Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
I have always been a fan of a good story. If that story is real it somehow makes things even more exciting. This was our starting point for a new Key Stage 3 project at The Polar Museum…
Working with staff from the English Department at Parkside secondary school and Naomi Boneham, the archivist at the Scott Polar Research Institute, I set up a session for year 8 pupils. Our aims were to:
Initially we all decided to explore ‘recount genre’. Looking at the winter journey to Cape Crozier in 1911, we would study three different versions of this particularly harrowing expedition.
Together, Naomi & I started by choosing material written by the three men who went on the expedition. The archive holds millions of pieces of paper…the choices were overwhelming! Eventually we selected a letter written by Henry Bowers to his sister, a scientific report written by Dr Wilson for the Natural History Museum and finally, Apsley Cherry Garrard’s published book, The Worst Journey in the World. Then came the task of selecting key extracts from very lengthy pieces, whilst still maintaining the style and essence of the original. Transcribing their words, we kept the original spelling. We also added photographs and images of some of the original documents.
This story was always going to be one of threes; three men, three eggs, three diets, three sources, 60 miles, 6 weeks… The class would be split in to three, one group to look at the words of each man then regrouping in to threes to look at the overall expedition from three different viewpoints.
The children were excited, discussion quickly turned to the extremes of the expedition. Was the Antarctic really that cold? Wasn’t it cruel to collect penguin eggs? Why did they eat that disgusting food? Couldn’t they just have gone round the cliffs? What happened to the men next? What happened to the eggs? Why did they go on that expedition?
Pupil engagement was high, there was debate as to which man was telling the truth about exactly how cold the temperature was…was it really -40 or was it -50 or was it actually -69? The different writing styles were studied to work out who had written a letter, a report, a book. Did it matter that not all the writing was done at the same time? The book was written many years after the event, did that make it less reliable? The conversations became intense. Pupils began to realise that we were surrounded by objects linked to the story. Did they use those kind of sleeping bags? They actually wore that sort of gear? They pulled those sledges?
The children were excited, the museum was buzzing with questions, but reluctantly we had to end the teaching session. We have now run the same session for four groups from Year 8. Follow up in school has included ‘hot seating’, where pupils take on the role of one of the men and are interviewed by others; writing newspaper reports; writing diaries and letters.
Would we do this sort of project again? Yes, without any hesitation. Seeing pupils so engaged, actively connecting written sources to objects in the museum and to themselves was inspiring!
‘I have been delighted to use the archive material in a different way. It is normally used by academics who already know the story so it has been really interesting to see what the children make of the original material. They reacted differently to the story; it was good to see their horror as they realised some of the conditions experienced by the men.’
Naomi Boneham, Archivist at the Scott Polar Research Institute
We have been thrilled at the dedication and imagination of the ‘Scott Polar Research Institute’ in bringing to life the often dry subject of text types. The students were highly engaged throughout and carried this enthusiasm back to the classroom for our follow-up activities. Thank you!
Alexa Minett, Parkside Community College
Naomi Chapman, Education & Outreach Officer, The Polar Museum