Jim Beach reports on the second-year field trip to the Imperial War Museum.
February’s weather has been fickle these past few years. The First World War module’s visit to the Imperial War Museum has often coincided with snow flurries or clear, bright winter’s days. But this year’s story was, on the way in at least, one of very heavy rain.
Because it was wet and the school half-term, the museum seemed more crowded than usual. But this did not hinder the second years in reaching the entrance to First World War galleries at the appointed hour. Then, primed by a short briefing and the promise of a debrief in the pub afterwards, they sallied forth into the melee of mums, dads, grandparents, and kids.
Although constrained by the relatively small footprint of its building in in Lambeth, South London, the museum has managed to pack a great deal of material into these galleries. There is always something new to discover, and the displays reflect the quality and quantity of the IWM’s collections.
Our module’s field trip is deliberately timed. By mid-February the students have covered three-quarters of the syllabus. This means they know enough so not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. And pennies often drop as sections of the galleries reinforce material covered earlier in class.
As has been the case in previous years, the students are also able to embrace their inner-child by trying on helmets and uniforms. But this February it was the interactive convoy game that proved the biggest hit. Having proven in class before Xmas that roleplaying First World War generals was much harder than they’d expected, the students now tried out being admirals.
Of course, everything got very competitive because the game provides a score as to the percentage of supplies that escape being sunk by U-boats. Coincidentally, the percentages also aligned closely with the University of Northampton’s marking system.
After some disastrous openings, with scores dangerously close to ‘fails’, a succession of students then achieved solid Bs. Satisfied with their performance, they moved on to other forms of intellectual stimulation. But then came a straggler who, after watching his friends make minor but significant errors, took the helm and scored an A minus.
In the pub afterwards, the announcement of his success did not make him especially popular. But at least he showed that it was possible to excel at experiential learning. Even in Lambeth on a wet Thursday in February.