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Making Museums

16 September 13 -- jsuess

Making Museums is a project of the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Museum of Natural History and was winner of the Clore Learning Prize 2011.  It is a partnership project with eleven local schools in Blackbird Leys, Cowley, Littlemore, Rose Hill, Barton, Wood Farm and Headington.  Students follow objects through their many museum processes, from archaeological dig, to documentation, conservation and research before returning to school to make museums in their own classrooms, exploring their identities.

Making Museums guides students to the very core of what museums do and how they operate, to ultimately engender a greater confidence in visiting museums in the future, and to understand the value of museum learning. At the same time, it encourages a sense of personal achievement and pride in the children’s schools and local culture. The project is divided over three days and ideally involves the same members of staff each time – an outreach session at the children’s school, a whole day visit at the museum, and a final outreach to the children’s own museums back at school.

The Oxford University Museums have developed a new website to support other organisations wishing to deliver a similar project, providing resources and tips. Visit the Making Museums website.

You can read more about each of the three days below:

Initial Outreach Session
In the initial outreach session the children familiarise themselves with the visiting museum and the Education Officers, who they will meet again in future sessions. The children investigate what a museum and a collection is, and why they are important. This is achieved through object handling, as it allows for a personal exploration of real museum objects. The children then generate their own questions about a chosen object which, through the guidance of the Education Officer, they then answer themselves. Through this activity, they discover that they already have the tools for understanding an object that may have initially seemed strange and unfamiliar to them.

Main Museum Session
The visit to the museum is structured around an activity where the children experience how a Museum is created – all the way from acquisition and documentation, through to conservation and research. Before the main activity begins, there is a brief ‘mystery objects’ game which reminds the children of the skills they learnt in the previous session. It also engages their physical, analytical and discussion skills, and promotes the idea that the day will not be about reading and writing. The day itself is also fast-paced, and maintains excitement as well as concentration. The main activity then begins with an archaeological dig, where buried museum objects are revealed in a box of sand alongside a ‘body’. This encapsulates the ‘acquisition’ stage of collections, and is done alongside a documentation task where the children have to carefully record their findings. There is then a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour, where the children meet a real museum worker and learn about the importance of conservation and research. This visit also embeds a cohesive approach to museum learning across different departments – education, collections and conservation. Finally, in the afternoon the children choose an object from the earlier dig to compile their own research using the museum’s collection. Ultimately, this leads to the final mission of the day: finding out who the ‘body’ might have been. This is an open-ended question that places the emphasis on what the children have learnt during the day, and therefore an imaginative and successful answer is always achieved.

School Museums Session
The final session of Making Museums takes place back at school, where the children prepare their own collections and create a museum in their schools, which the Education Officers then come and visit. The objects are often very personal items which explore their own identities and local culture and thus promote a sense of individual pride. This final session completes the cycle of how Museums are created, with the final stages of interpretation and design explored by the children themselves. By experiencing how a museum is created from start to finish in a unique, fun and physically engaging fashion, a familiarity with the museum is crafted. This is enhanced with the relationship made with the Education Officers, meeting the behind-the-scenes staff, as well as the individual explorations made with the museum’s objects, as well as their own. This understanding of the role museums play in preserving and promoting their heritage and the familiarity they have created with it will engender confidence in visiting museums in the future.

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