Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Training day on teaching the Stone Age to the Iron Age

On 22 January 2016 The Pitt Rivers Museum hosted a training day on how museums and primary school teachers can help to deliver the KS2 History topic 'Changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age'.  The event was run by Kim Biddulph, Director of Schools Prehistory, and supported by The Pitt Rivers Museum and The Ashmolean.

Kim gives an overview to British Prehistory © Pitt Rivers Museum

Over 20 teachers and museum professionals gathered to share approaches for engaging primary school pupils with the new curriculum topic.  Kim gave an introduction that took us through a million years of human history in Britain, looking at the major changes during this period, and breaking down the huge time scales involved into teachable blocks.  Delegates were delighted to receive giant printed timelines to take away with them; representatives from an outdoor learning centre talked about recreating this timeline on the entire side of a building in their grounds.

Object handling in the Stone Age to Iron Age training day at Pitt Rivers © Pitt Rivers Museum

All delegates then experienced the Pitt Rivers Museum's Stone Age to Iron Age KS2 workshop, developed in conjunction with Kim Biddulph.  Using a giant printed timeline, participants were challenged to identify which time period four sets of handling objects came from. Were they Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), Neolithic (New Stone Age), Bronze Age or Iron Age?  Objects ranged from stone age arrowheads to bronze axeheads and participants discovered key changes in technology and beliefs during British prehistory.  To find out more about this session and how to book click here.

Kim makes paint using suet and red ochre © Pitt Rivers Museum

Kim demonstrated many practical ideas that can be used to help people understand what life was like in British Prehistory.  Participants made paint from suet and red ochre pigment and made marks on leather swatches. They also tried using a fire-bow, making bramble cord, imitating flint-knapping using potatoes, casting chocolate axe-heads, shaping soap into spear heads (Pears soap is the best!) and making wool using a spindle cord.

Demonstrating how to use a fire-bow © Pitt Rivers Museum

In the afternoon delegates moved to The Ashmolean to find out about the KS2 British Prehistory workshop offered there and the fabulous digital resources they have developed to support the topic.  The session is based in the Prehistory Gallery, showcasing artefacts in chronological order from the Stone Age to the Iron Age.  The workshop for schools involves a mixture of handling genuine artefacts and spotting objects in the Gallery.  You can find out more about 'Living in the Stone Age' by watching a set of films specially commissioned by The Ashmolean on subjects from fish trapping to flint-knapping to fire-making.

British Prehistory Workshop at The Ashmolean © Pitt Rivers Museum

Participants said that the day had been 'inspiring' with a great combination of 'practical creative ideas' and 'clear information from an expert'.  As heritage venues and primary school teachers explore how to support the new curriculum area of British Prehistory, there is no doubt that there are many great resources and workshops already out there!

Becca McVean
Education Officer (Primary)

Friday, 29 January 2016

Teacher Training at the University Museums

The University Museums hosted a training day on 21st January for over 80 trainee teachers as part of The Cherwell OTSA SCITT scheme. The Primary and Secondary School teachers were welcomed by Tom Hilton, the Salaried School Direct Programme Leader and Cherwell History teacher, who introduced the focus of the day - how we can learn from objects.  As Jo Rice, Head of Education at The Ashmolean explained, some people might refer to it as 'material culture', 'artefacts', or 'objects', but at the end of the day Museums have 'stuff' and it is how we use that stuff to stimulate and enrich learning that is so exciting.

Practical activity started in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History as teachers took part in an object icebreaker which was like a speed dating event!  Museum Education Officers wowed and wooed teachers with objects from their collections, showcasing how objects can be used to stimulate questioning and analytical skills.  As teachers moved round handling stations they handled a diverse range of objects from Chinese tea bricks used as currency to fossilised dinosaur poo.

Teachers visited three different venues, experiencing sessions that might be delivered to their chosen age groups at the Natural History Museum, the Pitt Rivers and The Ashmolean. They also visited the Museum of the History of Science.

Secondary School teachers investigate objects at the Pitt Rivers © Pitt Rivers Museum

Primary School teachers ask questions at the Pitt Rivers © Pitt Rivers Museum
There was much practical discussion about how activities could be transferred to the classroom.  As the Primary School Education Officer at the Pitt Rivers Museum, I ran a 'History Detective' session which encourages participants to read objects as they piece together the identity of a mystery person from looking at their objects.  We talked about how in a classroom setting a container of objects could be used to dramatise topic work and encourage enquiry skills. At The Ashmolean primary and secondary teachers were shown creative ways to engage with paintings.

Exploring Objects in the History Detective Session © Pitt Rivers Museum

It was an exciting and positive experience, and as one teacher wrote in an e-mail to Tom that evening:

"Completely pooped with loads still to do this evening - including prepping for another lesson observation tomorrow and feeding my hungry children!  Just had to take a moment however to say what a totally fantastic day I've had today. Hugely valuable experience.

Museum team were just brilliant with heaps of practical tips not just for visits but lovely creative learning opportunities that could be transferred to the classroom.  Brain is buzzing and (physical exhaustion aside) feeling quite re-energised".

If you are interested in organising a teacher training event at the Pitt Rivers Museum, please contact: education@prm.ox.ac.uk

Becca McVean
Primary School Education Officer

Saturday, 16 January 2016

'Mythology by Moonlight' - update about March 2016 Takeover event by Matthew Arnold School students

A big focus for the Pitt Rivers Education team is the forthcoming Mythology by Moonlight evening Takeover event on Saturday 5 March 2016 (6-9pm).

The event is being organised and run by a group of students from Matthew Arnold School in Oxford, who came up with the Mythology theme. We have invited college and university students to run public events at Pitt Rivers Museum before, but this is the first time we have invited a group of students aged 14 – 18 to programme and run an event - so we are excited!

The event will be a celebration of myths from various cultures that are represented by objects in the museum. Haida mythology, in particular stories about Raven, are going to be a key focus of the evening. The myths link with several Haida museum objects that depict Raven. You can find out more about Haida Raven myths here

Here are some objects from the Pitt Rivers collection that depict Raven:

Ivory carving of a raven's head with a human figure
in the beak 1884.58.5 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Horn spoon depicting a whale, thunderbird, frog, Raven
transforming and a human 1917.53.283 © Pitt Rivers Museum

Raven Transformation mask closed (top) and open (bottom)
 1891.49.8 © Pitt Rivers Museum

House pole ('Totem pole') carved with raven, bear,
human, bird and frog 1901.39.1© Pitt Rivers Museum

Find out more about Haida collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum here.

Now that the event is less than two months away we are focusing on working together on the details of planning to make sure that everything is in place. Our planning meetings range from discussions about the production of the films that the students will make especially for screening at the event, to the event poster and ticket sales.

Last week we had a project meeting at the museum attended by the four Sixth Form students who have been working closely on the project. Once mock exams are over for Year 11 and Year 13 next week the whole group will meet again at school.

Students and Pitt Rivers staff discussing the poster design for Mythology by Moonlight event on 5 March 2016
© Pitt Rivers Museum
This project is the beginning of what will become the Pitt Rivers Youth Action Team. We hope to run more events like this in the future, as well as other special Pitt Rivers-related activities created by young people, so if you are interested in joining the team get in touch with Katherine: katherine.rose@prm.ox.ac.uk or call 01865 270927.

All are welcome to come on the night (Saturday 5 March 2016 6-9pm)! The event is ticketed. Tickets will go on sale soon – watch this space!
Katherine Rose
Education Officer (Secondary and FE)

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Rockin' Reindeer Christmas Trail

This Christmas we're testing your reindeer spotting skills! Can you spot all the reindeer in the Museum with our festive Rockin' Reindeer Trail? The trail is based across both the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History and will highlight lots of reindeer related objects in the collections.

Can you spot all 10 reindeer across the Museums? © Pitt Rivers Museum

Here's a sneak peek of one of the objects featured in the trail: 

Reindeer skin knickers, Siberia 1915.50.111 © Pitt Rivers Museum
These knickers would have been worn by people who lived in cold places like Siberia in Russia. They are made from reindeer skin and the fur is on the inside to keep the person wearing them warm and cosy, which was essential as temperatures can drop to -50 c. These knickers would have been worn by a woman with leggings and thigh high boots. They are not often worn today because the skills of making them lie with the older generation. Also most Inuit and Evenki peoples living in Alaska and northern Russia live in heated homes so there isn't such a need to wear them. Some people still wear them but on rare occasions such as when hunting. 

Come and take a closer look at these reindeer skin knickers in the Museum and discover more reindeer objects that we have on display. The trail runs from Saturday 19th December until Sunday 3rd January during opening hours

Carly Smith-Huggins, Families Education Officer

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

'Mythology by Moonlight' – a Museum Takeover project at Pitt Rivers Museum

We are excited to be working with nine students from Matthew Arnold School in Oxford on a Museum Takeover project. Their Takeover event, 'Mythology by Moonlight', will take place at the Museum on Saturday 5 March 2016 from 6-9pm and will be open to members of the public. Tickets will go on sale in January 2016. 

The project involves the students curating, planning and running all aspects of the evening event. The event will focus on myths and mythological characters from different cultures represented in the museum. There will be live music, craft activities, ‘mythology’ explainers and the screening of films created by the students. 

The project began with a training day held at the Pitt Rivers Museum in October 2015 where students from schools and colleges across Oxfordshire met to explore ideas for activities and events that they could run in museums. It was a day full of creativity and great ideas about how to get museums buzzing.

Since then the students have been meeting once a week in school to work on their plans for their Takeover event. As the Secondary School and FE Education Officer, I have been joining the meetings every other week. In November they visited the museum for a ‘behind the scenes tour’. We visited the Photographic Archive, where we looked in the Photographic Store, and saw the different types of historic photographs and negatives that are held by the museum. 

Tour of photographic archive with assistant curator Kathy Clough © Pitt Rivers Museum

We then had a tour of the Conservation Studio where conservators work using special equipment and techniques to care for artefacts in the collection and ensure they are preserved for future generations. 

Visiting the conservation lab with conservator Andrew Hughes © Pitt Rivers Museum

After that we went into the museum after it had closed to the public and had a chance to explore the collection, and see the different light effects that are possible for special events. 

Museum after hours! © Pitt Rivers Museum
Finally we heard from Maddie Ding, the VERVE Volunteer Coordinator, all about the planning and running of the ‘Day of the Dead’ special event held at the museum on 30 October, 2015.

Discussing how to plan an event in the museum © Pitt Rivers Museum
 Cyra, a participating student who is also coordinating event-planning on behalf of the Takeover group, said: “I thought that the visit was very worthwhile and it opened my eyes to the things that go on behind the scenes in a museum. I never knew that there was so much preparation that went into making the museum tick and it was fascinating to hear about the processes that go into keeping the museum and its artefacts safe.” The students will visit the museum again in this month.

The project is a partnership between museums across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire who are all working with young people on Museum Takeover events. The museums are working together in this way to help each other make their museums as welcoming as possible to young people and to plan more events like this in the future. It is funded by South East Museum Development programme. It is supported by Kids in Museums as part of their national Takeover Day initiative. 

Katherine Rose, Education Officer (Secondary and FE)

Museum Takeover students in the Pitt Rivers Education Office © Pitt Rivers Museum

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Take One... Totem Pole

Take One... Totem Pole is a highly successful primary school project which has been running at the Pitt Rivers Museum for the last year.  It is part of the National Gallery's Take One... brand which encourages schools to take one picture or object, and use it as a springboard for pupils' critical and creative thinking.  Pupils are challenged to find out the story of the 11.36m high totem pole in the Museum.
Totem Pole 1901.39.1  © Pitt Rivers Museum


The philosophy behind the project is that an entire school takes the object as a focus for their curriculum planning, ideally leading to a celebratory whole school event.  This year we have worked with West Oxford Community Primary School, St Swithuns CE Primary School, Cholsey Primary School and Bishop Carpenter CE Primary School.  The project is supported by a set of Teacher Notes and whole staff INSET is offered.

Art display at West Oxford Primary School © Pitt Rivers Museum

During the summer West Oxford Community Primary School made Take One... Totem Pole the focus of their art week. Every single class visited the Museum for a 75 minute taught session to experience the totem pole and find out more about it.  Pupils discovered that the totem pole comes from Haida Gwaii, a group of islands off the North-West coast of Canada.  They found out more about the traditions of the Haida people, and handled a variety of their objects from deer-hoof rattles to carved paddles.  They also heard about the stories linked to the totem pole and about the mischievous raven!  Back at school each class took a different creative response such as making raven masks or sewing button blankets. These artworks were displayed at a week long exhibition to which parents and the local community were invited.

Haida-inspired button blanket © Pitt Rivers Museum
Raven Masks © Pitt Rivers Museum

At the start of September St Swithuns C of E Primary School, Kennington, took part in Take One... Totem Pole involving just under 400 pupils in a 3 week project.  This culminated in an open afternoon for parents in which they could see all the childrens' creative responses.  There were totem poles lining the corridors made from all sorts of materials!

Totem pole at St Swithuns
© Pitt Rivers Museum
Nursery Class totem pole at St Swithuns
© Pitt Rivers Museum

Totem poles made from Pringle containers!
© Pitt Rivers Museum

If you are interested in participating in Take One... Totem Pole please contact Becca McVean at education@prm.ox.ac.uk

Watch out for the new Take One Object which will be revealed in January 2016....

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Preserving What is Valued: Tom of Holland's Darning Workshop

Currently on at the Pitt Rivers Museum is the 'Preserving What is Valued' case display and museum trail.  It demonstrates how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture.  Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made.  If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance.  Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object's history differently.
Gourd vessel decoratively repaired using beads © Pitt Rivers Museum
I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events around this display.  My name is Tom and I'm a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this Programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion's throwaway culture.  By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

'A Mother's Work' - Repair commission for private client © Tom of Holland
The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as duplicate stitching, which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.

Swiss darning in action © Pitt Rivers Museum
The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom.  It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes.  Of course this is best known for sock repairs.
A completed practice swatch © Pitt Rivers Museum
Throughout the class, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens.  Half-way through the class we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.

Repaired muslin handkerchief © Pitt Rivers Museum
Comb repaired with a riveted metal strip © Pitt Rivers Museum
I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future.  I won't go into too much detail, as it's fun to go and see it all for yourself! 

The Preserving What is Valued case display and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June - 3 January 2016.  For more information click here.

Workshop participants show off their new skills © Pitt Rivers Museum