Caitriona O’Sullivan joined the museum as a volunteer in January 2016 and came with a background in both primary school education and as an experienced field archaeologist. Caitriona initially volunteered to fulfil a research role at the museum, but following the departure of a staff member shortly before she started, Caitriona was offered the opportunity to develop curriculum based museum workshops for schools.
In the past Clare Museum’s educational activities for primary schools had centred around quizzes based on images of artefacts on our website and tours of the Riches of Clare exhibition. While use of the website in this way was quite innovative – it provided remote access to the museum collection – follow up school tours were of limited educational value as they failed to make the most of our unique selling point which is of course our collection of authentic objects.
A new approach was needed which would address this situation, one that would take the opportunity presented by a curriculum that encourages schools to utilize resources in the local community. Following consultation with the Clare Education Centre, the idea of curriculum-based workshops was born. Caitriona took up the challenge of researching and developing the programme to improve the museum as an educational resource to local schools. Her first workshop, entitled ‘Prehistoric Ireland’, has been developed to support teachers of 5th and 6th classes in the delivery of the curriculum strand ‘Early people and ancient societies’. This workshop focuses on the museum’s collection of prehistoric artefacts to teach children about the lives of Stone Age and Bronze Age people in Clare, as well as giving the children the opportunity to handle some of the more durable objects in the collection such as stone axes and quern stones.
Caitriona drew on her own field experience and utilises excavated material from Roughan Hill, a Neolithic farmstead and items from the burials of the same period at Poulawack, Parknabinnia and Poulnabrone which are all on display in the Riches of Clare exhibition. The workshop has been developed with an emphasis on pupil engagement and interactivity and Caitriona has also helped the children to develop an understanding of the work of the museum and an appreciation of its value to the community. It has been promoted to local primary schools through the Clare Education Centre and has proven very popular. The workshop is conducted on the gallery floor surrounded by the objects associated with early people and ancient societies.
Piloted to local schools in the Spring of 2016, feedback from teachers has been very positive. Teachers appreciate the value of enabling the children to experience authentic archaeological objects at first hand and have commented that the experience really brings the past to life for the students in a way that wouldn’t be possible in the classroom. Having a trained teacher and experienced archaeologist to deliver the workshop is appreciated by teachers, and has only been possible through the engagement of a volunteer. For the museum, Caitriona has provided the ability to achieve one of its strategic goals – the provision of workshops that are supportive of the school curriculum.