Last week sixty Year 4 students from Putney Public School came along to the Australian Museum to be part of the Big History Project.

Students came to the Australian Museum to gain a greater understanding of the relationship between evolution by natural selection and biodiversity. This topic is a part of the Big History Project, led by Macquarie University in Sydney, which gives school students the opportunity to ask big questions about our universe, our planet, life and humanity. The project is designed to help develop critical thinking and problem solving skills and a visit to the AM provided the students with a perfect opportunity to further develop these skills

The educator-led session developed for the day combined a hands-on experience with tours of the AM galleries to help them learn about habitats, adaptations, evolution and human culture.. The students spent their morning investigating animals in the Wild Planet exhibition and afterwards they took part in an educator-led ‘adaptations and megafauna’ session. In the afternoon they were given a tour through the First Australians galleries.

The content of the ‘adaptations and megafauna’ session was based on content and resources normally used for year 11 students so it was challenging to make it accessible to the year 4 students. During the course of the day they learnt about the types of scientists working in the AM, investigated adaptations of living animals, compared a cast fossil of an ancient Platypus from the World Heritage listed Riversleigh fossil site in Queensland with a skull of a platypus living today, and made their own fossil to take back to school. The level of engagement and questions asked by the students was exceptional. The children wanted to know and wanted to share and were brilliant at thinking creatively to discover how platypuses evolved.

As a Museum educator, it was a wonderful experience to witness such inquisitive minds and for me this is by far the most fulfilling aspect of my job. One student in particular had an incredible knowledge and understanding of animals and how scientists discover things about them. Following discussion with his teacher, we discovered that he hadn’t been engaged in classroom activities before embarking in the Big History program. The student’s interest in the topic combined with the AM experience made his teachers realise his capabilities and interests that weren’t being ‘tapped’ in the classroom environment. For me this experience highlighted that new approaches to learning and real-life experiences really can make a difference to a child’s learning and self-esteem, which is what Museum education is all about! The teacher said that “the highlight had to be when they were invited to be palaeontologists and explore some fossils before creating their own. The student excitement was palpable! They took great pride in making their fossils and we will be painting them at school before including them in a presentation for parents at the end of the Big History program.”

I have included a poem written by one of the students named Isabella following her day at the Australian Museum:

“Museums are fun, I just adore,
It’s fun to look around and fun to explore.
Fiona and Esther, our guides, were very nice,
First we had recess, I had rice.
Next went to the wild planet exhibit and on the way,
We went past a lot of animals, and they looked at us in a weird way.
They were once alive but stuffed when they died,
They all looked creepy but then I spied.
A cute little koala staring at me,
Next to him were some birds, I counted three.
In wild planet there were so many animals that were dead,
We had a worksheet, and my group sped ahead.”