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A workshop surrounded by bones: Inspiring the next generation part 3

Caroline Francis4 August 2020

This post is the third in a series on the Bio-robotics and Animal Movement Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London. This article is written by Zhi-Cheng Wong, an undergraduate student on the BASc (Arts and Sciences) programme. She joined the Bio-Robotics and Animal Movement Schools project team in September 2019.

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Handling History with Sarah Dhanjal Part 3

Caroline Francis15 July 2020

As part of a series looking at museum work that happens outside the public eye, we asked one of our longstanding workshop leaders about their experiences using different collections with primary school children. Sarah Dhanjal was an undergraduate and graduate student at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and went on to a career working in engagement with many of London’s museums and collections. Here she talks about working with objects from Ancient Greece, taking a close look at one of them, as well as what it’s like being the special visitor at school.

Sarah Dhanjal teaching at a primary school.

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A workshop surrounded by bones: Inspiring the next generation part 2

Caroline Francis1 July 2020

This post is the second in a series on the Bio-robotics and Animal Movement Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London.

Bio-Inspired Robotics Workshop at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

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A workshop surrounded by bones: Inspiring the next generation part 1

Caroline Francis26 June 2020

This post is the first in a series on the Bio-robotics and Animal Movement Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London.

Photo of Maisha and student examining specimen at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

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Handling History with Sarah Dhanjal Part 2

Mohammed Rahman10 June 2020

The second part of a series looking at museum work that happens outside the public eye, we asked one of our longstanding workshop leaders about their experiences using different collections with primary school children. Sarah Dhanjal was an undergraduate and graduate student at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and went on to a career working in engagement with many of London’s museums and collections. Here she talks about developing and running a workshop about the Stone Age, including using a handaxe from Walthamstow. Words by Sarah Dhanjal.

Sarah Dhanjal in action at a primary school.

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Handling History with Sarah Dhanjal Part 1

Mohammed Rahman20 May 2020

As part of a series looking at museum work that happens outside the public eye, we asked one of our longstanding workshop leaders about their experiences using different collections with primary school children. Sarah Dhanjal was an undergraduate and graduate student at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology and went on to a career working in engagement with many of London’s museums and collections. Here she talks about developing boxes of objects for outreach and why we encourage handling of even ancient and precious things. Words by Sarah Dhanjal.

Sarah Dhanjal in action at a primary school.

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New Ways of Seeing: Printmaking as an Introduction to University

Briony Fleming29 April 2020

This post has been written by Emma Bryant, Schools Engagement Manager: Museums (UCL Culture) who focusses on a programme of activity with secondary schools in east London. (more…)

Grant Museum Takeover Workshop: STEP Trainee Reflection

Mohammed Rahman8 April 2020

Hi, it’s Mohammed Rahman, the STEP Trainee (Shared Training and Employment Programme) at UCL Culture. In this blog post I’m going to reflect on my involvement with a schools outreach programme for a Grant Museum Takeover Day and my first four months at UCL Culture in general.

My placement at UCL Culture has been split between their exhibitions and engagement teams. So far, I’ve been involved in the production and install of eight exhibits, ranging from temporary exhibitions in the North and South Cloisters to a permanent display in The Petrie Museum of Archaeology.
I’ve also facilitated seven schools outreaches both on and off campus. These include printmaking outreaches at schools with Slade School of Fine Art alumni and a bio-robotics workshop in The Grant Museum of Zoology. It’s been busy and I’ve learned tonnes already!

The Grant Museum Takeover Day is a programme run by the engagement team at UCL Culture and is led by Emma Bryant, Schools Engagement Manager: Museums and supported by Sara Rayment and Maja Neske (MA Museums and Galleries in Education, IoE). The programme invites pupils aged 9-10 from east London schools to explore the Grant Museum’s collections and write the labels they would like to see in the museum. It consists of an initial visit to the Grant Museum, two label-making outreach workshops at schools and a final takeover day at the Grant Museum with their labels on display. It’s a great opportunity for young people to make the space their own and also for the museum to learn how to make their collections more accessible.

 

A young person engaging with the Grant Museum of Zoology’s collection. Copyright Matt Clayton

This project was especially valuable to my placement as it let me bring together what I’d been learning in both the exhibitions and engagement aspects of my role. Drawing on my experience on the exhibitions team and discussions with exhibitions manager at UCL Culture, Darren Stevens, I honed my knowledge on how to produce accessible labels. Drawing from my experience prepping and facilitating engagement workshops, I drew up a lesson plan with Emma to communicate my understanding of good design.

The label-writing workshop came at a time in my placement where I’d been formatting large print exhibition guides at UCL Art Museum and the Grant Museum. I also had undertaken Accessibility Awareness training from Goss Consultancy Ltd., a consultancy firm that works to make more accessible workplaces, policies and services so the magic word ‘accessibility’ had been tattooed onto my brain. I’ve learnt that two key parts of the accessibility mindset are empathy and asking. Empathy is stepping into other people’s shoes and not taking your own experience and needs for granted. Then the asking- instead of imagining what other people need, asking people with accessibility needs directly and putting in the research is what gets results. As Nick Goss, Director of Goss Consultancy Ltd. taught us, there’s no such thing as a 100% accessible experience and dialogue is the way to mitigate that margin.

The workshop took place at George Mitchell Primary School on 25th Feb 2020 and I was supported by Sara. The pupils had written some labels from their initial visit to the Grant Museum describing the Dugong, Elephant Skull, Saltwater Crocodile to name a few. This workshop focused on how they would format these texts to produce as labels for the takeover day.

On the day of the workshop, I was quite nervous and we experienced some technical difficulties, but ultimately the discussions with the pupils on issues of accessibility were fruitful and promising. We discussed the golden rules I had drawn up with Darren which were the following:

 

  1.  Design for your audience- keep the needs of your visitors in mind. Whether this is catering to young families, people with visual impairments or people with English as a second language, it’s important that this is inherent in your design.
  2.  Text size- A good size fits roughly 10 words per line- for body text, keep a minimum of size 16.
  3.  Word count- do not exceed 50 words of body text.
  4.  Clarity and spacing- Use the whole of the label and have an even margin. Make sure there is a good amount of colour contrast between the background and text.
  5.  Font- Use sans-serif fonts (the Grant Museum use Helvetica, but Calibri, Myriad Pro and Arial are all good) with a minimum size of 16 for body text.
  6. Organisation- The most useful information needs to stand out. Think about headings and body text, and the order of paragraphs.

It was amazing how the Year 5s had a strong conceptual grasp on accessibility, which some cultural institutions are only beginning to implement!

One of the most rewarding parts of the experience and of my placement so far has been working with colleges and schools from east London. I often sense a good rapport between myself and the pupils, both being young east Londoners, and it felt good to know that by virtue of representation I had helped make higher education appear like more of an option in the minds of the pupils. Though I’ve been to university, I come from the same underrepresented demographics as many of the pupils and understand higher education’s many obstacles and the life-changing power of role models.

I think a great part of the STEP placement at UCL Culture is that it provides young east Londoners like myself a platform to be a part of the engagement in our own communities. I’m keen on seeing more opportunities like this from UCL and other institutions in light of the 2022 East Bank expansion as they forefront the say of east Londoners in how their area will change.

I should add that sadly the final museum takeover day of the programme has been cancelled in light of the Covid-19 outbreak, but the workshop was nevertheless an important learning experience for the pupils and myself!

A summer of innovation, creativity and learning: engaging with east London schools

e.edem-jordjie4 September 2019

This blog has been written by Edinam Edem-Jordjie, a STEP Intern with the UCL East Community Engagement Team.


We have had a very busy summer at UCL Culture. As part of our commitment to establishing a positive community in east London with which to work with long-term in advance of the opening of the UCL East campus, UCL Culture has been involved in a number of activities with the communities of east London, this summer. Read on for details on what we got up to!

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“If they haven’t all died out, why can’t I meet one?”

Briony Fleming28 November 2018

 This blog has been written by Josie Mills: a student engager currently undertaking a PhD in Archaeology.


What is a Student Engager? There are 17 of us in total, who you might meet and chat to in any of the three museums around campus: UCL Art Museum, the Grant Museum or the Petrie Museum. We are PhD students at UCL and work as Engagers to communicate aspects of our research – and information about the museum collections – to visitors.

I’m an archaeologist studying stone tools made by Neanderthals, using different scientific techniques to work out where the rock came from. The information from these lithics (stone tools) can be used to explore aspects of prehistoric life, particularly movement and subsistence in changing landscapes. Student Engagers work in all three UCL museums, making connections between our PhD research and the collections. We also chat about what we do and objects from the museums on the Research Engager Blog.

When I first started working I adapted well to the Petrie Museum, whose oldest artefacts are stone tools, and the Grant Museum where several hominin casts are on display. UCL Art Museum on the other hand was a bit of a challenge. However, part of working as a Student Engager is adapting themes of our research to different situations. Last year UCL Art Museum held an exhibition of work by Slade School of Art students, including art by Cyrus Hung, who collected debris from the Slade studios and collated it in sketchbooks. These discarded items, including food wrappers and doodles, provided an insight into the human process of creating art, without showing the outcome. The work resonated with me because archaeology is very similar: we use items that have been left behind and removed from their systemic context, to reconstruct past behaviour.

Paleolithic Artefacts in the Petrie Museum

These are the oldest artefacts in the Petrie Museum they were made around half a million years ago.

As PhD students we specialise to an unusual degree, spending a lot of time alone in a lab or writing at a desk. Working as a Student Engager is very different, it throws our research – and us – open to a wide and diverse audience. We are asked, why is our niche subject relevant? Why is it interesting? In relation to the museums, we’re asked, why can’t we read hieroglyphs? Why don’t we know the Latin name of this bivalve?

It took time for all of us to realise which parts of our work are interesting to others and will support a meaningful discussion. A lot of what I do is tied up in our human prehistory, particularly discussing Neanderthals and their behaviour. I am a staunch defender of Homo neanderthalensis and love to tell visitors that most of them are 2-4% Neanderthal. One of the questions I’m frequently asked is, ‘How did the Neanderthals become extinct?’ A traditional academic answer to this would be, there are many contributing factors like climatic fluctuation, low genetic diversity, and potential competition with humans. But as we have inherited Neanderthal DNA, maybe ‘extinct’ is not the right word and ‘assimilated’ is a better term. This answer is not always well-received. Someone once said to me, ‘If they haven’t all died out, why can’t I meet one?’ and that’s a valid question. Even though I might not use the term ‘extinct’, a representation of the archetypal Neanderthal doesn’t walk among us today.

Skull of Neanderthal Man

La Chapelle-Aux-Saints Neanderthal cast held at the Grant Museum – notice the pronounced brow ridge over the eye sockets.

On a lighter note, everyone (yes, even adults) is a little obsessed with toilet humour. In archaeology we talk a lot about preservation; the ability of artefacts to preserve is key to us finding them. This is particularly difficult in deeper prehistory as lots of factors, such as water and microbes, lead to decomposition. Preservation is fantastic in Egypt because the climate is arid and even organic material endures. This is something I like to talk about with visitors and I often begin with the bias that results from poor organic preservation then segue into a conversation about stone tools. Recently I was asked, ‘Well, what did the Egyptians do about the toilet, then?’ Initially stumped, I realised this visitor envisioned a catastrophic situation where all Ancient Egyptian poo was preserved, creating mountains of desiccated effluence for archaeologists to discover. When I talk about preservation I think of artefacts, but this person worried instead about a very basic human aspect of preservation.

This is what has influenced my PhD work most: the importance of human-ness and relatability, using imagery and bringing to life initially mundane things. I am continually surprised by how much people want to know about evolution, and this has forced me to keep up to date with paleoanthropological work, making me a better researcher. New findings and insights can change the narrative of our evolution in the blink of an eye. These key aspects of archaeological and anthropological research interest people and mustn’t be lost in a swathe of rocks, pollen, dirt and bone. Talking to visitors influences how we present our PhD projects whilst at the same time enriching their museum experience, providing expert knowledge disseminated in an accessible way. The idea of focused research presented in a framework of its wider relevance is crucial to the Student Engager role and it’s what we do every week across UCL’s museums.