Museum in a Box: Crafting Atlantic World History Narratives

By Lisa Howie, Ru-Zelda Severin and Dawnette Simons

Education | June 29, 2020

Reading time: 3 minutes

Many locals will recall the ‘little blue book’ of Bermuda’s history: a quaint illustrated short text that documented several aspects of Island culture, including early settlement. For many, this was the introductory text to Bermuda’s history taught in primary school. Today we have the opportunity to move the needle on the study of Bermuda’s history: to develop educational components that support and enrich curriculum and to go further by creating entirely new learning engagements. Such is the case for the upcoming National Museum of Bermuda (NMB) Early Years Programme (EYP).

The “little blue book” of Bermuda’s history

The design of the EYP is for early learners, pre-school and primary 1. Why? Simply because the earlier that we can introduce the stories on who we are, how we got here, who did what, and why, the better. Knowing who we are – a directive of global acceptance— can apply to our youngest population, for whom the world of learning is a giant ball of questions.

Children are natural archaeologists: exploring, digging, examining closely, tasting(!), asking endless questions, and often challenging adult knowledge banks. The EYP, through an inquiry process, responds to children’s quizzical nature.

To realise this programme design, NMB Director of Learning & Engagement Lisa Howie reached out to an expert in early education, Bermuda College Senior Lecturer, Ru-Zelda Severin, who is also an NMB Board member and Deputy Chair of the Board of Education. Ms. Severin suggested that we shape a special topics course that would embrace the intentions of the EYP. Plus, we should include expert early years educator Ms. Dawnette Simons, who is also the Pre-School Teacher Leader at St. David’s Pre-school.

Design Team Equation for EYP: power pair on early education + museum educator + aspiring early childhood educators = cross-generational investigative collaborators. All dedicated to the challenge of simultaneously creating a Bermuda College course and the foundation for a national museum programme.

Thanks to the Dean of the Division of Arts & Science, Ms. Tammy Richardson, we were given permission to design a course in reverse: to build the lessons moving backward from the envisioned outcome. As a collective group of students and teachers, we became historians and dived deeply into our local history, hypothesised about new discoveries, shared rigorous discourse about content and developmentally appropriate methods for early learners.

The Bermuda College course facilitated the vision of the Museum in a Box experience, an early learners interactive, inquiry-based curriculum that literally comes out of a box. The specific topic is early settlement c.1600-1620: exploring Bermuda’s role in the Atlantic prior to 1609; the significance of the Sea Venture shipwreck; the Plough delivery of the Island’s first Governor and settlers; and the development of our first community. Some elements of learning will happen at school sites followed by a museum experience. Finally— but not conclusively— a reflection and continued learning engagement in classrooms. The content and method of instruction will enable early learners to develop a sense of place, a foundation for understanding Bermuda as a home with its own unique history.

The Bermuda College course, Museum in a Box: Crafting Atlantic World History Narratives, is a cornerstone for future iterations and collaborations. Presently, we are finalising the design details to prepare for testing. We look forward to sharing our progress.

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