Thursday, 16 October 2014

Our Art Education Officer

Hello - I’m Adrian and I am the art education officer across four of the Oxford University Museums, which include the Ashmolean, the Museum of the History of Science, the Pitt Rivers and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History Museum. I have been in post for the past six years and before that I was a Head of Art in a secondary school in Oxfordshire.

Adrian Brooks - Art Education Officer © Pitt Rivers Museum

My role is to support secondary and college art groups visiting the collections. In practice that means offering tailored introductions, running workshops for pupils, organising teacher INSET, preparing educational resources and generally keeping the museums high on the teachers’ agenda.
Last year we focused particularly on the use of digital sketchbooks as a means of collecting information during a museum visit. Fortunately we were able to secure funding from Arts Council England through their Major Partner Museum funding programme.  As a result we have been able to create an online learning package that includes a series of short films. 

Here is an article I co-authored with Helen Ward, Deputy Head of Education at the Ashmolean, reviewing the project. 

Styluses versus Pencils
The use of digital sketchbooks in museums and galleries

As Museum educators in Oxford we work with literally thousands of pupils every year who visit the collections of the Ashmolean (Oxford University Museums) to research their art themes.  Interestingly we also see hundreds of Asian pupils on group visits engaged in a similar task of research. One of the subtle differences between the two groups however is that the British pupils come armed with pencils, while the Asian pupils carry styluses.

This observation prompted a series of discussions with the local network of art teachers called Oxford Art Teach (OAT) and colleagues from the NSEAD in which we mapped the use of digital sketchbooks as a tool for research among secondary art departments. The results were a patchwork of answers shaped by financial constraints, the multiplicity of apps and a lack of technical confidence.

Working with the Ashmolean, and with support from Arts Council England through their Partner Museum Funding Programme we decided to make a series of online tutorial films. In partnership with The Marlborough Church of England School, their art staff and year 9 and 12 pupils, we featured 3 free apps; Pic Collage, Brushes3 and 123D Catch. The Oxford University Media Production Unit filmed in the galleries of the Museum and in the school sessions: 

You can watch more of the films here. The aim was to show how simple, effective and fun tablets are for gathering information. We found in every session the pupils were engaged with annotating, photographing, drawing, editing and searching the web to extend their research. We hoped the films would also provide the inspiration for teachers to start integrating these technologies into their future museum and gallery visits.  

On reflection of course there is no real battle between the Stylus and the Pencil. The pencil offers the potential for scale, immediacy and a personal signature that is unique. But in terms of quickly harvesting information in a museum or gallery, the digital sketchbook wins hands down. It can replicate media from watercolour to oil paint, capture, crop and store photos, annotate, draw with anything from charcoal to a 6H pencil, and then undo and start again in second.  Finally, the work can be sent home and arrive before the pupils have left the galleries.

Read more about the digital sketchbooks project.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Welcome Carly!

Our new Family Education Officer, Carly Smith-Huggins, joined us at the end of August and has already organised several events.  Here she is to tell us a bit more about herself and about how she got on with her first Under 5s event.  

Our new Family Education Officer! © Pitt Rivers Museum
"Hello, I have just joined the Pitt Rivers Education team as the Families Education Officer. I will be delivering all the family activities and workshops that happen in the museum including Pitt Stops and special sessions for under 5s. I am really excited about getting stuck in and creating activities and resources for all families to enjoy.

For the past 8 months I have been working as the Heritage Learning Assistant at the Museum of Oxford, which is based in the Town Hall. Whilst I was there I worked with families and schools, and adult community groups. I managed and delivered the family programme, delivering monthly family workshops about the stories of Oxford on a variety of topics from the Romans to the Tudors, as well as designing trails. I also worked with adult community groups to inspire them to produce artwork for an exhibition that is going to be opening this month in the Town Hall.

Before that I was a HLF Skills for the Future trainee working with the Oxford University Education departments to become a Museum Education Officer. I did three placements at the Ashmolean, Museum of the History of Science, and the Museum of Natural History.

I have been at the Pitt Rivers for four weeks now and have run three events so far; making masks, parrot fish lanterns, and sponge boats! This week I ran an event called Row, Row, Row your boat for under 5s. For this we made Sea Explorer Hats and Sponge Boats. I also took the children and their carers around the museum on a Row Boat Adventure Tour. On the tour we looked for boats in the museum finding out a bit more about a few of them. We could have spent all day looking for boats, as there are so many! We also spotted some hidden treasure under one of the museum cases… There was also a model of a Salama boat for children to play with and use their imaginations to pretend they were at sea.

Carly Rows out to Sea © Pitt Rivers Museum

I am really enjoying my new role at the Pitt Rivers Museum. I am looking forward to working with the Education team and discovering more about all the fascinating objects in the museum and handling collections. 

Look out for our next Under 5s event on Thursday 9th October 10.30-12.30, and 14.00-16.00 which is all about Animal Antics!  Come and see what animals you can track down in the Museum..." 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Bags and bags of fun

Here is our intern Hannah reporting on family backpack activities run every Tuesday over the summer between 2-4pm:

"Well what a busy summer it was handing out backpacks to the public! Lucky visitors had the chance to borrow a backpack and explore the collections in the Pitt Rivers and Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Visitors would pick which collection they would like to explore and then take their bag around the Museum to discover many wonderful objects. In the Pitt Rivers the bags were based on our Egypt collection. You could dress up to look like the god Horus or even wrap each other up like our mummy!

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History either had a bag all about dinosaurs (always very popular!) or a bag to explore all things creepy crawly. But if you were going to be a true explorer you of course needed to take your very own explorer hat to complete the look!

Modelling Explorer Hats © Pitt Rivers Museum

My task was to make sure that all our bags came back, were checked and recorded so they could be sent off again. This was often a rather lively task and we would have a queue of visitors eager to get going to explore the Museum with a bag. We had to try our best to stay calm and go as quickly as possible. We worked out that over 50 bags went out each time!

Handing Out Backpacks© Pitt Rivers Museum 

It was really lovely to see so many happy faces taking their bags around the Museum and I think the parents really loved having an extra thing to help engage their children with the collections. We received great feedback about how wonderful it was for the children and that it was suitable for all ages- even for little ones that could just sit down calmly and have a play".

Friday, 19 September 2014

BIG (British Interactive Group) Event

Here is the Volunteers and Outreach Officer, Caroline Cheeseman, to tell us what she got up to at the BIG event  this summer which was hosted by the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Museum of the History of Science:

"Between 23rd and 25th July 2014, 183 science communicators from around the country gathered at the museums for the BIG Event 2014. BIG (British Interactive Group) is a skills-sharing network full of lots of creative, energetic, enthusiastic people working to raise the profile of science, technology, engineering, and maths.

"There was plenty of the hard science you might expect, but I wanted to present an alternative way of thinking about scientific understanding as part of the session, ‘Is there a Doctor in the House?’, so while other presenters talked about nasal speculums and penicillin, I talked about teaching the history of medicine using ‘non-medical’ objects.

A fertility doll, a food cover, and a fox… © Pitt Rivers Museum

"Passing around an assortment of museum handling objects, including a kohl pot, a fertility doll, a food cover, various fossils and amulets, and a fox, I talked about everything from objects as alternative medical records to objects as protection against the Evil Eye. I was especially pleased with one of my slides, which showed two southern Italian amulets associated with the goddess Diana: one from the Pitt Rivers Museum and the other from the Museum of the History of Science, making the point very neatly that they can be understood in many different contexts! You can hear more about some of the charms against the Evil Eye on display in the Pitt Rivers in this extract from the visitors' audio guide:

Ammonite carved with snake's head. PRM 1985.55.1015
"Using a slug on a thorn – one of my favourite Pitt Rivers objects – as inspiration, I finished by talking about sympathetic magic: challenging the audience to a guessing game. Once they got the hang of looking for ‘correspondence’ (the idea that the appearance of an object in some way resembles the cure or protection it is believed to offer), they were able to see how people might think that both a fossil ammonite, which looks a bit like a curled-up snake, and a Martynia seed amulet, which looks a bit like snake fangs, could be used against snake bites. As for the fox, well, you’ll have to look up ‘Pulmones Vulpium’ to find out..!

"The presentation was based on by a six-week Joint Museums Outreach project I did with a local Mind group in 2012."

Friday, 29 August 2014

Museum Discovery Day

Last month Salma and Maya trialled their new Need Make Use workshop for Museum Discovery Day with over 100 Year 8 pupils from Marlborough Schoolorganised into 3 groups.

Need Make Use Workshop © Pitt Rivers Museum

This new workshop aimed to get students thinking about human creativity and ingenuity, and how people design and make what they need from the materials they have around them. 

Object Handling Table © Pitt Rivers Museum
An introduction to the Pitt Rivers followed by discussion and object handling got the students thinking about what needs people have - from the basic need to survive to more complex things like art, culture, communication and identity. 

Students had to consider how to design and make an object so that it would do what it is meant to do. But they also had to think about how the design would be influenced by factors such as materials, environment and identity. Each scenario was created by students choosing an identity, an environment, and a need from three different pots. 

One group selected a chief from a mountainous region who needed to design a mask to use in a ritual that would help the community deal with a difficulty.  If this sounds like a really tall order, Marlborough School rose to the challenge in an ingenious way.  They decided that the problem the community had was making money so they designed a mask made out of goatskin and leaves marked with the symbols and colours of success - red, gold and money signs.  The students felt that this should be a bright cheerful mask used to round up the community to creative positive vibes, get people networking and talking about how to make life and business more prosperous, so they could sell more mountain goat products like cheese, milk and things made out of hide. 

Another group designed a fierce animal mask that a ten-year-old boy could use in the forest to help him prepare for his first hunting trip. They felt that masks help us transform ourselves, so the boy could pretend to be a fierce hunting animal and then feel brave and strong ready to join the men on the hunt. 

Annotated student design © Pitt Rivers Museum
Here is an example of a student design for a specific need, identity and environment.

Having fun and being imaginative and creative was the order of the day.  Well done Marlborough school for coming up with so many fantastic creative designs and standing up in front of everyone to explain them.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Goodbye Simone

We are very sad to say goodbye to our brilliant Family Education Officer, Simone Dogherty, who has left to become Family Learning Programme Manager at the Museum of London.  Her last day was Friday 12th July and as she also worked in the Education department at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, she totalled five celebratory leaving events.

Over lunch we quizzed her about some of her highlights and she said the project she was most proud of was Toys for Smiles.  This was a project done in collaboration with The United Nations Refugee Agency, Aviation Without Borders and the International Scouts and Guides Federation which encouraged local families to donate toys which were sent to a Syrian Refugee camp in Za'atri, Jordan.  The aim was to connect local and international children through the common medium of toys.  Over 2,200 toys were collected from local families and packed into 114 boxes which were sent to Za'atr.  

This moving short film shows some of the very toys packed by Simone and her colleagues being distributed to children:

We asked Simone what key skill her successor would have to have and she said strong arms to put all the tables up!  Diplomatically she also said that the best thing about the job were the people she worked with.  The nature of her post meant that she worked with a lot of volunteers and she was well known for giving them her favourite biscuit - a jammie dodger.  So of course one of her presents had to be a jammie dodger cushion! 
Simone and the Jammie Dodger Cushion © Pitt Rivers Museum

We wish Simone a fabulous time at the Museum of London but we are going to miss her good cheer, superwoman efficiency and creativity enormously.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Introducing the Outreach Team

The Museum regularly hosts workshops for lots of different audiences – adults, families, prospective students, and school groups – as a way of providing access to the collections through hands-on activities. Working with the Oxford University Museums and Collections Outreach Team, we deliver regular workshops for adults, families and children both in the museum and also based in the community around Oxford and Oxfordshire. The team, who comprise Susan Griffiths and Nicola Bird, aims to break down real or perceived barriers to visiting the University’s museums and collections by taking collections material out to groups all over the county. They also represent the University’s Museum of the History of Science, Ashmolean,  Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum.  To find out more, visit the Outreach website or follow them on twitter @MuseumsOutreach

Susan Griffiths and Nicola Bird © Pitt Rivers Museum

Here is an example of an event the Outreach Team recently hosted in the Pitt Rivers Museum:
On the 21st June, a professional development day for Art Therapists was run at the Pitt Rivers Museum.   A full day’s programme was organised, looking at the work the Outreach Team does with community groups and how we engage people with objects.  The participants were also given a tour of the museums and a talk from the Pitt Rivers Education Service about how they use the collections to engage young people with art. 

We also discussed how the museums and the Outreach Service can help support them to use the museums and their collections to work with their clients.  The afternoon was then free for the artists to work on their own professional practice, using the museum as inspiration for their own artworks. 

Artwork inspired by Pitt Rivers collections © Martha Evans
Art Therapist Professional Development Day © Martha Evans
Poisson Beware © Martha Evans