How does the Enquiry Process contribute to
work at historical sites & museums?
Visits to museums and historic sites help students build up knowledge and understanding of a topic or period. They can also give students practice in following the enquiry process, a further justification for taking students out of school. Visits can fit in at different stages of the enquiry process, depending on the nature of the site. This may also be an ideal opportunity to demonstrate the transferability of the enquiry process, away from the classroom.
Use the site at the very beginning of the process to stimulate questions and create initial hypotheses. Then return to school to use other resources to test and develop those hypotheses and build fuller answers to the questions. For example, take a question such as ‘How important was religion to people in the Middle Ages?’ or ‘Did monks and monasteries matter to people in the Middle Ages? The best way to start, to beginning developing an answer is to go to a monastery or cathedral and use the evidence there – what does it tell you about the importance of religion? Then take those hypotheses and follow them up using a wider range of resources in school.
Begin the process in school with students developing hypotheses in answer to a question. Then undertake the site or museum visit to see if their answers stand up against the evidence they see, whether it’s a building or a range of objects in a museum or an interpretation presented by an actor at the site. For example, KS3 students may be exploring the story of everyday life and could build a graph or description in the classroom, based on the national picture, using books, pictures and sources in the classroom. But was that what it was like in their town? That’s where a visit allows students to use their local museum to test the hypothesis in the national picture – was it like that here?
Using either of these approaches has two other benefits. Firstly it requires that the visit is embedded in a sequence of lessons – school – visit – school – rather than being a one-off ‘trip’ whose value is likely to be extremely limited because it is just a one-off. Secondly this approach means that the teachers accompanying the trip have to be fully involved because the activities link in closely to what’s happened before and what will happen in succeeding lessons. A visit should never be an opportunity to hand over completely to museum or site staff – if you do, how are you going to build on the students’ experiences?