A learning experience

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Each year our Education team hosts two students from Oxford Brookes University’s PGCE course in Primary Education. The students are in the third and final year of their degree and get the chance to spend a week here to learn about the techniques and strengths of museum education and to plan their own class session using the collections.

Handling a Chilean rose tarantula

Handling a Chilean rose tarantula

This year’s students were Hannah Fry and Ryan Bratley, who have been working with St. Aloysius School in Oxford. After a week observing and developing ideas with our education officer Chris Jarvis, Hannah and Ryan delivered a session for their class in the Museum looking at adaptations and food chains. They also brought Chris and a rock python skin in to the school to help facilitate a Philosophy for Children discussion about whether it is acceptable to kill animals for science.

“School trips are active and multi-sensory with new smells, sights, sounds and sensations, and mind and body work together to promote active learning and recall,” says Chris. “At school you might see a picture of a polar bear and read about its adaptations but only in a museum can you run your fingers through its coarse fur, hold your hand next to its immense claws for comparison, or smell the oily, fishy odour of its skin.

“For teachers this type of learning may highlight different relationships and behaviour between children, different knowledge and understanding or thought processes and learning styles that children may not necessarily exhibit in the classroom and so school trips can also be extremely beneficial in understanding individual pupils by seeing them in a different light.”

The primary pupils got the chance to hold live insects – a Madagascar hissing cockroach and a Chilean rose tarantula – as well as handle many other specimens. They learnt how to predict what animals eat by examining their teeth and discovered the many other ways that animals have adapted to their environments.

“Ryan and Hannah did a fantastic job, preparing the children beforehand by asking for predictions about what they’d see, with homework topics to research based on those predictions and linking the trip to their literacy book Journey to the River Sea. They then delivered a fantastic session in the Museum and, most importantly, really capitalised on the children’s excitement by building what they’d learned and seen into their teaching back at school,” says Chris.

We also asked Hannah and Ryan for some of their thoughts on the experience of planning and delivering sessions in the Museum. Here’s what Hannah had to say:

Just being in the Museum for a week was brilliant. We spent lots of our time getting distracted by all of the incredible things so it was no wonder that visiting children had a similar reaction.

Observing Chris and working with visiting schools gave us the confidence to teach our own class in the Museum and this in turn really enriched our work with them back in the classroom. The children loved their time in the Museum and they really impressed us with their background knowledge, behaviour and bravery when holding the creepy-crawlies.

Pupils use a rock python skin from the Museum to help stimulate a Philosophy for Children session discussing whether it is acceptable to kill animals for science.

Pupils use a rock python skin from the Museum to help stimulate a Philosophy for Children session discussing whether it is acceptable to kill animals for science.

Ryan was already keen on science before his week at the Museum, but still found it very rewarding:

At one point, I was coming home each day with so much new information and so many new ideas buzzing around my head that I was having trouble sleeping!

I didn’t come to the Museum looking to learn about biology or geology; I came to see what experiences I could give the children in my class which would make them love the subject as much as I do. I came away with a whole new outlook on the complexities of taking children to a museum and, most importantly, the things that could be gained from such a visit.

Needless to say we’re very pleased to hear such enthusiasm from the next generation of teachers and, who knows, maybe some of the pupils in Hannah and Ryan’s group will now nurture their own lifelong interest in natural history.

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