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Bringing the Secrets of Nature into the classroom

College Fellow Dr Max Long has launched Secrets of Nature: Cinema and Society in interwar Britain, a new set of resources designed for History teachers.

Funded by the Public Engagement Starter Fund, the resources are based on Max’s research into British natural history films from the 1920s and 1930s. They are free to download and have been adapted for students by experienced History teachers Molly Riglin (Turing House School, Twickenham) and Jason Langford (The Blandford School, Dorset).

We spoke to Max about his inspiration for the project and how he hopes these resources will help teachers in the classroom.

What inspired you to create these teaching resources?

The idea for this project was inspired by a larger project by Dr Laura Carter, Prof Peter Mandler (my PhD supervisor!) and Dr Chris Jeppesen, who collaborated with teachers to make some really great teaching resources based on their research into secondary schooling in Britain after 1945. I’m very passionate about public engagement and feel that it’s really important to ensure that historical research reaches as wide an audience as possible – so when I heard about a funding opportunity available through the University (the Public Engagement Starter Fund), I immediately decided to apply.

Once you received funding, what did the project involve?

This project involved recruiting two secondary school teachers to work with me to create a series of teaching resources for teachers to use in the classroom. These were based on my research into film series Secrets of Nature, which were highly popular natural history films from the 1920s and 1930s. In the resources, we use the films as a starting point to get students thinking about a wide range of historical issues – including women’s work in the film industry, the rise of conservation, or the changing role of zoos in popular culture. We worked together over the course of one academic year, meeting periodically on Zoom and working independently. We are now releasing four packs of teaching resources, including PowerPoint slides, student worksheets, and teachers’ guides.

What was it like collaborating with teachers to adapt your research?

This project was started in the knowledge that academics are often not the best equipped to develop resources for classroom teaching. For this reason, I drew on the expertise of two experienced teachers, and did my best to listen to what they thought would be most useful to their colleagues. One of the key advantages of this project is that the resources are very flexible – teachers can choose to base a whole series of classes on the resources, or they can pick and use individual aspects that they find interesting.

In the future, I am very keen to keep collaborating with teachers when I am ready to share new research. I also have plans to keep in touch with the two teachers who helped me put these resources together. We need passionate and inspiring history teachers now more than ever: Jason and Molly’s students are very privileged to be taught by such thoughtful and engaging historians.

How do you hope these resources will help teachers in the classroom?

From my conversations with teachers in the past, I have found that they are often really keen to incorporate new material into their teaching, especially material that comes from new research in universities. However, teachers are often already overworked – and finding good quality teaching resources that are designed specifically with the needs of teachers in mind can be hard.

My expectation is that the project will be helpful to teachers who want to try something new in the classroom. Whether this is teaching history from a new angle, or as part of a wider programme of lessons about the environment, our resources have the potential to really expand the range of topics that pupils are likely to encounter as part of their ordinary learning. Hopefully this project will help teachers to plan new classroom lessons for many years to come.

The four teaching resource packs are available to download for free on Max’s website ‘Secrets of Nature’.