Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Bringing Light and Colour into the Pitt Rivers – Rachel McLaughlin

One of my favourite sessions that I’ve been involved with was a pilot of “Light and Colour” at the Pitt Rivers. It is a new session as part of the Need Make Use VERVE project

The session involved three main taught sections and a more independent activity in the galleries. The three sections were:

·         How do we create light? - Fire lighting methods and lanterns. Why do we need light?
·         How do we create shadows? - Shadow puppets and how they’re used. Learning about “transparent”, “translucent” and “opaque”.
·         How do we create colour? - How to create paint from things you find in your environment. The importance of colour and its meanings.

After this, there was a “keyring” activity – finding things around the museum which create light or use it in different ways.

I was involved with the section on colour. I had an outline of the lesson plan which had been developed by the Primary Education Officer, so the different sections tied together well and delivered the aims of the Need Make Use project. I worked with this, including everything I needed to and delivering it in a style which I felt comfortable with.

Rachel delivering the session

The session began under the Totem pole, with a discussion about how to acquire a paint from your local environment and why colour is important. Through guided questioning, the group worked out that you needed something colourful (like a rock) and something sticky to glue it to the surface you want to paint. We then moved to a separate room that wasn’t a gallery space, where we made paint using red ochre and Acacia gum (gum Arabic). When the children got to paint with this, they expressed amazement at being able to paint with a rock and some tree sap.

I also created a matching game with the pigments and dyes. There are 8 tubs with 8 dyes and pigments which need to be matched to 8 colours. This was a general overview of paint colours. It introduced the concept that pigments (for painting surfaces) and dyes (for colouring fabric) are different. Some were easier: Green copper makes green. Some were harder: What colour does a sea snail make? (See the photo below for the answers.)
The group seemed to really enjoy working it out, it helped that some were easier than others as it gave them an immediate confidence, yet they were surprised by some of the ones which were more obscure.

Matching game - dyes and pigments

One of the main things which the students took from the session was an impression of the range and variety of resources which make colour and the effort required to make them. The students went away with a better understanding of the skills involved in creating some of the objects in the museum.

Positive feedback about the session

I thoroughly enjoyed the session, especially the practical aspects. I think that demonstrating or participating in the techniques used to create museum objects can add significantly to understanding of the objects, the person and the community who made them.
I found this session very inspiring and I am planning to take a similar approach in my final project.

Monday, 16 February 2015

'Made in Mt Olympus': Final Project - Corie Edwards

It’s final project time! It is time for us to take everything we have learned so far over our HLF Skills for the Future training and put it into an independent project. The independent project allows us to create something for an audience of our choice, but still fits into our placements education strategy and museum brand. My final project is for the Ashmolean Museum and it is looking at the ways we can engage the 16-30 year old audience with our collections in styles and outlets they use in their everyday lives.

The idea of this project came from an article I was reading about how Tumblr has proven it is the best history resource. The article was made up of different posting by students who reference actual historical topics, but in ways they find relevant, i.e. a picture of Henry the VIII as a meme of, ‘undisputed King of selfies’. Now this might not seem like much, but that was a secondary student posting a historical figure for all their friends to see. If it was just the portrait and this caption, ‘Henry VIII was a patron of the arts which is evident through his plethora of portraits on his favourite topic, himself,’ I hardly think a secondary student would post it for his/her friends to see. But if it is funny and relevant it is ok to share. Which is what I think is the key to engaging this audience. It has to be catchy and it definitely has to be relevant to them. Furthermore, it needs to be accessible from the places they go to for entertainment and information, mainly the internet and social networks. 

Corie working on her final project plan

Teenagers and young adults are now in a world that is mostly viewed through an electronic device. Think about how much different it is now than it was 10 years ago. I can definitely say that my friends never took pictures of their food and sent it to me via post with a caption of, ‘Look at what I made! #NomNom.’ But today, you can’t scroll through a Facebook newsfeed or twitter feed without seeing what your friends are eating. We are all about sharing and we mainly use our smart devices as the messenger.

So why not explore this? Museums across the world are always exploring new ways to engage with their community. So what can we do that’s different, but engaging and relevant without losing that educational content? This is what I was thinking about when deciding on my final project. What I came up with was, Made in Mt Olympus, an on-line series of 4 one minute long films. With the partnership of three Oxford Brookes Film Students and nine Oxford University Museums and Collections staff members as actors, we will take Ashmolean Greek objects and bring their stories to life by parodying a popular UK reality show. When you actually stop and think about it, Greek mythology is the original drama. The stories may be thousands of years old, but they are still playing out every day and we watch them through reality shows and soap operas. It’s that idea that we are not as disconnected as we sometimes think and it just takes highlighting it in a different way to make that apparent.

Finding inspiration at the Ashmolean

The films will go up on YouTube and will be promoted through various social media outlets. This comes back to what I was saying earlier about putting the information out where it can be found by this audience. If I just put it up on our website no one would go looking for it. It needs to be connected to the avenues of information this audience goes to every day.

The videos for now are a way to highlight what we have to offer at the Ashmolean. They also aim to show that it’s ok to laugh and have fun at a museum. With the ultimate aim that those who see the videos will then come through the doors to see more. None of that is guaranteed though, but it is worth trying.

Only once we’ve caught their attention can we add more educational levels. It comes back to that Henry VIII portrait I referenced. Start with the meme having correct information but being relevant and catchy, then it can go further...’Why do you take selfies?’ ‘Who is seeing your photos?’ ‘Why do you want them to see your selfie?’ ‘Why did you choose that place to take the picture?’ And so on. Then you can pretty much ask the same questions about Henry VIII and the answers might be surprisingly similar.

I hope my videos will spark similar conversations. Those conversations can be between friends who share the videos, it can be teachers showing it to students or recreating something similar with their students, or museum visitors making their own short videos in galleries on their smart devices. It can go many ways and I hope it does.

Follow the progress of these films through #MiMO on twitter. The films will go live on the Ashmolean YouTube channel, one per week throughout the month of April.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Formal Training Days: Skills for the Future Museum Education & Outreach - Neil Stevenson, Project Co-ordinator

Since 2011 the Education departments across Oxford University Museums and Collections have welcomed 16 museum education and outreach trainees as part of the Skills for the Future programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Each trainee completes 3 placements across the University museums, which includes 3 from the following: Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Museum of History of Science, Joint Museums Office, and Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum.

Trainees follow a training plan, and via on the job training develop the skills, knowledge, and experience needed to move into a successful career in museum education and outreach. In addition to this trainees attend formal training days, peer learning sessions, regular 1:1s with the project coordinator and plan, deliver and evaluate an independent project.

Formal Training Days

Formal training is provided through a series of training days organised by the project co-ordinator with the support of Heads of Education. The training programme is developed to provide the trainees with theory and examples of good practice relating to a particular theme or audience linked to museum education and outreach. The content of the training is aimed at a level appropriate for the trainees and for those in the early stages of their career. The days also provide an opportunity for the education staff to showcase their work, as examples of best practice, to a wider audience.

Neil delivering a session on working with Secondary Pupil Referral Units

In addition to the Skills for the Future trainees, we open the training days up to a wider audience. On average we have between 25 to 30 people attend each training day. These include education professionals and volunteers from museums across the South East, including The Oxfordshire Museum, River & Rowing Museum, Maidenhead Heritage Centre, Jane Austen House, Museum of Oxford, Bletchley Park, REME, Vale & Downland Museum, Roald Dahl Museum, and The Story Museum.

Training Days cover the following themes:

How People Learn
Learning from Objects
Audiences: Families
Audiences: Early Years to Key Stage 2
Audiences: Key Stage 3 to Post 16
Audiences: Adults
Audiences: Communities
Audiences: Volunteers
Communicating Science

The training days consist of:

A series of 45 minute presentations by speakers from within the Education Departments across Oxford University Museums and Collections, showcasing their work, providing case studies, and crucial tips for success. Sometimes we invite speakers from other museums within Oxfordshire.
At least 2 workshop style activities 
Opportunities for group discussion and questions
Opportunities for networking

Gallery activity during EY-KS2 training day

The following shows the programme for a recent training day focusing on Secondary to Post-16 audiences 

HLF Skills for the FutureTraining Day: Working with Secondary to Post-16 Audiences in Museums and Collections

Friday 9th January 2015


Venue: Annexe, University Museum of Natural History/Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford



Tea and coffee

10.20 -10.40

Welcome and Introduction

Janet Stott
Head of Education, Oxford University Museum of Natural History
Secondary at the Pitt Rivers Museum
Andrew McLellan
Head of Education, Pitt Rivers Museum
Digital Sketchbooks
Helen Ward & Adrian Brooks
Deputy Head of Education Ashmolean and Art Education Officer Joint Museums

Post-16 Learning in Museums
Chris Parkin
Lead Education Officer, Museum of the History of Science
Classroom Management – A chance to consider the challenges posed by secondary school audiences in museums

Sarah Lloyd
Secondary Education Officer, Oxford University Museum of Natural History



Working with Secondary Pupil Referral Units

 Neil Stevenson
HLF Skills for the Future Project Co-ordinator
Neil Stevenson

Very often topics covered during the training days inspire the trainees so much that they ask if they can discuss these in further detail during one of their peer learning sessions. The training days may inspire them to read around the subject or to think about their own experiences linked to what was discussed. They then bring these thoughts and experiences and discuss as a group. 

The training days have proved to be a successful part of the traineeship. They provide the trainees with a basic understanding and framework for working with specific audiences, inspire them to think about doing things in creative and inventive ways, provide an opportunity for education staff across Oxford University Museums and Collections to share their knowledge and showcase their excellent work, and to invite and welcome a wider audience to Oxford find out more about Skills for the Future and the work of the education teams.

Feedback from current trainees:

‘They have given me an excellent insight into the work of education officers, from tips of technique, problems that arise and how to overcome them and generally the multifaceted role of a facilitator. They also helped me meet a wide range of people from the sector and to network and make contacts. I remember being inspired on my very first training day to do with object handling, and it was this experience that encouraged me to pursue a career as an educator.
I find them incredibly relevant to my own learning and it helps me to make connections with my own experiences in order for me to progress professionally.’
Hannah Eastwood, HLF Skills for the Future trainee

‘The training days are a fantastic opportunity to share ideas, such as how to engage a variety of audiences with sometimes challenging collections, to create unique and inspiring learning experiences’.
Jenny Hulmes, HLF Skills for the Future trainee

Training days are an essential part of our HLF skills for the future traineeship. We are here to learn as much as we can from actively participating in our placements, but it is the training days that shift our brains to be looking at the bigger picture. Working in a museum or a collection is more than just the delivery. We have to think about our programmes in education on a much bigger scale as they are far reaching. It is at the training days that we get to hear about all of the wider aspects of planning programmes at different museums and collections.
Corie Edwards, HLF Skills for the Future trainee