Cockroach-handling and Elephant teeth: A Morning at the Natural History Museum

On Friday 30th November, 31 Year Eight Classics and Museum students set out to visit the Oxford's world-renowned Natural History Museum!

The students have all been working on Natural History display boards in advance of the Iris Festival of Natural History on 27th March, and this trip was an opportunity to explore the different ways museums present and display objects and information, as well as to experience the very wide-ranging collections the Museum has to offer. 
The visit started with a fascinating workshop on the Museum, delivered by Education Officer Sarah Lloyd. Sarah started by asking the group why they thought a university might want to have a museum. The group volunteered some interesting responses, such as for research and for public recognition. Sarah then invited some students to the front to explore a very large item. The students noticed that it was very heavy. The students thought that it might be made out of stone, and from an extinct creature. It turned out, though, to be an elephant's tooth! 
Sarah also showed everyone a beautiful octopus and explained how they preserved these and similar creatures in ethanol. The next handling object was a barnacle, and Sarah explained how barnacles had been one of the key bits of evidence Charles Darwin had used in his theory of evolution. She asked the group to outline what the difference between an idea and a theory was. A theory, Sarah explained, is different from an idea because it is rooted in evidence. Darwin examined barnacles and other living creatures to hep construct his theory of natural selection.
We were shown the fossil of a very early horse, which was much smaller than the horses we are familiar with today. It had different sort of feet, more like toes, which would have been better suited to slippery, leaf-covered surfaces. Sarah explained how horses gradually got larger because in open ground, it was advantageous to be bigger because an animal might be able to run faster and fight off predators more effectively.
Finally, Sarah introduced some hissing cockroaches and gave everyone a chance to handle one. She pointed out that for cockroaches it was of benefit to be large, or to be small, since the small ones would nibble off the antennae of attackers, but that medium-sized ones were disadvantaged, which is why they now are either small or large. 
For the next forty minutes, the students were able to explore the amazing exhibits in the galleries, and get inspiration for how they might design and layout their own exhibition boards. The groups found displays of creatures that were either similar or the same as those they have chosen, so they could see how a professional display is done. 
It was a fascinating visit and we are very grateful indeed to Sarah Lloyd and the Natural History Museum for giving the students the opportunity to experience natural history learning so dynamically. 
On 27th March, The Iris Project will be holding its next annual festival, which will be themed on Natural History, where visitors will be able to explore very exciting displays, shows and performances!