Saturday, 23 May 2015

Working with Skills for the Future Museum Education & Outreach Trainees - Clare Coleman, Early Years to Key Stage 2 Education Officer, Ashmolean

It’s hard to believe that four years have passed since I met our first cohort of HLF Skills for the Future trainees. Having trainees around does create extra work but my overriding sense is that I have learned a great deal from them.  Their enthusiasm for learning and willingness to share ideas as well as question how we can best engage our visitors with our collections has given me the chance to reflect almost daily on best practice in museum education.

I feel really fortunate that I had the opportunity to work particularly closely with four of the trainees with primary schools over the course of the project. There have been many highlights. Many hours spent with Lea Kloppinger from cohort one thrashing ideas around and designing sessions and resources for a complex Philosophy for Schools project. Calm Carol Walthew stepping up as a fantastic assistant during our first ever BookFeast event – hundreds of children…all went smoothly. She had great design skills too! Mentoring Carly Smith-Huggins during her fabulous final project ‘Curious Curators’…So good that I have had to pinch that idea! I will always be grateful to Carly for the Curious Curators idea, and I am absolutely delighted that I now get to call her my colleague, as she works in the education departments at the Pitt Rivers Museums and Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  

Then, after a long absence from work, it has been a delight to get to know Corie Edwards. She has been generous with her time allowing me to observe plenty of her taught sessions and pick her brains about what she thinks has worked best in sessions I designed last September but have not seen until recently. Corie is a natural educator and has fabulous questioning skills. She is quick to build a rapport with primary aged children. They love her warm style and the way she values each child’s input. I have seen her grow in confidence in her delivery of a wide range of sessions ranging from British Prehistory, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Anglo-Saxons and creative writing activities during this year’s Bookfeast literature festival.

Clare (l) and Corie (r)

Soon we will be saying goodbye to this final cohort of trainees. As with the previous trainees, I will be truly sorry to see them go and wish them all the best in their future careers. And, sadly, we will also be saying farewell to Neil Stevenson, Mentor and Project Manager, without whom Skills for the Future would never have happened. An all-round good and a valued colleague!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Craft Café: Planning a Museum Project from Scratch - Aisling Serrant

As a final part of our year long HLF Skills for the Future Traineeship we have each had to devise and run an independent project of our choosing.

The project I chose to run was a series of 4 two-hour craft sessions for adults on Sundays at the Pitt Rivers Museum called Craft Café. The idea for this developed when I noticed a lack of informal arts and craft sessions aimed at adults in Oxford. There are plenty of classes which teach a specific skill, for example painting, often as part of a course people have to sign up for. However I wanted to provide a more casual experience, a chance for visitors to relax and meet new people, and a place people could experiment and explore without the pressure of feeling like they have to be particularly skilled or experienced at art.

As this was my independent project I was responsible for all aspects of the project and so my initial stages of planning were making lists and timelines of these aspects and how they fitted in with each other. Here I have broken down the various stages of the planning process in the order they were carried out to give an idea of how the project progressed.

- Initial Ideas: Who it would be for, when it would run and if people would have to pay to attend. One of the main aims for the project was for it to be accessible to anyone and so I didn’t want to charge too much, however I wanted to test if the project could cover its costs if it were to run again in the future, so I decided on a fee of £3. This stage also involved thinking of a name which would represent what I wanted the project to achieve, and forming some initial ideas for craft activities to run.

- Meeting with the team: Craft Café ran as part of a larger Pitt Rivers Project called the Verve project. At this stage I had a meeting with the team to check they were happy with the direction the project was moving in and confirm some of my initial ideas were practical. Certain ideas did need to be adapted such as the sessions running on Sunday daytime instead of a weekday evening as I had originally planned which was for staffing reasons.

- Choosing the crafts: Next I started to really focus in on what crafts I was going to lead. The difficulty was thinking of crafts which were cheap to make, simple to complete, but also created a high enough quality piece that adults could be proud of making, keep and use in the future. The crafts I decided to do were hand-printing cards and posters, customising canvas bags, painting Easter eggs and recycling paper to make jewellery and drinks coasters.

- Ticket sales: I needed to give people time to see and book onto the event so getting the online booking up and working was the next priority, this involved liaising with the Oxford University online store staff.

- Marketing: I then concentrated on marketing. I produced a poster for the project and set up a Facebook event, Twitter account and blog to follow its progress. I also liaised with the Pitt Rivers Marketing Officer who listed the sessions on online events websites. 

- Sourcing and ordering materials: Ordering materials was another planning aspect, which needed to be done as soon as possible.

- Creating resources: I designed an evaluation form and some pages of inspiration and ideas for the sessions.

- Project administration: I sent out emails with further information to people who booked onto the sessions and responded to any queries.

- Managing staff: Each session started with a tour of relevant objects in the museum. I led two of these and I asked Pitt Rivers staff to lead two of these, to give some variety for repeat visitors, but also to make use of the extensive and fascinating knowledge of staff. 

- Facilitating the session on the day: I chose crafts that didn’t need too much in depth instruction so my job on the day was to lead the tour, explain what to do initially and provide help for anyone who needed it, along with serving hot drinks and sorting out the technical side such as music and a PowerPoint showing relevant objects from the collection. 

And of course I couldn’t resist getting involved in the crafts myself!

- Updating marketing: It was important to keep social media up to date as the project progressed so I posted Tweets and wrote a blog article after each session. I also encouraged participants to tweet what they had made as one visitor Tugba did with the picture below.

- Post-project admin: When the project had finished I transferred the evaluation data from forms onto a spreadsheet. In addition to evaluation forms I had also used fun ‘feedback bunting’ allowing visitors to decorate one side and leave a comment on the other. Finally I wrote a project report including what was successful about it and what could be improved if it were to be repeated. 

I was really proud of what I achieved in the project. I loved running it and having that sense of responsibility and ownership over a project which was completely my own. The sessions all went well and people who visited really enjoyed it, with them rating the sessions on average 9.1 out of 10.  I couldn’t have organized this project without the skills, experience and most of all confidence the traineeship has given me and, as I prepare to start my new job as Family Festivals Coordinator at the Museum of London next month, I feel so grateful I have been given the opportunity to learn and develop so much in the past year.

“Lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Thank you!”
“Loved the session! Very relaxed and great value with all the materials included. Really accessible. Would definitely come again. “
“Fab. Relaxed. Enjoyable. Fun!”

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Great environments, inspirational adults and confirmation of who we are : an inspiring day with the Museums Association- Corie Edwards

Earlier this week all of the HLF Skills for the Future Education and Outreach Officer trainees from the Oxford University Museums attended the event Top of the class: creating a successful schools programmes held by the Museums Association and GEM. It was an opportunity to listen to presentations and discuss topics around schools programmes with various education facilitators from around the country. It also allowed for those in attendance to network with one another and to discuss their work. This blog post is not intended to give you a step-by-step break down of the day, but rather to build upon two statements that stuck with me from the day.

“Great environments and inspirational adults”
This is how we can engage children and young people no matter what the setting. Museums, heritage sites and collections have a great leg-up in this situation as this country is full of amazing places of wonder and excitement. Once you have grabbed your audience through this awe it then comes down to the education facilitator to keep the session lively and engaging. As a museum professional I always strive to make a session fun, at an appropriate level, whilst allowing my time with a group to be an open discussion where we build upon ideas shared to achieve the learning targets. By being approachable and making a site come to life I have done my absolute best to engage a group and have them leave with a positive experience of education.

“Confirmation of who they are”
This quote came from a discussion about any children who visit museums in an education session. As a museum educator I have the opportunity to engage with a diverse range of students on various different levels of learning. By allowing differentiation in a session and open ended questions where all ideas are valued, children leave feeling confident about themselves and therefore have confirmation of who they are.

In the audience at the Top of the Class conference
In a recent primary session with year 5 students I had one child in a group of about thirty who really stood out as an exemplary student in all regards. He was engaged, answering and asking questions, and worked well during group activities. About half way through the session I had the opportunity to talk with the teacher who expressed to me her surprise about the student. This student was not from her class, but had joined in for this visit because when his class was coming to the museum he was not able to go. From all reports this child was challenging, disruptive and not engaged in class. I was shocked, though I should not have been. At the museum I observed a bright student, who appeared to love sharing his knowledge (but not in a know-it-all fashion), and one who was happy to engage with peers in group work. It was the perfect example of how learning environments have a real impact on learning. Furthermore, it ties in with the two quotes I focused on. By giving this child the opportunity to learn in a great environment with an inspirational adult he was able to engage in a way he perhaps doesn’t do in a school setting. I could not ask for a better reward for my career.