Developed as an exciting new learning programme, in association with Cahoots NI, the children’s theatre company, this new trail engages both children and adults through an emigrant’s journey punctuated by interactive activities. The Magic of Time trail, rather than being a teaching tool, is a fun way to approach the curriculum generating an eagerness to learn while retaining a strong focus on the Northern Ireland Curriculum.

Learning at the Ulster American Folk Park

National Museums Northern Ireland has a strong learning ethos and continues to develop projects in line with the Executive’s Programme for Government STEM Strategy. The aim is to empower the younger generation through the study and understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, promoting a dynamic, creative and innovative economy.

Buying some groceries from the General Store keeper’s Theresa Kirwan.

Buying some groceries from the General Store keeper’s Theresa Kirwan.

That story of emigration is brought to life spectacularly at the Ulster American Folk Park. Visitors experience first-hand the journey from the farmsteads of rural Ulster to the log cabins of the pioneers in Frontier America. The museum is the ultimate in living history with original, authentic buildings restored, relocated and populated by a cast of colourful, costumed characters going about their day to day business as they might have done 150 years ago.

The impetus driving all learning projects is one of inspiration and enjoyment: the Museum aims to inspire and encourage children’s natural curiosity and eagerness to learn more through its many learning programmes.

Origins of The Magic of TIme

Following the success of the Maths Across the Ocean programme, the Ulster American Folk Park wanted to develop a new and exciting project that would offer all visitors, but especially Key Stage 2 pupils, a new approach to maths and history. Impressed by Cahoots children theatre’s mathematics magic programme, the museum drew on their expertise to put together a ‘Magic Effect’ trail based on mathematical tricks and complementing the National Curriculum. Cahoots developed magic effects in keeping with the historical background of each building and trained the museum guides in delivering the maths/ magic tricks in a fun, educational and engaging way. At the Mellon House where traditional baking is demonstrated, the visitor guides use eggs to encourage the children to solve mathematical puzzles; at the blacksmith’s forge, horse shoes are used to entice children to solve maths problems. Two new exhibit buildings have just been added to the trail: Murray’s Drapery and W.G. O’Doherty’s pub grocers where pupils will hear about the families who ran the businesses, the people who used the shops and participate in a magic puzzle.

The Story so Far

The project, led by Catherine McCullough, Head of Learning and Partnership at the Ulster American Folk Park, was piloted on 1 March and has had a fantastic response to date with over 500 children having already taken part in the trail. Twelve members of staff have been trained to perform magic tricks, engaging the children’s attention as they guide them through the history of an emigrant’s journey from Ireland to America using up to ten of the museum’s exhibit buildings. Children are encouraged to dress up in 19th century style clothing as well to complete this extraordinary experience. At the end of their visit, each child is presented with The Magic of Time booklet, designed to look like a spell book, which explains the maths and magic behind each effect.

Lauren McLean, from St Conor’s Primary School in Omagh, picks some essential groceries at the General Store

Lauren McLean, from St Conor’s Primary School in Omagh, picks some essential groceries at the General Store

During the first week of the new programme’s delivery, the Trail was evaluated using the UK Museum standard, “Inspiring Learning for All”. Feedback from both teachers and pupils has been very positive. One teacher commented: “The problem solving and interest in finding the solution has made maths interesting and fun…the history and maths blended together…a really wonderful experience”. Another wrote that “(the visit) has inspired the pupils – they are fascinated with the problems and keen to work out the solutions”. A nine year old pupil from a local school said “I liked finding out the magic tricks so I can trick my big brother, and it was fun”.

Hanna McSorley, Ciaran Lynn and Tia Monk from St Conor’s Primary School in Omagh, enjoyed taking part in the Magic of Time adventure trail.

Hanna McSorley, Ciaran Lynn and Tia Monk from St Conor’s Primary School in Omagh, enjoyed taking part in the Magic of Time adventure trail.

Although developed with a focus on pupils in P5 to P7, the Ulster American Folk Park Museum has developed the trail to give it a broad appeal, ensuring that families and children of all ages can enjoy a fun-packed adventure. The extraordinary feats of mathematics, mind reading and illusion add another dimension to the visitor’s experience whilst exploring the unique exhibit buildings and learning more about an emigrant’s journey from the Old to the New World.

Ronan Campbell, patiently awaits his turn to climb on-board the Emigrant Ship that will take him to America.

Ronan Campbell, patiently awaits his turn to climb on-board the Emigrant Ship that will take him to America.

Catherine McCullough, Head of Learning and Partnership at the Ulster American Folk Park is delighted with the results of a very exciting collaboration with Cahoots NI: “Whilst the trail is designed for people of all ages who enjoy a challenge and a good puzzle, the Magic of Time trail focuses on the Northern Ireland Curriculum and offers a complementary, relevant and fun way to approach a variety of topics from mathematics to literacy to personal development. We are inviting trail adventurers, of all ages, to come and take the challenge in the unique setting of the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh.”

This innovative trail is available to all visitors to the Ulster American Folk Park. For group bookings please contact Breege O’Sullivan on (+44) (0)28 8225 6320 or email [email protected] or visit the website further information.

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