Summer School Extravaganza!

The Darwin Summer School cohort - including Group Leaders, Ambassadors, workshop facilitators and Mascots!

On the week of the 19th July The Manchester Museum was taken over by 58 Gifted and Talented Key Stage 3 students from a variety of Manchester schools in order to take part in our Darwin Summer School. This consisted of five days of frenzied activity where participants were split into four groups entrusted with the task of creating a presentation to voice their ideas for our new Animal Life 1 Gallery due to be redeveloped in September to become Living Planet.

Each group had a theme, a team leader, two University student ambassadors and a team mascot to cheer them on. During the week the students got involved in a myriad of activity –discussions on their topics, science experiments, mural painting, making museum displays, creating campaign posters and being a Springbeak bird in our Clippy Island workshop. They also visited the University John Rylands Library to do research and got to discover how much choice there is if they do choose to attend University later in their life.

Image, Winners of our Darwin Summer School Mascots with our Director who presented the awards

The aim of the week was to allow students to explore their personal, learning and thinking skills and create opportunities for them to demonstrate cooperative working, communication and leadership abilities within each group. Prizes were awarded at the end of the week for each group’s “Best Team Player”, their “most improved member” and “the member most deserving of the group mascot”. I’ve never seen anyone so pleased to win a giant cuddly bear!

The skills and abilities developed and nurtured throughout the week were clearly highlighted in their final presentations, which were the best we have ever seen on a Summer School here at The Manchester Museum. From inspirational slogans or mottos and an improvised scene from Dr. Who to a 3D computerised gallery design and a very impactful videos – these students gave us a LOT to consider for the redevelopment.


Darwin Summer School – Opportunities for local schools

As we approach the end of our exciting year of Darwin related activity and the end of the academic year, we have opened recruitment for our Darwin Summer School.

The Summer School has been genorously funded by The Edina Trust and The Excellent Hub for the North West to support the attendance of Gifted and Talented Key Stage 3 pupils from across Greater Manchester.

Image, A teacher exploring our exhibition 'Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist'

We are running a 5-day, non-residential summer school as part of our celebration of all things Darwin. Students will find out more about the work of Darwin, why his ideas are important and how his research has continued to influence the scientific community. They will also get up close and personal with objects that Darwin himself collected, find out more about our huge collections and uncover the wonder of the natural world.

There will also be the opportunity to help inform the forthcoming redevelopment of the mammals gallery by working alongside museum scientists and curators.  Students will work in small groups developing their key skills and participating in a range of activities, from working alongside University students in the library to thinking about how to display iconic Darwin specimens.

Museum staff will be on hand throughout the summer school, along with University of Manchester Student Ambassadors, who are always keen to answer any questions the students may have about attending University.

Places are limited and must be booked in advance.  Lunch is not provided.

Students must be able to attend all five days and be able to get to The Manchester Museum for 930am each day. Each day finishes at 330pm approx.

Booking forms are available from Louise Sutherland, 0161 275 8761, or email

Closing date for applications is Thursday 27 May 2010

Darwin & Humanity Guest Blog

Here is a guest blog from Suzie Kennedy who recently helped out on one of our Darwin & Humanity Study Days.

As a member of staff from The Manchester Museum’s visitor services team, my job is to staff the public galleries, providing information for visitors about The Museum’s collections and exhibitions. Having studied Archaeology and Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, I was keen to find out more about the humanities sessions offered by the learning team at the Museum. I was grateful to be offered the opportunity to take part in a Darwin and Humanity study day, and on Tuesday 2nd March, a group of Religious Education students from Runshaw College spent the day at the Museum in order to further explore and understand the concept of evolution, and the impact of Darwin’s work.

Image, Students from Runshaw College

To start the day off, students took part in an object handling session which presented the opportunity to gain a closer look at some of the objects from the Museum’s collection, and explore the difference between a ‘theory’ and a ‘scientific theory’, complemented by a talk form Henry McGhie, Head of Natural Environments and Curator of Zoology at The Manchester Museum. The students were encouraged to use their imaginations to create stories and think of ideas to explain the objects in front of them.

We then moved on to the Clippy Island activity, a practical way of illustrating how natural selection works. This was the first time I had taken part in Clippy Island, and I thoroughly recommend it – who knew a few dried beans, a bull dog clip and a plastic cup could be so entertaining! The students participated with lots of enthusiasm, with many students affirming that this activity had helped them to better understand the concept of natural selection. Continue reading

Guest blog: Purple Candles?

Gavin Shortall is the Year 6 teacher at St James’ CE Primary School, Rusholme, which is our ‘school in residence’. I asked him to write a guest blog entry on how he feels our partnership benefits the children in his class:

Manchester Museum. Where to start? When I sit down to think about Manchester Museum, I find myself thinking of an old, big purple candle that I now use as a bookend on a shelf. I have had the thing for years and done nothing with it. Walked past it and it’s not even registered. Now I walk past it, as it sits there keeping my ever growing collection of books from spilling all over the floor, and wonder how I ever managed without it. I think about how no other object could do its job and I am thankful to whoever it was that gave me the thing those years ago.

Image, children are given their own notebooks and decide what to record

While I certainly wouldn’t want to set the Museum alight, I do however think of it in the same way as my candle. I have now been bringing a Year 6 class to the Museum for 2 years, working primarily with Neil, mainly as a way of stimulating writing. If you teach in Manchester (maybe if you teach in a primary school anywhere?) I am willing to bet that driving up writing standards is a focus for you. It certainly is for us. The Manchester Museum has been a great find for us in trying to do this.

Image, Karen Exell, our Curator of Egypt and the Sudan, shows an artefact to children

The specifics of what we have done are too many and detailed to go into here. I could talk about the day when we examined an ancient Crime Scene, using that to write a report. I could talk about the day we spent at the Museum looking at what goes on behind the scenes, using that to write a guide to the Museum. I could talk about the day we spent in the ‘Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist’ exhibition, using that to look at how biographies can be constructed. I could even talk about the video that we wrote a script to, acted, directed and shot in situ, that is now used to promote the Museum’s partner, the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Image, touching an Egyptian object from the Museum stores

But for me as a teacher, it has been a little bit more than that. It has been about giving the children an exciting, tangible, real life context in which to write. As I gear myself up for whatever task this year’s SATs is going to throw my way, I worry that when they turn the paper over and find out that they have to write a recount of a trip to the seaside, too many of them will have no idea what such a trip would be like. I worry that too many of them won’t understand exactly what’s being asked of them. Not like when we are at the Museum. Having the opportunity to give the children vivid experiences to stimulate has been great. You can’t sum it up any better than one of the children who quite happily remarked after finishing one activity – “That was great! What are we doing next?”

And the Museum’s not even purple.

Darwin CPD Dates announced

We will be running two 3hr CPD sessions for primary and secondary teachers on Tuesday 20 April 2 – 5pm and Saturday 24 April from 10am – 1pm.

Join us to look and develop ways of using the Museum to help with the teaching of Darwin, Evolution and Natural Selection. There will be the opportunity to tour the Charles Darwin; evolution of a scientist exhibition and our Museum staff will also be on hand to help plan trips and provide resources for you to take away.

Limited travel bursaries and teacher cover are available please get in touch with Louise Sutherland on 0161 275 8761 to book your place.

Darwin’s Impact

Image, Entrance to Charles Darwin: evolution of a Scientist

As part of our Darwin programming we have been doing some evaluative work tracking the impact of the activities we offer in Secondary and Post-16. From our current data we are pleased to announce that we have engaged over 1,400 students in our Clippy Island activity with over 60% from Outreach activities, and approximately 250 students on our Study Days: ‘Darwin’s Legacy’ and ‘Darwin and Humanity’.

When asked for feedback, those students that took part in these activties reported the following:

  • 73% agreed that they had a better understanding of science
  • 54% agreed that their interest in science had increased as a result
  • 43% agreed that they were more likely to go on studying as a result

We also had the following comments from students and teachers:

The Clippy Island activity was fun yet educational – an interactive way to learn

I think it was a really clever idea on how to teach people about evolution and it was fun too!

Excellent session, very creative and interactive

We’ll be delivering our Darwin programming until the end of the academic year, so if you’re interested in anything just get in touch!

Darwin & Dads

Image, Some of the participants of the Darwin & Dad's project

During November last year myself and Anna Bunney (Curator of Public Programmes) began a short collaboration project between The Manchester Museum and a local ‘dads group’ based at Hulme Library. One of the core objectives of the project was to engage with a very specific target audience of dads including single dads, dads who may not live in the same house as their children or working dads who only spend time with their children at the weekends.

Running alongside The Museum’s Darwin Extravaganza, the ‘Darwin and Dads’ project began with an initial outreach visit to introduce ourselves and say hello to the group as well as to show off some of the objects from our collections (in this instance a wild rabbit and hedgehog). Although slightly reserved at first, the children did begin to engage with the objects and ask questions about where they came from and whether they were alive or not. The dads were also very enthusiastic and not only joined in themselves but through our support also encouraged the children to touch the objects and think about how they felt, the sounds they made and their habitats.

The group which meets on the first Saturday of the month, then arranged to attend the museum as part of our Big Saturday event in December – Polar Bear Day. Upon arrival the group was greeted by myself and Anna and taken on a brief tour of the museum before other members of the public arrived. We then went through all the activities that were available throughout the day and encouraged the group to go off and explore.

Image, Visitors in the exhibition 'Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist'

In order to support the individual dads/parents I provided them with ‘adult prompt cards’ which included key questions, key vocabulary and a few simple activities designed to encourage them to communicate and interact with their children and the collections. Once they had taken part in the organised activities and had spent some time exploring the galleries independently, the group came together in the discovery centre to do a quick story and ‘songs and rhyme time’ which was led by the groups normal session facilitator. It was lovely to see the group feeling relaxed and comfortable enough to sit down on the floor with their children whilst surrounded by other members of the public and sing songs and rhymes, using puppets and instruments and most importantly making a good old racket! This was obviously a lot of fun so it wasn’t long before other members of the public and their children joined in too.

Due to the success of the visit and the positive feedback that the group offered we have since approached them about the possibility of extending the project and working in consultation with them on developing some ‘family backpack resources’ which could be used to support family visits on the various galleries in the museum.  We are now due to meet with the group again in February to conduct a short consultation meeting regarding the type of resources they would find useful when visiting the museum on their own, any difficulties that they experienced on the last visit and suggestions on how we can make the collections more accessible to them in general. So far the project has proved to be great a success and has allowed for a high level of learning and development for all those involved. The dads and children appear to be benefiting from working alongside us and are having fun whilst gaining confidence in a new setting.  We are now very excited to see where the next phase of this project will take us – so watch this space as I will keep you updated!!!

For more information about the Darwin and Dads project, please contact Salmah on 0161 306 1603 or

Darwin’s Beagle Voyage – Pupil’s Pictures & Comments

Hello All and Happy New Year!

In November and  December 09, the outreach team delivered 10 interactive Darwin outreach sessions to 272 Key Stage 2 pupils at 7 schools.

Thanks to all those we visited, for asking such interesting questions! And for sharing your follow up work with us.

Here are some of your pictures and comments below.

Thank You and Well Done!

Posted by Vicky Grant

Bemrose School visit The Manchester Museum

Here at The Manchester Museum, we often get schools and colleges from quite far away coming to see our collections and take part in the workshops and activities we run, and when we had a teacher, Joe Close, from Bemrose School in Derby ringing up and enquiring about workshops for her students, with the students finding us on google and wanting to visit, we were delighted to accommodate their request.

So, on Tuesday 15th December, a mixture of 37 Biology and Religious Studies students arrived at 10:30am to the museum, having left the school at 8am! The students from the different courses had different agendas for the visit.  The religious studies students had to research for an essay comparing Evolution and Creationism, whereas the biology students were gathering information about Charles Darwin and his work for an upcoming exam in January.

Image, A visitor reading one of the Darwin newspapers from the exhibition

The students spent 45 minutes in the Charles Darwin: Evolution of the Scientist exhibition working in small teams to complete our Darwin self-guide worksheet before taking part in our Clippy Island: An investigation into Natural Selection activity. In Clippy Island, the students become a population of birds called ‘Springbeaks’ and take part in four seasons of breeding that allows the students to experience first hand how adaptations created by natural variations within a species can enable a population to change over time.

The students (and teachers) from Bemrose College seemed to enjoy their visit to The Manchester Museum.  Feedback from the teachers included:

‘Excellent session, very creative and interactive’

‘The activity was kinaesthetic which was extremely engaging and effectively demonstrated natural selection’

The student’s feedback included the following comments

‘The Darwin exhibition was enchanting. I found it profound to observe Darwin’s work’

‘The activity got my brain thinking about evolution and was also enjoyable’

‘I enjoyed the museum and found some useful information about Darwin that will be useful for my revision’

Image, Students taking part in a recent Clippy Island workshop

Image, Students taking part in a recent Clippy Island workshop

Joe Close, and the students had planned that after leaving the museum at lunchtime so that they could spend the rest of the day in Manchester City Centre Christmas shopping, including a trip to Primark – as you can imagine, they were all excited about! We hope that the students from Bemrose College enjoyed their experience of Manchester (and the museum) and we hope to see them back here in the future.

Clippy Island Workshop and tour around the museum for Our Lady’s RC College

Here is a guest post from a recent visiting teacher, Rebecca Jordan from Our Lady’s RC College

“I visited the museum on Friday 11th December with a rather boisterous group of year 11 pupils from Our Lady’s in Blackley, I’m sure the museum staff will remember us! The staff were fantastic with the pupils and answered many questions the pupils had as they went on their tour around the museum. The purpose of the visit was for the pupils to understand the life and work of Charles Darwin in more detail and they could then relate this to their scheme of work in Science. The morning consisted of the pupils exploring the Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist exhibition which was brilliant and they were awstruck at the turtle and the numerous collections of species on show! They took lots of pictures and gathered lots of information for us to make a display back in the science department at school.

Image, Charles Darwin:evolution of a scientist exhibition. Photgraphy Steve Devine, Illustrations Chrissie Morgan

In the afternoon the pupils took part in a brilliant workshop called Clippy Island, this was perfect for these pupils as they could get involved and really enjoyed the practical work, something we wouldn’t have the space to do at school. Alexa was a brilliant teacher even with these most challenging students who struggle to be quiet at the best of times! The pupils all thoroughly enjoyed the day!”