Journeys across the sea and beyond: talking about current issues at Manchester Museum

You might notice on your next visit to the Museum that we have some new additions to our displays.

Our curators are thinking a lot about contemporary collecting and how we as an organisation respond to current issues such as climate change and migration.

Some of our new installations might raise some complex feelings in some of your pupils, so we wanted you to be aware in advance of some of the things you may encounter on your visit and suggest how you might want to utilise these objects to start conversations with your pupils about the issues they highlight.

Refugee Lifejacket

Life jacket from Lesvos on display at Manchester Museum

Refugee’s lifejacket from Lesvos in the entrance of Manchester Museum

For example, a refugee’s lifejacket, from the Greek island of Lesvos,  has recently gone on display in the main entrance. As Bryan Sitch, a curator here, has said:

“Our mission is to promote understanding between different cultures and to work towards a more sustainable world … We hope that this work will help us to reach out to Syrian members of the community as well as other diaspora communities.”

Visitors can watch a video about how the life jacket was collected and engage in discussion about it on Twitter via  .

We are aware that some of the stories and images linked to this object (though not displayed with it) could be upsetting for some children. However, Amnesty International have some excellent expert guidance on how to discuss these issues with older children, which you may want to introduce before a visit to the Museum.

Child migrant stories, a resource about the experiences of child migrants today and in the past, may also be useful.

We believe that the object on its own should not be upsetting unless a child has a particular related personal experience.

‘Nu Shabtis’ Journeys

nu shabtis

Examples of Zahed Taj-Eddin’s ‘Nu Shabtis’ outside Manchester Museum

From the end of March, our Graeco-Roman Egyptian Portraits and Egyptian Worlds galleries will be temporarily home instead to an installation by a Syrian-born artist,  Zahed Taj-Eddin.

Zahed’s ‘Nu Shabtis’ are inspired by the common Egyptian tomb item, the shabti (sometimes known as ushabtis). Classes who take part in our Egyptian Worlds workshop will encounter real shabtis close up: they are the servants of the afterlife, placed in tombs to work for the deceased.

But Zahed’s ‘Nu Shabtis’ are new works of art made of beautiful bright blue faience. Part of the installation sees the Nu Shabtis suspended from the Egyptian Worlds gallery ceiling. The work reflects on the experience of migrants travelling across the Mediterranean towards a new life, much as the ancient Egyptians believed their shabtis would have travelled over to the afterlife.

They present an accessible way to help children think about human stories of journeys. What makes us leave a place? What makes us stay? What do we believe about our future? What do we believe about life after death? Again, the resources from Amnesty International might help you explore this with your pupils.

Seeing the works as artefacts and as works of art, you could look at similarities and differences between the ancient shabtis and Nu Shabtis. How do we know which are ancient and which are modern? Why would an artist be inspired by the ancient? What was Zahed’s purpose in drawing parallels between old and new objects and stories? Are the pupils inspired by anything in the Museum to create their own works of art?

Please note that the Nu Shabti installation will mean that our Graeco-Roman Mummies and Portraits will not be on display until July.

We would love to hear your stories of how you have used either of these installations with your classes and how they responded to them. 

If you have any questions or concerns about these displays, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us:

Amy McDowall – Primary Learning Coordinator

Cat Lumb – Secondary and Post-16 Arts & Humanities Coordinator



Raising Aspirations: Exploring Ancient Egyptian Art

img_5110I was recently contacted by a teacher from Tameside College’s  Aspirations Department (I love that there is such a department exists!) who teaches  a group of young people with learning disabilities (aged 16-20) on an Entry level 2 study programme.  They have been studying a BTEC unit titled Exploring Art,  where they had to plan and produce a piece of art within 15 weeks.

“In order to get some ideas and inspiration we visited Manchester Museum and as a result of that the learners chose Ancient Egypt as their theme. After viewing what the Museum had on display the students came up with some marvellous ideas.  Each learner made a mood board displaying their idea and the tools and equipment they planned on using to create their piece of art work and finally creating their own piece: the results were fantastic.”

Their teacher was really pleased to be able to share these images of the process and final outcomes for the BTEC unit and some comments from the learners who took part.

This is a wonderful example of the achievements that can come from an inspirational Museum visit. The learners should be very proud of their work and we’d be happy to have them revisit the Museum at any time!

Learner Comments from Aspirations, Tameside College

“We chose to make Egyptian masks that showed the make up the ladies wore in Ancient Egypt.  We were inspired by visiting the museum and by taking photographs of the hieroglyphics and we copied the colours and designs.”

“The museum had lots of interesting artefacts which gave me the idea of making a special display.  I made a pyramid, tomb design, and an oasis mirage.   I also wrote my name in hieroglyphics.  My visit to the museum inspired me to design my mood board and create my display.  I love Art and History.”

“When we first arrived at the Manchester Museum, it looked so beautiful that I feel like we should go there again. I enjoyed looking at the dinosaurs, but my favourite was the largest one (The Tyrannosaurus-rex). The other animals looked nice as well. Another thing that inspired me is that the museum tells you exactly what happened all those years ago. I also finished my mood board by finding the correct category for me. The pictures were fantastic and I loved looking at them. The museum had a big giant snake which I was standing behind when I had a picture took. I liked all the Egyptian models as well. I would love to see them all again. It looked absolutely perfect for a full day trip. And that is how Manchester Museum inspired me to work on and complete my artwork.”

“I found the visit to the museum fascinating and interesting because I learnt a lot about Ancient Egypt and Tutankhamun tomb. I was surprised to find out he was only 19 years old when he died in 1324, two years older than me. When I saw the pottery artefacts that  were found and displayed in the museum it inspired me to make my own display”

“When I visited the museum I had a really good time. I enjoyed looking at all the artefacts and I was inspired to design Egyptian clothes. The ancient Egypt exhibition was fun and enjoyable. I would really like to do it again.”

Primary teachers: Manchester Museum Needs You! (for 2 minutes)


As you may have heard, Manchester Museum is embarking on an exciting capital redevelopment known as the Courtyard Project. We want to make sure the new galleries and display spaces – especially the South Asia gallery – meet the needs of primary teachers across Greater Manchester and beyond:

  • Have you always wanted to study a different Ancient Civilisation to Egypt?
  • Do you want to celebrate South Asian influence in your community?
  • Is there a new way of learning about world religions?
  • Is lunch space essential for your school trips?

Now is your chance to have your say!

If you are a primary or early years teacher, we would delighted if you could spare 2 minutes to complete our short survey here.

We are also looking for expressions of interest for a TeachMeet here on the evening of 7 December around the theme of South Asia. If you’ve had a great project, activity, topic or event linked to South Asia (early years, primary or secondary) and would like to be involved, please contact the Primary Learning Coordinator Amy McDowall.



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

Poll results

Results of the poll that I posted last month are below. As you can see, they are rather inconclusive (interesting nonetheless!).

why take a class to visit a museum

Note: The following responses were entered as ‘other’:

  • Inspiring staff, chance to share experiences and stories, bringing subject matter to the real world/ life connections, gaining empathy, enquiry and new experiences, creativity, museums aim to be fun, welcoming and enjoyed by all
  • To show them that the museum can be for them, and have something to offer them.
  • A comment that I’ve had from teachers is about relative sizes of things. e.g. how a sparrow is smaller than a crow – not obvious from watching a film or even from observing live birds as they move about & are at a distance.
  • It’s a good way to build relationships with students in a different environment.
  • Bringing the past to life – cliché but true. A shop with items from 50p upwards. What they choose might make them think about a return family visit.
  • Artefacts visually bring to life the learning & can introduce/ demonstrate so much more than a terms worth of lessons (I’m specifically thinking of Ancient Egypt & the British Museum).
  • Knowledge that the teachers don’t have or can obtain easily.
  • I work in an area of high unemployment and the chances of our children visiting a real museum without us taking them are quite slim so sometimes we try to find one that compliments our learning.
  • I take students to the museum which reflect aspects of our specification at A level. – Dinosaurs/strat/local geology etc. Also primary children for the wow factor
  • Handling real objects. Learning in a way that cannot be achieved in the classroom.

However, and as the responses to the ‘What is your role?’ question illustrate, only 7 teachers participated in the poll.

What is your role

This is not surprising, particularly considering my rather unscientific approach and the limited period over which the poll was open! I do intend to recirculate this poll again (or some version thereof) but I would really appreciate any suggestions regarding the matter of targeting teachers.

Can Babies enjoy museums?

In the development of our sessions for babies in museums and galleries in Manchester, we were (quite rightly!) challenged by colleagues about the level of participation there would really be for babies. We were asked,
Aren’t the sessions really just for the benefit of parents?’
‘Can babies really enjoy museums?

I posed the question ‘Can babies really enjoy museums?’ to parents attending a Baby Explorer session at Manchester Museum and added, ‘How do you know? ‘
The question did take our parents by surprise! They couldn’t understand why anybody would doubt that their babies were enjoying and participating in the sessions, which for them as parents, was clearly evident.

The many fabulous images we have taken and the short films we have produced, do capture the engagement levels of babies in our sessions, but like anything else, this is far more powerful (and evident) if you experience it directly.
One of our members of staff, who was initially sceptical about the opportunities for babies to truly participate in the sessions, attended one of our baby explorer session and commented afterwards,

‘I think babies can enjoy museums because it’s a totally different environment from other surroundings and they interact with different things than they would usually….they focus on what is being shown them and seem enraptured by what is going on including the storytelling and singing.’

Here is a selection of the feedback we had from parents ……

· It’s helped her to notice things more in other places too. These sessions really help to develop her concentration. I notice when she misses a session.

· Fabulous sensory learning aimed at the age group appropriately. My baby LOVES this. He is active, wide eyed, bouncy and afterwards he sleeps! Thank you.

· Development of motor skills by holding and touching objects. Babies’ eyes lit up concentrating for lengths of time. Staying quiet during singing (attention and listening).

· So many things to see and feel- nothing like home environment. I know how much he enjoys it because he cries when we leave!

Lets keep developing the practice and collecting the evidence of impact, to make the case for more babies in and museums and galleries nationally.

Elaine Bates, Early years coordinator, Manchester Museum

Students have their say about our Workshops

Here at the Manchester Museum we are always looking to develop and improve our practice and part of this includes asking students that visit what THEY think of any workshops they have participated in.

In November we had a two week hot-spot for evaluation where we asked for student feedback on any sessions that took place during that time. Within the Humanities and Arts programme we had a number of different workshops take place – ArteFACT, Patterns in Nature and our brand NEW session Empire Explained.

Here’s  a snapshot of what particpating students had to say about their experiences at the Museum:

ArteFACT session – Trinity High School, Year 7 pupils

When they were asked which part of the session they enjoyed the most, their responses were:

“I enjoyed writing labels for each of the objects”

I enjoyed classifying the objects because it was fun”

I enjoyed seeing interesting things and working together as a team”

I enjoyed labelling the objects and creating a history for it!”

When they were asked what they would tell friends and family about their expeience at the Museum they said:

“How to organise a part of a museum and how to investigate what an object is by looking at it”

“I would tell my family that I enjoyed the trip and I got a chance to enhance my knowledge in History”

“I really enjoyed looking at the different items and artefacts about history. I will be telling loads fo people about this memorable experience at the Manchester Museum”

Patterns in Nature Session – Sidall Moor Sports College, Yr 10 students

For this art session in observation drawing students were asked what they would take away from the workshop. Here are some of their quick-fire responses:

“Don’t use lines as much”

“Use different pens, pencils and other things like that differently”

“Using different types of shade”

“You can use tone instead of line”

Empire Explained – Trial Sessions with Yr 7, Newall Green High School students and the Home Educators Network

Here are some things that the groups said they learned about Egyptian, Roman and British Empire:

They all had armies and military awards

The Empire increased trade opportunities

They had different titles for their ruler – Pharaoh, Emperor and King/Queen

They all became expensive to defend and relied upon different technologies to expand

Things they said they really liked about the workshop included:

– The use of I-pads

– Interaction with objects

– Lots of different activites

– Comparison of the empires

Overall we collected a huge range of evaluative material that allows us a glimpse into understanding what it is that students get from participating in a museum session as part of their education. We’ll be examining all of our material over the coming weeks and have planned in more hotspots weeks over the year so that we can ensure that all students attending our workshops get a quality, educational and fun visit.

Discovering Diabetes A-Level Study Day with CADET

Students working with researchers on the ‘Dragons Den’ task

Giving students access to the fascinating cutting edge research that happens at the University of Manchester is a key priority for the Secondary and Post-16 science programme at Manchester Museum.  So when i was approcached by Elizabeth Pawson, a postdoctoral researcher in a research instutite called CADET (Centre for Advanced Discovery and Experimental Therapeutics) to help them develop an A-Level Study day about their research on diabetes i jumped at the chance.  Below is a blog post written by Lizz about their experience and the study day which took place on 18th October:

14 members of CADET (ranging from PhD students to professors) took part in the first Discovering Diabetes Study Day on October 18th. The study day, which was developed and designed by researchers at CADET, in collaboration with Alexa at Manchester Museum, to specifically complement the A ‘Level syllabus and was attended by AS and A2 Level students from Cardinal Newman College in Preston and Salford City College.  The study day enabled students to find out about diabetes, diabetic complications and how diabetes research is carried out whilst working closely with the range of scientists and clinicians who work at CADET.

Students presenting their 'pitch' to the DragonsAfter an opening talk which introduced the students to diabetes and to the role of CADET within the University, the students then participated in a “Dragons’ Den” style activity. In this the students worked in small groups and learned about different secondary complications of diabetes, how they are investigated at CADET and how scientific research is funded. They then had to pitch for future funding for research into the different complications, with the chance of winning £1 million. As shown by the evaluation at the end of the study day, the students very much enjoyed this activity and as such were very vocal during the pitching process! They were also very interested in learning about how academic research is conducted and felt that this session provided them with new insights into scientific research careers.

In a second activity the students were taught about the different technologies that CADET scientists use regularly as part of their research. The students had a work book of data and analysed results from a series of experiments with the aim of identifying biomarkers of importance in diabetes. They then had to decide which molecules could be potential future therapeutic agents and justify future research into their role in the disease.

Winning group

Evaluations carried out at the end of the day showed that the over 90% of the students felt the day directly contributed to what they were learning in college and felt that had a better understanding of diabetes research. In addition they were keen to study science at degree level and found the interactions with the scientists a useful and invaluable experience. Moreover the staff who attended with the students recommended that the day is repeated again next year. The researchers at CADET thoroughly enjoyed themselves too, and are currently working on extending the study day so that more students can attend. Then next day is scheduled for March 2013 and will hopefully become a regular, biannual event.

Researchers from CADET

 Some comments from students who attended the day:

“ ..Really enjoyed the Dragons’ Den session as it was a good insight into the real scientific world”

“..New found knowledge was very interesting and relevant to my future interests and courses…”

“The workbooks will be very useful in future study”

 “I not only learnt about the effects of diabetes but also about how funding is gained for research”

 “I learnt a lot and would really like to do more events like this”

“Everyone is nice and helpful”

“It was fun, hopefully coming back soon”

 “I really enjoyed working with scientists and asking them questions, that was the most important and interesting part”

Working with scientists investigating biomarkers of diabetes

Our engage with the experts A-Level Study days are always very popular and this one was no different.  It was fully booked within a couple of days of the date being advertised on the website!  We are delighted to annouce that we will be running it again on 21st March 2012, so if you would like to give your students the opportunity to take part and work with the scientists, please do get in touch.

Animal Explorers visit

On Thursday 24th May, a group of children, staff and parents from Wetherby street children’s centre, Openshaw, visited the museum for our early years animal Explorers session which was led by one of our freelance staff, Karl Harris .

Children from Wetherby children’s centre taking part in an animal explorer session

The session began in the Nature Discovery gallery with the story ‘Polar bear, Polar Bear, What do you hear ?’ ( Bill Martin junior and Eric Carle) and the group were fabulous at making all the animal noises, including the more unusual animals like the peacock and hippo! Then, dressed as animal explorers, complete with hats and binoculars and armed with a bag of ‘clues’, the group looked for the animals in the story on the Living Worlds gallery, Bird gallery and Vivarium. At the end of the session , Adam from the Vivarium brought one of the lizards down to meet the group. One of the children asked if the lizard had a name and as it doesn’t, he invited them to name it. They have suggested Fillip, Tigger or Mango Ba Jango – so watch this space!

Children from Wetherby children’s centre meet a friendly lizard from our Vivarium

Comments from parents who supported the visit, said that the museum was interesting with a wonderful atmosphere. One parent said her daughter is still talking about the visit and making animal sounds. She particularly liked the use of props and being able to touch live animals helped to deal with fears/phobias .

The staff agreed that children thoroughly enjoyed the visit and the timing of the session and variety of activities were  appropriate for the age of the children and held their interest.
The impact of the visit has been evident in the play and language the children are using back at the centre. When reading another story the children were able to identify the peacock from Polar bear, Polar Bear and they also remembered the letters and the animals being on holiday.
Most importantly they had lots of fun!
For further information about our early years programme, visit our website.
To make a booking, ring Jill Anderton, our bookings coordinator on 0161 275 2630

What’s our style?

So you may have noticed that we have changed our look…Depending on how long you have been following the blog, you may realise that we have reverted to the previous style originally adopted for the page.

We got some feedback suggesting that this older format was easier to navigate and read, and so we’ve returned to it in order to give you the chance to review it and comment on if this really is the right style for us.

So, please, if you have a view on the format of the blog – let us know by commenting below. After all, this is as much YOUR blog as it is ours, and we would love to hear what you think!