The return of an ex-pupil to my (now digital) classroom

Engaging the attention of 13-14 year olds on visits to museums is for an art teacher something that might be expected to be a standard challenge.  And yet it is anything but standard, there is no fixed solution.  There are simply too many variables. Try these for a few:

  • The size of the group you are visiting with
  • The academic level of the group
  • The size of the museum
  • The type of exhibition you are visiting
  • The time that you have available
  • Whether it has taken two hours to get to the museum
  • The day of the week
  • Whether the kids are hungry
  • Whether it is the beginning or end of the school day, or year

I could go on, but I am sure that you get the picture. Personally, I have pretty much concluded that every visit has to be pretty much tailor-made for a young teens group, and I like to lead it myself rather than hiring in a museum guide.  For slightly older teens it is a different story, but knowing the group, the pupils and addressing them as individually as possible seems to work for me.

Having said all that I understand that this does not really help the education department of a museum.  They are challenged with seeking out that engagement with a group from, as it were, a cold start.  Not easy to do, but a good, creative educational department are constantly busy trying to find new ways tease teenagers into opening up a little and taking a more considered look at the exhibits.

It is just this context that I was taken last this week by a visit to my (at the moment) online lessons from an ex-pupil of mine. Five years ago, I was last teaching Noa ‘Art and Cultural’ education at school.  A subject that often involves us going along to our local museum for a visit at some point.  Noa, now studying industrial design in Eindhoven, has been busy trying to develop a digital interactive game to encourage the visiting children to the museum to look, discuss and ask questions about what they see around them.  In essence it is a sort of treasure hunt game that involves searching for clues in the artworks.

We tried out the game with a couple of groups from my classes.  One group turned out to be very engaged and interactive, and the other…….well, less so!  But that is how it is, and is makes it all so difficult, each group is different and what works with one may not with another! After the sessions we had a long chat about how it had gone, the strengths the weaknesses, the opportunities, and the difficulties.

It was interesting to do, and we both learnt from the experience.  If I am honest, it was especially interesting because, five years ago, I was doing all I could to stimulate Noa and the others in her class to give the world of art and culture more than just a passing glance. To be fair, that was never really a problem with Noa herself, she was a good student and it is with good reason that she has gone on to study design.  But it is nice to reflect on the thought that you have contributed your bit to the designers and cultural practitioners of the future.  At least I prefer to see it that way, rather than the motivation for the game coming from improving on the cultural experiences she got whilst I was teaching her!

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