Museum Prize Readers Poll - Museum of Antiquities

By Corinne Field
Shows a photograph of a collage of a Roman soldier carrying a shield.

Photo: Roman soldier by children from Newsham First School, Blyth, Northumberland for Reticulum. Courtesy of Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle.

The Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year is the UK's largest arts prize and, with the judges in the process of picking the winner, we want to know what you think.

Click here to see the full shortlist and vote for the museum or gallery you think should be on the receiving end of £100,000.

Read on to find out why Newcastle’s Museum of Antiquities made it onto the shortlist.

The Museum of Antiquities is the principle museum of archaeology in north east England. Based at Newcastle University it is the first university museum to be shortlisted for the Gulbenkian for its outreach project Reticulum.

Reticulum, Latin for 'net', is a project partnering the Museum of Antiquities with local first schools. Encouraging Northumberland school children to learn about their Romano-British past and, at the same time, find out about archaeology, it focuses on life in the north during the Roman and Celtic periods.

Through a combination of museum visits and classroom talks children are given the opportunity to handle artefacts and explore historical themes and ideas.

They not only work with archaeologists and students from the university but also members of the Hadrian’s Wall Education Forum, Northumberland National Park and English Heritage.

"It changes children’s way of looking at the past," says Director of Archaeological Museums Lindsay Allason-Jones. "It teaches children how to use a museum and it changes the way teachers teach history," she adds.

Shows a photograph of an earthenware mug with a face design.

Photo: Will Graham, an archaeology student at the university, helped children from South Beach First School make copies of Roman face pots. Courtesy of the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle.

Projects are wide ranging. South Beach First School made Roman-style earthenware face pots with the help of a Newcastle University archaeology student.

Class 1 at Acklington C of E First School are trying to grow their own crop circles. They built walls from building bricks and buried them in compost, then sowed one tray with grass seeds and the other with cress.

Warkworth C of E First School ended their Roman topic with a feast in honour of the Emperor Hadrian’s visit to The Wall. They made invitations and costumes of the period and feasted on Roman sweet meats.

Children from Morpeth Road First School, Blyth visited 'Time Quest' at Arbeia Fort in South Shields where they learnt what an archaeologist does and had a go at excavation.

Occasionally work done by a child is displayed alongside an object it relates to at the museum but mostly the children’s work is available to view on the website, also part of the Reticulum project. To visit the site click here.

Shows a photograph of a colourful interpretation of a Roman town made from painted boxes.

Photo: Year 4 at Amble First School built this model of a Roman town using boxes they brought from home. Courtesy of the Museum of Antiquties, Newcastle.

Reticulum started in 2000 as a joint venture between the Museum of Antiquities and Blyth Valley schools to explore the use of IT in teaching history.

Since then the project has expanded. To date the museum has worked closely with 40 to 50 local schools and over 200 have access to the teaching resource pack.

Launched in October 2003 and funded by the Museums and Galleries Education Scheme Part II, the teaching pack is what made the four-year project eligible for this year’s Gulbenkian Prize.

"Teachers have written in saying how much it has changed the way they teach and how much the children have got out of it," says Lindsay.

Not only are they using the pack to teach Key Stage Two - Roman History but they are also adapting the methodology to teach other areas of history to children ranging in age from four to 11, of all abilities.

Lindsay says she is "surprised to be shortlisted for doing what we should be doing." But at the same time acknowledges "the museum is doing outreach beyond what it would normally do."

Shows five children practising excavation, digging with trowels, supervised by an archaeologist.

Photo: Children from Morpeth Road School visited 'Time Quest' where they had a go at excavation. Courtesy of the Museum of Antiquitities, Newcastle.

She is quite right – no regional museum would expect to reach an audience beyond its local area. But the teaching pack has been so successful that schools in Derbyshire and even as far afield as Hampshire have requested one.

Lindsay thinks that it is this unique reach that is the reason why they should win. "A project dealing with children in a small geographical area has had implications for the teaching of history and visiting museums for the whole of Britain," she says.

"What’s really nice is children in Northumberland are really excited," she adds after listening to a radio interview with a local school recently. "They are getting as much out of our shortlisting as we are."

But it is not only children and teachers who have benefited from Reticulum. Parents have also learnt from the project.

Lindsey tells me about some parents from Blyth that visited with a school group. Predominantly 20-something fathers, many of who had never visited a museum before, she says they were asking as many questions as the kids.

If Reticulum was to win the Gulbenkian Museum of the Year Prize Lindsay seems pretty certain about where she would spend the money.

"What we want to do is extend the contracts of people doing the work and buy more equipment – portable computers, digital cameras, particularly video cameras," she says.

She also wants to further explore video conferencing. She tells me many Northumberland schools are installing white boards so the museum staff could address the whole school rather than just one class, as well as reaching more schools in a wider area.

One day she hopes to advertise a talk at a particular time, on a particular day so that any school, anywhere could listen in.

The 24 Hour Museum is conducting a poll to find out who our readers want to win this year's Gulbenkian Prize.

To vote for the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle click here.

If you haven’t decided yet which museum you want to win there will be another chance to vote in March when we will feature the full shortlist.

To find out more about the Gulbenkian Prize, click on this link to visit the website.

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