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Enhancing pupil learning on museum visits
Enhancing pupil learning on museum visits

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1 Object-based learning

Harnessing the power of original, real things, that's what learning in museums is all about …

Osborne (2004)

Pupils are handling a Second World War gas mask. This is part of their work on the Home Front. They can feel the weight of the gas mask and smell the stifling warmth of the mask on their face. This gives them a depth of understanding that nothing else could. For the moment they are connecting with the sensations and physical feelings of a wartime child.

This richness and immediacy of experience can be applied across the curriculum and with pupils at any age. The resources for activities like the one described above, together with many more ideas and educational programmes, are located in museums.

Museums are the nation's treasure houses. They're packed with objects, stories, ideas and creative, knowledgeable people. When these elements combine with a teacher's professional expertise they can add an extra and magical dimension to a child's learning.

‘Museums’ in the context of this unit refer to the museums sector, including museums, galleries, interactive science centres, heritage sites and children's museums

Provided here are links to three accounts of the ways in which museums and galleries can be used with pupils.

First, a visit by older secondary school pupils to a large national museum. These visits are available for pupils of all ages.

Click on 'view document' below to download Looking at paintings at the National Gallery

View document [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Small local museums also have much to offer. Here is a description of a role-play session with a class of seven year olds. Note the comments made by the class teacher on how this activity enhances pupils’ learning.

Click on 'view document' below to download Victorian role-play at Preston Manor

The third account, Museums in the classroom, demonstrates the diverse range of activities and learning pathways that can arise when a school sets up a museum of their own. Whilst the school featured here is a nursery school, the principles of exciting interest, close parental involvement, and offering a range of activities suited to specific learning outcomes, are applicable to all ages.

Click on 'view document' below to download Museums in the classroom

Activity 1

Objects, or material things, are central to the museum experience. They can be a powerful teaching tool, giving children meaningful and lasting memories of their museum visit or of a classroom-based lesson using objects.

To find out more about the theory behind object-based teaching please read the article The power of objects by clicking on the link below.

Click 'view documents' below to download The power of objects

Now try the questions in the accompanying activity sheet Questioning objects, by clicking on the link below.

Click 'view document' below to open the Activity sheet

You will need a mobile phone to be your ‘object’ – an example of a meaning-laden yet familiar and everyday object.

The questions range from those directly related to the physical object to the wider context of the object. You will probably generate much more information about the phone than you might anticipate!


You could do this individually, or with colleagues as a group exercise. This activity aims to highlight the huge potential for learning and teaching inherent in objects, by stimulating discussion and careful reflection upon an object.