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Eureka Seminar: Museums, History and Science Learning

The Centre for Heritage Research

In collaboration with the Creative Minds Project, Yorkshire Museums Libraries and Archives Council and the Eureka! The Museum for Children, Halifax, West Yorks, HX1 2NE, UK

Date: Thursday 23rd June 2005 at 4.30pm - 6.30pm, tea from 4pm Location: Eureka!, Discovery Road, Halifax


  • Edgar Jenkins (University of Leeds, Centre for Science and Mathematics Education)
  • Richard Walton (Sheffield Hallam University, Centre for Science Education)
  • Ben Gammon (Head of Learning & Audience Development, Science Museum, London)


Melanie Quin, Executive Director, ecsite-uk (the national network of science centres and museums)

"Museum collections and the teaching of elementary science in the early twentieth century", Professor Edgar Jenkins, University of Leeds, Centre for Science and Mathematics Education

During the early decades of the twentieth century, museums became increasingly involved with the work of the schools, particularly that of the public elementary schools. Government regulations published in 1904 required that these schools teach nature study, and the subject was taken up with enthusiasm by public elementary school teachers, despite, or perhaps because of, ambiguity about what such teaching was meant to achieve. At its best, nature study involved an introduction to elementary science: at its worst, it degenerated into little more than sentimentalism about the natural world. Even so, in one form or another, it was to survive in elementary, and later primary, schools until well into the second half of the twentieth century.

In the early years of that century, many elementary school teachers realised that the collections held in local museums constituted an useful resource to support their teaching of nature study. Museums, for their part, were quick to see an opportunity to develop their educational function and thereby encourage wider recognition of their work, although the nature of their involvement was locally contingent and derived from the initiative of individual museums or their curators. The presentation will review some of the work undertaken in the schools and museums, including the so-called 'museum examinations', and will attempt to relate the engagement of museums with the work of the public elementary schools to the wider contemporary educational concerns of museums. Some attention will also be given to the implications of these early initiatives for more the recent involvement of museums with the work of the schools.

"Making it Real: Teaching Science Education in the Kelham Island Industrial Museum", Dr Richard Walton, Centre for Science Education, Sheffield Hallam University

This paper reports upon an approach to the teaching of science education at Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield. The museum environment is used as a context for introducing undergraduate and longer route post-graduate secondary science education students at Sheffield Hallam University to elements of pedagogy and didactics. Students engage in direct observation of pupil learning in semester 1 through a small scale research project data from which is used to inform the exhibit design and development of the museum. In Semester 2 the emphasis shifts to students preparing and delivering science based activities in the museum and schools as part of Science Week.

The paper places the project into the broader context of the regional skills development strategy for science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the Yorkshire and Humber region showing how links have been established between projects funded by the regional development agency. It also indicates how fruitful working can be established between teaching and learning that takes place within formal, informal and non-formal situations.

The paper concludes with some reflections on initial findings from student feedback over the last two years.

"Life at the exhibit face: the application of learning theory to museum environments "Dr Ben Gammon, Head of Learning and Audience Development, The Science Museum, London

The design and practice of formal education over the last 100 years has been shaped by the influential theories of researchers such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Montessori and Dewey. The work of these and other researchers have similarly increased our understanding of how people learn in informal environments such as museums, art galleries and science centres over the last 20 years, particularly in the field of science education. However the application of this knowledge to practice within the informal learning sector has been, at best, patchy. There is a noticeable lag between understanding and changes to practice. The many conflicting agendas to contend with; differing levels of understanding about learning; and inherent limitations associated with science learning within informal environments all make the application of learning theory to practice far from easy. I will present a specific case study of how this has been attempted in a recent gallery about genetics and brain science and propose a 5 point plan of future action for the informal learning sector:

i) re-define the role of education team

ii) increase museum profession's understanding of learning

iii) make our agenda more explicit for visitors

iv) provide a robust model of learning within informal learning environments

v) acknowledge the importance of admitting to and learning from failure

This seminar includes a wine reception sponsored by YMLAC's Creative Minds project and a viewing of Eureka's newest Science Gallery Soundspace funded by Creative Minds.



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