Take 5 – Discover childhood in the past

Yellow picture with a pencil drawing of a girl and of a doll with the wording 'Florence and Tissie'

‘Take 5’ is our series of blog posts, each highlighting the incredible objects and activities on Museum of the Highlands – a digital learning hub for use in the classroom or at home. They’ve been put together to help you explore key themes in the classroom by museums education specialist Rosie Barrett. Whatever you’re teaching, Take 5 will help you discover amazing objects and stories from across the Highlands.

Take 5 – Discover childhood in the past
From across the Highlands, you can access lots of objects to help you explore the history of childhood.

1) You could start with the Victorian abacus with a difference from Grantown Museum. It comes from the days when children could be beaten for not learning their maths fast enough.
Abacus | Museum of the Highlands
Try listening to the sound it makes as an intriguing introduction to this object in ‘What’s that Noise?’
NOISE-12 | Museum of the Highlands

2) For a more cheerful look at childhood, the Highland Museum of Childhood has a number of fascinating toys to explore, including a nurse dressing up outfit.
Child’s Nurse Dressing-up Costume | Museum of the Highlands
Two home-made toys are great for exploring the ‘make do and mend’ era. Check out a simple skipping rope and a much more intricate hand-made dolls’ house.
Jill’s Biggin Croft House | Museum of the Highlands
Bobbin Skipping Rope | Museum of the Highlands

3) Museum objects are great for thinking about our own attitudes to toys today and whether we should be reusing and recycling more toys. You can hold a debate with ‘The Big Question’, which asks should children stop getting new toys?Should children stop getting new toys? | Museum of the Highlands

4) Discover the delightful interactive story of Tissie, a special doll with two different owners from the Highland Museum of Childhood. Your students can decide if they could give away a favourite toy to make someone else happy.
Florence & Tissie | Museum of the Highlands

5) Finally, learn about the impact of working life on children in the past. Use the fun quizzes, ‘Could You Survive’ to find out more about the perils of life for the children of lighthouse keepers near Gairloch and those sent down Brora mine.
A coal mine | Museum of the Highlands
Life in a Lighthouse | Museum of the Highlands
Or create a memorial to remember the child miners of the past.
Children in Mines | Museum of the Highlands

Take 5 – Explore environmental impact

Box containing rows of different sized bird's eggs

‘Take 5’ is our series of blog posts, each highlighting the incredible objects and activities on Museum of the Highlands – a digital learning hub for use in the classroom or at home. They’ve been put together to help you explore key themes in the classroom by museums education specialist Rosie Barrett. Whatever you’re teaching, Take 5 will help you discover amazing objects and stories from across the Highlands.

Take 5 – Explore environmental impact

Climate change is never far from our minds. If you’re looking to explore the environmental impact of the way we lead our lives with your students, we’ve got lots of resources to help you.

1) People of the past have been very resourceful with natural materials. This pot scrubber from Gairloch Museum needed no packaging and made use of simple, easily available materials.
Natural Heather Pot Scrubber | Museum of the Highlands
Use the ‘What’s that Noise?’ activity to guess what’s making the sound as a nice way to introduce the topic.
Natural Heather Pot Scrubber | Museum of the Highlands

2) Take this further by thinking about the materials we use today. Consider objects in the past that would be made of plastic today through this stoneware lemonade bottle from Brora Heritage Centre.
Dingwall Lemonade Bottle | Museum of the Highlands
Then, explore if the time has now come to ban plastic packaging with ‘The Big Question’ activity on the site.
Is it time we banned plastic packaging? | Museum of the Highlands

3) How have people made changes to their behaviour? Discover why we no longer collect birds’ eggs, and the decimating effect this hobby had on the bird population through an incredible collection of eggs from Gairloch Museum.
Collection of Birds’ Eggs | Museum of the Highlands
You can use the ‘Object in Focus’ activity at the bottom of the page (in the link above) to let your students guess what the object could be.

4) Make a memorial for declining animal species with the activity ‘On Reflection’ – or pledge to take positive action to help today.
Declining Animal Species | Museum of the Highlands

5) Finally, decide if we should take more drastic steps to reduce our environmental impact. Use objects from across the Highlands to debate, ‘Should we stop having holidays for the sake of the planet?’ in ‘The Big Question’ activity.
Should we stop having holidays? | Museum of the Highlands

Pathways to employment – an exciting part of Museum of the Highlands

Pathways to employment – an exciting part of Museum of the Highlands

A year ago, when starting to consult Highland teachers on priority areas in their work, ‘pathways to the workplace’ and ‘careers education’ were raised frequently in these conversations. In this blog, Rosie Barrett (digital education specialist) discusses our approach to integrating these priorities into our object based learning model for Museum of the Highlands.

Supporting young learners to access future employment features in many school development plans for the region. The Scottish education system has long been committed to providing a comprehensive and well-rounded education for young people. A crucial element of the Curriculum for Excellence, known as Planning for Choices, focuses on equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to make informed decisions about their future career paths. At a basic level, most of us would agree that preparing young people for their future is what teaching is all about.

We worked hard on this as a project team throughout, constantly pushing ourselves to develop activities that helped with the skills and qualities that young people need in the 21st century, including critical thinking, creativity and empathy. However, I was also intrigued about whether we could take this even further.

Selecting a starting point

All the objects found on Museum of the Highlands are divided into one of five chosen themes. From the initial teacher consultation, it was clear one of these themes should focus on employment – we call it ‘World of Work’.

Deciding to create a section on the website dedicated to the world of work meant when staff and volunteers across the fifteen participating museums were selecting objects for the project they included objects that could support this theme and tell of how Highlanders made a living over the centuries and what the working world looks like today. 

In this theme a focus on the Ballachulish slate quarry is drawn out. A pair of leather quarry-workers boots may look unassuming at first, but the metal inserts on the toes and heel produced an unusual ‘tack’ sound when walking and they were referred to as tackity boots – a term still used today.

Once objects were selected we could be quite playful with them. Staff at Glencoe Folk Museum recorded this unusual ‘tack’ sound for us for the activity ‘What’s that Noise’. Now, teachers can play the recording for their class and guess what is making the strange sound. For a moment, you’re right back, hearing sounds that the people of the past heard. It’s a great way for pupils to learn about local industry and the life of quarry workers. It’s also a route into discussing other issues about the workplace, such as health and safety, what other features working boots have to protect the wearers, or even design features of footwear today.

A series of fun quizzes also allows younger children to be introduced to a range of historic jobs by asking ‘Could You Survive?’ These activities explore topics such as working in a coal mine, as a lighthouse keeper or in the fishing industry.

Raising aspirations through expertise

We were keen to address raising aspirations for Highland learners. We wanted to showcase some amazing career opportunities while supporting schools to fulfil the Curriculum for Excellence. One element stood out for us – “Effective teaching harnesses the experience and expertise of different professions to make specialist contributions.”

A really exciting part of the project was a set of careers videos, called ‘In Their Hands’ – the clue is in the name. We were very privileged to work with experts in their fields, men and women with fascinating careers who were able to offer some unique insights into the historical objects in the museum collections. We literally placed the objects in their hands to see what they made of them. 

The resulting videos challenged those of us in the museum sector to see these objects in different ways, but also genuinely support by highlighting careers through our video content. By setting careers within a clear historical context, we were able to look to how they might develop in the future, too.

When we asked a judge to explore items from a historic courtroom, we also discovered why and how the Law evolves. When an anaesthetist explored the transformative role of chloroform in surgery, he was able to provide insights into the workings of the medical profession, and the principles and priorities that underpin careers in that sector. Other professionals included an archaeologist discussing an archaeology technique from the past that went wrong, a geologist talking about famous Highland geologist Hugh Miller based on a carving he made, and an award-winning writer exploring how she was inspired by a Highland glen. 

We hope the videos will be inspiring for young learners – and we hope they’ll be well used. We worked with a class of young people from Ullapool High School to find out what they wanted to know about careers. They were keen to find out how hard it is to get published as a writer. They wanted to know how many people a judge had sent to prison and what the worst conditions a geologist had ever worked in. If you’re intrigued, you can find the answers in the ‘In Their Hands’ section of the website.

The stories we tell.

Good career guidance can also help students to overcome barriers and stereotypes that may hinder choices, including those based on gender or socio-economic background. In response to this, we included stories of real historic Highlanders from a range of fascinating backgrounds and careers. 

Visitors to the Museum of the Highlands website can explore the inspirational story of Megan Boyd. Known to many through the 2013 film Kiss the Water, Megan was an expert salmon fly-tyer, much in demand including by royalty. She challenged gender stereotypes within her lifetime but also worked very long hours. We were able to explore her story and open up discussions about the working world today – the difference between a job or a vocation, for example, the importance of being ourselves, and healthy attitudes to work-life balance. 

Another inspirational female featured is Red Cross Nurse Janet Adams. We focused on just one aspect of her long and varied career, when she supported in the aftermath of Hurricane Janet during the 1950s. Another story shares the unusual mountaineering career of Hamish MacInnes, inventor of an ice axe known to have saved many lives. This story poignantly explores the impact of old age on this famous Highland character.

A lot of my work as an education consultant is based around how we can move passive learning experiences (like reading a story), into more active ones (engaging with a story at a deeper level). We were able to do that through Museum of the Highland by making the stories interactive, incorporating a range of questions into the text. We tried to make these fun, engaging and thought-provoking. Crucially, in many cases there are no right or wrong answers to the questions, just lots of opportunities for young people to decide how they feel about the topics.

What is crucial about all these reflections on careers is that they give young people the chance to decide how they feel about their own attitudes to work, whilst opening up a world of possibilities of careers in the region through museum objects.

The Museum of the Highlands project was funded by Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland and is sponsored by Ilum Studio

Towards decolonising the curriculum – through museum learning.

Towards decolonising the curriculum – through museum learning.

Decolonising is an important topic for museums and for schools. Recently,  teachers from across the Highlands have contacted their local museums seeking support with the process of decolonising the school curriculum. Rosie Barrett, one of our education specialists, talks through our approach to decolonisation on the Museum of the Highlands platform.

A little over a year ago, when I started a consultation process with Highland teachers to inform the development of Museum of the Highlands, teachers were at various stages of their work with themes of anti-racism, Empire and slavery. 

Many were following guidance in the report, ‘Promoting and Developing Race Equality and Anti-Racist Education’ published by Education Scotland. This report focuses on ensuring young people can grow up in an inclusive and supportive Scotland. As part of this, there is a clear awareness of the need to interrogate the past. 

When I met with staff and volunteers from the fifteen museums that formed Museum of the Highlands, it was clear we wanted to seek, self-consciously, to share underrepresented voices, celebrate diversity and hold ourselves to the highest standards. We knew we couldn’t provide all the answers, but by sharing Highland collections responsibly we could provide stimuli for healthy debate around difficult topics. 

The complex interconnections of objects in museum collections with colonialism, and how to approach this in our work, was not something we took lightly – as a project team we spent more time discussing and debating this element of our work than was spent on the other themes together. In this blog, I explain our approach in more detail.

Same objects, different views

A key partner museum in the project for this theme was The Highlanders’ Museum at Fort George. This museum holds the largest military collection outside Edinburgh, including many of the objects represented in the section ‘Colonialism and Conflict‘ on Museum of the Highlands website. 

For example, a bugle that once belonged to Drummer John Alcorn of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. Bugles have been used by the military throughout history for communication and to unite troops. This particular instrument was used to sound the Advance for the Highland Brigade to charge at the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir. During this conflict, British forces intervened in Egyptian affairs in what is now interpreted as an attempt to secure British interest in the Suez Canal.

It was an important object for us to share. A key aspect cited in the report on promoting race equality in schools is the need for “questioning the source of content and the viewpoints represented”. By looking anew at objects like the bugle, we were able to see beyond the traditional narrative; it wasn’t a case of changing the story, but of looking at a more rounded picture.

Our description of the bugle now directly references two viewpoints – “To the regiment, this instrument may be a symbol of military success, but to the Egyptian people it is more likely to signify the loss of independence and the start of 71 years of colonisation.” 

As with so many of the stories and objects, we saw this as a starting point to reassess some of these moments from the colonial past. Visitors to the website can explore a range of colonial objects up close too, through the activity ‘Object in Focus’ which shows objects from different angles and invites viewers to speculate about what they might be.

Colonial objects in surprising places  

The inclusion on the Museum of the Highlands website of The Highlanders’ Museum opened up this theme for us. However, we also found objects in many less obvious collections – across the Highlands some objects had been collected in the colonies in unclear circumstances, objects that had contributed to Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade, and even toys exploring the Empire within the collection of the Highland Museum of Childhood. 

The board game ‘Ups and Downs in India’ is definitely ‘of its time’, and a strong reminder of Britain’s colonial presence in India during the 1930s. It was produced by Homeland Training College in 1930, most likely for the children of people relocating to India for work. Players would move around the board, landing on squares featuring activities such as ‘preaching to the people’ and bible translation, as well as challenges in the form of monsoons and uprisings.

By including objects like this in the project, we wanted to demonstrate the way that colonial history was intertwined with so many aspects of Highland life – in fact, the more we looked, the more it became clear that the theme of colonialism and Empire could be found pretty much everywhere. 

The issue of looting.

Many objects currently in British museums are known to have been acquired in circumstances that would not be acceptable today, this includes some objects in Highland collectionsCurrently, the museum sector is asking questions about how we share these objects, and, in some cases, how we can repatriate them. In our work, we needed to ask an obvious and uncomfortable question – should we include looted objects on the Museum of the Highlands website? 

Objects and their descriptions allowed us to be open and upfront about ethical questions around sharing looted objects, and the difficulties we encounter interpreting them. The wording in the object descriptions is chosen to clearly explain the difficulties. 

The inclusion of a shield originally belonging to an unknown Abyssinian soldier (from present-day Ethiopia) engages directly with the issue of looting. After the looting of Maqdala by British forces, several objects from the palace made their way to Britain’s shores. Through an interactive story, website users are encouraged to think about the circumstances in which the shield was taken, explore how the news from Maqdala was received in Britain at the time, and question the fate of the object today. High school learners using the website are encouraged to consider a range of issues surrounding this object and form their own opinions. 

Slavery and Reflection

The guidance published by Education Scotland is very clear: “To understand the full complexity of decolonising, it is important to remember that racism is rooted in colonialism when Western countries justified the enslavement of people.” Acknowledging the legacies of slavery is an important part of our work on this project. Young people can take part in a range of activities on the website which address colonialism across Highland museum collections.

When developing Museum of the Highlands, we knew there would be lots of stories to celebrate, but also some, such as those involving slavery, that would be heavy with tragedy. 

One activity I’m proud of is called ‘On Reflection’ – these PDF activity sheets provide ways for schools to explore different, sometimes difficult, topics. They include discussion questions as well as the opportunity to design or create a memorial as part of the reflection process. Having the time to think and reflect is so important to young people’s development – sometimes we can be in such a rush to learn that we forget that thinking and processing what we have heard can take time, especially with sensitive history. 

Several of the ‘On Reflection’ activity sheets explore colonial themes. One celebrates Harlem Renaissance poet Claude Mackay – his Scottish surname is very revealing, shockingly given to his enslaved grandparents by their owner. Another ‘On Reflection’ directly commemorates the victims of the Transatlantic slave trade, supported by an interactive story exploring the Transatlantic crossing, based on the lives of workers on a plantation owned by Highlander James Fowler. Born in Rosemarkie around 1762, James emigrated to Jamaica at the end of the century when the island was a major centre for the production of coffee and sugar. Back in the Highlands, James was presented with a beautifully-engraved snuff box from the East Ross Volunteers – he had been their First Lieutenant after returning from Jamaica. 

The story of the snuff-box, now in Groam House Museum, is a painful example of how individual primary sources do not give us a full picture of a person’s life. By sharing the lives of the plantation workers too, we’re able to give more of the story and question how people like James were able to take part in the slave trade. 

We hope these activities support young people to form their own opinions about difficult, sensitive and, at times, controversial issues. 

Finally, and not for the faint-hearted, we’ve included a ‘Big Question’ debate activity entitled ‘Should Britain apologise for the British Empire?’.

This project was funded by Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland and is sponsored by Ilum Studio.

EPIC STORIES OF THE HISTORIC SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS ARE READY TO BE DISCOVERED ONLINE

EPIC STORIES OF THE HISTORIC SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS ARE READY TO BE DISCOVERED ONLINE

Museum of the Highlands is a new website offering novel and exciting ways to delve into the rich history of the Scottish Highlands. From archaeology and ancient stones to paintings, crofting tools, and complex colonial histories, incredible stories of the historic Highlands and its people are ready to be discovered.

The dynamic learning hub centres around an interactive timeline, allowing users to discover over 350 fascinating objects from 3 billion BC to present day. High-quality photographs along with detailed descriptions provide up close analysis of each object. Available to anyone interested in the history of the Scottish Highlands, 200 free resources, from fun games to in-depth learning aids, invite a deeper dig into the past. A Gaelic version of the website will be complete in the Autumn.

Fifteen diverse museums from across the Highlands collaborated to create the website, with project management by the heritage network organisation Museums and Heritage Highland. The project has been supported by Art Fund through its Reimagine programme and Museums Galleries Scotland.

Innovation and Network Manager at Museums Heritage Highland, Nicola Henderson, said: 

“When the country went into lockdown in 2020, museums across the Highlands, like museums everywhere, looked for new ways to engage with people. Collectively, our network of museums developed the idea of an online digital learning hub sharing collections from across the Highlands. Thanks to funding from Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland, this spark of an idea has become Museum of the Highlands. 

“We have created an engaging, fun and, most importantly, user-friendly website that supports individuals, families, schools and museums to engage meaningfully with museum collections at home or in the classroom.”

Museum of the Highlands learning resources have been developed in partnership with teachers and young people to support teachers to engage students and help them learn in innovative and creative ways, not just in history lessons. Object-based learning enhances engagement with many topics to suit our 21st-century Scottish curriculum.

Rosie Barrett, Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialist who worked on the project, said:

 “For anyone new to object-based learning, the concept is simple. The term refers to using physical objects as a teaching aid. We can see, touch, and even smell things our ancestors held and used to learn about the past. This project challenged us to capture and convey these physical attributes for a digital platform.

“My work is focused on exploring objects in ways that help us to grow and develop, including cognitively. I am interested in the untapped potential of using historical artefacts in cross-curricular ways and supporting the whole learner and how we think. Objects from the past can help us make sense of the present and work towards the future. Throughout the project, we share objects in ways that stimulate curiosity and develop thinking.

“One learning resources is the set of debating activities. We consulted schools to find out what issues young people were interested in, then built the activities around objects from the fifteen museum collections. We have scaffolded discussions around questions of importance today. For example, a prehistoric harpoon features in a debate on animal rights, as we ask, ‘Should animals have rights like humans?’. This debate builds on students learning about their human rights and the democratic processes in Scotland. It also widens the topic to contemporary issues like choosing vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.”

An additional feature of the website encourages users to contact museums directly to find out more about their collections. Schools and other groups can also arrange virtually or in person visits. 

While researching objects selected for the project, Museums discovered links to colonial history and the Transatlantic slave trade that they had not previously considered and uncovered complex colonial histories.

Freya Samuel, Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialist who also worked on the project, explains:

“Links to slavery and colonialism are prevalent in museums across the UK – the Highlands are no exception. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was common for wealthy Highlanders to be involved in colonial trade. The expansion of the British empire opened up new opportunities for pioneering Highlanders to make their fortunes, from military postings in the colonies, working for East India or Hudson Bay Companies, to livelihoods made as merchants or overseers profiting from the slave trade. These often-lucrative opportunities were particularly appealing to those facing hardship following the Highland clearances.

“It is important that we engage openly with this aspect of Highland history. We encouraged museums to think critically about their collections. Uncovering these links is not intended to villainize individuals or judge the ethics of the past by todays standards. It acknowledges these histories by including the voices and stories of the people exploited by the British Empire.”

Colonial themes presented through the website include the transatlantic slave trade, colonial collecting from Africa, Asia, North America, and Oceania, the Opium trade, colonial and post-colonial military battles, loot and the work of missionaries. Interpretation across the digital learning hub aims to take an informative yet balanced approach.

Museum of the Highlands is online now and free to access. It is supported by the Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland and is sponsored by Ilum Studio to help it grow and thrive post-launch.

Museum of the Highlands can be found at https://museumofthehighlands.org

The power of object-based learning, digitally!

Exterior view of croft doll's house. White outside with straw roof, green door and small windows

Rosie Barrett, Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialist, discusses the power of object-based learning which is at the heart of our new digital learning hub – Museum of the Highlands.

From time to time, most teachers find themselves looking around for interesting ways to engage students and help them learn as school priorities change. We’ve developed the Museum of the Highlands to support exactly this, using object-based learning to enhance engagement about a range of topics to suit our 21st-century Scottish curriculum.

There are over 300 objects from a full range of historical periods and nearly 200 learning resources. I’m going to share just a handful of these resources and give a taste of the way we’ve created them to allow teachers to explore objects in innovative and creative ways, and not just in history lessons.

What is object-based learning?
For anyone new to object-based learning, the concept is actually incredibly simple. The term refers to using physical objects or artefacts as a teaching aid. The idea is that we can learn about the people of the past through their objects. We can see, touch, even smell, the things that our ancestors held and used.

Objects are tangible and real. This makes them great for younger children with more concrete thinking styles. We can hold objects, feel their weight and texture, and better understand how they might have been used or valued.

Metal WW2 round, green hat.
Metal World War Two hat from The Highlanders’ Museum


However, objects are also fantastic for developing empathy in all of us – no matter our age. By putting on a metal Brodie hat, for example, we move closer to understanding how the soldier who wore it might have felt and experienced conflict. We move closer to the proverbial ‘standing in another’s footsteps’ – in this case, wearing another person’s hat.

It can undoubtedly be a very powerful experience, holding something and feeling a physical connection. It can give us sensory information and very quickly.

However, these are great arguments for visiting museums (and for taking students to museums) – and I hope you do, lots! But the Museum of the Highlands is a digital entity. Through the site, we are definitely hoping that schools will feel supported to work more closely with the 15 featured museums and to visit them. However, we also knew that we needed to create stand-alone resources that brought the advantages of digital technology to object-based learning. We’ve pushed ourselves throughout the project to do exactly this – to share objects in creative ways that stimulate curiosity and develop thinking (among other things).

Today, I’m going to share a couple of the approaches we’ve taken.

Stimulating curiosity and catering to a range of learners
One activity, which we’ve called ‘Object in Focus’, allows students to look at objects from a range of different viewpoints by providing a series of photographs of unusual angles. It taps into students’ natural curiosity as they are able to puzzle over the different angles and try to work out what each object could be. The activity challenges us to see things slightly differently and helps to explore the objects in more detail.

prehistoric harpoon on a white background. Made from bone, long and think with sharp edges
Prehistoric harpoon from West Highland Museum


A powerful example is a prehistoric harpoon, used 5000 years ago for hunting. Looking closely at this object tells us so much! I love that you can see the wood grains so clearly, ponder on the survival of this fragile material. You can see the way that a hole has been carefully pierced so that it can be attached to a strap to help the hunter to use, manipulate and hold onto it. You can see the many barbs used for ensuring it lodged in the hunter’s prey. It’s a gruesome object, but it’s also fascinating when learning about our ancestors.

Another activity is ‘What’s the Noise?’. Here, museum staff recorded the sounds that some of the objects make. It’s another great resource for stimulating curiosity as students can puzzle over what an object could be from its sound. However, this activity also helps us to move closer to the people of the past by hearing the same things that they would have heard.

Black metal handcuffs on white background. two round pieces of metal joined together by links of black metal
Handcuffs from Cromarty Courthouse Museum


Listening to the jangling of historic handcuffs from Cromarty Courthouse Museum is very eerie and evocative! When I first heard that recording, for a moment, I was right there with the prisoner. This activity would make a great starter activity – whether you’re looking at the Victorians in primary school, the treatment of criminals for a psychology module, or even doing some creative writing in an English lesson.

Developing thinking – objects for the future
It’s easy to see how we can learn about people from the past by exploring the objects that they made, owned, used, treasured, or even discarded… However, a lot of my work as an education consultant has been focused over the years on exploring objects in ways that help us to grow and develop now, including cognitively.

I’m really interested in the huge, untapped potential of using historical artefacts in cross-curricular ways and to support the whole learner and how we think. I believe that objects from the past can help us make sense of the present and support us to work towards the future that we want for our planet.

Afterall, what is the point of studying the past if we don’t use it to inform our decisions today? The Scottish Curriculum for Excellence rightly places a strong emphasis on the role of the individual within a community, including participating responsibly in decision making. Most teachers are also passionate about supporting young learners to develop into the confident adults of the future.

One of the learning resources of which I’m really proud is the set of debating activities we’ve created. We consulted schools to find out what issues young people were interested in before developing these, then built the activities around objects from the 15 museum collections. Using the objects, we’ve scaffolded discussions around questions of importance today.

The prehistoric harpoon features as one of several objects in a debate on animal rights, as we ask: ‘Should animals have rights like humans?’. This debate builds on students’ prior learning about their own human rights and the democratic processes in Scotland, but also widens the topic in a way that is absolutely applicable to the current age when many people are considering vegan and vegetarian lifestyles.

It was really important to us that these activities didn’t have a right or a wrong answer. A key element of the development of the education resources was ensuring that young people felt able to express themselves and articulate their own viewpoints. In order to do that, they need to be able to talk through those views and work out how they feel. They also need to know that it’s perfectly legitimate to change their minds and that sometimes their friends may have different opinions.

interior of croft doll's house, shows 3 small rooms - kitchen, bedroom and living space.
Homemade croft dolls’ house from The Highland Museum of Childhood.


Lots of the topics, understandably, explore environmental issues, including the impact of taking holidays and the effects of fast fashion. A debate for younger children encourages them to explore a range of alternatives to buying new toys, such as making their own games. This debate is based around a beautiful handmade dolls’ house, created during the Second World War out of recycled materials during a time of toy shortages. It’s a really wonderful and very inspiring object!

I hope I’ve given you a little flavour of our take on object-based learning for a digital age! And I hope you’ll enjoy the activities we’ve put together.

The Museum of the Highlands has been generously supported by the Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland. It is sponsored by Ilum Studio to help it grow and thrive post launch. We are grateful to all its supporters so far.

A Taste of Highland Heritage – Museum of the Highlands

A Taste of Highland Heritage – Museum of the Highlands

Freya Samuel, Digital Learning & Interpretation Specialist, highlights a selection of objects showcased on the new Museum of the Highlands digital learning hub.

Over the last year, I have worked with fifteen incredible collections across the Highlands on the new digital learning hub ‘Museum of the Highlands’. The platform brings together around 350 objects from these collections into an immersive digital experience supported by a suite of exciting learning activities for schools.

A big part of this project has been drawing out the stories of people and places found within objects. The objects almost act as a vessel through which captivating stories of Highland history can be told. Before the big launch, I wanted to share a taster of some of the amazing objects that you will find. 

Making a spectacle out of spectacles

Although these unassuming tortoiseshell glasses may not look special, they have quite the story to tell. They are said to have belonged to Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, (1667 – 1747). Chief of Clan Fraser, he was a Jacobite nicknamed the ‘Old Fox’ for his double dealings, violent feuds, and changes of allegiance.

Lovat was convicted of treason for his part in the 1745 Jacobite Rising and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. His punishment was commuted to beheading. On 9 April 1747, he was the last person publicly executed on Tower Hill, London. 

Such a crowd gathered for his execution that a stand holding spectators collapsed and killed nine people. Lovat was so amused by the incident that legend has it that this is where the origin of the phrase ‘laughing your head off’ comes from – quite the spectacle! 

Korean connections in Balintore

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This beautiful porcelain vase reveals the unexpected links between the Seaboard village of Balintore, and South Korea. 

In 1872, thirty-year-old Christian missionary, John Ross, was sent to northeast China. He founded the Dongguan Church in Shenyang and became acquainted with traders from Korea. Ross is a very important figure to modern-day Christians in South Korea, and the John Ross Centre, a key part of the history of the Seaboard villages, was funded by a South Korean Christian group. 

This rare chinaware vase commemorates the founding of the Chinese Empire in 1916 by the Yuan Dynasty. It was donated by Elder Ahn Kee-Seok (a member of the group of South Koreans dedicated to preserving the history of John Ross) as a symbol of Korean culture and tradition.    

A Celtic cushion with a tale to tell

The fascinating story behind this hand-embroidered Celtic-style cushion cover lies with its maker, Kay Matheson. Matheson (1928 – 2013) was a well-known Scottish nationalist and Gaelic language lobbyist, born on the shores of Loch Ewe to a crofting family. She was famed for her involvement in the recovery/liberation (sometimes called theft) of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950 when she was age 22. 

A 3 billion-year-old object

This may look like any ordinary rock at first glance. However, a well-trained eye could spot that this is actually a sample of one of the oldest rocks in the world – Lewisian Gneiss. 

Formed three billion years ago, Lewisian Gneiss forms the basement rock for the coastal strip on which Gairloch is situated, as well as the Outer Hebrides, from which it takes its name. Over millennia, this area experienced numerous geological upheavals and now helps us to understand periods of intense volcanic activity when Europe began to split from North America.  

These are only a few of the incredible stories the Museum of the Highlands will tell. From archaeology and ancient stones, to paintings, crofting tools, and complex colonial histories, there is so much to learn about the intricate, diverse, and fascinating heritage of the Highlands.

The Museum of the Highlands has been generously supported by the Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland. It is sponsored by Ilum Studio to help it grow and thrive post launch. We are grateful to all its supporters so far.

Museum of the Highlands – A Digital Learning Hub

a yellow background with the name of the website - Museum of the Highlands and a selection of objects such as a bugle, metal helmet, silver cigaratte case with bullet hole

With a launch date set for the end of May, The Museum of the Highlands digital learning hub is almost ready for you to explore. MHH Innovation and Network Manager, Nicola Henderson, offers a little background on how we got to this point and the aims of the project.

When the country went into lockdown in 2020, museums across the Highlands (like museums all over the world) looked for new ways to engage with their audiences. Many already had a digital presence, but it was very much secondary to the physical. Now digital was everything. This was particularly true for museum education content. How do you engage with young people and schools when your core asset – your museum – is closed? As a sector, we experimented with downloadable pdfs, online activities and virtual visits, to name a few initiatives. These were very successful, not just with our local audiences but with schools and families across the world. Suddenly, we weren’t just offering resources and activities for our local communities but for anyone, anywhere, who was interested. The potential was huge.

However, many of our small – medium-sized museums already work over capacity. As we began to open up our buildings and demand for in-person interactions rose again, maintaining and capitalising on the opportunity offered by this global reach was challenging.

Museums across the Highlands get together through monthly online ‘Heritage Cafes’ – informal gatherings on Zoom to share challenges, and successes, ask questions and meet with colleagues. The focus of one session was education and our museums. How could we meet this challenge, grabbing the opportunities while maintaining and nurturing local relationships?

Through discussion, we decided that a collaborative approach – a central hub that could host content and point to museums and their unique offers – could be the answer. Sharing the work, sharing the learning, sharing the reach and potential. This idea grew arms and legs. And, thanks to funding from Art Fund and Museums Galleries Scotland, has become the Museum of the Highlands digital learning hub.

Over the last year, we have worked with museums across the Highlands to create a dynamic digital learning hub enabling children, young people and teachers to discover and engage with museum collections in new and exciting ways. Fifteen museums from across the region have collaborated and worked closely with our Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialists by bringing objects from their collections together to create a digital portal into the rich history and culture of the Highlands.

The learning hub will allow users to access museum collections and learning resources related to objects and topics for use at home or in the classroom, with the functionality to contact museums directly to set up virtual or in-person learning visits.

The site is sponsored by Ilum Studio to help with ongoing maintenance costs and to develop new activities in the future. This ongoing support is essential to the project, ensuring that it doesn’t fall to our already overstretched museums to maintain – it will also allow the website to grow and adapt as feedback is received and we are very grateful to the team at Ilum Studio for supporting us through year 1.

The team of Rosie Goodwin and Freya Samuel as Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialists, have led the curation of the objects and designing the associated learning games and resources in partnership with teachers and young people. In the lead up to the launch of the website, Freya and Rosie will introduce you to the process and types of activities you will find on the site.

I am excited to share the project with you – it is no small task working with the collections of fifteen museums and ensuring content and activities meet the needs of teachers and parents. I believe we have created an engaging, fun and, most importantly, user-friendly site that will support schools, families and museums to engage meaningfully with museum collections in the classroom.

Maths Week Scotland 2022 

Families at Aberdeen Science Centre. Copyright Abermedia

Maths Week Scotland is a dedicated week of events and activity, with special events throughout the year. Events take place all across Scotland for families, adults and schools hosted by science centres, museums, organisations, schools and more! This year, Maths Week Scotland will take place 26 September – 2 October 2022. (featured image copyright Abermedia)

Maths Week Scotland 2022 will have the theme ‘The Beauty of Maths’’ with a focus on creativity and beauty in maths, as well as the maths in such as art and music.

Maths is all around us in our everyday lives and that is reflected in the broad programme of activity. Maths Week Scotland shines a light on maths in unexpected places and gives people the opportunity to engage with it in new fun ways.

Across Maths Week Scotland, we want people of all ages and backgrounds to:
Be curious, enthusiastic, confident and engaged in numeracy and mathematics
Understand the relevance of maths learning and skills to their lives, now and in the future
Have access to a diverse range of events and activities promoting and demonstrating the joy and value of maths

We had seven museums take part in Maths Week Scotland from the Highlands to the Borders. You can see what museums got up to for Maths Week Scotland 2021 here. If you are interested in taking part in Maths Week Scotland please contact mathsweekscot@nms.ac.uk to find out what support is available. We can offer support from maths education and museum specialists to help you get started or work through your ideas.

NMS Maths Week – Thu 24 March 2022 – Low Parks Museum, Hamilton (© photographer Andy Catlin www.andycatlin.com)

Large Grant Funding

The Large Grant Fund is offering grants of between £2,000 – £7,000 to support organisations, partnerships and charities to develop exciting new strands of Maths Week Scotland 2022.

If your project is smaller than this amount there will also be a Small Grants Fund for applications of up to £2,000. For more information on the Small Grants Fund find out more here.

The final deadline for submission is 17:00 on Monday 16 May 2022.

Applications received will be reviewed and advised of outcome by Monday 30 May 2022.

The guidance document and application form is at https://www.mathsweek.scot/resources/funding. More information on Maths Week Scotland can be found at www.mathsweek.scot

Promoting Events and Resources

Once you have your plans in place you can add your events directly to the Maths Week Scotland website https://www.mathsweek.scot/events or email mathsweekscot@nms.ac.uk with relevant resources.

Digital Learning Hub – opportunity to work with us!

Digital Learning Hub – opportunity to work with us!

We are seeking a Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialist to work with us on creating content for a Digital Learning Hub for schools and families. This opportunity is supported by the Art Fund and Museums and Galleries Scotland.

Over the next year we are working with museums across the Highlands to create a dynamic digital learning hub enabling children, young people and teachers to discover and engage with museum collections from across the Highlands in new and exciting ways. The project brings together 17 museums from across the Highlands to collaborate in bringing objects from their collections together to create a digital portal into the rich history and culture of the Highlands. Users will be able to move through historical time, place or subject matter to explore objects in different museum collections using immersive imagery, video and audio and bringing them together to create their own ‘journeys’. The learning hub will allow users to access museum collections and learning resources related to objects and topic for use at home or in the classroom, with the functionality to contact museums directly to set up virtual or in person learning visits. 

The Digital Learning and Interpretation Specialist will be a creative leader in this project, focused on providing digital learning and interpretation experiences for all ages. This position is responsible for supporting participating museums in creating online and remote digital learning resources for a variety of audiences, most specifically targeting, teachers, families and young people currently in primary and secondary education. It may suit one person or a team and are happy to discuss different approaches with you before applying.

For full details on the position and on how to apply, please download the job pack below.