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Ancient Egyptians: secrets of the afterlife

A British Museum in your Classroom project – one of two amazing exhibitions created by local schools and the first ever time a British Museum object has been part of a school exhibition.

Exhibition title: British Museum in Your Classroom:
Ancient Egypt and Secrets of the Afterlife

School: Billingham South Primary School, Stockton

Year group: Two Year 5 classes

Topics/themes: History: Ancient Egypt

Curriculum areas covered: History, English, Art


What we did to plan and create the exhibition: as teachers

 This project has spread over two academic years, so has involved a number of planning stages. The project began with a visit to the British Museum for teachers, so we could meet the curator, Loretta, see ‘behind-the-scenes’ and help the British Museum put together a shortlist of the kinds of objects that our pupils might be keen to borrow.

We wanted the first group of Year 5 children to choose the artefact, so they attended workshops and had Zoom interactions with Loretta. This ensured they had enough knowledge to be able to select an object from the shortlist we had been sent.

In the summer term, they joined with the current Year 5 children as part of an after school Ancient Egypt club. This worked really well as a pre-teach for our pupils coming up to Year 5 and allowed our older children to share their knowledge. The older children had done the topic in the Autumn term so they had the chance to revisit their previous learning. The club also provided a great starting point and just over half of our current Year 5 pupils took place – over 50 children in total!

 The exhibition centred around our star piece that the children chose – the British Museum canopic jar. As a school, we are keen to teach history thematically to allow children to compare and contrast different historical periods. This meant that children learnt about ancient Egyptian food, housing, achievements, society, entertainment and religion and beliefs. We then focussed in on the religious element and particularly their after-life beliefs.


What we did to find out about our topic and about exhibitions

In class, children took part in a variety of different activities. They learnt through research using books, iPads and experts (particularly in the form of being able to learn from Loretta through Zoom). They created fact files and written work about our six key history themes: food, housing, achievements, society, entertainment and religion and beliefs. They looked at replica artefacts at school and inferred what their existence could tell us about the kind of people the ancient Egyptians were. They also completed artwork based on artefacts. This allowed them to look really carefully and brought up interesting discussions! Sketches of canopic jars and death mask models allowed children to talk about the diversity of such artefacts and why different ancient Egyptian people may not have had exactly the same – just as they might not have had the same experiences in life.

The children went on an inspiring visit to the Dorman Museum. They were able to look at more genuine artefacts – including those on loan from the British Museum. They also worked on interactive activities around the after-life.


What the students did to create our exhibition

The exhibition included a huge variety of children’s work, much of it on large display boards:

  • writing – based on Egyptian Cinderella and newspaper reports of Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb
  • two types of death masks – created by children to show diversity during the New Kingdom
  • artwork sketches and work on gods
  • their history books to browse – containing chronology work, work on artefacts and focussed work on looking at ancient Egyptian life through thematic studies

Children worked hard to ensure the exhibition was interactive. They created quizzes and puzzles for visitors to enjoy. Attendees were taught to write their names in hieroglyphs. Children acted as curators for the day with both replica and genuine artefacts (courtesy of the Dorman Museum) happily sharing their knowledge.

Visitors had the chance to try ancient Egyptian style food and to dress up in our photobooth stall. The children’s homework was impressive, varied and took pride of place in our exhibition. Shabtis, created at the Ancient Egypt club, looked particularly amazing and clay coil pots made by pupils in class were also a popular display.

We showed photographs of children enjoying different ancient Egyptian activities as part of a slide show and all of the children were involved in staffing stalls. They were experts for the exhibition and they embraced that role.


How our students benefited from taking this approach

Our students feeling responsible for the exhibition meant that they felt really proud of what they had produced. We invited children from Reception through to Year 6 and it was fantastic to see the ownership the children felt over their exhibition. They were able to share their learning with parents and visitors from the school community and all of the children engaged really well.

There were also academic benefits for our pupils. The purpose of study of the KS1 – KS3 national curriculum says that our history learning ‘should inspire pupils’ curiosity to know more about the past’. This was certainly achieved by our project. The national curriculum asks teachers to study the achievements of the earliest civilisations with a depth study of Ancient Egypt. Pupils were able to achieve real depth of knowledge through considering what should be in our exhibition. They also had the chance to ask questions of experts. They built historical skills and certainly built their curriculum knowledge.

How we worked with the British Museum and the Dorman Museum

We worked alongside the Dorman Museum from the start of the project. It was through the links with the Dorman that the project unfolded and they were in constant contact throughout. We arranged four visits to the museum as part of the project (we went with each cohort of Year 5s and twice with Ancient Egypt club). As we got closer to the end of the project, it was the Dorman staff who liaised with us to ensure that everything was ready for the exhibition. To help us make sure that our work best matched the objects on display in the Dorman, Chloe (the Learning Officer) worked with us on developing a template for a mask that contrasted with our usual ‘Tutankhamun- style’ death mask. This prompted such interesting discussions with the children and the contrast looked fabulous in our exhibition! One of the most exciting elements was our work being displayed at the Dorman Museum in the official Egyptians exhibition. We have had lots of parent and community comments on this.

Working alongside the British Museum was an excellent experience for our school staff, children and community. The expertise led to fantastic CPD for staff. Choosing the artefact was extremely exciting for the children and the British Museum provided information that enabled teachers to discuss artefact options confidently with their classes. Loretta’s Zoom calls gave children the chance to see potential career paths that could come from their love of the past. It was very aspirational for children to meet Loretta over Zoom and also in person at our exhibition. The bringing of the artefact itself elevated our exhibition in the eyes of children, staff and parents. Our children have been lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to go to the British Museum in London in January. Our pupils have so much enthusiasm for ancient Egypt and they have absolutely LOVED this topic!

How we used the online Museum in your Classroom toolkit

We have been very lucky as a staff to have been given lots of time from museum colleagues, especially the partnership’s Learning Advisor, who signposted us to look at the Museum in your Classroom toolkit. For us, the most important thing was that the children were involved. We wanted it to be an exhibition that grew from the thoughts and the discussions of the children. We wanted them to be in control and to lead it – to share their learning with their peers and parents on the day. The pupils knew that we were working towards an exhibition throughout our topic. The online resources were really useful for staff who came on board halfway through the project as it gave them clear examples.

What we gained from this project

We gained a really good understanding of what goes into creating a quality, interactive exhibition. This is something that we will be able to use as a model for other exhibitions throughout the school. We have seen the impact in other year groups already creating smaller-scale exhibitions for other classes and parents to share their learning. The children have gained a real love for the work that happens in museums and for learning about the past. Children at Billingham South love history but this has helped to illuminate the possibilities that could come out of that love for them. It has been aspirational.


Top tips for other teachers

  • Be organised – think about what you would like the end result to look like and work backwards to ensure that children are given opportunities to produce work that will fit with their vision.
  • Listen to the children – their insights and ideas made the process much more interesting and valuable for everyone.
  • Enjoy it! Try and make opportunities to share your learning with as many members of the school community as possible.


And finally a word … from our families

Loved the great work on display! Well done Year 5!

Fantastic exhibition! The Year 5 children were very knowledgeable and have worked really hard!

Had an amazing time at the Egyptian Exhibition!! Well done everyone 100/10 J


…  and from our children

This is the best day ever.

I like all the gold stuff it is cool.

10/10 great good.