The recent opening of Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb exhibition prompted delight on the faces of QM staff and the visiting public. In addition to supervising the opening of the exhibition, British Museum expert Dr John Taylor identified a very significant old treasure. The piece of papyrus laying quietly in the display of QM artefacts has now been identified as part of an important Book of the Dead belonging to Amenhotep, a chief builder in the 15th century BC. For many adults such discoveries are pretty amazing; but for primary school learners it is hard for them to really grasp the magnitude of these and other historical items. Time has little meaning beyond last week and tomorrow, and old is someone in their forties!
So how can we engage young learners in the appreciation of artefacts? Teachers could get very excited and tell their students about an amazing new discovery of a piece of papyrus written some 3500 years ago. They could explain how Books of the Dead contained magical spells and were entombed with the mummified bodies of Egyptians to ensure their safe passage from one life to the next. But this one-directional sharing of knowledge rarely produces long-term retention in Early Years children’s brain storage system. Teachers know the importance of fostering the processes of inquiry. As the Australian Curriculum states, inquiry develops transferable skills, such as the ability to ask relevant questions; critically analyse and interpret sources; consider context; respect and explain different perspectives; develop and substantiate interpretations, and communicate effectively (Australian Curriculum: History accessed on 30/4/12).
So what can Queensland Museum do to help? Well firstly, we have an abundance of real objects which can be explored. If you visit the museum, you can book a school program which, at a current cost of $5 per student, gives your class a 45 minute session with a museum staff member presenting in an allocated room with museum artefacts which students can handle. The current programs are on our website and can be tweaked to meet specific curriculum intent if you book early and explain what your particular focus is. There are teachers-in-residence at QM who can advise staff about the Australian Curriculum and C2C lessons which we can address – so let us know how we can make your visit really valuable. In addition, Queensland Museum loans offers a wide range of objects many of which students can actually handle and are related to many aspects of the National curriculum. (http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Learning+Resources/QM+Loans). Of course, local museums and historical societies will also be willing to enrich your classroom learning.
Unfortunately, some objects cannot be handled. Handing around the piece of the Book of the Dead or the mummified hand of a very young child pictured here is not possible. Therefore the way we engage students in interpreting these objects becomes the crucial factor as to whether the learning is of long-term value. The key to this engagement is enticing the students to co-construct the story around the object. Providing a picture of the artefact and an actual papyrus painting (cheaply purchased online) to each small group of students, with the instruction to share what you know or can deduce, begins the process of inquiry (explore before explain). Then the trick is to ask questions which look at the bigger picture and link this object to customs/ objects that the students can relate to. For example, do people today have things placed with them when they die? What book or item from today do you think people in the 30th century might want to see in a museum? Do we need to collect old things and why? Will we still be writing using an alphabet in 3000 years time? If you could be mummified, would you want to be? Do you think Amenhotep would be happy for us to have a piece of his scroll? Do you think this piece of papyrus will exist in another 3000 years? The factual knowledge about the objects emerges through the conversations but more importantly, the students are engaging in the processes of inquiry. Finally, if you come on an excursion to the museum, the students will take a new look at these old treasures and see much more than a fragment of papyrus in a glass cabinet!
To help teachers deliver the national curriculum, QM teachers are developing resources based on objects/images in our collection and from QM loans. Visit http://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Learning+Resources/Resources and search for Australian curriculum to find the current range so far. If you have specific objects you would like us to put high on the priority list please let us know by emailing or calling firstname.lastname@example.org