Top 10 student questions and misconceptions

Top 10 questions and misconceptions From Students Visiting Sovereign Hill

This week is Education Week in Victoria.  In the spirit of thinking about learning and learners we have written this post about some of the most common questions and misconceptions students bring to Sovereign Hill.  Each day we work on developing students’ understandings about these concepts.  Some are small, while others are very complex.  It gives you an insight into common student thinking…

  1. Are you hot/uncomfortable in that?  When students first see us in 1850s costume this is inevitably a question that comes up, although less often in winter. A quick answer is generally ‘not really’, unless it is 30+!  However, there is more detail that can be explored with this question.  Students are obviously really drawn to costumes as they are such an obvious difference to modern life.  We often try to capture this interest by talking about clothing, particularly the undergarments as they are a core ingredient in shaping ladies attire.  Read more on our post about ladies clothing.
  2. Do you live here?  This question commonly comes from students below Year 4.  It’s a fascinating insight into how they understand the world and their concept of time, past and present.  For some students they genuinely seem to believe you are from the past, or lived in the past and are still around today.  Others see Sovereign Hill like a time capsule where people choose to come and live like they did in the past.  We try explain to students that we are modern people showing them what life was like in the past.
  3. What makes your dress all poufy? 

    Student trying on ladies clothes.

    This question has often come out before the students have even said hello!  It is a mystery they want solved.  We have had children pat our dresses and a few even try to lift them up!  In our Education sessions when we dress a few students in costume and show them the crinoline, they are fascinated and often find it very funny.  Almost as funny as when we tell them that young boys wore dresses too!

  4. Why did teachers hit children/why don’t teachers hit children anymore?  In our Living in the Past sessions we talk to the students about 1850s school life.  A big feature, and one they always want to talk about, is the use of the cane or strap as punishment.  For some children it is beyond belief that a teacher would or could hit their students.  For other children they seem to wonder why teachers don’t still do it!
  5. Parents were unfair in the past because they made children do lots of chores and not let them keep money they earn.  When we explain to the students that many children would have been expected to work, either at home or at a job, without reward, they are always a few outbursts of ‘what?’ or ‘that’s so unfair’.  This highlights the difference between lives of children now and those in the past, where childhood was rarely viewed as a precious time where pleasure should be preserved.  Many parents would not be able to make ends meet without the help of their children.  1850s children may well have known what it was like to go without a meal or to walk without shoes.
  6. People in the past were disgusting and/or stupid. 

    At the Butcher’s Shambles on the diggings

    We love telling disgusting stories from history and they capture students’ interest, probably for the same reasons that make Horrible Histories so popular.  But we do like to emphasise to the students that people from the past weren’t ‘gross’ or ‘dumb’, they simply did not have the same kind of knowledge and technology that we do today.  We often need to explain that doctors in the past did not know what bacteria (germs) were, or how they are passed to other people.  This meant that horse manure chest packs or stain removal in urine were not seen as unhygienic.  How do you think people will interpret our habits in 150 years?

  7. Is there real gold in the creek?  Some students can’t believe that they are actually able to pan for real gold in our creek.  But they can, the gold flakes are most definitely real.  On the other hand, students often ask us if the plaster model of the Welcome Nugget in our workshop rooms is real!
  8. The miners made a lot/the most money on the goldfields.  Contrary to some students’ perceptions, mining was not the only way to make money during the gold rush.  In fact becoming a gold miner was quite a big gamble.  If you had enough capital to open a business, especially if you were the first on new diggings, you could have a very profitable goldfields experience.  Businessmen (and a few women) made more money than the majority of miners.  Some successful businessmen include Freeman Cobb and David Jones, what do you think they did?
  9. Sovereign Hill is capturing a day in the 1850s.  Sovereign Hill is a recreation of the gold rush in Ballarat, predominantly 1851-1861.  It is not a ‘moment in time’.  Many of the buildings and businesses we show did not exist simultaneously, but in the interest of giving a broad picture and lots of fodder for learning, we capture the different stages of the gold rush.
  10. Why couldn’t women dig for gold?

    Young girl trying 1850s chores

    Students are fascinated by the stark contrast in gender roles in the 1850s, especially idea that some people believed an education was wasted on a girl!  We tell students that, while there were certainly women who did mine or manage businesses, it was not the norm or considered ‘proper’.  However after we explain the mammoth workload women had managing a house, without electricity or plumbing and with a number of children to care for, they often have a new appreciation of the role of women in ‘the good old days’.

Have you visited Sovereign Hill with children?  What are some of the interesting questions and misconceptions you’ve heard from them?

8 responses to “Top 10 student questions and misconceptions

  1. museumswithtim

    This is a great post! Children ask such great questions about the roles we play in interperting the goldrush era. There are so many things that are common across the years–the hope of people to make better lives for themselves and their families, to live in a fairer and more just society that enables people to achieve their best according to their talents and their hard work, wanting to look good and fashinable in their best clothes, to use technology to make life easier; and there are things that are so different–the speed of communication, overcoming distance, family life and roles, the nature of work that most people do in a community, the cost of energy…But then when you look at our cottages, you can see how the occupants were trying to live in ways that we now consider good examples of sustainability–getting multiple use of cooking fires to warm houses and beds, recycling clothes, gathering water in tanks from rain on their roofs, keeping animals to provide milk and food and composting gardens, repairing clothes rather than buy new ones, small houses requiring less energy to heat and to light. Maybe sustainability is not such a new idea after all?

  2. One of the best questions I have had recently was an earnest Year 1 boy who asked “How did you make babies in the old days?” I told him I wasn’t sure but I thought his teacher might know.

  3. Took our two sons and one of our daughters to Sovereign Hill last year for the first time. Our nine year old son wanted to know why everyone used candles instead of just turning on the lights. He also wanted to know why the poor chinese people had to live in tents and not at their restaurants.

  4. Jeremy Johnson

    The interaction that children have in a museum like Sovereign Hill is a wondrous thing. I think as adults , we forget that the world to them is so much bigger ,as they are viewing it from a much shorter height than most of us. Many aspects of a three-dimensional place like Sovereign Hill (eg the horses) must simply look gigantic and experiences therefore must take on a different perspective . Story-telling to accompany these experiences is therefore an even more important component of any visit .

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