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For Teachers: How to Make your own Museum

A group of school children browse through the collection drawers behind the scenes at the V&A Museum of Childhood

Behind the scenes at the V&A Museum of Childhood

© Culture Street

    • Museums are fantastic environments for inspiration, exploration, learning, meeting friends or just taking some time to enjoy interesting and beautiful things. It is common for Universities to have museums attached to them, like the Grant Museum of Zoology at University College London or the Scott Polar Institute at the University of Cambridge but not so common for schools.


      Making a school museum

      Establishing and maintaining a school museum is a great way to develop pupils’ skills, knowledge and understanding of the past and of the museum’s chosen theme. By making a museum about their school or their locality helps pupils develop a sense of ownership, pride and identity. By collecting, recording, storing and displaying their collection in exhibitions, pupils develop historical skills in enquiry, chronology and using primary and secondary sources. Not to mention digital, literacy and other skills across the curriculum. They will also create a unique, relevant and fascinating resource both for themselves and for pupils of the future.  Involve the pupils in as much developing, maintaining and decision-making as possible. Your local museum can give you useful advice and support on collecting, looking after and displaying your objects.

      Follow these steps to making your own museum:

      1.    What will you be the museum of..? Your school? Children’s lives? Your locality? Or a different theme altogether? The Museum of Childhood collects objects relating to all aspects of childhood while Robert Opie collects items that are normally thrown away. He has been collecting packaging since he was 16 years old. He now has over a quarter of a million items – you can see some of them at the Museum of Brands in London.

      2.    What will you collect? Museum collections can include objects, specimens, images, films, artworks and manuscripts. Before you start, it’s a good idea to agree on a ‘collecting policy’ stating what you will collect and what you will leave out. This is often shaped by practical considerations – your collection will need to be kept somewhere and to be looked after by someone! It is often just as interesting to record and collect the ordinary and everyday as the extraordinary and unusual.

      If you are making a museum of your school you could collect:
      -    Uniform
      -    Photos
      -    Classroom equipment
      -    Tables
      -    Chairs
      -    Lunch plates, knives and forks
      -    Exercise books - how long might it be before we no longer use them..?
      -    Children’s work
      -    Accounts from children, parents, teachers, lunchtime supervisors – anyone who is involved with the school
      -    Follow links to How to make your own archive and How to make your own gallery for more ideas

      Do you already have some historical items in a cupboard or under a desk somewhere (or even an old desk!) you could include?

      3.    Looking after your collection (stewardship): the items in your collection need to be carefully stored and looked after, especially if they are made of delicate materials like paper or fabric. The National Archives and the Textile Museum in Washington have some useful guidelines. Each item should be ‘catalogued’ - this means keeping a record of what you know about it (date, manufacturer, materials, what it was used for, who used it) and how it came to be in your collection (was it donated? Who by?) so that users of your collection can make the best use of it and learn from it. It will also help when choosing things to include in an exhibition.  You can do this digitally using a simple database. This is the record for the famous Enigma machine from the Imperial War Museum. It will be important to establish whether your collection items are donated or loaned and also whether valuable items are covered by schools insurance.

      4.    Putting on an exhibition: here you can be as creative or conservative as you like. Your school and its grounds could act as a permanent exhibition space so that pupils are constantly surrounded by interesting things. Or you could choose a designated space within the school. Or a bit of both. Exhibitions can be celebrations of anniversaries or themes, they can centre around a person, place or event from the past. e.g.
      -    What was it like at our school during the war?
      -    The lives of past pupils and teachers
      -    Our history – how did we all come to live here?
      -    A Victorian classroom

      Check out our top tips for putting together your own exhibition.

      Online exhibition: you could publish your collection on the school website or use a social media site like Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram. It’s never been easier to take and upload digital photographs of your collection; films and sound can easily be recorded and transferred using a smart phone or tablet. Many museums have great online exhibitions or collections which can inspire like this online exhibition - Jewish Britain: a history in 50 objects - from the Jewish Museum. Guest ‘curators’ - pupils, parents, members of the local community - could curate an online exhibition. They could choose an object to highlight and review each month like these from the Design Museum.

      5.    Staffing: individual pupils, classes and year groups can be given different tasks, roles and responsibilities for developing and maintaining the collection and exhibitions. From cataloguing and researching the collection to developing and marketing exhibitions, a school museum provides endless opportunities for meaningful, relevant, creative learning across the curriculum.

      If space, time or money is in short supply, why not make a Museum in a box? The Sterling Hill mining museum made a display of objects in a series of cubby holes based on the periodic table.


      Curriculum links

      Establishing and maintaining your own museum can enrich and support learning across the curriculum.

      Historical enquiry
      -    Identifying and using useful primary sources
      -    Gathering, selecting, assessing and presenting evidence
      -    Questioning
      -    Assessing reliability and bias
      -    Looking at multiple perspectives – was everyone’s experience the same..?
      -    Thinking about what/which voices might be missing?
      -    Developing and substantiating an answer, argument or narrative

      Creative and critical thinking
      -    Generating ideas
      -    Questioning assumptions and exploring possibilities
      -    Innovating, testing and adapting
      -    Creating

      Literacy
      -    Developing language and vocabulary
      -    Persuading and arguing
      -    Qualifying and justifying
      -    Discussing and debating
      -    Communicating in different forms for different purposes

      Digital
      -    Effective searching
      -    Analysing
      -    Selecting
      -    Evaluating
      -    Presenting
      -    Repurposing
      -    Combining multiple applications

      Personal development
      -    Working collaboratively
      -    Taking responsibility
      -    Planning


      Artsmark and Arts award

      Artsmark is a nationally recognised sign of commitment to high quality arts and cultural education. It enables education settings to evaluate, celebrate and strengthen a quality arts offer and contributes to the cultural aspect of Ofsted’s requirement that a school promotes students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. Using museums and galleries to support classroom work, or developing you own museum, gallery, archive or exhibition is a great way for your school to gain Artsmark. Find out more about Artsmark and its impact here.

      Arts Award is a range of unique qualifications inspiring young people to connect with and take part in the wider world of arts, heritage and culture through different challenges at different levels. Through Arts Award young people gain a nationally recognised qualification enabling them to progress into further education and employment. Find out more here and how museums and galleries can support young people in gaining Arts Award.

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