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Discovery Days 2012-2013

“A fantastic and rewarding day with opportunities they would never have access to elsewhere – thank you very much. Truly inspirational.” (Staff member, Discovery Day 2012)

The 2012-13 Discovery Days were attended by 134 school students and a fantastic 98% of participants said that they would recommend the course to others. Access Cambridge Archaeology’s Assistant Outreach Coordinator, Sue Poll, organised this winter’s Discovery Days and the superb feedback is a credit to her hard work and effort recruiting schools, and preparing and running the days. An enormous thank you to regular volunteers, Sarah Talks and Liz Pratt, for their valued contribution too.

The final Discovery Day was attended by a a group of year 9 students from King Edward VI School, Suffolk who came to Cambridge to do the course Time Travel for Beginners on Wednesday 6th March 2013. They started the day with an undergraduate-style lecture looking at the bias and partiality of written sources. The idea of bias and partiality in archaeological sources was introduced to them through a consideration of how a room familiar to them would change over 2000 years. This was followed by a fun activity to see what information could be deduced from other people’s rubbish. In the afternoon the students tried to unpick the lives of people living hundreds of years ago by looking at the bits of pottery, bone and building material found in four 1m square test pits. This activity drew on the skills of inference used in the rubbish bag exercise but proved much more challenging for the students as they had to draw on their knowledge of historical periods in order to imagine the types of dwelling, food eaten and household utensils or ornaments suggested by the material in front of them. The students felt it had been a challenging and enjoyable day.

Two weeks before, on Wednesday 20th February 2013 we were delighted to welcome students from Ormiston Bushfield Academy, Peterborough to Time Travel for Beginners. The students started the day with the unique university experience of a traditional tiered lecture theatre with wooden drop-down benches and a raised platform for the lecturer. They started the day with an undergraduate-style lecture on bias and partiality in written sources and went on to analyse some sources for themselves. This was followed by a more light-hearted activity in which they considered how a room that was familiar to them might look after 2000 years. The students were then challenged to reconstruct someone else’s room which resulted in much lively discussion about how difficult it was to imagine what, for example, the ‘bits of glass’ they were left with might have been. On swapping the papers back there was amusement and amazement at how different their rooms now looked. One student said, perplexed, “I’ve got an inflatable chair that I didn’t have before!” After lunch we carried on in a classroom, where the students particularly enjoyed rooting through other people’s rubbish in order to work out who lived in a household. We finished the day with an activity looking at real archaeological finds and trying to imagine the households who might have left them behind. By the end of the day all felt they could now tell the difference between a Victorian and an Anglo Saxon pottery sherd.

Collating the feedback from all of the Discovery Days run during the last five months, 90% of the participants said that they learned a lot from the day and 87% strongly agreed or agreed that they really enjoyed the day. Comments from the students suggested that the days were both fun and informative;  “I found it very interesting and knowledgeable. It was amazing!” and “it can improve your knowledge on the past and it was very fun.” A staff member felt that his students had gained “knowledge, social skills, logical thinking skills and investigative skills” which would help them in the future.

Many of the accompanying staff said that they felt their students had gained a lot from experiencing a day at the University of Cambridge, with comments such as “very informative, gives students a taste of university life”. This was also appreciated in the feedback from the students with one mentioning that “it’s something completely different to anything on our school curriculum” and another saying “you learn about a new subject you don’t do in high school, it gives you a taster of what university is like.”

99% of the participants said that “the course leaders had an excellent knowledge of the subject” and one teacher specifically praised the “very knowledgeable tutors (and lots of them) to work with groups – it’s something difficult to deliver in school.”