Tuesday, 14 October 2014

'Making Museums' : A Year 6 project with Oxford University Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum - Aisling Serrant

One part of my first placement at Oxford University Museum of Natural History which I have been both excited about and a little daunted by, is a project working with year 6 school groups called Making Museums. This is a huge project which has been running at the museum in partnership with the Pitt Rivers Museum for 10 years, working with 10 primary schools and approximately 500 students each year.

Its many components are hard to sum up in a few sentences. Each school has three main sessions - firstly an hour long outreach session at the school to allow the children to meet the education staff and develop some initial skills in handling objects.  Next each class has a full day session at the museum jam-packed with a variety of different activities including a pretend archaeological dig, a visit behind the scenes to meet conservation and collections experts and a chance to explore the museum researching their chosen object from the dig. The day concludes with the children feeding back what they have found in order to build up their picture of who the mystery person in their dig was. In the final session the project staff visit a museum made by the children in their schools with their own objects, putting into practice some of the skills and knowledge they have learnt throughout the project.

The first thing I noticed when me and Pitt Rivers trainee Hannah were given the project notes in the weeks running up to it was the sheer volume of content. To top it off we were also trialling putting a few of the schools through Arts Award Explore which meant booklets had to be filled out with certain things in a certain way to give the children the best chance of passing, another thing to think about! There was so much stuff to teach I wondered how we were expected to remember it all. However the team assured me we would find it easier to learn on the job, observing how the Education Officers did things and little by little learning to teach it ourselves. 

Aisling preparing for a school session

The first bit of teaching we did was in the initial outreach sessions. I remember feeling pretty nervous and I think it probably showed - but that was the point of us doing Making Museums, to practice delivering sessions (hopefully) to the point where we wouldn’t get nervous anymore. The real hard work started in phase two when the schools started coming in for their day sessions. Me and Hannah shadowed the first two days but after that we started teaching parts ourselves. When a class comes in for a session they do some parts at the beginning as a whole class and then split into two halves to excavate a dig each. We had two days of working alongside Education Officers but from our third day onwards me and Hannah worked together on a dig of our own. 

What the team had assured me about learning on the job proved to be right and, as each day we taught a different section or each day we taught a little bit more, we learnt the content naturally without needing to spend hours learning lesson plans. What had seemed an incredibly overwhelming project that I was unsure I was ready for proved to me what I am actually capable of. 

On one of our last days me and Hannah had the opportunity to lead the day by ourselves and run a dig each, just with Education Officer Chris floating around to help if needed. I think by this point after so much practice and repetition (we ran a total of 17 sessions in the museum!) our confidence had grown immensely and we were sure we could do it. And we were fine! We had become so accustomed to teaching Making Museums that it just didn’t feel like a big deal anymore.

Delivering part of a session at Oxford University Museum of Natural History

I’ve loved being a part of Making Museums and it has definitely been one of the highlights of my traineeship so far. I feel really proud that we got to the stage where we could lead a year 6 class through a full day of so many different activities almost independently. On the last day Head of Education at the Pitt Rivers Museum Andy asked which parts we wanted to teach and I remember saying we could do whatever, we were capable of teaching the whole day if he wanted! I didn’t mean to sound big headed by this! I just meant that the project and the staff had allowed us to reach a level where we were comfortable enough to lead it ourselves, something I’m pretty proud of only 4 months into our traineeship!

I have just got back from our first session in the project’s final phase where we visit a museum made by the children. We were very impressed! There were museum maps, opening times and signposts and it was a true multisensory experience – one of my favourites was the sweets display where you were blindfolded and had to guess what sweet you had been given by using your different senses. It was so lovely seeing all the hard work that had been put into it and incredibly rewarding to see how much the children have enjoyed it. At the end of quite an exhausting project, it really did make the whole thing feel worthwhile.

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