We’ve begun working on what it can mean for families to have a Box at home. It’s a place we have imagined Boxes to be since we started the company, so we’re excited to have this new opportunity. I’ve referred before to those old photos of a family sitting around a gigantic radio in their lounge, the radio practically its hearth.
We have also declared this lady our spiritual guide for this phase of “A Box at Home” product development:
On Tuesday, we had a great international Zoom with the MB team (George, Charlie, Kate, and Renata), Sara Cardello (Head of Education at Smithsonian Libraries, and Mum to Bruno), Jocelyn Swanson (Montessori secondary educator), and, last but not least, Brittany Berry, whose school recently purchased nine Make Your Own kits to use across the school.
I wanted to hear from Brittany about how the school had been using the kits, and it’s brilliant! (About 30-40 kids creating content, assuming various different roles in the production process, like writer, audio editor, 3D scanner etc). The school is part of a brilliant program called EAST, or Education Accelerated by Service and Technology. The students engage in real-world projects in their communities, learning 21st Century creative and critical skills as they go. You can see some of the collections being developed on Heart.
We’re still parsing that very first discussion, and we’re yet to come together as a group again — because pandemic??! — but I plan to post here as there’s more to show, or ask.
Our rough outline for next steps are:
Summarise key directions for public consumptions
Create some first draft resources to publish on the website about project ideas (but being aware that the whole internet is full of them right now, and in spite of this, kids are feral and that’s fine!)
Rough pass at a user research trial plan
Have another chat with the project team
Two early ideas about projects that could be done at home which aren’t explicitly connected to a Box but easily could be are:
Tell and record your family’s history, or
Keep a diary of what it’s like to live through this.
Telling our stories of COVID-19
We’ve noticed already there are projects popping up about this, and we’d like to try to gather links to them where we can. Maybe there’s a project on it later, maybe we can use them as examples for people who might like to try an audio diary. Maybe it’ll be nothing!
If you’re an educator or a parent, and interested to contribute or otherwise participate in our research and design process, the best way to start is to join our dedicated #educators channel on our public Slack that anyone can join, if you’d like to join in to discuss this work, or hear about new resources.
Well, I surely never thought I’d type that headline. But, there you go. Here we are. I’m actually co-writing this blog post with my brother, Dr. Andy Oates. He’s a biologist and professor working at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). It’s been reassuring to have the odd chat with him as the world descends, and we’ve come up with a list of suggestions and tips for you, about handling your Box and objects safely.
First some terminology: Fomites are inanimate objects or materials that can carry infection, such as clothes, utensils, and furniture, or Museums in Boxes. The term fomite comes from the Latin word for tinder (not the dating app). Scientists have been testing a range of materials to figure out how they relate to the transmission of COVID-19, and figuring out how long the virus can survive on surfaces. Andy will point you to the relevant scientific papers on that if you want more detail. Charlie also wrote about cleaning your Box and objects if you have one in our newsletter this week, so I’ve reposted that too, at the bottom of this post.
The main enemies of COVID-19 are distance, time, and soap. Here’s what Dr. Andy has to say about those:
When we cough or sneeze, or even when we yawn or just exhale, we release a mix of droplets and aerosols in our breath. Kind of gross, but there you are. (If you want to know how much water you breathe out, weigh yourself just before you go to bed, and again in the morning.) Droplets are relatively large and heavy, and so they crash to the ground or whatever other surface is around very quickly. Keeping your distance at about 2 metres from another person means you are unlikely to be hit. Aerosols are much smaller, and so stay aloft much longer. This means that in a closed room or other space (car, bus, pub, etc.), the range is much longer. However, it also means that by opening the windows, or by going outside, the risk of aerosol transmission is dramatically reduced, as the tiny particles are diluted more quickly.
Another way infection is spread is via surfaces, the fomites mentioned above. You’ll recall that when our aerosols or droplets touch a surface, or when we touch our nose or mouth and then a door handle, virus are transferred to that surface. But how long do they survive there? A team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health in the USA looked at the survival time of SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, in various situations that mimic how we might typically spread and encounter it in daily life.
They first created an aerosol in the air that mimicked the density found in the lungs and mouth of an infected human, and deposited it on various surfaces like copper, stainless steel, plastic, and cardboard. At defined time intervals after deposition, they transferred any remaining virus into a petri dish containing kidney cells and counted the number of cells that became infected. This is a tried and trusted method for detecting very small numbers of virus that are still infectious.
They found that the virus was undetectable after three hours in the aerosol, four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The amount of virus decreased rapidly in this time (exponentially), so an important lesson is the longer you leave something sitting there, the safer it becomes. For example, if you get a package or letter in the post, put it aside and even if there were virus on it, a day later they will be inactive. Just doing nothing is quite a safe option.
Wash your hands! Seriously, this is one of the most important and easy things you can do. Humans continually touch their faces and the surfaces around them, potentially transferring virus back and forth. Yet, despite the potentially deadly nature of SARS-Cov-2, it cannot withstand 20 seconds of contact with warm soapy water. This is because it’s outer shell is partly made of fatty lipids (a lipid bilayer envelope), and our normal household soap or washing-up liquid has been optimised over centuries to break up fatty lipids. Here’s a great diagram:
Thanks, Andy. That’s just science-y enough, and very helpful.
OK, so, we want to provide a bit more information on receiving and using your Box, based on this research about fomites (and distance, time, and soap).
When You Receive Your Box
All our packaging is either cardboard or brown paper or string, so it’s a pretty safe bet any sign of the virus would have disappeared from those materials in transit. If you are getting a single Box, your Box will also be inside a polythene mail bag. If you’re getting a Large Org kit or extra Boxes, we may have put them in a larger cardboard container. Those bags or boxes are what’ll have been touched last.
As tantalising as it is to open it up and get cracking, we’d suggest you pop your parcel in some kind of no-touch zone, for at *least* 24 hours, maybe even 48 hours. After that time, you should be good to go.
If You Already Have A Box, As You Use Your Box, or Share It With Others
Please be sure to look at keeping things clean as you go, per the following suggestions. Water and electronics don’t mix, so make sure everything is unplugged if you’re cleaning.
Boxes may experience some discoloration if a cleaning solution is too strong.
Avoid wiping the inside of the Box or electronics or inside the power or AUX jacks, but do wipe the volume knob!
Ensure the Box is completely dry before turning it on again.
Cleaning Plywood Boxes
This is harder. The plywood is “raw”, but you could try giving it a careful wipe, as above.
Probably easiest to remove them from circulation, like Dan did at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.
Cleaning 3D objects
In most cases these are made of PLA (Polylactic acid) so you can also use a diluted disinfectant or soap solution.
Don’t submerge the objects unless they have intricate areas you can’t easily wipe.
The NFC tags adhere well to the objects but may work loose if they’re repeatedly submerged and become damaged, and
Again make sure the objects are dry before using again.
Cleaning 2D postcards
Cards we’ve supplied through a commission, are likely laminated, so will hold up to a wipe.
Uncoated cards or paper may not hold up well to wiping and may cause colours to run.
If you have a laminator to hand laminate away! This will make cleaning with a wet cloth much easier and will extend the life of your cards.
The plastic power plug can also be wiped in the same way but avoid any metal connections and be sure it is completely dry before using again.
Finally, be sure to wash your hands often and avoid touching your face. And, please pay attention to the distancing rules in your area. This animation of the exponential-ness of infection in the USA is a good slap:
All of a sudden, we find ourselves in such strange times. Charlie and I are working from home, but very happy to still fulfill an order for a Box – our online shop is still open, and we hope you’ll consider a purchase to support our tiny business! If you’re stuck at home with your family looking for something to do, what better time to create a family archive!
Friend of MB, Katy Beale, announced this excellent list of resources gathered by her home educators’ network on a (different) Slack network I belong to, and I thought I’d republish here, just in case there are parents out there stuck at home looking for resources.
Put together by the home ed community. feel free to share and use as and when you need it for the coming days and weeks… FREE online education resources
A non-exhaustive list that might help those affected by school closures due to coronavirus, compiled by home educators.
Feel free to share.
Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org Especially good for maths and computing for all ages but other subjects at Secondary level. Note this uses the U.S. grade system but it’s mostly common material.
BBC Learning http://www.bbc.co.uk/learning/coursesearch/ This site is old and no longer updated and yet there’s so much still available, from language learning to BBC Bitesize for revision. No TV licence required except for content on BBC iPlayer.
Futurelearn https://www.futurelearn.com Free to access 100s of courses, only pay to upgrade if you need a certificate in your name (own account from age 14+ but younger learners can use a parent account).
Openlearn https://www.open.edu/openlearn/ Free taster courses aimed at those considering Open University but everyone can access it. Adult level, but some e.g. nature and environment courses could well be of interest to young people.
One of our Make Your Own pilots, Auckland Museum, created a Box that they have now tested with two local primary schools, and they made this brilliant video to share what happened, and what the students and teachers thought:
We were especially excited to hear how the teacher towards the end leant very naturally into:
how much easier it is when the museum comes to the classroom, and
that Make Your Own is a fluid extension of a museum sending a Box into a class.
Thank you very much to Mandy, Claire, and Tom at Auckland Museum for this wonderful record.
Quotes from the transcript that stood out for us:
“It converts objects into stories and audio.”
“Yeah, the boop box is really fun cause it’s like having playing and learning combined.”
“I really liked the fact that they didn’t have an insight into what it was going to be. They had to listen, they had to use a different sense, rather than just looking or sitting at a device.”
“One of the things we’d really love to see is this becoming part of an interactive piece of work for the kids, where the kids get to experience the objects, hear about the objects, link that to their own inquiries, but even being able to take the next step and being able to perhaps code their own little tags, so that they can take what they’ve seen from this and then use that as a way of sharing their own learning rather than just purely receiving the information, being able to create and share information through that medium as well.”
“The greatest benefit to us of this kit and this program is the availability to our teachers in their classrooms. And to our kids being able to access this information without necessarily having to go to the museum. And, I think, when we think about how we want to engage our children in learning, every moment counts, so the opportunity for the kit to be here and travel to us and for our teachers to have time with it beforehand, to experience it and think about how they are going to use it really has much wider reaching implications than the traditional model of going to a museum, seeing an exhibitions and talking about it when we come home.”
We’re chuffed to share the work from our latest commission with The Scouts! In this post, we’ll share not only the brilliant collections we produced together but also talk a little about the steps involved in the commissioning process.
The project included running workshops integrating objects, stories, creative writing and art to help children explore the topic of refugees and displaced people. These workshops were run in schools and in collaboration with author Jane Ray and charity EmpathyLab and proved a great success.
Following the workshops, the Scouts’ Heritage Collections Officer, Caroline Hamson, approached us with the idea of commissioning collections that can be borrowed by Scout groups, allowing them to run a condensed version of the workshops. The Box could act as the perfect way to facilitate these outreach workshops, and we couldn’t wait to get started!
Following our initial communications, Caroline visited our Hoxton HQ to try out a Box, explore some existing collections and — with neither of us having any Scouting experience — tell us a little more about The Scout Association and its archive. We learned about all the different work Scouts did on the Home Front during the war as well as The Scout International Relief Service and discussed a little about the kinds of objects in the collection.
Following this meeting we kicked off the commission and arranged a visit for George and Charlie to visit the home of Scouting, the beautiful Gilwell Park.
Visit and Object Selection
It’s certainly one of our favourite aspects of a commission to visit the site of the commissioner and rummage about in the collection with the education or curatorial teams to figure out a good story for the collection.
We ultimately decided to create two collections: ‘On the Home Front‘ which tells of what life was like during wartime and how Scouts contributed to the war effort at home, and ‘Moving Connections: The Scout International Relief Service‘ which documents the work of Scouts in Europe after the war had ended.
Each collection we made includes one 3D print and eight or nine postcards. As with most collections, much of the Scouts’ archival materials are 2D: photos, documents. but along with Caroline we were able to pick out two really nice objects that we knew would digitise well. The first was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) warden’s helmet: a great symbol of the roles played during the war and was no doubt a comforting sight to see during a wartime bombing raid.
The second 3D object from the The Scout International Relief Service collection was a Prisoner of War camp logbook. This is a particularly special object because it belonged to scouts who were interned at Miranda de Ebro, a Spanish concentration camp. The book is made up of three intricately carved wooden panels.
Replica ‘Point It Out’ Book
As well as the postcards and 3D prints we wanted to create a replica of the ‘Point It Out’ book. Scouts would have used this book a means of communicating as they worked throughout post-way Europe; it features pages and pages of beautifully illustrated images that the user could point at in order to overcome any language barriers they may come up against.
We worked with printmaker Takako Copeland (who made the beautiful container for our Bata box back in May) to create the replica of the book. Each page was scanned-in, cleaned up and printed out before being wrapped in a nice thick cover featuring all of the original artwork. The book also has one of our metal stickers on it so it can be booped along with the other items in the collections.
The finished article…
The collections have already been used at an event, the Gilwell Reunion at Gilwell Park, and we’ve already had a note from Simon, a Scout leader in London, who’s interested to help his charges attain their Digital Maker badge by making a Box! We’re excited about visiting with him, and hearing more about the recent Scouts & Raspberry Pi partnership, which we’d love to be involved with somehow.
We had a visit from Laura Gibson to our office in Bloomsbury back in May 2017. We’d been introduced by a mutual friend, Rosalind Parker, who was in the same PhD program as Laura, at King’s College London.
Laura was then working on her PhD, entitled Decolonising South African Museums in a Digital Age: Re-imagining the Iziko Museums’ Natal Nguni Catalogue and Collection. This was the culmination of many years of interest and work in the South African cultural sector, which began in 2009, when Laura was Assistant Curator at Iziko Museums in Cape Town. Since then, Laura has been back and forth and around KwaZulu-Natal building community, bringing together a team of Zulu community experts around the work of decolonising museum collections. She also recently submitted her thesis over the summer – Yay! – and Dr. Laura Gibson has already won a prestigious award for it, from Universities Antwerpen – double Yay!
Fast forward to this year, and we find that Laura and Hannah secured funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation, and the University of Leicester Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to bring together a group of nineteen Zulu community experts, anthropologists, scholars, entrepreneurs and museum professionals for a three-day workshop at Iziko Museums in Cape Town, the oldest museum in sub-Saharan Africa.
We were in the group, thrilled beyond measure that Laura and Hannah had designed that a Museum in a Box would be one of their project outputs, ideally to be returned from London (where we made it) to KwaZulu-Natal, so Zulu kids could learn about objects held in colonial museums – not from the museum’s perspective, but the Zulu community experts who selected and described them.
We assembled from various cities in KwaZulu-Natal, London, Cape Town, and Leicester to descend on Iziko and other venues for a three-day workshop.
Ostensibly, Charlie and I were there to document everything, taking photographs constantly, and recording audio of the whole event. We were keen that it wasn’t too orchestrated, but that the free-flowing fun conversation and activities were captured live and unfettered. Here’s the outline of the workshop:
We met in the morning at the Iziko Social History Centre, and said our hellos and introduced ourselves to each other. I was paired with Mama Nini, who got my measure within about 10 seconds, as we worked through the preset getting-to-know-you questions. “George doesn’t like talking about intimate relationships,” she said. On point. Haha.
Then, the group was able to do one of my very favourite things, which was exploring the museums historical registers, catalogues, and storerooms. Assisted by Iziko staff, Dr. Gerald Klinghardt, Curator of Anthropology, and Lailah Hisham, Collections Manager, we were able to see all sorts of items, with a view to each of the experts selecting one to describe.
In the afternoon, we were able to demonstrate Museum in a Box to the group, and were excited that everyone agreed a Box would be a good thing to produce.
The morning began with a tour from Fatima February, Conservator, who explained for the group what happens when an object is acquired by the museum. She had also gathered the objects chosen by participants so we could begin photography.
Next, we visited Lailah’s lair in the Collections Department, surrounded by old card catalogues and accession registers. It was so illuminating at this point to really see first hand how objects collected in colonial times were described. Laura shared a story from her research about a “Zulu” sweat scraper that is sparsely documented on the official catalogue card; however exploring the South African Museum’s archives more thoroughly reveals its disturbing provenance—stolen from the body of a Zulu man killed by the collector’s friend—that is absent from the official record.
In the afternoon, the group worked with ceramicist, Gary Frier, to create visual responses to belongings found in the collection and elsewhere in their lives, and Gary fired the pieces to return to the group once they were ready. The conversation around the making noted that many of the skills needed to make the objects seen the day before in the collection were disappearing, and how great it would be to facilitate makers who still hold those skills to teach and share that knowledge.
Towards the end of the day, the whole group took a trip to Table Mountain, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. That title is not given lightly, and the mountain was truly shining for our visit.
We moved venues for the morning, to Rust en Vreugd. The group was facilitated by Mbongeni Nomkonwana and Antonia Porter, and after some fun warm-up exercises, got down to business describing the objects from Iziko the group had selected. Antonia also encouraged everyone to look inwards, and reflect on what the workshop had brought forward for them.
Here’s how Laura described it in her summary of the workshop: “Dr Skhumbuzo Miya shared his concerns about the many powerful belongings held in the Iziko collections, items so powerful they could burn down a house without fire and that are, he believes, stored and treated incorrectly. He asked what reparation process is the museum following to cleanse these items? Later that evening, he stated that he had seen spirits living in hell in the storerooms. Thuli Mtshali likewise expressed regret that many of the stories behind the objects had been lost because apartheid and colonialism allowed people to collect, or steal, things form people without knowing this information that has since been lost. Thulani Thusi and Wilfred Mchunu spoke about the possibilities for collaboration that arose for them during the workshop, a sentiment captured for them by a leaf and feather. Nini Xulu’s plant choice also allowed her to reiterate how important it is that we work together and how beautiful it can be when we do.”
Then it was back to Iziko to do final photography and audio recordings, and we were delighted when Dr Miya played some of his songs for us on guitar!
Bringing it together
We left Cape Town with smiles, three days of audio, and thousands of photographs. It was lovely to revisit the event through these materials. We wanted the collection we developed to represent three things:
The objects selected from the Iziko stores, their catalogue cards (if they existed), and the audio descriptions of each object, as given by one or more of the Zulu community experts
The event itself, because so often this “contextual colour” is completely missing or hard to find in the works and background of events, and the workshop, its participants and its design generated the information and content, and finally
The participants, through their portraits, their voices, and their own introductions (or songs!), since this is almost entirely absent from the official record of colonial museums.
We created three “types” of postcards to represent these three ideas, which were also all translated from English into isiZulu. Look and listen to their audio, too:
Last week, Charlie and I were sitting in our office in Hoxton, and photos started coming through on our project WhatsApp, showing the launch party that was going on at Luthuli Museum in Groutville, just north of Durban in KZN. The whole South African crew had gathered to celebrate, and Laura was there too, to hand-deliver the box. It was exciting and brilliant! We are very proud.
We were also thrilled to see two messages from Thulani and Nini…
I want to thank each one of you for another effort on Amagugu Ethu, our meeting after the launch was a productive one. The people were so amazed about the work of Amagugu and to see the Museum in a Box. The Prince Zulu express his heartfelt gratitude for the work toward conservation of the Zulu objects and he requested that Amagugu should also do awareness programs. All the best to all of us towards what we have discussed today. Dr Gibson and the team in UK indeed we thank you for all you hard work. – Thulani Thusi
Thanks so much for the Charlie/George Magical Museum in a Box. God bless you with more intellectual technological invocation to share with Africa. – Nini Xulu
Best wishes from Team KZN received via WhatsApp
If the box wasn’t involved at all in the project, the results would still have been amazing. Power would have moved, would have changed hands. But, we like to think that one thing the Box has helped do is contain it, and perhaps present it more easily.
Thank you to our new friends, Nini, Thandi, Thuli, Wilfred, Dr Miya, Thulani and Boyzie for being fabulous, and we hope to see you again!
It’s a sign of a crazy last few months that I haven’t been able to write properly about our biggest project yet. At the end of April, Charlie, Adrian and I went to Washington, DC, to hand-deliver 11 Boxes to Smithsonian Libraries.
It’s the first time we’ve been commissioned to deliver more than one Box.
It’s the first time we’ve been able to bring in folks from the creative industries to join the crew specifically, two writers, three actors, and a big fancy-lookin’ recording studio. This allows us to demonstrate our content creation capacity (so if a museum wants to commission this service from us, we can show them great work).
The deployment is being formally evaluated (and that’s already really interesting).
This is the first of a couple of posts I’d like to write about this commission, one other perhaps about how we’ve also been able to level up in our Making Boxes skillz.
Back in 2016, Martin Kalfatovic was in London to celebrate the 10th birthday of the magnificent Biodiversity Heritage Library project, and I asked if he’d like to pop by our office to say hi and see what we were up to with this weird little box thing. He came, he liked it, he paused for a second, and then said “What if…” It wasn’t long after that when he introduced us to Sara Cardello, the Education Specialist at Smithsonian Libraries, whose job it is to get Libraries’ content into the hands of kids.
It wasn’t long after that when Sara and Martin asked us to make a Box for them to show to their Board, to get the idea across and pique their interest. We made what remains one of my favourite Collections to date, Frogs in a Box. It’s a favourite because of the name, frankly, but also because it does a very simple thing well: it blends the collections of two different parts of the Smithsonian into one place. There are photographs of North American frogs from a book published in the early 20th Century combined with Sounds of North American Frogs, an incredibly detailed and rigorous audio commentary in Smithsonian Folkways by a American herpetologist called Charles who, as I understand it, basically spent the 1950s travelling across American recording frog songs.
We decided to go for it, and trial the idea on a smallish scale. Small scale for Smithsonian, large scale for us! Sara – who has proved to be Herculean and brilliant – spent the next 18 months looking for a way to fund developing more boxes to support the development and distribution of the SI Libraries UNSTACKED programme. And then, success! She secured support from two different funding bodies: the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, and the Youth Access Grant supported by the Gates Foundation. And then, wow! We were ready to go. Incredible.
Here are the project specs:
2 Collections for each Box
7 schools and 2 “discovery spaces” across the USA
40 postcards and 4x 3D prints in each Collection
We planned to create two new Collections for the project, and each one shared the same structure of four main themes + 40 postcards + four 3D prints, but the content was very different.
Stories of Migration from the Asia-Pacific to America
Following the stories of four characters in the form of letters to and from their families. Ben from China, Hong from Vietnam, Abraham from Bikini Atoll, and Rhea from New York (with family from Trinidad & Tobago and India). Sprinkled with facts about rules and regulations for migrants new to the USA, and hints of cultural expression from home countries, this set is an emotive and personal look at what it would have been like to make the big journey in search of something better.
Here’s one of the stories from Ben:
Curation & Writing: Louise To
Actor: Suni La
Sound Recording: Offset Audio
Sound Post-Production: Charlie Cattel-Killick
Director: George Oates
History of STEM from the Dibner Collection
Four sets of cards aligned with the STEM categories: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths, this set tells various stories of the history of STEM through imagery in some important scientific texts from The Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology mixed with first-person accounts and other dramatisations of scientific subjects.
What might it be like to actually be a Black Hole?
I’ll plan to write a bit more about the design, production, delivery and evaluation of this commission – it was a big step for us in terms of our production capacity. In the meantime, here’s a quote from one of the kids we met in DC:
This is just a short post to let you know that we’re absolutely thrilled to be a part of the Spring 2018 cohort of the Young Foundation’s accelerator programme, the Young Academy! It’s a short post because we’re learning all kinds of useful things about working on our business plan, moulding our mission towards educational equity, and getting ready for the pitch day at the end of the program.
After a very busy and productive first six months of this year building and delivering our recent commissions with The British Museum, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, it’s a great time to step back and zoom out a little to refactor and realign our goals. The Young Foundation could not be a better fit, in terms of their mission to tackle major social challenges through research and social innovation.
It’s also be great to meet and hear from the other founders in the cohort. There’s nothing like realising that you’re not alone in your own set of challenges, and that lots of entrepreneurs out there are facing lots of the same things (and succeeding in spite of them!). It’s exciting to start to believe that what we’re doing has real potential and that we might even be able to attract investment.
I’ll likely post a few more updates as our realignment and thinking coalesce into a stronger story…
Four museum staffers from Baghdad have just completed eight weeks in London in a top-to-bottom digitisation training program at the British Museum. The program was designed to develop skills in the digitisation of heritage collections, especially archives, and to make best use of digital resources to engage audiences in Iraq and beyond. We were thrilled when the BM team reached out to commission a Museum in a Box to encapsulate and represent the training.
We were excited to meet Samah (Educator), Safa (Photographer), Mustafa (Curator) and Thamir (Conservator) from the Iraqi Museum. Charlie and I visited the British Museum a couple of times, to help with object selection for the collection, and digitisation tips. We also helped gather and edit the audio scripts the team had written and recorded themselves, as part of the box production process. With the support of Jennifer Wexler at the BM, who helped prepare the 3D models for us, we also arranged to print four objects in 3D, and getting another 20 or so postcards printed and set up with their shiny yellow acrylic box. The resulting collection was a blend of objects from both institutions – we’re wondering how often that’s happened to date…
The training program was celebrated at a morning event in the wondrous Arched Room at the British Museum on April 13th. Each of the trainees gave a short talk about what they learned, and Thamir and Mustafah gave a live demo of the new Box! Apparently there were gasps in the audience, and we now have an (un)official endorsement from rockstar curator, Irving Finkel 🙂
Special outcomes for us
Our first deployment into another country, Iraq. (We were certain to offer to perform any technical follow-up in person!)
The first collection we’ve made that draws together objects from more than one institution
Our first commission in another language, Arabic (unless you count Frog as another language?)
We also have our first translation of the “starter kit” greeting scripts used in every box, translated by Safa and Mary (who was on the BM project team)!
Here’s the finished Arabic intro that plays when you first fire up the Box:
We spent the end of the day yesterday watching all of Sir Ken’s TED talks. I’m slightly embarrassed to be the 46 millionth human to see his first one from 2006, but there you go.
He speaks about how fostering creativity in kids has been squashed by education systems that are oriented towards testing and standards and entry into university, and not respectful of diverse types of intelligence and different human capacities.
Here are the three talks in case you’d like to watch them:
I was taking notes as we watched them, and here are some highlights that stood out for me:
“Creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
“Kids will take a chance. If they don’t know, they’ll have a go.”
“We don’t grow into creativity. We grow out of it. Or rather, we’re educated out of it.”
“Suddenly, degrees aren’t worth anything.”
Intelligence is diverse, dynamic, and distinct.
“Education dislocates people from their natural talents.
“Human communities depend upon a diversity of talents, not a singular conception of ability.” How can we reconstitute our sense of ability and intelligence?
Lots of education doesn’t feed passion. “Teaching properly conceived is not a delivery mechanism.”
“If you sit kids down hour after hour doing low grade clerical work it’s not surprising they’ll fidget.”
Feedback from Teachers
Boxes we’ve made to date have been about creating complete sets of objects around a theme like Ancient Egypt: Daily Lives, or Frogs of North America, and, while we definitely think there’s a lot of utility in being able to create a replete set to deliver (perhaps to younger kids), we’ve been exploring ideas around more serialised delivery of box contents, so object-based enquiry builds themes and knowledge over time, prompting students to do independent research as the collection builds.
We’ve also heard over and again from teachers that they see great potential for a type of Museum in a Box that kids could construct themselves. We’d deliver the core elements (Brain/Stickers/Software), and the kids would invent their own sets of objects and content, and make a museum they’re into.
We love this idea — and I think it plays into Robinson’s thread of “learning that’s customised to local circumstances” — so we’d like to let you know we have started R&D on a product line called Make Your Own box as a result.
We’ll need some time, but, we’ve heard clearly that this sort of exploratory, self-directed, cross-curricular exercise would be great for teachers and their students, so we plan to try to meet that demand.
Stay tuned as we pilot this idea – we’ll let you know how we’re getting along! And if you’re a teacher who’s interested to help us during the pilot, please get in touch.