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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Jelley

Quick, to the Museum !

Over the coming weeks Storywalks at The Museum of Somerset in Taunton will get back underway, and we'll be kicking off with a tale in the gallery called 'The Moonlight Lifter' which I wrote last year during my Storywalks Museum Pilot Project supported by Arts Council England.

Everything kicks off on Tuesday with years 5 and 6 from Dulverton of The Exmoor Federation. The first group will be with me at 10 am sharp and I'll pop them into 5 mixed ability groups and up to the Making Somerset Gallery to get reading and hunting for clues as quick as possible.

This gallery has been brilliantly curated to get under the skin of local history and has a fabulous mix of unusual artefacts, from the model of a leather church tower, to funeral helms (with iron dogs on top) to an old piano (called a virginal) to an amazing collection of cauldrons! It is diverse, engaging, and refreshingly eclectic and revealing of the broad history of our county. And in this breadth is naturally a rich vein for developing stories, telling tales and embroidering the truth!

Every artefact has a story, they all interlink and connect with each other, they have all been touched, created, fabricated, and often repaired over their lifetime, so how does Storywalks fit into this picture?

'One wintery night, a figure disarms the gallery alarms with ease and breezes through the halls ready for her mischief to begin.'

Well first I need to roll things back a little, and explain what we'll be doing physically with a class of pupils. It's not sensible to just release 30 students into a museum and expect them to learn! There needs to be structure, so first I place the kids into 5 groups of mixed abilities ( actually I let the teachers choose as they know who'll work well together). Then I give each group an iPad plus a tracker sheet which helps me to keep them all on task when they are whizzing about.

The chosen Storywalk for next week will be The Moonlight Lifter, I will read the first chapter aloud beneath the cauldrons of the Making Somerset Gallery and this narrative reveals that a thief is steeling the treasures and replacing them with exact replicas. In their groups they follow the directions and clues from the Storywalk, hunting out artefacts in the cabinets and solving puzzles which will give them keywords. Each keyword opens a new chapter of the tale, when they open it they can find a hidy-hole and read that chapter their group. When read there is another clue / directions and so the story unfurls step by step.

Finally the story reaches its conclusion, the storywalk ends and I task the pupils to choose their own artefact to include in a new tale. This is where the narrative enables a new engagement between the pupil and gallery and hopefully facilitates the trampolining of their interests to the next level.

The original trials last year showed this was a really effective way to connect the pupils to the collection.

As said, these works begin next week, they will be all about reading and investigating, with a big dollop of workshop creativity rolled in. I am really excited to see and hear what the pupils will create, and what new narratives they will design and develop.

All of this is designed to bring them a little closer to their true history inside this great museum, though I think the journey to that point can be crammed full of wonders too.

Links to three Museum of Somerset Storywalks from Parkfield Primary school last year

Journey to the museum, open in your phone or on your tablet, follow the simple directions to reveal the stories and share with your family.

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