Inspire Nature is an action research project exploring how museum objects and images can encourage creative encounters with nature and stimulate inter-disciplinary experimentation and enquiry. University of Cambridge Museum (UCM) educators worked collaboratively to develop a series of training sessions and digital resources (as pictured in the image above) for primary schools. Through the five strands of Rocks, Trees, Water, Skies and Perspectives, the programme connects objects from across the UCM with themes from the Fitzwilliam's 'True to Nature' exhibition which opens in May 2022. The project was created in early 2021 when the museums were closed due to the pandemic.
The first phase of Inspire Nature focused on the development and evaluation of the remote learning programme. The team were interested in exploring how the resources and sessions were being used to support creative teaching and learning in schools, and how the digital community and resources created through the programme might provide museums with new approaches to harnessing the power of objects and collections beyond the confines of the physical spaces of our buildings. Participating teachers gave feedback through the use of online polls and surveys during and after the sessions and in a series of semi-structured interviews. The research team then followed up with participating schools and teachers a year later to explore how the project had been developed in different settings.
The second phase of the project takes place in Summer 2022 and aims to capture young people's voices and experiences in relation to the key themes of the project. A group of 10 children from a local primary school will spend a week as 'Art Activists-in-Residence' at The Fitzwilliam Museum exploring and responding to the True to Nature exhibition. During this time, they will work with curators, scientists, artists and museum educators to ask questions about how museum objects and collections can help us to better understand our relationship with nature, the environment and our changing planet.
The Inspire Nature Residency brings together ongoing Fitzwilliam research projects exploring on the impact of extended residencies on children’s experience of and relationship with museums and on the role of museum collections and programmes to stimulate curiosity and creativity (https://fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/it-s-our-museum-too and https://fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/ways-of-seeing-inspire-2020.) This is our first residency with primary aged children.
Noble, K. (2021) Challenges and opportunities: creative approaches to museum and gallery learning during the pandemic, International Journal of Art and Design Education https://doi.org/10.1111/jade.12380
Kate Noble, Senior Research Associate Museum Learning
Sarah- Jane Harknet, UCM Evaluation Co-ordinator
UCM Educators: Imogen Alexander (Kettle's Yard), Naomi Chapman (Polar Museum), Rosanna Evans (Fitz), Alison Giles (Whipple), Chantal Helm (CUBG), Rob Law (MAA), Justyna Ladosz (MOCA), Haley McCulloch (CUBG), Holly Morrison (Fitz), Bronwen Richards (CUBG), Nic Skipper (Sedgwick), Jacqui Strawbridge (Fitz), Roz Wade (Zoology), Nicola Wallis (Fitz) and Jenny Williams (MAA)
Jane Munro, Keeper of Paintings, Drawings and Prints and the True to Nature exhibition team
The project has revealed the potential of university museum-led digital programming to support teacher wellbeing and nurture creativity through the creation of a virtual community of practice. The mixture of subject matter and collections strengthened our offer and the online format was accessible to a wider range of teachers. Videos and resources were shared with other teachers and re-visited. As an action research project, these findings can be fed directly into our ongoing programme development at the University of Cambridge Museums.
We shared some of our inital findings with other researchers and educators through a series of conference papers in 2021:
‘What do teachers want from an online museum professional development programme?’ Museum Next Digital Summit, October 2021
‘Creative Pedagogies in the Museum: practitioner researcher reflections on the features of creative learning’ British Educational Research Association Conference 2021, September 2021
‘Challenges and opportunities: creative approaches to museum and gallery learning during the pandemic’, Parallel session for International Journal of Art and Design Conference, March 2021, online conference