Lindow Man – A Bog Body Mystery is not an easy exhibition for children, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn anything from it. It’s not about the Iron Age – it was never intended to be – it’s about life and death, archaeology and the meaning of evidence and above all it’s about people: what makes us human and how we relate to each other.
There is a great deal of research showing that we all learn by building on what we already know, either by merging new knowledge with our existing understanding or by modifying what we already know to fit in with new experiences. This is what Jean Piaget in the 1920s called assimilation and accommodation, and it is still relevant today. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that emotion is a key component in the learning process.
With this in mind, I think it makes sense to start with what the children already know or recognise, and what matters to them. If the children choose the crow, for example: they may have seen one on the school roof, but here in the exhibition they can take a much closer look and add to their knowledge and understanding. They’ll probably have never seen a Bittern, but they will recognise it as a bird and may be curious about its habitat and behaviour etc.
The children can do this with any part of the exhibition, including Lindow man himself. They will all have some experience of death, even if it is just on TV or in the papers. For some, it will be immediate and personal – a pet or family member may have passed away – others may only have only have come across death in ‘shoot-em-up’ video games, but all of them will be able to engage with the exhibition in relation to their own experience and make sense of it in their own way.
In current museum learning research this approach is referred to as free choice learning and personal meaning mapping, and the outcomes are personalized and unique to each pupil rather than common to the group and consistent. In other words, we are not setting out to teach 10 facts about Lindow Man and measure whether we are successful or not. The pupils may well learn 10 facts about Lindow Man, but in the museum setting this is not nearly as valuable to the children as the free choice learning process I have described.
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