Hello, my name is Michael. My partner Amber and I were tasked with researching, planning and leading a Takeover Day for PK Porthcurno for our Public History Project as part of our history degree at Exeter university. The Takeover Day is part of nationwide opportunity to help children get into history. Specifically with history that is taught in museums like PK Porthcurno. Sixty primary school children from King Charles School in Falmouth visited PK Porthcurno to take part in the Takeover Day last November. As part of their environmental Planet PK work, the museum asked us to focus on the material of Gutta Percha, which is a thermoplastic material that was used to protect the underwater telegraph cables that sent messages around the world, before we had the wonders of the internet!
The Planning Stage
We set out with the initial idea that it was going to be a very rewarding but also a tough challenge, to create activities that both entertained and interested the children while also making sure there was lots of information on Gutta Percha that the children could learn from. We adopted the mindset of planning for the worst and hoping for the best. Our worst-case scenario was that the children wouldn’t be interested in the activities that we put on, and therefore would be less engaged with the information that we were going to give them. We planned simple activities that we hoped would keep the children interested for decent lengths of time, whilst mixing in little nuggets of information throughout that would hopefully sink in as they enjoyed themselves. We very quickly decided to start with a game as we felt that this would brighten their spirits and keep them occupied for some time. The children would stack cardboard tubes and use tennis balls to knock the stack down. They would then proceed to thread the cardboard tubes through a plastic cable. The fastest to complete this would be the winner. Then we quickly gave them some information about Gutta Percha, for example about its impact on the environment. We then let them do prints of leaves and animal and sea creature mono and lino prints and spoke more on the environment. We had many plans and ideas in place in case we had children who weren’t very interested, or if our original plan went wrong, but we wanted them to also be flexible so we could adapt to the situation.
What we Expected
As the day began to unfold it became clear that our ideas were working really well and that we didn’t need to deviate much from our original plan. The kids loved the game we made for the start of the day, and it kept them engaged longer than we thought it would. They were well-behaved and interested as we told them about Gutta Percha, which surprised us as we had expected there to be at least a couple of kids who wouldn’t want to listen. The most successful part, however, was the printing session. The kids were fascinated by some of the prints they created, especially the specific ones of seals and other creatures. There even ended up being queues for the most popular prints. The kids seemed very disappointed when we had to stop but they were very grateful to us, and we received two very special reviews from two of the kids who were on their school’s parliament! However, there were a few challenges along the way.
The kids didn’t really want to hold hands in a circle, but we managed to get around it with humour, and promising that it wouldn’t be for long. We also had to slightly alter our explanation for the animal lino printing for the second group, as some of the first group misinterpreted our instructions which led to a couple of mistakes. However, this was easily corrected and there were very few problems in the second group. Overall, the day went very well and better than we expected, and it was a great privilege to put on the day for them.
What We Learned
We learned a great deal about how to incorporate historical information into a format that is friendly to children. The game, at the start, represented how the European colonists would cut down the trees to get the Gutta Perch and then use it to protect their telegraph cables. The process of coming up with the ideas, developing them and then putting them into practice was challenging but a fun experience.
We could not have done it without the tremendous help we received from the entirety of the team at PK Porthcurno, especially Alice, who helped us every step of the way, from brainstorming our ideas to eventually helping us put on the day for the children. Amber and I are students at the University of Exeter and to be able to have the opportunity to create and put on such a project was an absolute privilege and we cannot thank everyone enough for their support. While the project may be over, we feel that we have learnt many valuable lessons that we can use as we move forward with our university lives and beyond. We learnt the depth of research that is required in order to create a successful Takeover Day and the challenges that this causes with time pressures. We learnt how to take complicated and long information and change it into something that 9 and 10-year-olds found both engaging and fun.
Although the length and depth of the research that we did was time consuming and even frustrating at times for me, it was all worth it as I worked with the kids during the day and to see them enjoying themselves made it easily my favourite moment of the project. We will never forget this experience and we will treasure it for many years to come.
“Working with Michael on this project was a great privilege. He was a real natural at delivering the workshop, engaging the children in each aspect of the Takeover Day and making sure they all had a great time when learning. I wish him the best of luck in the future and am confident he will be a fantastic schoolteacher, which he plans to be after university. Thank you for all the hard work. I very much enjoyed working with Michael on this project.”
Alice Howard, Learning and Participation Facilitator
Michael Nice, Student at Exeter University