History lessons from the museum

 

Sydney Living Museums has launched an inspiring new professional development program for primary school teachers.

On Friday 21 April 2017, a group of primary school teachers from across NSW attended Teaching Primary History through Objects at The Mint. This was the inaugural session in a professional development program created by the SLM Learning Team, accredited by the NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) and launched in 2017. The teachers who attended this session gained understanding and experience of the value of object-based learning strategies in teaching history, plus practical ways to incorporate these into existing lessons and future lesson planning. Feedback from all participants was enthusiastically positive and confirmed the immediate relevance of the session to classroom practice.

History within the Australian curriculum

Traditionally, NSW schoolchildren have been presented with predigested historical facts and dates. More recently, history and geography were bundled together within Human Society and its Environment (HSIE). Now the new curriculum requires primary teachers to address history as a standalone discipline with its own methods and procedures. The emphasis is on enabling students to build their own evidence-based understanding of the past.

This has demanded a major shift in teaching practice which is proving especially challenging for those teachers who haven’t themselves studied history as a discipline. It was to help teachers meet this challenge that SLM’s Learning Team developed the program Teaching History in the Primary Classroom – in close consultation with historian and communicator Kate Cameron, whose input was funded by the Ruth Pope Bequest. The four complementary sessions (relating to objects, place, role-play and museums) can be attended either independently or as a series.

Bringing the past to life

As the teachers who attended the session experienced for themselves, object-based learning brings the past to life. Whether it’s feeling the softness of a possum skin, hefting a mogo (stone axe), working a pump to fill a bucket, laundering with a washboard, feeling the weight of leg-irons or using a quill pen to write their name on a ticket of leave, every SLM education program provides students with multiple opportunities to handle, examine, use and discuss a variety of objects, with wide-ranging benefits:

Objects can be used to stimulate curiosity, deepen understandings, improve retention of knowledge, unlock the imagination, promote social learning and evoke memories ... ‘Hands-on History’ … is inclusive of the needs of diverse groups of learners and can deliver improved learning outcomes regardless of the learner’s gender, socio-economic status, literacy level and preferred learning style.1

The teachers learned how to use a historical inquiry approach to integrate object-based learning with the teaching of historical skills and concepts. Curator Dr Fiona Starr exhibited a rarely seen convict shirt from the Hyde Park Barracks Museum and discussed how to build a narrative from objects, and Dr Matthew Stephens, Research Librarian at the Caroline Simpson Library & Research Collection, demonstrated ways to research objects and their contexts online.

Upcoming courses focus on Teaching Primary History through Role-play (Tuesday 19 September) and Teaching Primary History through Museums (Wednesday 29 November). The program will be repeated annually.

Get further details about our upcoming teacher professional development events, including booking information.

  • 1. John Staats, Developing excellence in historical inquiry: engagement and learning through ‘hands on history’, Department of Premier and Cabinet NSW, 2011, Premier’s Teacher Scholarship Reports, vol 8, p106.

Hands-on investigations with Dr Fiona Starr. © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

Online research with Dr Matthew Stephens. © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums

About the Author

Portrait of woman with sandstone wall as background.
Susan Bee
Audience Development Officer – Learning
As a member of the Sydney Living Museums education team Susan helps to develop and manage the curriculum-based programs experienced at SLM sites...

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