Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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The Great Fire of London

Museum of London
ON101 (game) and in-house (website)

The Museum of London, in partnership with the London Fire Brigade Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, The National Archives and London Metropolitan Archives, has produced a website for 5-7 year olds exploring the story of the Great Fire of London. The site encourages classes to discover how we know about the Great Fire through museum objects, archival documents and paintings.  The whiteboard-friendly site includes an engaging interactive story and games, classroom activity ideas, and a picture bank with images of objects and documents to download. 

This site takes a unique approach to understanding the Great Fire of London, as it links storytelling and objects in a way that involves pupils and encourages them to empathise with experiences in history. To develop this innovative website a children’s book author was contracted to devise a storyline and characters that would appeal to the age group.  This storytelling approach was enhanced with an audio script that ensured the content was accessible for this young audience. 

Great Fire interior pageThe games and interactive elements allow for the museum and archive collections to come to the fore.  Using the documentary evidence as the focus for the interactives allowed us to successfully support the main curriculum component, which asks ‘How do we know what happened during the Great Fire of London?’ Each day of the story is punctuated with ‘How do we know?’ drag and drop activities that tie the objects into the storyline, asking pupils to decide whether the sources help us answer historical questions.  Additional interactives allow pupils to select appropriate fire-fighting equipment, help a character decide what objects to save, and compare objects before and after the Fire.  The main gaming element requires children to help put out the spreading fire using different fire-fighting techniques.

A large part of the success of the Great Fire of London website lies in the extensive consultation work with teachers throughout the design and development process. Teachers were encouraged by the flexibility of the website, and particularly liked the ability to use each day of the Great Fire as a separate teaching activity. Classroom based evaluation has indicated that both pupils and teachers found the site to be engaging, informative, and most importantly, fun.  When asked to compare this site with others that teach the same subject, teachers agreed that it offers some distinguished features that facilitate learning and are more appropriate for pupils of this age group. The interactive element together with the child-friendly characters and the fact that pupils are “hearing a story from a characters’ point of view rather than reading the information from the screen“ were considered as highly successful and great enough to differentiate the web site from others, which were described as “static” and “flat.”

Great Fire of London postcardThis project effectively brought together the collections of several institutions in a format that made objects, documents, and paintings accessible and enjoyable for young children and enabled their teachers to enliven their lessons on the Great Fire of London.

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