Supporting Learning: History of Medicine

A new series of resources that I have been working on is designed to support teaching of the history of medicine.

Moments in Medicine was originally conceived as a workshop session for school groups visiting the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. We have now adapted it as a series of free resources available online on the Bodleian’s website.

The series draws on original sources held at the Bodleian. These range from medieval works covering topics such as uroscopy and medicinal herbs, through to the birth of the NHS. Items include significant texts such as Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine, the first edition of the Pharmocopoeia Londinensis, and Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, but also more ephemeral items that give an insight into everyday life such as a leaflet sent to householders in 1948 telling them about the new National Health Service.

Circular medieval uroscopy chart showing eight urine flasks.
Medieval uroscopy chart

Each resource includes a brief description explaining the background to the text, which helps place it in context, and questions which prompt students to explore the source and its significance to the development of public health in Britain. There are also links to digitised versions of the texts and to further reading on the topic.

The resources have been evaluated by a range of volunteer test users and have been piloted in schools. Each resource is fully accessible to assistive technology – such as screen readers – and all the images have explanatory alt text.

I hope that Moments in Medicine will complement any GCSE History course, and will also be of wider interest. I am developing further resources in the series, including insights into the role of subscription hospitals in the nineteenth century and national public health approaches during the twentieth century. Please let me know if there is anything else you would like to see included.

If you found this useful, you might also be interested in my earlier blog posts on resources to teach study skills.

Images: The Bodleian Libraries
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Holidays and Health 3: Why Teachers need a Summer Holiday

A few years ago I wrote a post about the impact of the summer holiday on my health called Holidays and Health. I followed this up with a second post in 2018, Holidays and Health Revisited, after my move to museum education, where I showed that my health seemed to be better over the summer, even though I was working running a Summer school for part of the time. I concluded that teachers might need the six-week summer holiday for the sake of their health.

This year there was some discussion about whether there should be a long summer holiday. Some argued that children had already missed a lot of school time and that a shorter holiday would be an opportunity to ‘catch up’. Proponents of this view Often didn’t seem to take into consideration that schools had not closed, remaining open to children of key workers, and teachers had worked harder than ever.

This made me think about my old blog post and whether my two year comparison might have been a fluke. I decided to gather data from my Fitbit over the last two years. In 2019 I had been working part time in a secondary school and part time in the Education team at The Bodleian Libraries. This had included a writing school for young writers (14-18) from local state schools during the summer holiday. 2020 started with a similar pattern, but in the spring I moved to working full time for the University, splitting my time between the education teams at the Bodleian and the Museum of Natural History. A planned summer school was converted to the virtual Six Legs of Summer resource, but we did work with children at summer school run by a local community association who wanted to help local parents and carers get kids ready for school in September.

My resting heart rate over Summer

As the graph shows, it looks like the 2018 graph wasn’t a fluke. My resting heart rate has remained lower that when I worked full time in school and does not seem to vary much across the holiday period. Perhaps significantly, it is lower than at any point during any point in the summer of 2017.

Resting heart rate is only one measure of health and these results are from only one individual. It would be interesting to see wider research in this area. Nevertheless, this data does seem to support my original view that teachers need a lengthy summer break in order to experience a positive impact on their health.

On the other hand, maybe it’s not the length of the holiday that’s the issue, but what happens in term time that requires six weeks to recover!

Working for HOPE

This post was originally published as a Series of tweets in a social media thread from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History as part of my ‘Twitter Takeover’ week in November 2020. It gives an insight into my work with schools in the learning team of the HOPE for the Future project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. You can also read more about this in my post Supporting Learning: HOPE for the future.

It’s time for another Twitter #takeover! This week, Learning Officer Rodger will be sharing about the work of the #HOPEForTheFuture Learning Team. Find out more about the HOPE project: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/hope-future

Together with the other HOPE Learning Officers, Kate and Susie, I visit local schools to provide insect Discovery Days, host school visits at the museum and create digital resources for children and young people to use at school or for home learning. https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/hope-future-project-learning

The HOPE Learning Officers

Thanks to generous support from the #HeritageLotteryFund, we can provide these visits and resources free of charge. We’ve worked with schools on using masks, social distancing, handwashing and sanitizing so everyone stays safe.

We don’t only teach children, though, we also learn from them. We love hearing about the ideas they have and questions they ask. Can you really age a ladybird by its spots? Do earwigs actually eat your brains? Find out this week!

During early autumn, spring and summer, we visit schools for Insect Discovery Days. Children learn about the vital role of insects in ecosystems, the importance of the HOPE collection, and investigate insects in their own school grounds.

As well as insects, we find a lot of other ‘minibeasts’ such as woodlice, spiders and centipedes when we visit schools. Specimens from the collection help children sort the insects from these other arthropods.

We often find that children use different words to describe the same animal, or the same word for two different ones. Which of these would you call a ‘Daddy long-legs’?

Which would you call a ‘Daddy Long-Legs’?

The Twitter poll that followed this image drew 123 votes, with the following results:

Left: 62%

Right: 7%

Neither: 30%

Both: 1%

Another aspect of my work I really enjoy is helping to connect children with researchers. I’m really looking forward to George McGavin’s upcoming talk ‘What have insects ever done for us?’

The talk I referred to was a live webinar, but you can watch a recording of George’s fascinating talk on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E1mX52cKwSs

Another aspect of my job is teaching school visitors to the museum about insects. I’m hugely lucky to be able to draw on the vast Hope collection of over 3.5 million British insects and the expertise of the collections team.

Some of unique museum resources that we are able to use with schools include insect specimens collected by Charles Darwin. It was his observations of the natural world that led him to propose his theory of evolution.

Insect specimens collected by Charles Darwin

Another unique resource that we use is the collection of peppered moths, Biston betullaria, from Bernard Kettlewell’s study of natural selection. Many students who learn about this at school have never had the opportunity to see a peppered moth before.

Specimens from Kettlewell’s collection

We also teach how historical collections help us track present day changes in populations. Several insects became extinct in Britain in the last century and more are at risk, but there have also been successful reintroductions, such as the Large Blue Butterfly, Maculinea arion.

More now than ever, the learning team are producing digital resources which can be used at school, at home, or by community groups. You can explore these on the museum website (see the link above)

Wherever we are working, children always love finding ladybirds and learning about the different types of this beetle. At Thameside School in Abingdon for example, we found six different species in the school forest area.

A lot of folklore surrounds ladybirds. Many children tell us you can tell a ladybird’s age by counting its spots. This is a myth, but the markings can help us identify which species it is. We also learn about insect life cycles and what larvae look like. 

Everyone loves a ladybird!

Children often know rhymes about ladybirds, but the words can vary depending on where you live. What would you say is the next line to this rhyme? ‘Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home…’

This tweet prompted a range of comments, with the most common variation completing this rhyme with the line ‘… your house is on fire and your children are gone. I was also reminded by my colleague at the Bodleian, Rosie Sharkey, that it was this rhyme that originally prompted Iona and Peter Opie’s decades of research into children’s songs, rhymes, and games.

An insect that we always find when we visit schools is the earwig. Children are fascinated by these animals and sooner or later someone will always ask ‘Do they really go in your ears?’ or the even more worrying ‘…then burrow into your brain and lay eggs?!’

Do earwigs really go for our ears?

So can brain-burrowing earwigs really drive you insane? The short answer is no. We probably have Pliny the Elder to blame for this widespread misconception but thankfully there is no evidence that earwigs have an affinity for ears, nor that they do us any harm.

Earwigs are in the Order Dermaptera and have remarkable characteristics. They’re excellent at wiggling into small spaces, have a pair of forceps on their rear end and they can fly. They protect their delicate wings by some virtuoso origami folding when they aren’t in use.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s insight into the work of the Hope Learning Team. Do you know any interesting insect myths or folklore? We’d love to hear about them!

My Twitter week for the Museum May be over, but I,d love to hear your comments on anything mentioned here, or your own favourite insect myths and folklore. If you’re a teacher, you might like the practical application of entomology in my post Wasp in the classroom.