Before I discovered the miracles of science, magic ruled the world –

image1 image2gemmaWilliam Kamkwamba


Changing Materials Workshop at Thinktank.

Today we entered a science lab at the Thinktank and discovered a world of changing materials and substances with a class of KS2 children from a local school.
The school class were fully kitted out in lab coats, in a real lab environment and using exciting science equipment they are likely to have not used before at primary school level- they sure were excited! The students were interacting with science equipment that you can mostly get to use in high school; (cylinders and beakers). Although a classroom environment, the experience of being in a different setting with an ‘expert’ is likely to have made the session more interesting.
The session featured both hands on experiments for the students, and demonstrations from the learning officer of higher difficulty, all exploring the science around solids/liquids/gases. The demonstration from the learning officer which involved melting a solid metal into a liquid by using the heat of boiling water got responses from the students “woah thats MAGIC” to which the learning officer replied “it’s not magic, it’s science!”. The wow factor from the experiments is something BMT aims to achieve to catch the attention and engagement of the students.
The session also caught their attention by using relatable materials which kids this age enjoy- things like lego, bubbles, and slime. This makes the session age appropriate.
The students had the opportunity to demonstrate skills such as following instructions and accurately measuring their ingredients. Their knowledge was also tested through regular questions and answers with the learning officer. Debate was also bought up by questioning the students whether toothpaste was a solid or liquid?
Through observing the workshop we were able to clearly see how the students enjoyed the interactive element of the session and felt involved with the experiments.

Sitting in this workshop was quite pleasant, to see the education programmer at hand. In Thinktank, the teacher who was teaching the class was not just there to explain the materials to the group, but also letting the children interact with the materials. They seem to be having fun and learning at the same time.
It’s just not ThinkTank that offers these education programmes; all the Museums in Birmingham have an education programme that offers a wide range of on-site taught workshops, to engage and inspire young children in the world of museums, galleries and libraries. More museums around the UK are starting to have education leaning that is offered to school outside the class room, where the schools can learn and take the experience back to the class room.

Magical Mystery Tour

bethgemmae0d41680-b09f-48ab-98ec-f8f9f5217c02 3a66ec77-9979-4638-9043-27f2d4deb321 a27032d3-1ee9-4bf6-8567-a9086258d407 72b1fbc4-4f1e-4c5b-a05b-e7065aa13f85 5064c5e6-3214-40a4-8c32-3706c4436e1bCollections management.

We studied how the collections are managed and saw this in practice at the Museums Collections Centre.  Lucy Blakeman, the collections team leader, gave us a tour of the stores.

The warehouse is open to the public- a way of using the unseen collections in an innovative way- through open days. These are quite regular, happening the last Friday of every month. Because of this, even in the collections store there are still some interpretive text panels for the public to see, although it is not a formally curated space. The objects in the store are mixed for a sense of discovery, making the collections more exciting for the public. As opposed to having all items categorised which feels more like a shopping experience. The Museums Collection Centre also keep up a presence on social media, through Facebook and twitter. On here the public are able to gain a further insight into the goings on at the centre. We feel this is also quite an innovative idea- as collections centres are typically not available to the public in this way.

Seeing the size and scale of the store puts into perspective the importance of documentation/management of the collections. The collection is huge with around 800,000 objects. Birmingham Museums Trust handle this with the KE Emu system as an online database which records all information about the collections. This system abides to the museum standards of Spectrum, and goes beyond these towards the BMT Ideal standards which aims to record 30 different criteria for each object, ranging from object number and name to condition and material and narrative or themes.

The collections centre are aiming for a new store within the next 5 years as the conditions in the store aren’t ideal. Being in a warehouse environment, the store was not built to specific needs, therefore the shell of the building is not well insulated and is difficult to control temperature and humidity.

Beth and Gemma

‘Now’s the time to find out why, I think you’re the same as me….’ Cataloging and identification

Cataloging activity

We were presented with 10 similar pots and given three different descriptions of a particular pot. The task was to see if we could identify the right pot from the descriptions:

Subjective: We found that the subjective description was the least useful, it was very vague! Specialist: The specialist description included information which we thought to be too expert. Because we didn’t know what a middle period Nasca vessel looked like, this description was of no help to us. However it could be useful if we had access to the book which would help identify the object successfully. For this reason, it is more useful than the first description. But doing this would often be too time-consuming and would be more useful for preparing research for the object rather than identifying it. Descriptive: We found the descriptive text to be much more detailed and therefore of an accurate description. We all managed to identify the right vase from this description so therefore it demonstrates it was the most useful technique! Information such as colour, shape and particular features such as ‘foxes’ helped us distinguish the vase from others. We suggested this description could be improved by including the size and measurements but then discussed how the measurements would be noted.

We learnt that the descriptive approach to cataloging is the most useful because it is a fast and precise method; it is not always specialists who are moving the objects so it is important that the cataloging method is useful to as many staff as possible.

Finally we discussed how these lines of texts may be useful for other reasons, and also how they would function interpretive text panels in the museum alongside the object. Subjective, although very vague and subjective, could be interesting for a curator. The information ‘visitors to the museum really like this object’ might mean that they are more likely to include that object in an exhibition over other objects. Specialist, although too expert, would be useful for research. The fact it has a reference to time period and in particular a book would be useful for finding more information about the object. We thought this would not be useful as an interpretive text panel as it is too specialist and dry for visitors. Descriptive, although useful for cataloging and identifying, would not be used as interpretive text. We discussed that it is too descriptive and states the obvious for visitors; viewers will be able to see from looking at the object that it has a red base and orange interior and do not need to be told this. They are not learning anything from the text. Also Adam discussed that there is often a word limit to the interpretive text panels and this would be seen as wasting valuable characters. Therefore, none of the texts would be thrown away as they are all useful in their own different ways.

Identification activity: Insects, led by Luanne Meehitiya

Utilising resources given to us by Luanne, in two groups we had to take a methodical approach to identifying various species of moths. Even with no expertise in this area, by using appropriate guides, we had to identify each of the species by its physical characteristics and comparison to the guide provided. Both groups managed to complete the task successfully, noting the differences in sizes despite being within the same species, as well as differences between the sex of the species.

Luanne went onto to discuss with the group how the Hawk moth is preserved and that the particular collection we were looking at were over 100 years old. The process and continuing challenges faced when trying preserve the insects gave us a fascinating insight also into the preservation of BMT’s collections. For example, how the pins had to not contain copper, as one had started to disintegrate one of the moths, turning part of the moth green and needed to be changed. An issue with the collection being so old, meant that attempting to compare their colours was difficult as over time they’ve discoloured and faded.

Once we had completed the exercise, Luanne revealed the categorised labels underneath each of the aligned species of Hawk moth. Similarly, underneath each of the moths there were tiny labels, that may have not been noticed until it was pointed out; where each moth is individually labelled with their collectors’ information, as well as where and when they had been collected. These small labels are vital for the collections team in determining each exact specie as well as its history and background.

The task clearly demonstrated the ways in which people, not particularly with an expertise in collections, could go about identifying objects within a collection. The activity was interesting, with a beautiful collection giving us all an opportunity to partake in an interesting comparative situation. We particularly loved having the opportunity to look at the Hawk moths in closer detail than you would normally get the chance to have in a museum- taking time to identify its characteristics and differences to just the Hawk moth species of insect.

 Museum collection stores:

This week we also went into the stores at the MCC. It was fascinating to see how objects are stored and organised by the museum.  It was also highlighted to us the difficulty in categorising the storage of the objects, and how the purpose of the stores can change depending on who is using them. As the museum stores are often open for public tours, some of the cages are organised to be more visually appealing. This can make it difficult to find objects for those using the stores for academic or research purposes.

We also looked at this mummified animal, which demonstrates the importance of technological research in museums. This object was thought to be a mummified hawk, but after being x-rayed at the University of Manchester, it was discovered that the remains inside are that of a monkey. This was of great significance not only to the museum and its visitors, but also to the wider Egyptological community. It will now be used in researching the practice of mummifying animals. Without technological research it would have been impossible to know this without opening the mummy up.


Gemma Ford, Amelia Rochelle-Bates, and Elizabeth Parkes