This was an AWESOME assignment: I took groups of Pre IBDP students around Oxford in the afternoons and generate IB thinking from the venues we visited. Just up my street, especially since Oxford is such an interesting city, with so many fantastic museums. In the summer, too, it is home to wonderful Shakespeare plays that take place in parks, college gardens and even the Old Schools’ Quad of the Bodleian Library.
So the first day we visited a Shakespeare exhibit at the Weston Library of Bodleian called Shakespeare’s Dead, which had on display one of the First Folios (published in 1623) and dealt with Shakespeare’s use of death as a literary device and manifestation of the time. With the second group of students two weeks later, we found that the library had a quiz going – answer seven questions right (answers to be found in the rooms visited) and you then took your sheet to the gift shop, where the answers were checked. If all were correct, you had an opportunity for a lucky dip into a basket with your prize. Books of quotations and other goodies were won by some of the students. Then we looked at the Treasures of the Bodleian. The one that seemed to have us all giggling was the exquisite drawing of an ant by one Robert Hooke done in 1665. Apparently he had to get the ant drunk on brandy to be able to keep it still enough to draw. When it sobered up, it scuttled off, so no animals were harmed in the making of. There was also the original first page of Kafka’s Metamorphoses and two pages of scribbles which turned out to be the first (and final) draft of Rupert Brooke’s Dulce et Decorum Est. Then across to an audio tour of the Old Bodleian Library itself and a visit to the Divinity School – home of Harry Potter’s hospital wing.
The rest of the week was a moveable feast, depending on rain and the wishes of the students. Fortunately the weather was kind on both weeks, to the extent that two boys chose the shade in the distance over the proximity to the actors when we went to see Love’s Labours Lost in the gardens of Wharton College – though I suspect that they were a little shy of the interactive element of the play and didn’t want to get teased by the actors.
Blenheim Palace was a great way to get out of Oxford and enjoy the English countryside, while being physically exposed to one of the most beautiful palaces in the country where Winston Churchill grew up. Students opted for the butterfly garden and the maze to be able to enjoy the lovely sunshine we had on that day.
The Natural History museum and the Pitt Rivers were popular attractions, perhaps more so the Natural History with the Oxford Dodo and the amazing exhibition of insect photographs and all its dinosaur bones. On the first week we made friends with one of the guides who was happy to impart some of his vast knowledge – it turned out to be absolutely fascinating to all of us!
The Ashmolean – even its lovely café in the basement – turned out to be a big hit. It is a gem of a museum, the first in Britain. After each day I would ask students to come up with one question for me. That was the day one student had me completely stumped when he asked me “What is your identity?” Tough question for a multicultural global nomad to answer! They were also given a task after the Ashmolean. They were to pretend they were restorers and/or curators of the museum and had to take four tricky decisions over different objects they were given:
- to display or not to display, if in displaying it the object would be destroyed;
- how much restoration is enough;
- what exactly constitutes a forgery; and
- how much previous restoration shold be removed from a piece.
Their responses were usually well thought out, which is what this programme was all about.