The Teaching Museum

Norfolk Museums Service Traineeship


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Haunted Dungeons & Prison Pirates: Halloween @ NMS

What a crazy couple of months we have just had in the Norfolk Museums Service!

October Half Term & Halloween are arguably our most busy period during the year and it certainly felt that way at times. Again, I have had the unique opportunity of being involved with the events at two different sites; the Spooky City event at Norwich Castle and the Pirates event at the Tolhouse Gaol Museum in Great Yaaarmouth! See what I did there? Sorry… While I got to play an important part in the Norwich offer, I organised, resourced and coordinated the entire event at the Tolhouse; high pressure stuff!

The amazing 'Sleeping Pirate' activity @ the Tolhouse.

The amazing ‘Sleeping Pirate’ activity @ the Tolhouse.

First, Norwich: I loved being part of the infamous Halloween dungeon tours at Norwich Castle. We had 12 tours per day, one nearly every half an hour, with one member of staff giving a standard tour (which is scary enough on its own), while another person ‘haunted.’ Haunting effectively involved members of the Learning team hiding behind displays and walls, out of sight, making doors bang, chains clank and flicking the lights on and off. It may seem slightly novel when you read it, but when done unexpectedly in a dark medieval dungeon, it usually has the desired effect; good fun!

Yet it was organising the Halloween event in Great Yarmouth which really stretched me. I have no experience of event planning, especially within a museum, and quickly ran into the usual restraints we face in the museum world, such as a limited budget, but this was often overcome by us simply using what we already had creatively and thinking outside of the box. I always knew that a pirate theme would be perfect as the Tolhouse Museum has a pirate collection, and the awards nominated Stories from the Sea schools project, which had an entire creative writing offer dedicated to pirates, is set to come to a triumphant end in March 2015. The Halloween event would therefore be a mini-celebration of this fantastic project while also a great opportunity to have some fun!

Wicked Witches trick & treating @ the Tolhouse

Wicked Witches trick & treating @ the Tolhouse

I wanted every child & adult who walked into the Tolhouse that evening to be completely swept away by the atmosphere, and with the help of the fantastic team in Yarmouth, some fishing nets, flags, hammocks and bubble wrap (I’ll explain), we were able to transform the Tolhouse into an incredible pirate ship! Lots of staff dressed up and got into character, making all the right ‘yaaarrr’ noises, while creaky ship and sea sound effects played throughout the museum. Visitors could make their own pirate hats and eye patches, handle replica pirate weapons & test their swordsmanship skills against a pirate, or get themselves a pirate tattoo. We had scary storytelling down in the dark prison cells.

 My personal favourite activity was definitely the ‘Sleeping Pirate.’ The sleeping pirate, played brilliantly by our Learning Assistant Patricia, was snoozing on a chair in front of a treasure chest filled with cuddly sea creatures, gems, diamonds and other jewels. We covered the floor in front of the sleeping pirate with bubble wrap, meaning anyone walking on it made a noise and risked waking her, and we had another pirate on patrol. The aim of the game was for visitors to try and steal as much treasure as possible, without being spotted. The kids (and their parents) absolutely loved it! You can see for yourself in some of the pictures I have attached.

The Tolhouse transformed into a pirate ship!

The Tolhouse transformed into a pirate ship!

The event went really well and there were so many happy and excited faces; I felt very proud to have helped make it as good as I envisaged and I am totally grateful to the wonderful Yarmouth team again for all their help and effort on the night. It’s opportunities like these and the huge amount of creative freedom I have been allowed which have helped make my traineeship be so rewarding and enjoyable.

Please do take a look at the Time & Tide/ Tolhouse Museum Facebook page if you would like to see some more pictures of the event. Anyway, I am off to write a session plan for our new Cinderella offer in Great Yarmouth (more on that next time), before revising my notes on the Roman Soldier session which I am delivering 3 days in a row in Norwich next week. The fun never stops for a Learning Trainee!BLOG4

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Juggling Jobs: My First Month as a Learning Trainee & Museum Educator.

I have been wearing two different hats (Museum Educator in Norwich and Learning Trainee in Great Yarmouth) for about 4 weeks now and have already learned a lot. It’s a really unique experience to be able to work with two separate learning teams, on different sites, inside the same museum service and I intend to make the most of it!

1,000 Cranes in Gallery

1,000 origami cranes made by visitors to Norwich Castle over the summer, now hanging in the Birds gallery.

I quickly got to grips with the vast informal learning programme on offer at Norwich Castle, namely the various tours. I really love this aspect of the job as I am quite good at retaining large quantities of facts (I am brilliant at Pointless!) while I am admittedly a bit of a performer at heart too. I gave my first keep tour after having only observed it twice but I did my research and felt confident enough to give it a go. It went really well – I started off with 20 odd people but by the end this had almost doubled! I even got a few laughs and a nice applause at the end which was nice for my confidence.

stone to iron promo

The front cover of our new ‘Stone to Iron’ education event which we will be rolling out to schools for the new school year.

Arts & craft activities have also taken up a large amount of my time since I started in Norwich. Norwich Castle got 180,000 visitors in 2013 and we had 1600 through the door on the August Bank Holiday alone. On that day we were making ‘Feathered Friends’, a lovely craft activity designed for younger children wherein they make a hanging bird decoration which they can attach colourful feathers to. I’ve also tried my hand at ‘Curly Birds’, taxidermy, origami cranes and identifying bird poo. Random I know, but the idea is that these informal learning activities support the current exhibitions (The Wonder of Birds) or are related to our collections. I have enjoyed these craft activities because I love working with young people and meeting new people, but I am now really keen to get stuck in the large schools programme here in Norwich.

Much like Norwich, Time & Tide in Great Yarmouth are also gearing up for the school term to begin again. We have three new learning events on offer here, one of which is the Stone to Iron event which I referred to in my previous post; I devised, resourced and delivered a session for the Stone Age section of the event. Over the summer we have been working hard on marketing material to send out to schools and teachers when the new term begins. We really wanted the flyers to be professional, eye catching and informative and I’m really pleased with the results. I love the fact that I can continue my traineeship as it gives me the opportunity to do tasks, like the marketing materials, which are more suited to a Learning Officer role rather than that of a Learning Assistant or Museum Educator.

And lastly, a little bit on the Summer School. As Katie wrote in her previous post, the entire week was an incredibly positive experience for all involved. My particular highlight however came in the week which followed. On my first day in Norwich, I was setting up an art activity in the Rotunda when I heard someone shout my name. I turned around to see one of the little boys from the Summer School; he had come back the following week with his brother, mother and grandmother to show them around the museum. It was lovely to see and we couldn’t have hoped for a better result to a brilliant week.

Bi-Plane @ Time&Tide

Me in the fantastic BiPlane model, part of the informal learning programme at Time & Tide Museum over the summer holidays.

Anyway, that’s all from me for now. My next post will update you on the incredibly busy schools programme which is about to kick off. Bring it on!


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Pirates & Witches & Romans; oh my! The Life and Times of a Learning Trainee

Hello! I’m Sam and I am the Learning Trainee out in the Eastern Area of NMS, primarily based at Time & Tide in Great Yarmouth.

pic1So, what does a Learning Trainee do? In my opinion, it’s my job to get your imagination working overtime, to get you being creative, no matter what your age. I do my best to illuminate the wonder and mystery of our brilliant collections here at NMS and tell their hidden stories. But quite simply, I want you to learn something new and make sure you have fun so that you want to come back again and again. That’s one heck of a job spec don’t you think?

Do you remember visiting a museum with your school as a child? I bet you do! Museum visits are incredibly powerful ways of teaching children of all ages and bringing a topic to life. In the past 6 months I have delivered a countless number of formal school events to children of all ages, some times in costume/ character but not always, covering all aspects of the National Curriculum, from history and literature to geography and maths. I have found myself treasure hunting, fighting pirates, ‘blowing up’ a tank, gutting herring, drilling Roman soldiers, cooking in a Victorian kitchen, prosecuting Victorian criminals, hunting pirates! I have been in character as a Roman Centurion, a pirate, an Admiral from the Royal Navy, a treasure hunter, a Witch hunter (lots of different types of hunters), a Tudor beggar, a WWII Home Guard, a Victorian journalist, an archaeologist (one of the less costumey ones admittedly). Are you starting to get the picture?

pic2I have also planned, resourced and delivered my own session on the Stone Age which we successfully piloted just last week which involved handling axes and bones which are 50,000 years old. And it’s not just school visits! In May I planned and delivered informal learning sessions, including creating my own drama based/ audience participation session at the wonderful Tolhouse museum for Museums @ Night and gave a talk at the Bridewell in Norwich on my beloved Norwich City FC. So yes, I have been very busy.

So, is it all just one big walk in the park you ask? The answer is no, definitely not. At the end of a standard day of delivering to over 150 school children for 6 hours straight, I often feel dehydrated and my legs ache. I have lost my voice on three occasions in the last 6 months. If I am to achieve my goal of engaging every individual who comes to an event or visits with a school, then I have to give 100%, every single day. And I make sure I do, but it is tough. Believe it or not, I am quite an introverted person (many colleagues laugh at this statement), so it can be quite draining but I am passionate about the importance of museums and this job so I bite the bullet and just go for it. It’s totally worth it.

Where have I come from? Well, I graduated with a 1st in History (BA) in 2011 and as I adored the topic, it seemed like the only sensible and natural path would be… into Human Resources…As you do. I spent 2 years in HR and although I learned a lot, I would not say it made me heart sing.pic3 I made the conscious decision to do something that would allow me to be creative, that would make me want to come into work every day (and weekends), and that would allow me to work with young people. I began helping run a youth club for young people with learning difficulties in August 2013 and adored it. I learned so much about myself from the wonderful individuals I worked with. I also visited museums and witnessed the impact that good Learning/Education professionals could have on young people so when the traineeship came up it seemed like the perfect opportunity. And here I am.

If I could give one piece of advice to graduates or those still studying it would be this: follow your heart. Money is great but you’ll need to make a huge amount of it if you sacrifice 40+ hours a week to something you find dull, stressful and uninspiring. I absolutely adore this job. I have loved every single minute of it. The wonderful team out in the Eastern Area have taught me so much while giving me the freedom to be creative. I am due to start working as a Learning Assistant 3 days a week with the fantastic Norwich Castle learning team from August so there will be plenty more to update next time.

Thanks for reading!