Friday, 1 August 2014

Fossils Rock! - Aisling Serrant

As a still relatively new museum trainee, just 2 months into my traineeship, I feel very lucky to be able to say that on Monday I led my first summer family event at the Oxford University of Natural History , Afternoon Explorers. The theme ‘Fossils’ had been decided long before I joined the team and also the format of the event: an object handling table, a make-and-take craft activity and a trail around the museum. But beyond that I was free to get creative and make the event my own. 

I started by brainstorming ideas about fossils. Although all children love dinosaurs, as they are already used frequently in activities and trails at the museum, I was quite keen to move away from them and explore the idea that lots of different things have been fossilised. I started looking at fossilised leaves noticing how well the intricate veins show up against the white rock background. 
From here I developed the idea of creating some form of window hanging or decoration similar to the tissue paper ‘stained glass windows’ I remember making at primary school. I made a tester using stone coloured tissue paper and little fossil pictures which worked well, but I was concerned it wouldn’t take very long to complete. I overcame this by creating a black frame around it which could then be decorated using bright coloured or white crayons, and metallic colouring pencils.

I also selected some fossil handling objects including some I haven’t worked with before, such as the real fossilised Nothosaur and the impressive T.rex jaw cast, and some old favourites like the ever popular fossilised dino poo.

The most exciting part of the preparation for me was designing a trail around the museum as it is not something I’ve had the chance to do before. I looked through a lot of examples from different museums to get a feel for design and writing styles. As this was a family event we were expecting to welcome children of quite a broad age range, we estimated from about 5-10years, but on the day I suspect our range extended even beyond this. The challenge was creating a trail which was accessible enough for a 5 year old to complete but also able to hold the attention of an older child as well. I tried to make it as interactive as possible with a variety of activities including drawing, looking, feeling, moving – and of course roaring like a dinosaur! I spent a long time walking round the museum, sometimes looking a little odd crouching down pretending I had the eye line of a 5 year old, but after some drafts, re-drafts and pointers from Education officer Rachel I was proud of the result. 

On the day I greeted and briefed the volunteers Mark and Viviane (who deserve special thanks as they were truly amazing and there’s no way we could’ve managed without them!) As soon as 2 pm came it was all stations go and in what Rachel described as a ‘true baptism of fire’ we were hit by a hurricane of visitors. I didn’t get a moments rest rushing between explaining the activity to drawing round templates to replenishing materials. Estimates suggested over 200 children took part in the event in just 2 hours! And we even had a visit from an Oxford Mail reporter. No wonder we were so exhausted by the end!

The activity went down really well and I received a lot of positive feedback. One mum commented “These are really pretty. This is a really good activity. It’s great that you put this on.” But the most rewarding part was seeing the beautiful finished products of our satisfied visitors. Next stop Minerals and I can’t wait!

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