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Chocks away for learning

Providing pupils with interactive experiences outside the classroom will fill them with confidence, says Anne Wallace, education officer for Glasgow Museums

Providing pupils with interactive experiences outside the classroom will fill them with confidence, says Anne Wallace, education officer for Glasgow Museums

It is not only schools that are having to consider the challenges of the Curriculum for Excellence; for museums there is a lot to think about too.

Museum learning provides a forum for exploration and critical thinking. So we welcome the opportunities the new curriculum brings. We don't expect children to listen passively to the "expert". We want them to be actively engaged in their learning, to solve problems, to ask hard questions, and we have been working on this approach for a while now.

At the opening of the new Riverside Museum in Glasgow next year, there won't be a worksheet in sight. Instead, pupils will arrange their own visit by downloading a plan of the displays, allowing them to focus on their own interests and those of like-minded pupils in their class.

They will be able to gather information on their visit through a choice of formats and post-visit support will be given for peer-group presentations via our website.

The museum will benefit from this approach too, as we gather information on what displays most appeal to our younger audiences.

At Kelvingrove our schools' Second World War trail has already adopted this new approach. Pupils organise themselves into groups before their visit, give everyone a specific job within the group and prepare their own notebook.

As they move around in a rigorously-timed trail, they encounter boxes of objects linked to the paintings and displays (a sculpture of Winston Churchill, some striped pyjamas from the concentration camps). The contents of the boxes help to interpret what they see in the displays and encourage discussion within the group.

Also at Kelvingrove, the high-tech Centre of New Enlightenment uses technology to help build pupils' confidence in an interactive tour of the collections.

But not all the visits are self-led. A team of learning assistants across the venues constantly strives to design new ways of interpreting the collections which will challenge children coming to the workshops, stimulating discussion, exploration and experiential learning.

We also want to encourage teachers to think about this huge museum resource and the benefits a visit can bring to their teaching and to their pupils' learning.

A programme of continuing professional development provides teachers with ideas of the ways in which collections can be used and interdisciplinary work can be encouraged. Earlier this term, a twilight course invited secondary teachers of English and art and design to join forces in looking at paintings as a stimulus for creative and critical responses.

Within Glasgow, a team of around 80 primary teachers, our "Museum Champions", participates in meetings, exhibition previews and consultancy groups to help shape the education programme with our Learning and Access team. Most recently, Avril Paton's iconic "Windows in the West" took centre stage as a focus for an interdisciplinary project encompassing social subjects, technology, English and art and design.

But above all, the whole experience of moving out beyond the confines of the school walls, of finding different ways of learning in new spaces with different types of "teachers", of learning ways of enjoying these world- famous collections alongside visitors from around the world will give pupils the opportunity to become confident individuals and responsible citizens.

Schools' programme

The "Hands On: Learning from objects and paintings" teaching resource is available for pound;12. To order, email

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