Museum of London Computing/History Consultation Evening

On Wednesday evening I visited the Museum of London after seeing an advert in my weekly CAS email offering a £40 amazon voucher to spend two hours looking at a new educational resource. They specifically requested history and/or computing teachers and were hoping for a range of both primary and secondary teachers. From what I could see, they ended up with mostly primary teachers, but it was interesting nevertheless.

First we were asked to blindly try out the software which showed us an artefact and asked us to slot it into a historical period and then decide on a category in to which it fitted e.g. Painting or money. Rather rapidly we got frustrated with lack of feedback (were we right or wrong) and were confused about the purpose of the ‘game’.

It was only after testing it that we were told what the purpose of the activity was, you see the museum has over 9000 artefacts which have been arbitrarily labelled and catalogued on paper, but needed to be properly organised for the modern world. Their idea was to crowd source the data and specifically get schools involved. They wanted us to think about the educational purpose and value of the software and ways to improve it before they create a working version for schools. Most of the objects had information about the date an object was made, but that wouldn’t necessarily automatically sort it into the historical period e.g. Roman or Victorian. The system would work by ‘verifying’ data after a certain amount of people had all agreed on the period and the type of object.

There were a few aesthetic tweaks we would make, but the key focus was on its value to the primary curriculum. A good idea would be to use it as a starter for a topic so the children would maybe categorise 20 items then the teacher would be able to focus in on the ones that refer to a specific historical period and discuss those items in context. A lot of teachers wanted to be able to only select objects from a certain period, but due to the nature of the project that just wouldn’t be possible and would defeat the object of the whole project. I like the idea of it being a quick history topic, but what was more interesting to me was when one of the computing teachers in the room mentioned its value towards teaching databases in upper KS2.

Now, I can honestly say that I hate teaching databases and have been seriously considering dropping it by the wayside, but it is part of the new curriculum and so needs to be thought about. My big issue with databases are that they are quite an abstract concept for your average 9 year old to understand. Even in the context of ‘solving a crime’ using the Whodunnit? app, it all seems very false and needless, however, the more I thought about the Museum of London’s project, the more I began to realise it’s usefulness for teaching this topic. Not only would children contribute to a real life database in a meaningful way, if the museum then implemented a search function which linked to their data, they could see exactly how a database works and how they have helped.

There is still a lot of work to be done before this becomes a useful tool, but as I left the museum on Wednesday I realised just how much I was looking forward to this being a working project and, in particular, using it to help teach the purpose of databases. They are hoping to create a video to explain the topic and a rewards system depending on how many objects you have submitted that have been verified and it all sounds very interesting.

I really look forward to seeing where they take this project as I genuinely think it has value for teaching the databases part of the new computing curriculum as well as being an interesting tool to use in history lessons.

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