into a 20m by 20m box.

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