Sam Jinks

How do you measure magic?

Sam Jinks, 09.09.2015
Sam Jinks on evaluating the Stories from the Sea project
The theme for this year’s Group for Education in Museums (GEM) conference is Measuring the Magic, exploring the impact, value and quality of cultural learning. I will be speaking at the event, which takes place on 8 and 9 September in Swansea, about the Stories from the Sea literacy project.

The project is an Arts Council England-funded partnership between the Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London. It aims to inspire KS1 and KS2 school children in Norfolk to write stories by transporting them to a world of pirates, shipwrecks and explorers.

By the end of each museum event, the children are convinced they've discovered a new world in the corner of a gallery. It is truly magic.

But creating the magic is actually the easier part. Museums and heritage sites across the UK are packed to the rafters with objects and stories that can act as gateways to the imagination. It is capturing or measuring the impact of this that often proves to be trickier.

How exactly do you measure magic? There’s not a single answer to this question, but our experiences in evaluating the Stories from the Sea suggest the best way is to employ as many different approaches as possible in order to provide a well-rounded and in-depth report.

We gathered the quantitive data of every pupil who signed up to the project and tracked how many visits they made to our museum over a two-year period. This took a lot of time and effort; nearly 4,000 pupils had signed up between September 2013 and March this year, and between them they had made more than 10,000 visits to our museums during that period.

Statistics alone never capture the magic, so we focused on a core group of pupils from pilot schools that signed up to the project in 2013. We conducted one-to-one interviews with them, asking a series of questions about how they felt about writing.

One question that always stuck out to me was: "Do you feel proud of something you have written?"

We asked this question to children before and after they visited one of our events, and the change in their answers was dramatic to say the least; in one year, only 13% of children from one primary school said yes before their visit, but this increased to 100% after taking part in two events.

It is results like these that make me very proud to have been involved in Stories from the Sea. It reflects some of the magic this project has produced.

We also wanted to see the impact the events were having back in the classroom, so we invited teachers to submit pupils’ work to be considered for a small published anthology of stories, poems, songs and pictures inspired by museum objects and learning events.

A copy of this book was given to every child involved with the project.

Seeing the faces of the children when they discovered that their poem or story had been included was truly magic and will ensure the legacy of the project lives on for many years to come.

Sam Jinks is a learning officer for Norfolk Museums Service. He can be contacted by email for a copy of the project evaluation