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Museum visits

How can museum visits best be integrated into the school curriculum? In partnership with eight local schools, we at Brighton and Hove Museums'

Education Service have been looking recently at what schools can do and how the service can help.

Planning is the key. Teachers from the partner schools were already familiar with the workshops run by Brighton and Hove's museums and the museums' newsletters. But we observed that museum visits had the most impact where teachers picked up specific elements of the museum visit and wove them into the work being done back at school.

As one primary school teacher on the project remarked: "When I have observed what the children were learning and talking about (in the museum) I've been able to see how I could have led them up to it. I was able to assess their learning and see how I could plan to help them to make the most of the visit."

To lead pupils up to a visit and use it to reinforce school work, teachers need to know details, such as which objects will be looked at, special vocabulary for the topic, underlying concepts - and even the organisation of the exhibition space, to allow for timings and capacities. When incorporating what they have learned in museum workshops into their schemes of work, teachers need to be sure of getting information from museum education departments.

In our case, the education service reviewed and developed all our workshops to provide the most help to teachers, concentrating on subject areas such as art, science, history, geography and design technology, and responding closely to the demands of the national curriculum.

We focused on key stages and progression of skills from one key stage to another. For example, skills of deduction and hypothesis in older pupils build on the questioning skills acquired when younger. Teachers planning museum visits need to be sure of having the right kind of information. Often, they may need to be pro-active, approaching museums first and asking directly for the information they need, targeted on their learning objectives. For their part, museums ought to make visits easier for teachers by delivering information in curriculum-friendly packages.

Julia Basnett is project development officer for the Department for Education and Skills Museums and Galleries Education Programme for the Royal Pavilion, Libraries and Museums Division, Brighton and Hove

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