From seed pods to python skins: exploring the Garden Museum digitally

London CLC has embarked on a number of creative collaborations already this year, such as working with Tate Modern on a Tate Exchange project. Our latest project was close to home in Lambeth at the Garden Museum, writes Caitlin McMillan, London CLC computing tutor.

Children exploring objects at the Garden Museum using various technologies.

 

What is the Garden Museum?

The Garden Museum is, as one of the children put it, “a place where you can see interesting stuff about gardens”. It is, in fact, the only museum dedicated to the art, history and design of gardens in the UK, inspired by the tomb of 17th-century royal gardeners John Tradescant the Elder and Younger, which can be found in the building’s garden. The museum’s collection is housed in the deconsecrated Church of St Mary-at-Lambeth, which hit the news in 2017 when, during renovations, the remains of five archbishops were uncovered.

What can you see?

During our time at the Garden Museum, reception and year 1 pupils from five local schools visited and had the opportunity to explore the museum’s collection of curiosities. The question underpinning the sessions was ‘What can you see?” and pupils investigated their space using a variety of technologies, from magnifying glasses and binoculars to digital microscopes and VR headsets.

South London pupils experimenting with VR headsets and microscopes at our Garden Museum session.

 

We were able to work with the pupils in a new and exciting situation, harnessing technology as a tool in a hands-on learning environment. The self-selecting nature of the activities mirrored our approach in other cultural partnership projects, and worked particularly effectively with this age group.

Our technology allowed the pupils to really delve into the specimens (including leaves, seed pods and even a python skin!), exploring how something can look one way with the eye but completely different when viewed up close. The technology was interwoven with exploration of the museum collection and good old-fashioned pen and paper, giving the pupils choice over what activities they did meant that they were often creating real-life drawings or models and then documenting them digitally, combining arts and technology in a simple but extremely effective manner.  We also did some serious squirrel watching out of the windows!

What was the impact?

Garden Museum learning officer Janine Nelson said of the partnership:

“Our recent project partnering up with London CLC was a new approach for us in a variety of ways.

Firstly, working with someone else was great as we could share ideas and the teaching.

Secondly, we were able to offer a brand new activity for pupils to use technology which we can’t currently provide – digital cameras, digital microscopes linked to laptops and virtual reality headsets. All of this was very exciting for the pupils (and for me!). I tried to complement the technology by linking up with objects in the museum collection or equipment or artwork connected by our theme of ‘looking at nature/gardens’.

Thirdly, offering a range of activities that children rotated around worked really well. The pupils self-managed the time they spent on each activity and chose in which order to do them.  This freedom of choice worked really well and was not something that I had tried before.

Finally, it introduced schools and teachers to the museum, which has reopened after being closed for over a year. Hopefully, they will want to come back again for different school sessions.

I am introducing some of the elements from these sessions into my other sessions and hope to purchase some new items of equipment/technology.”

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