Yesterday we run a workshop for Years 1 and 2 (Ms Georgi Gillman and Ms Sarah Foxall’s classes respectively) at St Sidwell’s Church of England Primary School in Exeter. There were about 60 enthusiastic and intelligent children. As they were in the middle of studying the Victorian age, we were asked to focus the workshop on this particular period of Exeter’s history.
Our aim was to explore some of the functionalities of the app as a paper exercise (the app doesn’t exist yet as we are in the process of designing the wireframes for the prototype). In particular, we needed to see how the children would engage with objects via maps. We brought two maps: a google map (which at first the children preferred, probably because it looked more familiar to them) and a Victorian map (which, interestingly, they subsequently preferred using because they felt it was clearer). We also brought images of Victorian artefacts and paintings or drawings in RAMM’s collection and plenty of stickers to place the artefacts and images on the maps and create possible Victorian trails linking these to locations and associate them with stories.
The workshop started with Tom Cadbury, RAMM’s Curator of Antiquities, talking about a number of artefacts which the children could handle. These included a ginger beer bottle; a glass bottle; the key to a well on the High Street; the fragment of a wire used to connect Britain to America; a banknote; a part from Mr Babbage’s first ‘computer’ and even a Harry Hems wood carving, all local to Exeter and in RAMM’s collection.
The children had a terrific time exploring the objects, guessing what they could be used for and what they were made of. The importance of handling artefacts is essential and any digital project, I feel, must remember that it cannot replace material encounters, but only complement them. The trick, in many ways, is to work out what such an app could do that a material encounter couldn’t. Self-documentation is certainly one of the answers, I think, so it’s important that our app could facilitate that.
The children worked in groups, located the artefacts on the map, thus potentially producing different kinds of trails, fairly local to their school. All possible trails looked interesting, and prompted some exciting thinking about why certain crafts were in particular parts of the city or how the city had changed over the years.
At the Q&A it was evident that the children had enjoyed the experience and learnt something about their immediate surroundings. We are profoundly grateful to them and their dedicated teachers and hope to see them again soon for a fuller feedback session.