School Travel Organiser took a visit to the MAD Museum in Warwickshire to find out what’s on offer for school groups.

MAD Museum

Blink as you walk down Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon and you might just miss the MAD Museum. Its entrance – a small doorway encasing a spiral staircase – is just a few doors down from the popular tourist attraction that is William Shakespeare’s house, and the crowds making their way there might prove a slight distraction.But don’t let them. The magic of the MAD Museum starts as soon as you step inside, by way of an impressive ceiling-high piece of kinetic art.

Warning: it may take your class a few minutes to get up the stairs, as their attention will no doubt be easily diverted by the coloured balls running along tracks that wriggle their way up the walls, across the ceiling and back down to floor level. Naturally, this contraption catches the eye and demands attention – no matter how old you are. 

MAD stands for Mechanical Art and Design, and the museum is jam-packed with examples of kinetic art and mechanics, showcasing everything from the innovative uses of gears and pulleys to the ingenious ways natural forces can be manipulated to create movement amongst other materials. Everything is moving, all the time, and it’s very noisy, in an engaging way.

It’s very child-friendly and there’s something exciting to feast your eyes on around every corner – from the tiny overhead train that runs on a track around the ceiling, to the colourful moving exhibits.

Wanda Sowry - Dia de los Muertos

Pictured: Dia de los Muertos by Wanda Sowry.

So what’s to learn?

School children will fall in love with this museum immediately – the combination of sound effects and displays of movement are practically guaranteed to grab their attention. It’s very interactive – visitors get to press buttons or step on foot pedals to make some of the pieces of art move – and it’s also very educational.

The weird and wonderful contraptions, illusions and 3D pieces of electronic art all come together at the MAD Museum to create one big resource to support the STEM subjects, as well as Art & Design and English.

Reception, Primary, Secondary and Higher Education are all catered for. Assisted visits are available for all Key Stages, while Key Stages 2 to 4 can take advantage of additional benefits like automata building activities, sketching and photography sessions.

There are also education packs for Primary and Secondary students that can be used during a visit. The packs comprise questions about the exhibits, design activities and word games, and help to increase a pupil’s awareness of mechanical design, electronic systems and Physics principals.

Assisted visits provide educational groups with the support of a knowledgeable member of staff who will provide an introduction to the museum, answer questions, help pupils with their activity packs and walk around with the group.

These visits are very much tied to the STEM subjects and might involve pupils looking at the moving exhibits to find out how engineering can create movement, or how gears work, for example.

The sessions available to Key Stage 2 to 4 pupils offer a more hands-on experience and can be tailored to specific subjects like Art & Design and Photography.

Wanda Sowry - Pirate of Penzance

Pictured: Pirates of Penzance by Wanda Sowry.

In an automata workshop, for example, pupils are given the materials to design and build ten different moving models, with a choice of three varying wheel and cam mechanisms.

The photography sessions, meanwhile, allow pupils to experiment with unusual compositions, lighting effects, contrasting colours and motion. The class are welcome to bring additional accessories such as supplementary lighting, tripods and models.

Alternatively, sketching sessions focus on sketching some of the art pieces from a design perspective. The exhibits themselves consist of different textures, colours, materials and complex designs, and there is an array of contrasting subject matters, from industrial machines to hand-crafted moving figurines.

School groups are encouraged to try out different drawing approaches and build up a portfolio.

Both the photography and sketching sessions are free but must be booked in advance, while materials have to be paid for in the automata workshop.

Make a booking

School groups are able to visit the MAD Museum between Monday and Friday, with Wednesdays reserved for private bookings (no extra charge).

Teachers should e-mail or visit to make a booking.