Agile Objects

Agile Objects with Senta German and Jim Harris from

Yesterday I attended two training session hosted by my workplace’s teacher development centre. The sessions were on Agile Objects – using objects to teach with. For the morning session we met in the Archaeology Room of Somerset House. This is an amazing little space with glass flooring, exposing the foundations of the original buildings on the site. The afternoon session was held in the Courtauld Gallery, in another part of Somerset House.

So it was in these rather auspicious environments, we investigated how to use objects in teaching. The first session was called, Always Wear Gloves, and centred around how to help students learn with objects and artefacts they can hold and touch and smell! We had a series of historical objects laid out in front of us and we had to pick one to examine. We were exhorted to simply observe rather than try to explain.

We then took it in turns as a group to offer an observation each about how the item felt or looked. Assumptions were challenged! For example, one item was a piece of alabaster with an eye and a nose carved into it. But it appeared to be a fragment of something bigger. So one participant suggested “unfinished” but that was based on our assumption about faces and wanting to fill in the gaps with what we already know. Getting back to basics we described the colour and the texture and the weight.

Key questions were how was it made? Who made it? Where? What time? Why? It was suggested this could be a really good warm up or connect activity.

In the afternoon session, we focused on teaching with objects behind glass, as in museums and galleries. The three key things to remember about objects in galleries and museums is that they are:

  1. Out of context
  2. Re-contextualised by the curator
  3. Survivors

We also thought about connections between objects. So we looked at beautiful silver coffee, tea and chocolate pots made by the Courtauld family who were originally Huguenot refugees and brought fine silver working to Britain. We talked about the connections between tea, coffee, chocolate and Empire, we all as symbols of privilege and rank. We then looked at a painting in the same room of well dressed upper class gentlemen leaning against a Romanesque pillar as palm trees filled the background. It was interesting to think through these connections.




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