Enquiremanchester’s Weblog

The Manchester Museum is the lead museum in the North West Manchester cluster in a national project about art and learning for engage called ‘enquire’

To the Skeleton with Cansfield High December 9, 2008

Filed under: Pathways and Progression — enquiremanchester @ 10:12 am
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Cansfield High joined us at the museum last week for our first To the Skeleton session.  The idea was to use the Tyrannasaurus Rex skeleton to look at negative and positive spaces in art and then to develop those drawings with inspiration from local artist, Rob Bailey, and grafitti artist, Banksy.

Another big feature of the Pathways and Progressions programme for us (which is funding the free school sessions) is that we are looking at how the museum ‘environment’ can promote learning.  By ‘environment’ we mean the people, collections and places in the museum.

To the Skeleton makes best use of the museum spaces and collections by using the T. Rex for observational drawing  (arguably one of the most dynamic and exciting objects any student is likely to come across in their school day).  By drawing through acetate and making scissor drawings by cutting the spaces around the bones of the skeleton out of black paper, we encourage the students to use the museum space in new and experimental ways.

When I was delivering the session I made no pretense of the fact that this was the first time we’d tried out some of the techniques.  I thought it was important that the students knew that this was an experiment for me as well as them and that they could see that I was confident in that position.  I don’t know whether it made any difference, but despite the scale of the object they were being asked to draw and the challenge of the negative space drawings, the quality and breadth of work produced spoke for itself.

The museum spaces and its collections were also picked up on in the students written feedback which mirror how they marvelled at the skeleton as they first approached it:

“at school its just a small room but at a museum you can explore”

“school is in one room and the museum is one big room with lots of things to look at”

“working at the museum you could see the things in 3D that you were drawing”

“freedom to express yoiur own work in the session”

“you got to do what you want instead of being told specifically an you can learn by experiencing it first hand”

“you could see actual things instead of just pictures”

Nearly half of the students commented on the size of the T. Rex in their written feedback.


Draw to explore October 28, 2008

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire — enquiremanchester @ 1:31 pm
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So, as I said, the co-delivery of the sessions went pretty well.  We delivered three sessions in the herbarium during Big Draw week and with each one the non-herbarium staff (Jen and I) got more confident with how far we could let the students be free to explore for themselves.  After the first session Leander said he thought we could encourage the students to explore more so I made sure to emphasise that in my introduction to the following sessions and throughout.  This seemed to work and by the third session students were opening up drawers and boxes, asking for particular objects – such as the ‘oldest thing in the collection… something from Egyptians times, perhaps’, and gathering them together as they wanted to.

What worked particularly well for me was being able to allow Leander, Suzanne and Lyndsey to lead on their area of specialism and for me to lead on the art side of things backed up by my museological training.  Sometimes leading art sessions at the museum can make you feel like you’re not sure who or what you are representing for the students.  Are you a representative of the museum and all its histories and meanings, or are you the artist exploring the museum independently and sharing how you do that with the students?

By formalising our various roles in the delivery of the session it felt like we could each give something unique to the session.  In addition to that, Leander was great at making sense of the different ways that artists and scientists use the collection.  He’s had the chance to work with quite a few artists who have come to make work in/with the museum so framed it quite nicely by saying that both scientists and artists are looking for certain ‘truths’, but that how we each qualify those truths might be different.


Co-delivery and planning October 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — enquiremanchester @ 11:17 am
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It’s been a busy couple of weeks with the launch of our new herbarium sessions.  These sessions use drawing to document and present the students’ own explorations of the collections right in the heart of where they are stored and organised.

The idea behind it was to be able to offer schools and colleges the chance to come into the museum for a whole day of cross curricular learning, half a day making art in the herbarium and half a day doing hands-on science in the Life Lab.  It was about the breadth of opportunities that the museum has to offer while still looking at where different disciplines overlap.  So the herbarium session was framed by the idea of collecting and classification by reviewing the history of classification right up to how we can classify things by their DNA, and the lab session allowed students to learn about the applications of DNA and carry out their own simplified DNA extraction technique.

I met Botany Curator, Leander Wolstenholme, and Botany Curatorial Assistants, Suzanne Grieve and Lindsey Loughtman, to think about our roles in the session and about how we would use the herbarium space.  I went up to the herbarium twice before the session and spoke first with Leander, and then with Suzanne and Lindsey.  Leander has a scientific background and we discussed how he might best introduce the idea of classification and DNA as part of that.  Leander couldn’t make the second meeting which was about choosing which objects we were going to use to highlight the various areas of the collection.  However, talking with Suzanne and Lindsey gave the session a new dimension because they pointed out their backgrounds as being in history and environmental science respectively, rather than botany and, as such, approached the collections in a different way.  Whereas Leander maintains the scientific classification of the collections, sometimes by dividing up collections made by one collector into their various plant groups, Suzanne noted that she enjoys the stories that one collector’s work might be able to tell, and that there is a project going on at the moment to bring one collector’s work back together.

As part of the session, inspired by what someone said at the recent Museums Association conference, we decided to introduce some of the objects by asking Leander, Suzanne and Lindsey to talk about why they had chosen them and what they thought was special about them.  We thought this would be a good way not only to give the students a feel for the stories behind some of the collection, but also to start thinking about how the collections can be interpreted in different ways by different people, scientists, historians, and artists – to name just a few.

The sessions worked well with Art Historian, Jen Ashton, and I leading students to investigate artists who had previously made work by reseaching the museum’s collections and to make their own work, and with Leander, Lyndsey and Suzanne giving an introduction to what has and does happen in the herbarium, and supporting the students to explore the collections for themselves.  More on that later…


Planning and evaluation September 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — enquiremanchester @ 1:57 pm
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We’ve been thinking about evaluation and planning a lot this week.  Went to a fantastic meeting as part of the North West Hub’s project ‘Pathways and Progression’.  We were encouraged to focus in on the fundamental aims of our projects and from there work out how we would evaluate that.  The ‘aim’ was defined as the fundamentals of what we are trying to achieve, and everything else is about how we are going to achieve that.  These aims could be long term aims, with the current projects being a small part of a longer term goal.

So I’ve been reviewing my planning (see our year plan sketch on the right), disecting the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority website, and deciding where to focus our aims for the two projects we’re working on.

We need to consider a whole host of things including the wider University and Museum aims, the Museum’s learning team aims, what the project funders are looking for, what schools and students want, what the curriculum says and why we work with artists and why they want to work with us.  By separating the aims between Teachers and Schools, Young People, and Museums and Museum Staff (within which I’ve included a sub-heading for Artists) its helped me to really think about why we are doing what we are doing and for who, and to work out how to balance that between the participants.

So we could easily have a million and one aims (especially when you think about everyone involved separately) but what we’re going to do now is work out where to focus for the forthcoming year, how we work out how successful we have been, and how that can help us to develop the programme for the future.


The Big Draw and DNA September 10, 2008

We’ve just finalised our session plans for a week in October when Secondary School (KS3/4) classes are invited to join us at the Museum for a whole day of learning.  Half the day will be spent up in the Herbarium researching and drawing botanical specimens (all linked to classification and DNA), and the other half will be spent extracting plant DNA in our Life Lab.

The sessions are timed during the month of The Big Draw which is organised by The Campaign for Learning.  To join in with the spirit of The Big Draw we’ll be using drawing to open up new spaces for us, taking our pencils out of the classroom and up into the storerooms.

While we’re up in the Herbarium we’ll find out how new discoveries, like DNA, change the way that nature is recorded and analysed and look at how artists have presented their thoughts on this.  Then we’ll be doing some documentation of our own, exploring the collections, and making our own visual records.

Down in the Life Lab we’ll be finding out how DNA is used for classification and looking at its structure and role in the cell.  We’ll even get the chance to don our lab coats and extract our own plant DNA.

We think this cross-curricular approach to learning will give students and teachers an exciting and full day out at the Museum.  We hope that by using different approaches to the same subject matter we’ll create a layered learning experience and highlight how exciting ideas and creativity can be shared by subject areas.

The sessions will run daily from Monday 13th October to Friday 17th October, 10am – 2pm, and are for 35 students max.

To find out more or book you and your students in for a day please contact Lauren Furness on: 0161 306 1764.

UPDATE 22nd September 2008 – These sessions are now fully booked


Planning and Progressions September 2, 2008

Filed under: About Alchemy - enquire — enquiremanchester @ 4:09 pm
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All this afternoon the Secondary and Post-16 team have been planning the next couple of terms on the en-quire project.  Its a very exciting time, with lots of creative ideas flying about – more details to follow in the next couple of weeks!

One of the things we wanted to achieve as part of this work with artists has been a series of sustainable programmes that can be offered throughout the year and that work with some of our talented artist educators already on staff.  We have been lucky to secure funding from the North West Museums Hub, part of Renaissance in the Regions, through their Pathways and Progression programme.

This programme aims to provide Museums and Galleries in the Manchester area to develop their work with secondary schools.  Here at The Manchester Museum we have a well established Science and Humanities programme and arts programming has not been a core part of our offer until very recently.

With this funding we have developed three exciting new workshops that highlight the diversity of the collection and use the Museum galleries as sources of inspiration for creative learning and we can offer them FREE OF CHARGE which is wonderful news.

More details on each of the sessions will follow, along with information on the forthcoming trials and images.  If you are a teacher, or have a friend who is a teacher, and you want to know more, please contact one of us at The Museum, or even leave us a comment below so we know we are not alone!


Research reports August 19, 2008

Exploring the museum
Exploring the museum

For each of two years of action research we produced a research report.  These reports are currently being edited and published by enquire as part of the national enquire findings.

As a preview to the published report I just wanted to highlight some of the things that stood out during the research.

The research had an emphasis on collaboration and reflection within a tripartite framework of museum, school and artist. The underlying objective was to evidence how museums, schools and artists could best work together with contemporary art to create benefits for learning.

Year one (working with a researcher from The University of Manchester, Erinma Ochu):  what we learned

  • projects need time to plan, reflect, evaluate and learn from the processes
  • the roles of partners need to be clearly identified from the beginning so people know what they are responsible for and who they can go to
  • teachers, artists and museum educators should learn together from the beginning in the form of a collaborative exploration – its easy to over or underestimate how much each other knows

Year two (working with researchers Liz Jones, Christina Macrae and Rachel Holmes of Manchester Metropolitan’s Education and Social Research Institute:  what we learned

  • the artists’ pedagogical style placed an emphasis on the young people being co-learners
  • artists and curators provided a conduit between the students and the museum, and, in so doing, breached some of the barriers that prevent certain sectors of society from accessing such institutions
  • all the young people who participated regarded accessing the museums and galleries as a positive experience
Exploring Clifton Marina

Exploring Clifton Marina

Other elements which added to the ‘positive experience’ for young people were:

•    opportunities to browse and wander in an environment that was relaxed and not overtly rule- bound;
•    creation of opportunities for the young people to pursue aspects of their personal agenda, and thus give them some empowerment over their own learning;
•    sensitivity on the part of museum staff and the artists, so that the students were not rushed but allowed to take their time when looking and handling objects,
•    provision of diverse experiences that incorporated active participation – and favoured learning in kinaesthetic and tactile modalities.

So now we’re looking forward to another year where we can develop these ideas into more work and look more closely at how we can promote an environment where they can happen.