Thursday, December 8, 2016

An Experience in the Exhibits

Recently, we hosted three Primary Education students from Leeds Trinity University for a two-week placement.

Kaisha and Oliver are specialising in Key Stage 2 (later years) whilst Jenny is studying early years (to age 7). 

This blog post was written by them.

For many years both research and experience has shown teachers that there is huge value in taking children out of the classroom to learn in an alternative context. As trainee teachers we have been fortunate enough to witness this first hand during our time at Wakefield Museums.
Over the past two weeks we have shadowed Learning Officer, Louise Bragan as she delivers some of Wakefield Museums’ wide range of workshops, including 1940s housewife, Greek pottery and Charles Waterton. We have seen how these workshops support and enhance learning across a number of curriculum areas and in ways which are as inspirational as they are unexpected!

The 1940s housewife workshop is popular with Year 5 and 6 classes. It offers an alternative insight to learning about the Second World War by focussing on daily life for a lady and her children living in Ossett, a small local town. Children (and teaching students) are surprised by how little food was available under rationing, demonstrated in a very stark way by ‘Dorothy’, Louise’s character for the workshop (and her real life grandma!). It was fascinating to see how children responded to the effects of war when told from a local perspective, when much of what they had absorbed so far had been about dates and important figures.  After speaking to Dorothy children had the opportunity to look at real ration books, identity cards, gas masks and other papers and paraphernalia associated with life at that time. Oliver and Kaisha were inspired to create a series of handouts to accompany each item for teachers to use in future lessons.
World War 2 Ration book, identity card and Women's Voluntary Service scarf and hat (below) used in the workshop

In the Charles Waterton workshop children learn about the local eccentric who created the first nature reserve, rode a caiman and used pioneering taxidermy methods to create monstrosities with a political message.  As expected, this workshop directly relates to the history national curriculum, but Louise also provides a wonderful literacy link. Children follow in the footsteps of Charles by using a quill and ink to write with. It was fascinating as a student teacher to observe how children reacted to this task – speaking to their teachers it was clear that children who are usually reluctant writers embraced the alternative medium, some producing notably higher quality work with the quill that in pencil at school.
This workshop inspired Jenny to create a teachers' pack which will be used to support teachers and other accompanying adults to help children get the most out of a visit to the exhibit.
John Bull and the National Debt - one of Waterton's crazy creatures

Children get to handle a real crocodile skull as part of the workshop
The Greek Pottery workshop saw us take the learning into school. We were as amazed as the year 6 class that we were able to not only see, but also touch, pick up, smell and examine the 3000 year old jugs and urns that make up a small part of the Museum’s extensive handling collection. The sense of awe and wonder shown by  children who got to hold these and other objects during our visit, demonstrates the enormous value of museums and the use of objects, both as a way of connecting children with their past and sense of place and to learning across the curriculum.
We were fortunate enough to visit the museum stores as part of our placement – a huge warehouse filled with objects from the sublime to the ridiculous. I think we could all have lost many days to that fascinating place which was reminiscent of a scene from Indiana Jones! Objects formed an important part of our two weeks’ with Wakefield Museums: we were fortunate enough to receive training on how to use objects as a stimulus for learning and to see how this operated in practice. These skills will be invaluable to us as teachers in the future to help engage and inspire children across the curriculum.

Personal Reflections:
From a personal perspective history was always my favourite topic, so this alone already cemented my interest in this establishment. As formal as a museum might appear there was a great working environment with friendly staff (who offered to make coffee every 15 minutes with free parkin) and a relaxed atmosphere.

Working with children in an unfamiliar setting may appear daunting, but if the topic is something you are deeply engaged in, the time flies by. I’ve spent more time talking about a Kit-Kat wrapper to year 6s than I ever thought I would. Yes, that sounds incredibly tedious and boring but if history is your interest you’d be surprised! In short, if history or anything you know is at the museum that interests you, go for it, you might just learn that Kit-Kat wrappers were blue in the 1940s due to the shortage of milk and thus the colour change indicated that the traditional milk chocolate was temporally changed with dark chocolate. - Oliver

My experience of history at school was different to Oliver’s. I was bombarded with facts and figures, politicians, kings and queens and I found the whole subject boring and irrelevant. I love teaching younger children as the awe and wonder about the world which they have is wonderful and contagious. My time here at Wakefield Museums has taught me how I can bring history and a wide range of other subjects to life and make them meaningful to even young children by using objects and relating learning to their own experiences. I have spent two weeks in awe and wonder myself at all the amazing artefacts in the collection and how they can be used and I know that what I’ve learnt will make me a better teacher. - Jenny
Oliver and Jenny at the Museum Store - looking at a WWI diary with curator, John

Tear-jerking, awe-inspiring and truly inspirational…
No, this is not a review of the latest romantic comedy – it’s even better - it’s a review of my time at Wakefield Museum!

As a self-confessed history geek, the opportunity to handle artefacts spanning from Ancient Egypt to World War Two was something I couldn’t imagine passing up. On the very first day genuine tears were shed over a Victorian prison cell door because I was so fascinated by it and I imagine I probably cried more than any prisoner who ever had the misfortune to have been held behind it.

But that is the magic of museums for me, as through my time here I have loved being able to connect with a random miscellaneous object from the past and imagine the story behind each artefact. The handling collection contained a Victorian iron and a few wooden pegs, which could easily be overlooked or discarded by someone who was disinterested. Instead, the time we could spend with each artefact on this placement allowed my mind to wander and imagine who these items could have once belonged to.

Was it a young housekeeper or an ancient gran, fingers gnarled from a hard life? I’ll never know and that doesn’t really matter, it’s the element of not knowing in fact that makes it all the better because my wild thoughts will never be shut down or dismissed.
Through this time exploring I realised first-hand how powerful a journey of enquiry can be, and I feel I am now more keen than before to provide this opportunity to the children I will one day teach. The use of open-ended questioning and higher-order thinking is something we are frequently lectured about but it truly means nothing until you see it in practice, guiding the children towards forming their own opinions and interests regarding the past, its role in the present and how it can shape the future they will come to find themselves in - Kaisha

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