Another first day of school

One of the things I love about the school year beginning each year is the opportunity we have as teachers to start fresh, set goals and the enthusiastic nature a new year brings in. The first morning as we meet back as a staff after a well deserved break is always full of enthusiasm and excitement. Sadly, I have been part of many first days where that excitement is withered away with endless descriptions of protocols, overviews and inductions. Usually presented with a dry PowerPoints and limitless pieces of paper reminding us all what we should be doing.

This year’s start to the school year for me started at the Melbourne Museum, with who we have developed a wonderful partnership over that last year with ongoing projects. The aim of the day was to provoke our thinking about how we provoke children’s learning. A meta provocation if you will.

As a Reggio Emilia inspired school we use provocations to provide meaningful and emotional connections to learning. Leaving the OHS induction for another staff meeting, we were able to hear from two amazing speakers who shared their designs for the Children’s Museum at Melbourne Museum and reflect on how we might design purposeful provocations for our children.

First we heard from Mary Featherston, who was was in the original design team for the Children’s Museum in the 80s. She spoke about recognising that although museums in the 80’s had established themselves as treasure houses for the community there was nothing for children. They understood the importance of talking to and listening to children in the development of the museum and observing how children made direct connections with the artefacts and their experiences. They were able to identify that children learn through their senses, vigourously. They learnt that hands on exhibits that were deemed boring by the children were often vandalised and that they needed to find a way to slow children down and allow them to dig deeper in the artefacts. Quickly our teaching team was beginning to compare and contrast learning experiences in schools and museums.

As the Children’s Museum is now going through a redesign we were lucky enough to hear from the most recent design team about how they have tried to create a “wondrous museum place for children.” They see children as co-creators of the museum and have worked with a variety of audiences to develop a balance between the familiar and unfamiliar and high and low pace experiences.

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The staff interacting in one of the exhibits

We had time to walk through the current Children’s Museum asking ourselves the questions; What is the essence of a provocation? How is a provocation more than just an object? How do we find rich ways to engage in the world with our objects?

Now back at school and a week in, we are still thinking and reflecting on the experiences of our first day. When the museum staff spoke about the design of a welcome space to draw children in. A space to let the child know that the authority of their learning and experiences had now been handed over to them, has certainly inspired us to think about how we welcome children to our learning neighbourhood. How does a child know that when they enter the school or our spaces that we respect them and recognise their desires for learning? How do we show them that this is a place that is not separate from but connected to their home and community?

Already in the first week we have begun to unpack the children’s understanding of welcome and how we make people feel safe and cared for and in the coming weeks we will use provocations to think about how we might transform our welcome foyer into a space that hands over the authority to children.

Much better than walking away from the first day with a checklist of frameworks and protocols……

A day at the museum

I have always believed in the power of the network in education to provoke, support and connect. As a user of twitter I have built up a large network around me and now people I have connected with through that have become close colleagues who I talk to regularly about my practice. This year one of those connections I met on twitter using the #vicpln hashtag a few years back provided me with an opportunity to work closely with our local museums.

Throughout the year, our children have been inquiring into how our community curates and shares knowledge. After researching what is important knowledge, how it can be shared and the types of knowledge a community shares, the children have worked on creating their own museum exhibits for a museum at our school.

After connecting with Cam Hocking at Museum Victoria early in the year we were eager to bring the kids to the museum with a new experience of the school trip to the museum in mind. We didn’t want the experience to be anything they’d had at a museum before. Where they were told what rooms they can be in at a given time and with restrictions put in place because teachers are worried about what the museum staff an visitors would think. We wanted to see how the kids would experience the museum given the chance. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard at times to stand back and not look at my watch. But the kids were taken by what they were seeing. And they were considerate of the others using the museum. They didn’t need me to spend my time shushing them. In not being hung up on what others were thinking or what the kids should be doing, I was able to actually observe what they did. How they interacted with the artefacts. How quickly they moved from one to another. How they didn’t read anything, although much of the museum displays had writing. How they shared what they were seeing with each other and how they documented it with their cameras. The types of exhibits they were attracted to weren’t big or moving, but things they had a connection to. And surprisingly the dinosaurs, weren’t as exciting as the bugs!

But this was just part of the visit to the museum.  What we also wanted to achieve was a different experience for the kids. One were they were engaged and engulfed by the visit. What would it take for them to experience the museum on a deeper level? So after lunch we visited the museum wearing a researcher lens. Children entered with questions about the museum that would help them to build their own museum at school. How are the artefacts displayed? What do the artefacts have in common? What sizes are the artefacts? How wide are the walking paths? What senses are used for each of the displays. Why did they decide on that artefact? I took with me a bag full of tools they might need including measuring tapes, timers, paper, pencils and they all had cameras, iPads and a GoPro to use as well.

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You can probably guess what happened next. The kids spent longer at each of the exhibits. They didn’t rush. They questioned each other. They shared their learning. They interacted with the visitors at the museum. It was a completely different experience. And what the children came back with was a different lens in which to visit a museum. Not only was it a mysterious holder of knowledge but armed with the right questions, a day at the museum could be a researcher’s delight that could set the basis for developing our own museum and further strengthening our connections.

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As the inquiry continued we had many more great connections with the museum through twitter, hangouts with experts and visits from their team. As we built our own exhibits it was time to visit the museum again, this time with our own artefacts in hand.

With the ongoing relationship and connection we had with the museum we felt it was the perfect time to ask for a request; an activity room to create a School Museum Pop Up and some experts to give us some feedback. Wish granted, we jumped on a tram with arms full with boxes, ready to set up a pop up at the Melbourne Museum.

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It is not often you get to have such an authentic experience with real and purposeful feedback. The CEO of Museum Victoria dropped by, as did numerous experts within the museum; designers, curators, volunteers. All giving well considered feedback to the students who couldn’t get enough advice to make changes to their exhibits.  At the end of the day not one child was sad the experience was over as they headed back to school eager to make changes based on the feedback they had received.

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And that is not the end of it. This week the museum opened in full at school. Visitors from the community have been invited in between the hours of 10am – 2pm daily to visit, with some very animated tour guides showing them around. And it was not surprising to see some Museum Victoria staff in there eager to see the final product and get their hands on the exhibition booklet.

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….all from a connection that started on twitter and ended with the most amazing group of people from a museum, ready to support our learning every step of the way.