From pangolins to washing-up-liquid bottles: bachelor’s and master’s students at the Humboldt-Universität have developed concepts in seminars to explore and discuss objects in the Humboldt Lab with pupils from a primary school and a special-needs school.
Climate change, species extinction, political crises: in the Humboldt Lab, urgent issues of the present day are engaged with. What points of contact does an exhibition like this, which provides insights into research projects and university collections, offer for school class visits? In the 2022 summer semester, students of the Humboldt-Universität developed concepts in two seminars, which they are testing with school students.
In the beginning, says Oliver Musenberg, professor of pedagogy for learners with mental disabilities at the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, it was not so easy for his students to choose specific exhibits. “The Humboldt Lab leaves you a little overwhelmed, because it shows a lot of different exhibits from various disciplines in line with the hodge-podge nature of a cabinet of curiosities collection.” The students of special needs education selected exhibits from this trove of items – with the aim of opening up access to pupils from a school with a special focus on promoting cognitive development and exchanging ideas about the items with them.
Among other things, they chose an empty bottle of detergent that had been washed up on the coast of England and now, in the exhibition, draws attention to the pollution of the oceans due to plastic waste. The two students who are preparing this station want to wash microplastics out of some shower-gel packaging together with the school children, says Musenberg. At a station with samples of colourants from the Petrochemical Dye Collection of the Technische Universität Dresden, two other students want to offer to mix colour pigments together. The aim is to build a closer relationship to the objects through illustrative activities of this nature. “The challenge for students with a special need for support with cognitive development is that you can’t just do a tour and tell them something. That would go over the heads of most of them,” says Musenberg.
The students of Petra Anders, professor of German tuition and its didactics in primary education at the Institute of Educational Sciences, have also developed ideas for how to appeal to schoolchildren – in their case, pupils in year 5 from a primary school in Berlin-Reinickendorf. They embed the exhibition visit in a mixture of escape-room story and treasure hunt. “We first take the schoolchildren on an imaginary journey so that they can let go mentally. We are stranded together on a deserted island, where researchers live who have made certain discoveries,” says the professor of German didactics. Each exhibition object is then dealt with by two school children, and the students also read out excerpts from children’s books about the items. For example, one display case containing historical models of apples is about biodiversity. Another group chose a pangolin exhibit. Fellow members of its species could no longer be exported from South America due to the pandemic, says Petra Anders. “Which means a species threatened with extinction has been saved by a crisis.”
The students also prepared a station that deals with Herder’s journal. “At first, there was a discussion about whether a historical diary such as this is at all of interest to children. But, of course, they have read ‘Greg’s Diary’ [Gregs Tagebuch – the German title of the children’s book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid], and have a lot of connections to the format.” Taking the object in question as the starting point, the students discuss the significance of writing with the year 5 pupils. Why do people record their thoughts in order to communicate something to posterity? “This was important, because the teacher said that the children are very reluctant to write,” says Petra Anders. At the end, the schoolchildren solve puzzles relating to their station and are given a key. Together, they can use this to loosen the chains that are stretched around a treasure chest full of sweet treats and souvenirs from the Humboldt Lab.
Both seminars are intended to enable students to try things out in a non-university and non-school setting and to adapt to specific target groups. Many of the Reinickendorf schoolchildren rarely leave their district, says Petra Anders. “They had never been to Alexanderplatz, the Berlin Cathedral or the Humboldt Forum.”
Yet it is not only schoolchildren who discover new things. “For me, the idea of being able to hold my seminar in a museum was incredibly appealing,” says Petra Anders. For, the students, too, are not necessarily museum-savvy. Non-school learning locations did regularly play a role in the degree programme. “However, designing such an educational offering in a museum is no everyday matter,” says Oliver Musenberg. “The fact that we can work surrounded by the objects in the Humboldt Lab was very special. This was the most intensive seminar I have given in a long time,” says Petra Anders, and that was made possible, she says, by the dedicated employees in the Humboldt Lab.
Nevertheless, there are still ideas about what could work even better next time. One would need more time to talk about solutions and not just crises, says Anders. “As a schoolchild in year 5, I would probably have gone home and thought: What kind of world is this, so full of crises?” It is important for the schoolchildren to discuss possible small steps that can be taken to escape the misery.
The projects not only give schoolchildren and students food for fought; the participating institutions also benefit. As part of the so-called Third Mission, universities are increasingly working on networking with other areas of society. “I think that the university should extend and grow into society. When it comes to teacher training for primary school children, especially, it is obvious that what we do is never debated in an ivory tower. We work together with schools, and the students also need to learn to navigate extracurricular learning locations,” says Petra Anders.
For the time being, the projects are concluded now that the schoolchildren’s visits to the exhibition have taken place. “However, the teachers immediately said that they would like to come again with the other two year 5 classes,” says the seminar leader. They want to draw up a handbook on the basis of the seminar and will leave the concepts for the stations to those responsible at the Humboldt Lab.
Oliver Musenberg hopes that his seminar can provide suggestions for making the Humboldt Lab more accessible as a place of culture for target groups that have thus far not been taken so much into consideration. “The priority for me when it comes to the notion of the Third Mission is that the Humboldt Lab picks up on ideas that are important for addressing people with learning difficulties,” he says. Topics like easy language are now very present in museums. “But there are many schoolchildren with a special need for support with cognitive development who do not benefit from easy language, because they cannot read at all.”
|Date:||03. August 2022|