We Make a Difference

Jack with his certificate at the Making a Difference Awards Ceremony.

Last night at the University’s Making a Difference Award Ceremony our Inflatable Museum Coordinator, Jack Ridley, won the ‘Outstanding professional support services, library and cultural institution’s support for social responsibility’ award for his fantastic work on the Inflatable Museum.

The Inflatable Museum is our pop-up (literally) portable learning space that takes immersive, inspirational learning experiences into primary schools: watch a short film about Jack’s award-winning work.

In line with the University’s Widening Participation and Social Responsibility agendas, the project has overcome some of the barriers that otherwise prevent young people from engaging with Manchester’s cultural venues and universities.

We also got a chance to watch the new Measuring the Difference  impact film* which showcases some of the ways in which the University works to ‘make a difference’ to the social and environmental wellbeing of our communities and wider society.

It is really great to see the Museum’s work in this area is being recognised, so well done Jack!

*can you spot the Learning Team member? [hint: look for the smile!]

A landmark week at the Museum

Every year, Fallibroome Academy, a specialist arts college in Macclesfield, organises an Artsweek around a particular theme for its local feeder schools. For the last two years, our colleagues over at the Whitworth Art Gallery have been involved in Artsweek, working with pupils from the network of Cheshire primary schools to explore themes such as global threads (2012) and elements (2013). However, this year, for the first time, the Museum was also involved.


Coral on display in Natures Library

From 11th to 14th February, the Museum and Gallery hosted four different classes from Mottram St Andrews, BollinbrookWhirley primary schools, as they explored the theme of ‘landmarks’. Initially, landmarks did not seem to be the easiest topic to explore in the Museum, and with the closure of the Whitworth for refurbishment, the whole project was looking like quite a challenge. However, after some initial head-scratching and with a little creative joined-up thinking, we soon hatched a plan, based on the notion of ‘landmarks’ as structures. So Artsweek 2014 soon became an exciting joint venture between the Museum, where groups were invited to explore and investigate structures, and the Whitworth, where groups were given the opportunity to build structures in Whitworth Park.

To give the groups a sense of direction during their museum visit, we decided to develop some landmark-themed resources. As I wondered the museum in search of inspiration, I soon realised that once I opened my eyes and took a slightly different perspective, I was actually surrounded by structures, both natural and manmade, of all shapes and sizes. From the intricate net-like calcium carbonate structures of coral (pictured , to the gigantic articulated bones of a sperm whale, hanging above the Living Worlds gallery, the museum is full of natural structures. Indeed, manmade structures are also abundant both in the collection, such as the Japanese armour with its interlocking plates, and the enormous pink granite column, carved by King Ramesses II that sits in the Museum’s entrance, but equally on a larger scale in the form of the beautiful Victorian architecture of the building itself.

To support the groups as they explored the Museum, we developed a ‘structures trail’ and, for the older pupils, a ‘structural challenge’. Both activities encouraged groups to approach objects creatively and from the perspective that, on a particular scale, they all constitute structures. While the trail identified particular items that we invited groups to reconstruct using their own bodies, the challenge encouraged pupils to design a tree-house that met a number of criteria, using the collections as inspiration. These resources will soon be available on our website in the ‘on-gallery resources’ section. While some groups did use these resources, in practice, others chose not to. In spite of this, the resources are, if anything, evidence of the type of creative work that can take place in the museum.

mottram group

Reception class from Mottram St Andrew

Our first visit was from a reception class from Mottram St Andrews. This, it turned out, was the first trip that the class had been on, and for most of the pupils, it was also the first time that they had visited the Museum. Now I will hold my hands up and admit that reception pupils are way out of my comfort zone (as Primary Learning Coordinator, they are also outside of my experience!), so when I learned that the first group to visit for Artsweek would consist of four and five year olds, I had no idea what to expect. When the class arrived, I was delighted to meet such a lively and enthusiastic class, and was relieved to find out how focused and articulate they were. During their visit we ended up ditching the trail and I led a tour around the museum, pointing out some of the highlights (both the living and stuffed animals were a big hit!), of which Stan was probably the most memorable, particularly since the class is currently studying dinosaurs. The sight of a group of reception children coming face to face with Stan the T-rex for the first time is quite something! And after the initial excitement, the group spent some time (a surprising amount of time!) on the gallery sketching the enormous skeleton which, from the point of view of a 4 year old, must have been even more impressive than it is for us fully-grown adults.

While I was not entirely convinced that the pupils had made the link between their museum visit and the theme of landmarks, when we relocated to the park after lunch, it became clear that they had. Steve’s blog post will give you a detailed account of the work that was carried out in the park from the point of view of the Whitworth, but I also want to mention a couple of my own thoughts and observations, from the point of view of the Museum’s work.

Using willow and twigs / branches, the class was invited to build their own structure, and it was only at this point that I realised how much of an impact their museum visit had made. As well as constructing the frame of a huge dinosaur, smaller groups of pupils also started work on structures such as a den and various animals. On the surface, it probably looked a lot like a load of kids (and adults!) playing in the park and building bizarre willow structures. While I’m not denying that the park work was a lot of fun, it was also a lot more than that. By listening in on conversations between pupils as they worked on their structures, and from hearing pupils talk about their landmarks, I was very happy to hear that their museum trip provided much of the inspiration for their willow structures.

After the reception class, the next group to visit was a year 6 class from Bollinbrook. While I have much more experience of working with this age group, and therefore, our resources were perhaps more suitable, I was thrilled to find that, like the reception class, the year 6 group linked their museum visit to their work in the park. Using the previous group’s structures as a starting point, the year 6 class threw themselves into the challenge wholeheartedly. The third day was slightly different in that the year 3 class from Whirley visited the park first, and then came to the museum for the afternoon. While I had been slightly worried about how well this would work in practice, it turned out really well as for this group, their willow structures informed the types of structures that they investigated in the museum. The final group to participate was a year 3 class from Mottram St Andrews. While I was unable to spend much time with the group during their museum trip, I had a quick chat with the teachers over lunch, and was glad to hear how well the trip was fitting in with their current topic of skeletons. The museum, once again, provided a really great opportunity for pupils to observe different types of structures and to gather inspiration in preparation for their afternoon in the park. When I visited the park later in the day, I was thrilled to see how each group had added something new to the original structures, whilst remaining sympathetic to the previous work. The amazing collaborative landmarks that came about from this project are, for me, physical evidence of the benefits of partnership working.


So a couple of thoughts…

  1. Artsweek demonstrated (yet again) how joined up thinking can lead to really exciting projects that make new links between the museum and the gallery, and in this case, the use of the park as an outdoor setting.
  2. A joint visit is entirely feasible! In the past, we have found it very difficult to convince groups to visit the museum and gallery in one day. The fundamental issue has, quite rightly, been the matter of walking down Oxford Road with a group of pupils. This challenge can, however, be overcome and as we demonstrated during Artsweek, simply taking the back route from the Museum to the Park is not only easy and safe, but is also entirely doable!
  3. A chance to work outdoors in the park is the perfect accompaniment to a trip to the museum. These two environments couldn’t be more different, yet they are strangely complimentary when appropriately supported.
  4. Finally, if you are ever running an event and hoping for good weather, Steve Roper is your man! If you cast your mind back, you may remember that mid February was rather wet and windy (understatement:  MEN headline for 14th February was ‘The Great Storm: How winds of 70mph battered Greater Manchester’!). So I admit that I was feeling rather smug about having an actual venue to work in, and slightly sorry for Steve, who didn’t. In spite of the storms, the gale force wind, the torrential rain, and everything else that the week threw at us, Steve Roper only got rained on ONCE! With the exception of the last day when it started spitting as the group left the park, whenever I visited Steve in the park, it was not only dry but was often also glorious sunshine. So based on the events of Artsweek 2014, I can only conclude that Steve Roper has the weather on his side – the man is waterproof! – and in Manchester, that is a very special gift!

Takeover Day 2013

a1Last Friday (22nd November), the Museum took part in National Museum Takeover Day, a ‘kids in museums’ initiative. The day – called ‘make your mark’ –  aimed to give pupils a chance to feed into some exciting projects currently underway at the Museum and the Whitworth Art Gallery. We spent the day with twelve  year 6 pupils from Rolls Crescent, a local school in Hulme, working on the two projects and generating some really useful insight and opinions.

The day started off in the Park – it was hard to believe that it was only a couple of months ago that I was there with the team of archaeologists, complaining about the heat back in the summer! While it was most definitely ‘crisp’, the sun was out and it was a perfect autumn morning. After a brief introduction to the Whitworth Art Gallery and its redevelopment, we took a stroll around the park to check out the Wicker Ma’am (see left) and some guerrilla knit-work scarves around a tree, and to step back and admire the building work that has already extended the gallery considerably.

Although I will let you find out for yourselves (on the Whitworth’s blog) about what we all got up to in the park, the following pictures should give you some clues…

a33a  a34 31A 

Having spent the morning out in the fresh (cold!) air, by 11.30 we were all in need of some warmth, so we headed off up to the museum for lunch.

At the Museum, still on the theme of ‘making your mark’, we focused our attention on a slightly smaller scale project, but one that is nonetheless quite important for the school groups who visit us: the lunch room! We are going to be revamping the museum’s basement lunch space over the next year, and takeover day seemed like an ideal opportunity to get some input from pupils who had all used the space whilst visiting the museum. In fact, Takeover Day was perfectly timed; as it fell right at the start of the project, we have been able to ensure that the opinions and ideas of the pupils would underpin the whole project.

So once we arrived at the museum, the first task for the group was to have some lunch in the lunch room; whilst doing this, I asked them to think about whether or not they enjoyed being in the space, and – in an ideal world – what sort of place would be the perfect lunch space. This initial activity generated some really useful ideas…


What they don’t want to see…


What they do want to see…

The group then set about gathering opinions from some of the pupils and teachers who were eating their lunch; I was particularly impressed with how many questionnaires they managed to conduct in a relatively short amount of time, and they generated some really useful information that will feed into our plans. For example, the average score (on a scale of 1:10) for the importance of lunch time during a museum visit, was 7.6 – surprisingly high! Perhaps less surprising, but nonetheless useful, were features of good/bad lunch rooms (see wordles below).

What 2 words would you use to describe a good lunch room?

What 2 words would you use to describe a good lunch room?

What 2 words would you use to describe a bad lunch room?

What 2 words would you use to describe a bad lunch room?

After a walk around the Museum’s galleries for a bit of inspiration, the group recorded all of their thoughts and ideas for the lunch room space on a gigantic colourful graffiti wall (below), and then fed back their ideas to members of the learning team. This short post doesn’t really do justice to all of the hard work that the pupils put in. But I would like to thank all of the year 6 pupils and their accompanying adults, for their fantastic and valuable input into both projects.

graffiti wallIMG_0586

Evolution Solutions CPD event: Rescheduled for 10/2/14

rescheduled flierCPD update: the Evolution Solutions CPD event  for primary science teachers has been rescheduled for 10th February 2014.

Evolution and inheritance will be entering the primary science curriculum for the first time in September 2014. Join us for a day of inspiring hands-on activities, talks and ideas for teaching evolution in your classroom. This CPD event aims to:

  • Equip teachers with the skills and knowledge that they will need to teach evolution in the primary classroom with confidence
  • Provide teachers with ideas for hands on activities and resources, both in and beyond the museum
  • Generate a digital resource that compiles the activities included in the Manchester and Oxford CPD events, along with useful resources and links

animalWhen: Monday 10th February 2014

Where: Manchester Museum

How much: £50 per person, including lunch

Bookings: If you would like to book a place, please email: school.bookings@manchester.ac.uk.

Queries: For enquiries or further details, please contact: Hannah-lee.chalk@manchester.ac.ukEmily.robinson@manchester.ac.uk

Download the new flier here

Evolution Solutions: Primary Science CPD event at Manchester Museum

stoatCalling all primary science teachers! 

Evolution and inheritance will be entering the primary science curriculum for the first time in September 2014. Join us for a day of inspiring hands-on activities, talks and ideas for teaching evolution in your classroom. This CPD event aims to:

  • Equip teachers with the skills and knowledge that they will need to teach evolution in the primary classroom with confidence
  • Provide teachers with ideas for hands on activities and resources, both in and beyond the museum
  • Generate a digital resource that compiles the activities included in the Manchester and Oxford CPD events, along with useful resources and links

animalWhen: Thursday 21st November 2013

Where: Manchester Museum

How much: £50 per person, including lunch

Bookings: If you would like to book a place, please email: school.bookings@manchester.ac.uk.

Queries: For enquiries or further details, please contact: Hannah-lee.chalk@manchester.ac.uk / Emily.robinson@manchester.ac.uk

Download the CPD flier (pdf)

Postcards from the Park

Last Friday I popped down to the Martin Harris Center to sneak a peak at the artwork generated by local schools around the Whitworth Park Community Archaeology and History Project. Schools were invited to respond to the Park’s Victorian and Edwardian past using artwork, poetry and storytelling. Many of them visited the site during the excavations and all groups had ‘hands-on’ workshops using Edwardian postcard images and modern replicas of clay pipes, glass medicine bottles and Victorian children’s toys. Back at school, the students were challenged to produce their own modern ‘postcard’, on which they also wrote a poem or short story. The workshops highlighted the use of parks as community spaces where people of different backgrounds mingle, and the past formed a point of departure from which to analyse the changing meaning of these vibrant urban green spaces. The pictures speak for themselves…

Postcard 5a Postcard 1a Postcard 3a

Postcard 2a Postcard 4a

Guest Post: An Interesting Week at Manchester Museum

A guest post, written by Candice Kossowska who spent a week working on gallery resources for the primary learning team. Many thanks to Candice for all of her hard work, and keep an eye out for her resources, which will be available on the website very soon…

New Picture (24)1I am just embarking on my final year of the Primary Education Degree course, at Edge Hill University. I have spent a lot of time in primary schools, but I really wanted to experience how different learning can be, in an alternative educational setting. Manchester Museum certainly was different to my previous experiences!

The teaching team at the museum offer so many opportunities for children to engage with, by actually being able to explore and even touch real artefacts. I was able to observe many sessions, which included the Egyptian Worlds session – where children find out about the museum’s mummified Egyptian Chantress, Asru. The Dinosaur Detectives session, in which children use their knowledge of carnivores and herbivores, to solve a dinosaur murder mystery. The Dig Stories archaeology session, in which pupils use tools to excavate real archaeological finds! I was also able to experience how younger children including babies, can learn from and engage with the museum, during the fantastic Magic Carpet sessions – during which the team work so hard to captivate young minds!

While at the museum I was given my very own task – something I felt privileged to be asked to do – to plan some self-guided tour sessions using my own ideas! Of course you would think this would be an easy task, as there are so many amazing exhibits. However, because there are so many it’s hard to decide which ones to include within a session, for primary aged children.New Picture (26)

Therefore I explored all the galleries in the museum and read the background stories for many exhibits. I selected a number of exhibits and was able to create three educational gallery tours, which tie in nicely with the new National Curriculum. After much thought, I planned a number of different resources.

One resource uses the Living Cultures and Living Worlds galleries to give children the opportunity to find out about different cultural symbols, and how different cultures attach particular meanings to different animals. Another of my gallery tours will enable children in Key Stage 1 and 2 to find out about the environmental challenges that face some of our most endangered species – and even write their own lonely hearts column for an endangered animal.

New Picture (23)In the Natures Library exhibition, children will be introduced to the unusual collecting habits of the Victorians. Children will conjure up their own background story for a number of strange exhibits, including a Narwhal’s tusk, also known as the Unicorn Horn of Manchester Museum!


I enjoyed my week at the museum immensely. I have learned a great deal from exploring the different galleries and exhibits. I was able to ask lots of questions of the museum guides, and discovered interesting and sometimes almost unbelievable stories behind many exhibits!

Thinking creatively about using English across the Curriculum

Yesterday, the Museum took part in an induction week activity for over 200 PGCE students from the University. The day, titled “Thinking creatively about using English across the curriculum”, involved 3 activities based around the Museum, providing different ways of using an out of the classroom setting for English language teaching and learning. I had the pleasure of working with groups in our discovery centre, to introduce some of the joys of working with objects.

foxStudents carried out a selection of challenges, all of which focused on items from the collections, ranging from describing insects and shells for a partner to draw, a new version of ‘pass the bomb’ (associated words about an object with a ticking bomb timer that is passed around the group until it ‘explodes’), and the slightly more challenging ‘Just a Museum Minute’ (based on the amusing Radio 4 quiz show, but talking about museum objects without hesitation, repetition or deviation). kiwi

Perhaps my favourite was the activity where groups had to tell a story about our kiwi and fox. Here are 2 gems that I want to share…

‘I am a fox and I am looking at a lovely Kiwi. My name is Mr Fox. The kiwi is beautiful but I also feel as though I want to eat it, I am so conflicted. It looks very tasty and I am so hungry, I haven’t eaten all day. I’ve tried the kiwi fruit but its just not the same.’

‘I do not like them looking at me. I feel as if they are judging me. Their eyes lock onto mine and I cannot move a muscle. Ive had so many staring contests, now I am a master. I am tired now – my eyes hurt. I bare my teeth at them and they run away. Phew! (This is the fox by the way)’

Students also had the opportunity to explore our Living Cultures and Manchester Galleries to focus on using objects as the basis for a piece of writing, and our Fossil Gallery for a brainstorming activity, The day was a lot of fun (if not exhausting!), and I would like to wish all of the students the best of luck for the next year. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to introduce the museum at such an early stage in their teaching careers, and hopefully, they will come back with their classes in the future!

Calling all budding science documentarists…

Science in actionThe Manchester branch of the British Science Association has a new competition for year 7-11 school students in Greater Manchester.

The challenge: to create an online 3-minute science documentary on the theme ‘Manchester: The Science of the City’.

The best documentaries will be hosted on the BSA website where visitor’s can watch and vote for the winner in an on-line poll.

The competition is supported by STEM Ambassadors – scientists and engineers who volunteer their time to inspire students about science, engineering and maths. These Ambassadors are available for interviews which can then be included in the documentaries for a bit of added zing!

Dates for your diary:

18th October is the last date for schools and teachers to apply for a submission pack

11th December is the deadline for uploading submissions

If you know of any teachers/schools who might be interested or if you are an interested teacher who would like to know more, please email: bsamanchester@hotmail.com

Further details are available on the ‘3-minute science‘ website.3 minute science

Rainforest art

Some fantastic (scarey!) pictures by pupils from the Oasis Academy Oldham‘s summer school, showing creatures that they designed to suit a variety of different lifestyles in the rainforest…

Forest floor predator

Forest floor predator

Forest floor prey

Forest floor prey

Emergent layer predator

Emergent layer predator

Emergent layer prey

Emergent layer prey