Just over a year ago, when the museum closed to begin the exciting building stage of our National Lottery Heritage Fund redevelopment, we knew our school sessions in 2020 would look very different. Until March of this year, we were busy visiting classes at their schools and welcoming them to other buildings across Ely to bring our popular school sessions to you.

Here, a WW2 session takes place at the Lighthouse Centre in December 2019

Then as we all know, everything changed in March 2020. Home schooling became the new norm! Emily and Phil’s excellent #MuseumFromHome activities allowed many teachers to continue sharing virtual fun with their classes on local themes like farming in the fens, eels & drainage or what life was like for Romans, Ancient Greeks & the Anglo Saxons too.

But, as the new school year began, and after consulting with a number of teachers, we embarked upon our Virtual Visits. These aim to bring everything you loved about our in-person visits, virtually – livestreamed directly into the classroom!

A Heritage Emergency Fund grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund in the summer made purchasing all this equipment possible too – thank you!

Lots of practices were held as we tested our systems & made sure everything was working well before we began!

We then hosted our first ‘Virtual Visit’ in mid September and have been busy piloting them each week since then!

Whilst they will always be very different from a ‘real’ visit, they have proved to be an excellent way to continue our education outreach, and of course, necessary for these constrained times. The visits have already proved popular, and greatly appreciated by the teachers too.

There is also a certain magic which the wonders of technology can deliver that would be impossible in an actual visit, so this has proved to be a great addition & we’ve been thrilled by the level of interest so far & have lots more sessions booked in before Christmas already!

From short, hour long visits straight into the class room from a Roman soldier to half-day sessions exploring pre-history, learning about life for the Romans and the history and food of the Fens, we’ve had a lot of fun meeting so many of you virtually over the last month.

We’re also working on other options too, such as a live chat with an Anglo Saxon warrior straight into your classroom & even a big toy chest filled with the amazing toys the children’s parents, grandparents & even great grandparents would have enjoyed – as always, if you have a particular request, just ask & we’ll do our best to help!

A Roman gladiator visits a Fenland classroom!

So how does it work?

A visit is booked & the school collects a loan box, containing both real & replica objects from the museum & takes them back to the classroom. We can also provide a webcam & microphone if needed.

Part of our Fenland loan box, complete with the Wise Woman’s cures, an eel trap and some bird scarers!

On the day, via your preferred method, usually Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the museum arrives in your classroom for a totally interactive session! There are lots of ways for the children to participate throughout your Virtual Visit, from asking & answering questions, joining in with activities or handling objects.

Children at the Isle of Ely school answer questions in our Fenland session

Each session is different, but might include chatting with a Roman soldier and learning about his equipment as he prepares for the day, joining the farmer as we ‘scare the birds’ from the Fenland fields or learning about the lives of the prehistoric people who lived in our region a long time ago!

Staff at Ely Museum share more about the tools used to drain the Fens

Through the magic of technology, we’ll bring everything directly to you, whether that’s a World War II kitchen as we learn about rationing or straight back to the 17th century as we chat with Cornelius Vermuyden about his drainage plans for the fens.

Your loan box, which is themed specifically for your session, is a great way for children to see and handle the real objects they would have at an in- person visit & are a great starting point for lots of classroom activities too.

After the visit, you’ll return your box to the museum where it will be sanitized ready for the next school to collect and enjoy!

We can’t promise there won’t be any dressing up for the teachers to do though!

Each visit can be customised as needed, so please do email us to discuss your classes requirements & we will be happy to help

To find out more about our virtual visits, please email Sally, our Learning Officer at [learning@elymuseum.org.uk] and visit our website too