Excavating words, making books

The beginning of November saw Georgia with poet Matt Black  in Athersley, Barnsley, for 3 schools workshops.
Our sessions were the culmination of a 4-part series of visits in each school. To introduce archaeology, dig testpits, discuss the analysed finds and what they might reveal about each school site’s past, and finally to engage the children in interpreting their archaeological experiences and finds.

 “I learnt that archaeology isn’t only digging!”

 The children worked in groups. Each group excavated nouns from a themed shoebox of stratified tissue. The themes related to their finds, for example a Blacksmith box, a Coalmine box… The children added their own adjectives and verbs, then jumbled and played with their word ‘artefacts’, creating new juxtapositions and finding phrases that satisfied and fit, others that didn’t so well.
New words and blank word-cards were seized as eagerly as new finds, opening new possibilities for meaning.
Along the way we created a Palaeolithic dictionary in charcoal on a log, and navigated forests of hands reaching for a chance to perform the Ug haiku to classmates.
Eventually, each child created a layered book, with a phrase on each layer and hidden-away secret facts, images or riddles.

 “I loved making my book!”

They were packed and fast-paced sessions, with the children hugely enthusiastic about their books. Matt shared poems and writing tips throughout each session, often involving call and response or other active participation. The grand finale saw 15 young grannies lined up for the Granny Power Rap at Athersley South!

I dig digging

Poet Matt Black was inspired by the Athersley students to create this archaeology poem. Thank you Matt!
As the trowel works down
through layers
I love the pleasure
of sifting through the crumbly soil
so carefully –
actually, you don’t really dig,
you scrape, so you don’t miss, or damage,
the fragile treasure.
Look, is that a piece of glinting silver?
I dig digging.
That old penny, where did it come from?
Who did it belong to?
Who once spent it on liquorice, or beer,
at the end of a hard day in the woods,
or down the pit, or by the fire?
That person stood breathing,
laughing, perspiring, right here.
I dig digging
near the school,
where my grandfather dug before –
I played him once at pool,
his hands were weathered and wrinkly
as he showed me how to hit the ball.
Underneath his fingernails
this very soil.
I dig digging,
hunting, and sieving, and finding, and shouting,
O my God, look what I’ve found,
a skull, like an empty cave.
Though once, its mouth was full
of mashed potato and gravy –
Shaking this riddle,
this moonslip of bone in my palm,
working out the story.

The Deathening Guns

WWI Soldiers’ Lives, Thurnscoe, Rotherham
Bransley Chronicle Feature
A recent HLF Sharing Heritage-funded project took me deep into the online archives tracking down Thurnscoe men who served in World War I. Jacqui Shaw of The Hill Primary Academy, Thurnscoe wanted to give her students a taste of historical research from primary source archive documents. With inHeritage’s support, Jacqui developed the project outline and secured HLF funding for the project for The Hill and local Gooseacre school.
The funding bought extensive research time that would have made this an impossible task for working school staff in amongst their huge workload. There were also poetry workshops with former Derbyshire Laureate Matt Black, a visit to the local records office, and meetings with the Local History Group.
Read students’ poetry here.
inHeritage created a set of 10 folders for each school, each containing archival documents relating to one local WWI soldier. From Census documents to Military Records, most folders contained print-outs of about 20-30 archive documents. The Y6 students used these to conduct their own historical research, piecing together narrative biographies from primary sources, and in the process experiencing the nitty gritty of real historical research and gaining many insights into their local history, World War I battles and recruitment, and some of the various impacts the War had on ordinary lives. Doing the research became a moving experience in itself – think Who Do You Think You Are? with few happy endings. Careful selection of subjects meant we could cover a wide range of experiences – younger and older soldiers; some involved in landmark engagements; some invalided out; a POW who returned safely in 1919, some disciplined, some promoted, many dead. The students also learned the importance of their local coal mining history, some local recruits were kept home as miners until late in the War.

Games, apps, phones and stories: What do children use?

This summer’s Children’s Media Conference was, as ever, a busy exciting conference. Where else would I fall into casual conversation with the former chief exec of EuroDisney channel, now commissioning TV channels across 100 countries? Or rub shoulders with BBC commissioners, meet James Huggins of Made in Me, a family-based story App designer dedicated to gently interactive traditional picture book storying, bump into technological innovators, traditional puppet makers, games designers, authors and illustrators, Bob the Builder’s creator, the maker and the commissioner of the Octonauts (I bow down!), creators and innovators, publishers and funders from across the range of children’s media, familiar and new. And what a keynote from Malorie Blackman, inspirational children’s laureate, with over 60 titles to her name and a lot more yet to say.
So… what’s the relevance to heritage interpretation? In part, it’s fascinating to see something of the variety of media for communicating stories, engaging attention, delighting audiences. There are innovations, and tried and tested forms, done excellently. It’s inspiring.
There are research presentations too. The findings outlined below felt relevant to our field, with much to ponder and no conclusions reached yet. In particular, How should we target often limited resources in communicating heritage to children and young people? Hi-tech or print-outs, Apps or explorer trails, QR codes or a dressing up box? You can read findings from Ofcom’s 2013 Children’s and Parents’ Media Use and Attitudes Survey below.
Research Findings: Ofcom’s Children’s and Parents’ Media Use and Attitudes Survey
With additional content from Alison York, Research Director at Nickelodeon, drawing on findings from Nickelodeon’s ongoing audience research.
This presentation surveyed trends in children’s use of technology. Ofcom’s longitudinal research project began in 2005 and surveys 4000+ households annually, asking questions of parents and of children aged 5-15.
The survey takes into account BARB data on children’s viewing habits and data on the websites most accessed by 6-14 year olds.
Research Findings
Tablet use has risen dramatically among children.
Mobile phone ownership has fallen – perhaps due to the rise of more expensive multifunctional smart phones, over the text-n-call phones of 2005.
In particular 8-11 year olds are now less likely to own a phone, but more likely to use a tablet.
Chat Apps are gaining popularity, as Facebook activity slightly falls among children aged 8-11 and aged 12-15 (though Facebook for now remains far and away the market leader in social media, 87% have a profile, and 37% use Twitter).
The average number of Facebook friends among 12-15 year olds is 278, 78% of whom they have never met in person.
The rising popularity of Chat Apps such as WhatsApp suggest children are increasingly opting for safer, closed, intimate online spaces over more widely accessed platforms where it is not always easy to understand who you’re talking to, and who can find out about you.
Patterns of mobile devices and media usage in bedrooms are changing somewhat – fewer have a TV, games console or radio in their room, but Internet activity in the bedroom has risen by 12-15%.
More children go online more often at home than in 2005, with near universal Internet access and a bigger choice of devices offering connectivity – tablets and smartphones now, as well as the still dominant desktops and laptops.
Television remains the most used media technology across age groups from preschool to 15, but among 12-15 year olds it is marginally pipped by Internet activity, which is rising.
Online Safety: Trust and Concerns
94% of children access the Internet at home.
Children’s trust in Internet content has fallen across the board since 2005 and varies according to source: about 74% say they trust school homework sites, c. 50% trust Wikipedia content, and just 28% say they would trust the content on social networking sites (perhaps still a scarily high figure).
About one in five children has concerns about seeing material that is too old for them, or sad, scary or embarrassing. About one in ten of the older children has concerns about bad things people have said about them online. At this point, it’s worth mentioning a recent article in Times Educational Supplement quoting research findings that average anxiety levels among teenagers are now such that in the 1950s they would have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. It bears rewording: it is now normal (in the sense of common) for our children to live with anxiety at levels considered pathological just two generations ago.
How do parents curate or intervene to support and control their children’s media use? A few (c.15%) claim to put no controls on at all. While 85% of parents use some blend of conversation (many talk with their children at least once a month about safety online); technical mediation such as access codes and passwords; safe search technology; parental control mechanisms; and enabling YouTube safety mode.
Making and Sharing: The Rise and Rise of YouTube
Bite-size clips are sharable and fun.
YouTube use is rising dramatically, with sharability and content creation and curation facilities of very high value to children. It’s shaking up the music video industry as companies realise many young people no longer watch an entire 3-minute music video, but instead share and reshare brief buyer-clips.
Vine and Instagram are popular for sharing videos and photos.
Emotional Needs Drive Media Use
Children associate different media technologies with fulfilling different needs.
Enjoyment: TV
Imagination: Games consol
Creativity and Exploration: Laptop
Sharing: Phone
While tablets do not yet dominate any one category they score highly across all, and tablet use continues to rise among all the age groups.
Asked which technology they would hate to lose most, 5-7 and 8-11 years olds generally say television, and then games; for 12-15 year olds it’s their PHONE!
Real World – Digital interaction
Children now expect screens in their environment and expect to interact via touch.
So – is there anything here we can apply directly to interpretation planning? Maybe, maybe not. I have a hunch that most children will access interpretation predominantly onsite. But I note too that good homework resources are popular – often curated and recommended by teaching staff.
And if we’re going digital, then … Cats running into walls are cool! Brief, sharable, playable, funny.