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Learning within culture and heritage environments

In this step we consider aspects of the unique environments found at culture and heritage organisations that can inspire learning.
People standing within the colourful sculptural surroundings of Te Hono Ki Hawaiki Rongomaraeroa marae at Te Papa Tongarewa
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In this step we consider aspects of the unique environments found at culture and heritage organisations that can inspire learning.

It is widely recognised that culture and heritage organisations are well placed to provide an important educational function for society. It can be argued that culture and heritage sites are important contributors to UNESCO’s concept of Learning Cities. They are places which can actively promote and support lifelong learning. So what aspects of these sites make them stimulating places for learning?

Culture and heritage environments

Culture and heritage organisations offer rich stimulating environments. The unique experience of exploring a culture or heritage environment can stimulate all of the senses and spark feelings of curiosity, excitement, or wonder.

For example, in Aotearoa New Zealand students might; learn bird calls while tramping through a national park or nature sanctuary; find out about ecosystems while touching seaweed in an aquarium; understand early European settler life while exploring a historic homestead; discover ancestral whakapapa | genealogy while learning about carvings in a wharenui | meeting house; or empathise with an artist’s emotions while viewing paintings in a gallery. The unique environments that students can find themselves immersed within, can make the learning that takes place there more memorable.

How have particular culture or heritage environments stimulated or inspired you?

Place-based education

In addition to providing a rich context within which learning can happen, the place itself can also be a powerful focus for learning. In Aotearoa New Zealand a student might stand in the exact spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed, or step into the debating chamber at Parliament, or visit a pā site where a historic conflict took place, or wander through a colonial cottage where a famous writer or artist lived. These are all powerful experiences that enable tangible connections to significant events.

Can you recall any powerful moments of connection that you have experienced at a significant culture or heritage site?

The Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga in New Zealand acknowledges that place-based education has a special role in connecting students with local knowledge, histories and tikanga | protocols in Aotearoa. Te Kete Ipurangi, the online ‘basket of knowledge’, is a bilingual education portal operated by the Ministry of Education with resources for teachers. This section on TKI suggests that ‘place-based education can enable a re-examination of the historical and social contexts of places from a kaupapa Māori perspective’.

Sometimes being in certain spaces of cultural significance also requires people to follow particular tikanga | protocols. Learning the correct way to behave within these spaces allows insight into cultural concepts and practices. This is the case within Te Papa, which houses its own marae | meeting house called ‘Rongomaraeroa’ on the 4th floor of the museum. Sometimes this space is quiet, but at other times it is busy with people, enlivened and activated. It operates as a marae for the nation, hosting cultural ceremonies such as pōwhiri | welcoming ceremonies, or tangihanga | funerals etc. Some students have learned about these protocols by taking part in a pōwhiri education programme. The underlying kawa | principals for powhiri | welcome ceremonies at Te Papa is defined by the tikanga | protocol of whichever iwi tribe is currently in residence at the Museum, so this changes every two years or so as different iwi | tribes take on that role and responsibility. This operates within the agreed acknowledgment which exists between the kaihautū at Te Papa and mana whenua, Te Atiawa.

What memories do you have of learning the protocol for being in a particular culture or heritage environment?

Tangible culture and heritage

Culture and heritage organisations are filled with interesting physical items, such as natural specimens, art, artefacts or taonga Māori | Māori artefacts. Encountering a unique, rare or historic artefact can stimulate students’ curiosity. The tactile qualities of artefacts, their shape, size, colour, form, texture and materiality, are all intriguing. Although artefacts are not often able to be touched due to conservation issues or tikanga | protocols, when something can be touched it opens up the possibility of a deeper level of experiential kinesthetic learning. For this reason some culture and heritage organisations such as Papakura Museum have developed handling collections which contain objects that can be touched, enabling kinesthetic learning.

How significant is it to be able to offer handling objects to students?

Object based learning

Objects, artworks and artefacts can carry stories of real people or make abstract ideas and past experiences tangible. Discovering how and why they were made, where they are from, who created, owned or used them, can all help students to build understandings of people, places, historical moments, or artistic or cultural traditions. Object based learning, sometimes referred to as OBL can be very powerful. An online resource for museums and galleries in New South Wales Australia suggests that discussion about objects can promote social learning, enabling students to form connections with objects can evoke memories, and encounters with objects can improve knowledge retention.

What object, specimen, taonga Māori or other item has recently sparked your interest and inspired new learning? What new areas of knowledge did it open up for you?

Share your responses to the questions posed in this article in the comments below.

In the next step, we pose the question what makes culture and heritage organisations stimulating places for learning.

We look forward to hearing your views and encourage you to converse with your fellow learners about the discussion questions.

Extend your learning! If you would like to find out more about any of the topics covered in this article you can explore them in the links below.

EC Europa Global culture and heritage education

UNESCO education

ICOM learning

ICOM learning cities

Place-based education

TKI Place based learning

MGNSW Object based learning

Rongomaraeroa, the Marae at Te Papa Tongarewa, The Museum of New Zealand

Papakura Museum handling collection

WPI Revitalising the Design Museum’s Handling Object Collection

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Enriching curriculum through culture and heritage in Aotearoa, New Zealand

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