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The draw of Durham

Date Posted: 18/01/2012

Teachers located in the north-east now have five more reasons to visit Durham with their class, as the University’s learning team encourages access to these sites for schools.

It may be a small medieval city, but Durham is packed with educational sites and institutions offering workshops and visits to schools. Chief amongst them are the cultural attractions of Durham University, which welcome hundreds of school groups each year.

Now used as a college, Durham Castle is a must for History students. Next door is the university’s newest attraction – Palace Green Library - where visitors can see many treasures, including a Shakespeare First Folio, an Iban headhunting sword, and some of the earliest maps of the New World.

Situated on the city’s riverbanks is the Old Fulling Museum of Archaeology. This tiny gem is home to many archaeological objects relating to the history of Durham, and is particularly strong on the Roman and medieval periods. Slightly further afield is the Oriental Museum and the Botanic Garden. The former claims to be the only museum in the north of Britain devoted entirely to the art and archaeology of the Orient, and its Chinese and Egyptian collections are among the finest in the country. Across the road from the museum is the 25-acre Botanic Garden, home to plants and trees from across the world.

It is the responsibility of Durham University’s learning team to open up access to these resources for schools, and it does so by running a wide range of workshops for children of all ages, from EYFS up to A-level. Each session is carefully designed to fit in with the demands of the National Curriculum or exam board criteria, and can be tailored to suit school’s individual learning outcomes. Plus with such a wide range of collections at its disposal, the learning team is able to run workshops for many different subjects, including History, Literacy, Science, Geography, Art, RE, and Citizenship.

The programme features a workshop on Ancient Egypt, where pupils get their hands on objects that are over 3,000 years old, get up-close to a mummy, and re-enact the Weighing of the Heart ceremony; a session focusing on the transatlantic slave trade that uses a life-size print of the slave-ship Brookes to help students understand the horrors of the Middle Passage; a Tudor trail that lets pupils explore Durham’s historic past; an interactive exploration of different environments, and how plants are able to adapt and survive focusing on deserts and rainforests; and a guided tour of the castle showing how the knights of the past lived and worked. 

Older students benefit from the in-depth study sessions which focus not just on knowledge, but also skills development. Aimed mainly at GCSE and A-level students, examples of these workshops include Reform Politics of the 19th century, World War One, Women and the Struggle for the Vote, and Tudor Rebellions.

Each makes extensive use of the collections, offering pupils an unrivalled opportunity to learn more about the chosen subject. The learning team tries to ensure that different learning styles are accommodated, so most sessions will include visual, auditory, and kinesthetic activities.

Making Egyptian amulets, miniature Terracotta warriors, and writing with quill pens always goes down well with younger visitors, whilst older students appreciate the chance to work with original documents and artefacts (although dressing-up remains popular at all ages!). 

Teachers wanting to find out more about the opportunities on offer from Durham University should consult the dedicated website, where full programme details and information on how to book can be found. The site is also home to a wide range of classroom-ready resources for teachers, including rich and poor in Tudor Times, slavery, local history, Tudor exploration, World War One, and Crime and Punishment.

Useful contact:

Durham University:
0191-334 5695

Photo credit: Mike McFarlane.

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