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Curious Curators

28 September 17 -- jsuess

Curious Curators is a project that uses objects and paintings to build strong enquiry, research and literary skills for primary children. It was initially a project developed by one of our HLF skills for the future education trainees, and then developed further by the Ashmolean's primary education officer in partnership with the Blackbird Academy Trust. The project has now developed into a session offered by all four of the Oxford University Museums with the aims of targetting schools not already engaged with the museums, experimenting with cross-museum collaboration for the delivery of primary sessions, and testing a new model of providing extended project work to enrich the primary curriculum.

The sessions all focus on a key object - or objects - in each museum and follow a common structure. During the first session, children are invited to reflect on the nature of museums and the range of jobs which are undertaken in them. Thet are then shown a wide range of ways to engage with one of more objects. At the end of the session they are allocated an object to research in groups. Children and then issued with the challenge, back in school, of undertaking further research and preparing a presentation which will engage and inform their classmates. After they have done this they are then invited back to the museum for a second session in which they share their presentations and prepare questions for a Q&A session with an expert.

The project had learning outcomes for children and teachers, as well as social outcomes.

Learning outcomes:

  • Use objects and paintings to build strong enquiry, research and presentation skills
  • Have the opportunity to develop skills necessary to work in a team
  • Develop their understanding of how museums work and the different jobs people do in museums
  • Develop confidence in learning from objects.

Social outcomes:

  • Reaching children in schools which have a significant proportion of pupils from areas with social and economic deprivation
  • Reaching children in schools from outside the city centre and developing links with Oxfordshire schools.

The museums delivered 28 sessions attended by 420 year 4 and 5 students partnering with schools including Rose Hill, Baynards Hill, New Hinksey, Cutteslowe, West Oxford, St Andrews and St John Fisher. Engaging schools from outside the city proved challenging due to the cost of transport to schools further a field (especially for mulyiple sessions) - future projects should consider including funding for schools transport. Despite this the project was successful in it's social objectives: Rose Hill and Baynards Hill Primary Schools are located in areas amongst the 20% most deprived in England according to the 2015 Indices of Multiple Deprivation; 5 of the 7 schools engaged were from areas highlighted by Oxford City Council as 'Regeneration Areas'; another school is known to have links with families from taveller communities.

At the end of each session both children and teachers were given questionaires to complete to support evaluation: 259 questionnaries were collected from children, and 14 from teachers.

The project had positive outcomes in terms of students reporting that they wanted to bring their family and friends to the museums (83%) and about feeling confident about finding out about objects in museums (75%). Learning about the museums and the diffrent jobs received the lowest score from the children (62%), despite many positive comments from the children about the experience of being able to question a member of museums staff ["I learnt the most from Stephen [the curator]! - Cutteslowe year 4/5 pupil]; this was echoed in the teacher's evaluation. It is thought that this might be because enquiry in the session was focussed on the objects, rather than the museum professionals and what they did. The project also seems to have been very successful in building confidence and team working skills.

"I learnt that people can express themselves and work together... even if you're not with your friends and think it's going to go wrong it turns out good" - Cutteslow, Year 4/5 pupil

Teachers did rate the session highly in terms of relevance to the curriculum.

"We based our English work around the project and covered all of our speaking and listening objectives through the group work and presenting" - Year 4 Teacher, West Oxford Primary.

In terms of collaborative working across the collections, all the primary education officers agreed that they benefitted from the collaboration.

"Working with other education officers was stimulating and provided for a creative dynamic in developing the sessions" - Chris Jarvis, Museum of Natural History.

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