For the children
tv in ba
Editor Mike Pitts
Not Afraid to Break Things
The Reticulum Project, at the Museum of Antiquities, University of Newcastle, was one of four finalists for the prestigious Gulbenkian Museum Prize awarded in May. Jo Catling explains Reticulumâ€™s special success
The aim was to use museum resources to help children understand Roman life in the north of England. In achieving that, the Reticulum Project has reached much further, from museum shop staff and parents to visits to other sites and museums.
It began in 2000 as a partnership between the Museum of Antiquities and the First Schools in the Blyth Valley, Northumberland, as part of the Museums & Galleries Education Programme (MGEP) of the then Department for Education & Employment. Staff continued into 2002 working with First Schools along the Northumberland coastal strip. Last year we received a Heritage Lottery Fund award for the new Flavinus Project. This enables us to work with rural schools in particular, for whom isolation, transport costs and small numbers make it difficult for children to gain the access to museums that others take for granted.
As project education officer, I work with teachers in both museum and classroom. Handling artefacts, replicas and models is a key feature of all lessons. This emphasis on seeing and touching, with the realisation that there is not always a â€˜rightâ€™ answer in archaeology, places children on a â€˜level playing fieldâ€™, regardless of literacy skills. As one teacher commented, formal differentiation is unnecessary: pupils approach the activities from their own ability level and all are engaged. Confidence feeds into childrenâ€™s written work and shows in the effort that many of them make. Almost without exception, teachers say children on the Special Needs register are amongst the most forthcoming in class discussions. Meanwhile the more able are challenged to think laterally and to deduce information from available evidence. All are helped to develop thinking skills, important across the curriculum.
During the course of Reticulum we created a teacherâ€™s pack with practical suggestions relevant to National Curriculum objectives for History and the Literacy Hour. A booklist, gazetteer and creative ideas were also included. These materials were developed according to teachersâ€™ and childrenâ€™s experiences, and in autumn 2003 published as This Way to the Northern Frontier: Tribes & Romans in Northern Britain (funded by the Department for Education & Skills under MGEP Phase II and the Heritage Lottery award for Flavinus). All First Schools in Northumberland, as well as Middle Schools expressing an interest, received the pack free. Schools from other regions can buy it.
Before final publication approximately 300 children and their teachers at ten schools piloted the ideas in the pack, and 21 schools have trialled the finished product. The response has been enormously encouraging. The level of teacher acknowledgements is the highest we have ever received and all comments have been very supportive. In service training (INSET) to help teachers use the pack, run jointly with Northumberland LEA, is to take place soon. At the university the project has featured in the training of future teachers and museum professionals.
Reticulum is Latin for â€˜netâ€™. The website, which complements the school work, is an informative mix of text and images aimed primarily at Key Stage 2 but with wide appeal (http://museums.ncl.ac.uk/reticulum). Children provide most of the illustrations and parts of the content, which are supplemented by images of objects from the museumâ€™s collection, maps and diagrams. The website is continually updated as childrenâ€™s work becomes available. The chance to have something displayed on the web has acted as a powerful stimulus: children of all abilities have contributed, spurring on those who sometimes feel their work is â€˜not good enoughâ€™.
To complement traditional teaching methods, staff have explored video-conferencing and e-mail. The former has not been very successful, but the installation of interactive whiteboards in many First Schools in Northumberland offers great potential. Lowgate First School, for example, used the whiteboard to communicate a PowerPoint presentation to two nearby schools. Based on work previously undertaken with the project education officer, a version can be seen in the website Forum section (click on Lowgate First School). Whole classes can use web pages for their research and the included maps provide teachers with an instant resource.
E-mail allows children to consult museum staff and, through them, gain access to the expertise of other professionals: university archaeologists, the Hadrianâ€™s Wall Education Forum, Northumberland National Park and English Heritage. This enhances the childrenâ€™s research as well as raising their awareness of other archaeological issues. Thus children from St Michaelâ€™s Church of England First School, Alnwick, discussed the rights and wrongs of metal detecting and the deposition of finds. Such events engender a real sense of ownership, something that is very important when so much is being preserved for â€˜future generationsâ€™. Further opportunities for children to use e-mail are provided through Remusâ€™s Trading Game, a â€˜virtualâ€™ card swapping activity.
A CD ROM incorporating the website and This Way to the Northern Frontier is planned for the summer. Texts and images from Remusâ€™s Trading Game will be included, further increasing access to the Museum of Antiquitiesâ€™ collection. The pack, in printed and electronic versions, will present a fully integrated resource, supporting the teaching of the Roman period and sustaining the impact of the project beyond its lifespan.
The project greatly benefits school museum visits. Already familiar with staff, pupils arrive with an enhanced expectancy. They view objects on display with greater awareness thanks to observational skills learnt in the classroom, and they are more confident when asking questions. Teachers report that on trips to other sites and museums children are more observant and engaged than previous groups not involved in the project.
The impact of museum visits has not been restricted to children. Parents or grandparents who would never otherwise have entered the university or museum buildings accompany many groups. Two unemployed fathers visiting with one school were as enthralled and eager to ask questions as the children. All museum staff have become involved, including the secretary, shop staff, technician and librarian, giving children a wider understanding of the museum. Portraits on the website, drawn by children from Slaley and Warkworth First Schools, have given museum staff a real sense of involvement.
As the project grows, children within our region benefit from productive relationships between the schools, museum, Northumberland LEA and the wider community of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. As one parent said of a museum visit: â€˜Itâ€™s great here. Because itâ€™s friendly the children are relaxed and youâ€™re not afraid that theyâ€™ll break things all the time!â€™
look what I've done!
Children and archaeology? Not everyone thinks the two go together. Towse Harrisonâ€™s experiences say otherwise
My partner Graham and I were â€˜turned offâ€™ history at school. Having rediscovered our passions after a series of happy accidents â€“ Graham started as a Viking, while I was inspired to do my first degree by Michael Woodâ€™s TV series In Search of the Dark Agesâ€”we decided to find ways of passing on that inspiration. We have now been professionally interpreting our cultural heritage and history for ten years.
Our main clients have been museums, schools and historic sites. We bring an accessible, fun and hands-on approach to history. We were part of the group that five years ago set up the Chiltern Branch of the Young Archaeologists Club.
Last year we were asked by Susan Ploetz of the Bedfordshire and Luton Education Business Partnership to design week-long courses for their summer school, supported by the New Opportunities Fund. So History Detectives for 9-13 year olds and Archaeo-History for 14-19 year olds were bornâ€”and fully subscribed.
Each group had an escorted visit. History Detectives went to Sutton Hoo. Archaeo-Historians learnt basic excavation techniques at the County Archaeological Services site near Grafton Regis, Northants, and spent a practical day with John and Val Lord. Our own sessions continued the theme of practical and experimental topics, using our collection of original and replica objects
We had decided that it would be sensible, and polite, to ascertain the older teenagersâ€™ individual interests. While this required some quick thinking, it lent much to the success of the week, allowing them ownership of the course and breaking down inhibitions. It also led to some unexpectedly fruitful discussions. Iraq had just been invaded by the Western Allies. The teenagers considered the Bayeux Tapestry as Norman propaganda, comparing it to media coverage of Iraq and terrorism. We did not always agree, but their enthusiasm for a detailed study of a 930 year old primary source was a sheer delight.
We investigated contemporary rubbish and written documents, realising how easy it is to make erroneous interpretations about the lives of people in the present (and past). We knapped flint. One young woman found an intuitive skill with flint nodules that amazed her and her peers. The rest of us discovered that even pressure flaking was not as easy as John Lord made it look.
A father came in increasingly early as the week progressed. Finally, in agreement with his Detective daughter, we let him join in. â€˜Look what Iâ€™ve done!â€™ he crowed, holding up his length of nettle string.
We tried to make ink from different recipes (with varying degrees of success); we hardened and cut quill pens from swanâ€™s feathers; and we created our own versions of Anglo-Saxon and Medieval illuminated manuscripts. We looked at mosaic design and made some micro versions. We created our own images of gods, goddesses and gargoyles and some splendid votive offerings based on human anatomy. A practical workshop on Roman medicine and surgery led to an interesting discussion about vegetarianism â€“ we were stitching a nasty gash in a pigâ€™s trotter and lower leg at the time!
Outside, we investigated all the ways it might be possible to make fire, most of us discovering that without matches it would be raw food and a cold night ahead for us. The teenage pyromaniacs experimented with different fuel sources, different sorts of fats (some very smelly) and oils, moss, dry rotten wood and home baked tinder using a cotton handkerchief.
We learnt a simple, but hugely addictive, weaving technique. We looked at the development of armour and weapons and had a go at making mail with pliers and small metal rings. The History Detectives were amazed to discover just how much there was to see and talk about in the nearby Medieval church, and we realised we could design a week based on the church alone.
Perhaps of significance especially for those concerned about the bias of the history curriculum in schools and universities, Archaeo-Historians requested a course of what they called â€˜realâ€™ history: â€˜not modernâ€™, based on people (conspiracies and scandals were particularly mentioned) and real lives rather than economics and politics.
One of our 16 year old Archaeo-Historians signed up to do A Level Archaeology in her own time. A History Detective sent us photos of the Exhibition of Artefacts he held for his family and friends. In the spirit of Michael Wood, we have passed on the passion.
Opportunities for young people to have practical involvement with history and archaeology, especially the kind that sweetens the pill of prescriptive curriculum schooling, are, I believe, very limited. Our personal school experience has not always been good. Working with young people much of the time, I appreciate the need for Risk Assessments, Health & Safety Regulations and insurance arrangements. These measures, however, are sometimes used to deny access.
Five years ago, when we were setting up the Chiltern Branch of YAC, someone who should have known better asked â€˜What has archaeology got to do with children?â€™ Now we will be expanding our course programme and moving into other out-of-school activities. Graham will be running two courses based on â€˜Tolkien and his Historiesâ€™: one session will compare the fantasy land of Rohan with the culture suggested by the Sutton Hoo burial ground. What a fantastic opportunity to pass on the passion!
Towse and Graham Harrison are at Sun Jester (Consultants for Education & Lifelong Learning), email firstname.lastname@example.org
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005