Arts Award Explore - using Museum in Your Classroom

In 2017 Tees Valley Museums worked with local teachers to develop the Museum in your Classroom Toolkit – a free resource designed specially for teachers to create a school exhibition with their class, taking them through five simple steps, each packed with ideas, activities, tips, and resources, enabling schools to plan, research, create, and publicise their very own exhibitions.

Learn how a local primary school used the Toolkit to help its students gain Arts Award Explore through an exhibition inspired by the pioneering industrial designer Christopher Dresser.

Museum Name: Dorman Museum

School: Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Primary School

Year Group: Years 3 and 4

Arts Award level: Explore

Overview: To gain Arts Award Explore, students must actively participate in a range of arts activities, explore the work of artists and arts organisations, create their own work, and share their inspirations and achievements with others. Planning, researching and creating a school exhibition is an ideal way for them to meet these criteria, and to enjoy a memorable and purposeful creative journey.

The Museum in your Classroom Toolkit includes themed images and information about people and events connected to the history of the Tees Valley. These include its rich heritage in art and design, from the exquisitely designed household items of Christopher Dresser and the Linthorpe Pottery, the breathtaking bridges and structures of Dorman-Long, to the extraordinary hoard of Saxon jewellery discovered in Loftus.

Students in Years 3 and 4 at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Primary School in Middlesbrough used the Museum in Your Classroom Toolkit to gain Arts Award Explore by creating an exhibition focused on Christopher Dresser, a Victorian designer who was also the world’s first industrial designer, and co-founder of the famous Linthorpe Pottery in Middlesbrough.

An example of the students' labelling for their exhibition (captured by Anna Husband)

What did students do at the Museum? Students made three visits to the Dorman Museum. During these visits they explored the vibrant and varied array of Dresser’s works on display, and learned about his connection to their hometown through the Linthorpe Pottery.

The children learned new techniques in ceramics, including ‘coiling’, ‘slabbing’ and the ‘thumb’ method, which they used to create their own pots. They researched influences on Dresser’s work, including his love of nature and his time in Japan, where he himself learned new techniques and was influenced by Japanese artists and culture. Students also met two contemporary ceramic artists– Gordon Broadhurst and Fiona Mazza, who talked to the children about their work and taught them ‘slip-casting’, a technique used at the Linthorpe Pottery. Further exploration of pieces from the museum’s collection revealed how a shape could be mass-produced through a mould and then individualised through hand painting. The students replicated these techniques, casting pots from plaster of Paris, and hand painting them to reflect their own influences and inspirations.

The students also used their visits to research the work of the museum itself. They explored the rich and varied exhibitions, looking at the different ways objects and artworks are displayed – from traditional display cases to immersive and interactive reconstructions. These inspired the design and layout of their exhibition back at school. The students’ research also took them out into the community. They used the museum’s specially designed trail to explore arts and heritage in their local area, and find evidence of life in Middlesbrough during the heyday of Dresser and the Linthorpe Pottery.

Some of the pots made by the students (captured by Anna Husband)

What did the students do following the visit? At school, students were able to get even closer to Dresser’s work by borrowing ceramic pieces from the Dorman Museum’s collection. They used images and information from the Toolkit to further research Dresser and other local artists and makers. They then used ideas and templates from the toolkit to design and develop their exhibition. These included writing informative object labels to accompany their own ceramic pieces, reflecting and evidencing the techniques they had used and the influences on their work. They also created information panels and leaflets about the life and work of Christopher Dresser, and designed and made invitations and posters to publicise the exhibition to friends, family and other guests.

The final exhibition was a vibrant, colourful celebration of the students’ creative journey. It showcased their artwork alongside the artists and experiences from their own lives that had inspired them, from dancing and swimming, to rainbows and magic. The children took great pride in their work being on show and loved sharing their considerable learning and achievements with exhibition visitors.

The students named their exhibition Made in the Tees Valley, a fitting reflection of the rich arts heritage of their home town, and to the legacy they continue as ambassadors of the arts, and as artists in their own right. Following the exhibition in school, Made in the Tees Valley transferred to the Dorman Museum, where it was on show between January and March 2018. The exhibition was very popular with visitors, as well as being an enormous source of pride for the students and their families.

How did the students benefit from doing Arts Award? Involving students as curators and designers of their own exhibition developed new arts skills, as well as skills across the curriculum. It engendered a sense of pride in students’ learning and achievements, and provided a real life platform for them to share and celebrate their Arts Award journey. As they uncovered stories about artists and their work, they learnt new skills and techniques, created their own artworks, and organised and presented their work in a fun and interesting way for family and peers to enjoy, students were enthused and motivated. Knowing their work will be on show in their very own exhibition brings a real sense of purpose and focus.

Museum in Your Classroom