Amgueddfa Blog: Learning

With the school summer holidays once again upon us, it is time for the Learning Department at St Fagans National Museum of History to once again look back at the year that was and begin the preparations for September. There certainly won't be much time to put our feet up this summer!

This is a very exciting time for the team here. With the newly redeveloped main building now open, September will see us welcoming schools to the brand new Weston Centre for Learning. This will give us a dedicated reception desk for group visitors as well as two new learning studios, a lecture theatre and a fantastic sandwich room. We really can’t wait for September to arrive so we can begin to show off these spaces to schools!

With new spaces, come new opportunities. With space having been at a premium during the redevelopment process, it has been hard for us to increase our offer for schools. However, from September onwards, we will be running a range of new workshops for schools, as well as seeing the return of another, much loved session.

Discussions with teachers as part of our Formal Learning Forum have led us to increase the workshops that we offer that complement each other. This allows schools to book more than one workshops for groups, filling their visits with activities linked to the curriculum. For information of workshops available for Foundation Phase and Key Stage 2 groups, please visit the learning pages of the website. They can be found here: https://museum.wales/stfagans/learning/

As we are eager to show off the new Weston Centre for Learning, we are hosting an open evening for Primary School Teachers in September. The open evening will be an opportunity for teachers to explore the new spaces and familiarise themselves with the new spaces as well as meet the ever so friendly learning team! We will also showcase the workshops we run for schools so teachers can be sure of what they are booking. The open evening is taking place on September the 20th, and booking information can be found here: https://museum.wales/stfagans/learning/teachers/

We don’t want to wish the summer away, but we can’t wait to get started again in September. Hopefully we will see you then!

There are times in life when a problem and its solution come together seamlessly.

The problem – one which every museum faces: cryptic causes of deterioration of stored objects.

The solution: investigation using the latest chemical analyses.

One step better: to combine this analysis with the mission of museums – inspiring people – and undertake the investigative work with full public engagement.

Like most museums, National Museum Cardiff has the task of slowing down corrosion to preserve collections. Think of your family silver tarnishing and you know what I am talking about. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of metal objects in our collection and you understand the herculean task we face when we come to work every day.

Like most museums, we do not have much equipment to undertake complex chemical analyses. So when we want to investigate the magnitude of potential sources of corrosive airborne substances in our collection stores, we often work in partnership with academic institutions.

SEAHA is an initiative between three universities with industry and heritage partners to improve our understanding of heritage science. Heritage science is multi disciplinary and includes experts with chemistry, imaging, IT, engineering, architecture and other backgrounds. One of SEAHA’s amazing facilities is a fully equipped mobile laboratory. We submitted an application last year for the mobile lab to come to Cardiff which, amazingly (there is much demand for this vehicle), was approved. Last week, staff and postgraduate students from University College London, one of SEAHA’s academic partners, visited National Museum Cardiff.

The Mobile Heritage Lab was at the museum for two days. During this time, we assessed environments and pollutants in collection stores and in public galleries. We undertook this work with full involvement of our museum visitors. The mobile lab was parked next to the museum entrance where we encouraged our visitors to explore the on-board analytical equipment. UCL staff and students were at hand to explain how science helps us preserve heritage collections, for example how UV fluorescence is used to explore paintings.

We received a visit by A-level students from Fitzalan High School in Cardiff in the morning. The students were especially interested in chemistry. After a quick introduction, we gave the students an ultra-fine particle counter to produce a pollutant map of the public galleries at the museum. The students used this equipment to measure ultra-fine dust inside and outside the museum. We are still analysing these data, but the early results indicate that the museum’s air filtration system is doing a good job at keeping dust out of the building. This is important because the gases associated with ultra-fine particles (for example, SO2) can damage paper and other organic materials.

We also measured concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) in collection stores and found that levels were higher inside drawers in the Entomology collection than in the store itself; this is important in the context of entomological pin corrosion. We managed to confirm that work we undertook recently to reduce the levels of VOC in the museum’s Mineralogy store had been effective and successful. In addition, we used a thermal imaging camera to check whether relatively high temperatures in a display case are caused by heating pipes in the wall behind the case, or by in-case lighting.

The Mobile Heritage Lab’s visit provided us with an opportunity to answer some important questions about the way we care for the museum’s collections. At the same time, we managed to teach students the practical applications of investigative science and analytical chemistry. Lastly, we spoke to many museum visitors about the role played by science in the preservation of heritage collections. We are extremely grateful for the fruitful partnership with SEAHA and hope to collaborate on additional projects in the near future. For example, there are some interesting questions surrounding the deposition of different types of dust which we discussed over a beer on Thursday evening. Watch this space as multi-disciplinary heritage science is becoming ever more important for answering questions of collection care and preservation. Museums are best placed to working in partnerships on important scientific questions while achieving public impact by explaining to a wider audience how science works.

Find out more about Care of Collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here and follow us on Twitter.

Every year a highly achieving school from each participating country is selected as a winning school for the Spring Bulbs for Schools Project. The Edina Trust arrange prizes for England and Scotland (and next year for Northern Ireland) and Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales arrange prizes for the winning school from Wales.

This year’s winners were Tonyrefail Primary School. Their prize was a trip to St Fagans National Museum of History with a free coach and educational workshops. It was fantastic to meet the group and we had a lovely time exploring nature at St Fagans.

I met the group from the coach and escorted them through the site to Hendre Wen Barn, which is not usually open to the public and has only recently begun to be used as a facilitation space for schools. This served as our base for the day, and the group were very excited to hear about the bats and birds that make the barn their home!

To begin, I thanked the group for all their hard work on the project, and asked them about how they managed the project in their class room. I provided a brief overview of the projects findings, to highlight how their work has helped input into the long term study of the effects of climate change on the flowering dates of spring bulbs. Interesting feedback from the group included that they used a rotor to keep track of whose turn it was to collect data each week, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to take part.

Following this briefing, we split into two groups. Group A went with Hywel to the Tannery to explore the wildlife that live in the tanning pits; pools of water that have collected in pits that were once used in the process of making leather. The group were on the hunt for the variety of creatures that have made these tanning pits their home. In the process of exploring this habitat they found a number of different creatures and discussed their life-cycles and habitats. The group were also able to hold a palmate newt, which most said they had not had the opportunity to do before!

Group B went with me to the bird-hide, where we took sketches of the woodlands and used binoculars and bird-spotting sheets to see what birds we could find. We were very lucky, and saw an array of birds including a great spotted woodpecker! We were also visited by squirrels and wood mice, which we were as excited to see as we were the birds. We discussed the different species of birds, their colours, life-cycles and habitat. We also discussed how the feeding-space benefits wildlife and what we could do in our gardens or school grounds to help wildlife.

After this, the groups swapped over, ensuring that everyone had an opportunity to explore the woods and the ponds. We then had lunch in the barn, and Hywel answered lots of questions about the protected species of Brown Long-eared bats that roost in the barns rafters.

After lunch we discussed habitats in more detail, and thought about the different insects that we might find in our back gardens. This discussion helped the group with the next activity, making bug-hotels to take home with them. We used recycled plant pots, straws and straw to make the bug hotels, and discussed where the best places might be to place the hotels to attract different insects. Some of the group decided they would place their hotels high up, in sunny areas to attract solitary bees and others decided they would place theirs on the ground in shaded areas to attract insects that prefer cooler conditions.

We finished with just enough time to make our way back to the coach, and were looking out for different insects while we walked the winding paths back. Hywel and I had a fantastic day, and from the smiling faces and feedback it looks like Tonyrefail Primary had a lovely time as well – thanks again Bulb Buddies!

 

Some of the feedback from Tonyrefail Primary:

‘I think this is one of my favourite trips because I have not seen most of the things I saw today and it is so interesting.’

‘I had a good time and enjoyed bird spotting and pond dipping. I liked bird spotting because it is interesting and I could learn about species that I didn’t know about before.’

‘I enjoyed this today especially because of the pond dipping and bird watching.’

‘I found it fun today. I liked the bird spotting because I saw some birds I’ve never seen before.’

‘I enjoyed holding the newt because it felt like I was holding living putty, and I also liked spotting the birds because they looked very cute.’

‘I liked it because it was my first time holding a Newt. I liked it because my bug hotel turned out great.’

‘I had fun meeting everyone and I loved making bug hotels because it was quite fun. It was fun today.’

‘I liked making bug hotels because I liked making things.’

Regular visitors might recognise Arnie the guide dog. He helped us to develop National Museum Cardiff's audio description tours, visited our Quentin Blake exhibition and even blogged about his Museum adventures! Arnie has recently retired from guiding duties and has handed his harness over to Uri, an enthusiastic young pup just out of training.

Ever the cultured canine, Arnie wanted to make sure Uri gets to sample the best of the National Museum but for a young pup the first visit can be scary. He has written so has written a few words to help Uri - and other guide dogs - take their first steps into the Museum.

Arnie's advice

"The National Museum Cardiff is a very old, impressive building that towers into the sky. It looks similar to other buildings in the area, but you'll know it because it has a big set of steps in front and a giant ball on top called the dome. The road outside is usually busy with traffic so your humans will need your help to cross. On either side of the front steps is some grass. You can 'spend' here but make sure you indicate to your humans that there's a step down to the grass. They might be safer letting you on a long lead and staying on the pavement.

You may feel overwhelmed as you stand at the bottom of the steps looking up at the building. I still get queasy. The stone ceiling looks like it's being held up by stilts (Mum calls them 'Grecian columns'), but I've been assured they're safe. The steps up to the Museum are in two flights, with brass rails zig-zagging across. You will need to guide your owner to the next rail between each flight. If you're feeling adventurous you might want to use the magic glass box that lifts you into the air instead. This is to the left of the steps, through a gate. Once inside, look out for the large silver button to the left - this opens the door.

Once you reach the top of the stairs you will need to guide your owner through the massive brass doorway. Then you will come to a set of glass doors that open automatically. They are much safer for us guide dogs than the old revolving type - less danger of getting squished! Be careful as you enter the Main Hall - your paws may slip on the marble-effect floor. You will hear lots of noises echoing and reverberating because the ceiling is so high. Guide your owner to the reception desk, which is straight ahead across the hall.

And then the best bit. You will soon be hit by a whiff of cakes and biscuits from the coffee shop to your left. Drooling is inevitable, but stay calm. This is the first of many temptations you will encounter. The Museum is full of animals you can't chase, bones you can't eat, and rocks you can't spend a penny on. Enjoy!"  

We wish Arnie the very best in his retirement and look forward to welcoming Uri and other guide dogs to the Museum. Our next Audio Description tour is on the 10th August. Cultured canines and Guide Dogs in training welcome!

In parts one and two I discussed the highlights of the galleries, learning department and the carpentry. In this post I will be discussing the highlights of the historic buildings.

Historic Buildings

On the final day of our exchange we had a full tour of the historic buildings with Marina, head of Historyland. The buildings we visited included a 19th century Inn, 18th century timber farm fortification, a 19th century school, a 1940s house and 1970s buildings. The tour also included a chance to look inside a 1950s bus which was used as a mobile shop. The bus reminded me of the van I used to load when I worked in a fruit and veg store back in my teenage years (in the 2000s not the 1950s).

One of the highlights of the tour was the 19th century inn, which was also used as a court house. Underneath the inn was a cellar that was not only used for storage but also to house prisoners before a trial. It would have been a tight squeeze to fit in this tiny space! Another highlight were the desks in the 19th century school that had a sandbox across the top for young children to practice their letters. In our Maestir school we have small sand boxes for this purpose, so it was interesting to see these on a larger scale. 

My favourite area we visited was definitely the 1970s. This area included a country shack for hippies to escape the hustle and bustle of the modern world and a luxury family villa. Both buildings showed how immersive Historyland must be when it’s in action. It was like walking back in time into someone’s home. The buildings were full of clothes, furniture and working 70s technology. You were free to fully explore and even look inside the drawers and cupboards which were full of bits and bobs from the 70s. Each room of the villa was a different world to explore. In the parents room there were clothes and wigs, in the children’s room there were toys, in the teenage girl’s room there were drawings of her favourite pop stars, and in the teenage boy’s room there was even a 1970s adult magazine hidden away in a drawer! I can’t imagine a British museum being so risqué!

Overall experience

Overall it was a great experience to see another open air museum in action and to pick up some tips on making the visitor experience more interactive. All the staff were very friendly and informative and the people we met in Östersund were all very friendly and courteous. I look forward to an opportunity to return to Sweden and I would definitely like to see Historyland in full swing.