5.0 The Reticulum Website - a resource from 7-70

Key points
The site is unusual in that instead of being provided with all the content prior to the design, it has been developed thematically as schools progressed through the Project.
Research into existing Websites for children, as well as personal experiences and preferences, has influenced the form the Reticulum site has taken.
The site aims to reflect the interests of the children it is aimed at, focusing on topics they want to know about.
The content of the site is researched and checked by archaeological specialists.
The use of original texts, pictures of objects from the Museum's collection, and archaeological diagrams introduces children to a broader range of evidence and extends the resources of the Museum to an infinitely wider audience.
The provision of an easily accessible glossary is essential.
Keeping the site simple reduces download times even on low specification computers, an important factor in making it accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
Consistent colour schemes, for example red used for literary quotes and orange for active text, and the use of icons such as the 'writer's head' create visual impact and help the user navigate the site.
Images within the site lead to other 'pages' by clicking on them, allowing access to a greater range of interest but letting the user decide how much information she wishes to receive.
Image maps with areas of action are used to encourage users to explore further.

The children's work generated during their involvement with the Project has been used as a basis for the creation of the Museum of Antiquities latest Website - The Reticulum Website. The site is continually updated as children's work becomes available. Created using Macromedia Dreamweaver, we have aimed at keeping the site simple and user-friendly, making it available to a wide audience, regardless of user specifications. Although this imposes some limitations, for example we cannot use animations which would require the installation of Macromedia Flash to view, it is a decision which reflects the problems we encountered in schools when attempting to use the Internet.

5.1 Aims

The aims of the Website are:

5.2 Research

Our research into existing Websites for children, as well as our personal experiences and preferences, has influenced the form the Reticulum site has taken. Several sites dedicated to the Romans are available to children but many are either bland and limited in the information they offer, or complicated and slow to download. So far we have not come across another site in which the blend of children's work with factual information forms such an integral feature.

Because of the pressure of time our research was been restricted to an online exploration of museum, educational and subject-related Websites already available. These are some of the issues that were of consideration when we started to create the Website:

5.3 Creating the site

The Website has developed 'organically' within a broad framework rather than followed a predetermined scheme. Although there have been pitfalls in this approach, aimless rambling leading to navigational nightmares and lost users being one danger, and the risk of creating a site so huge it seems to develops its own 'life' being another, the advantage has been the responsiveness we have to the questions children have asked us, the images we are presented with and our own flashes of inspiration. It helps ensure that, although the site is being created by adults, it reflects the interests of the children it is aimed at, particularly the almost obsessive need for detail, which is a feature of children's enthusiasms. (Note: this a personal observation based on years of classroom experience and watching my own children learn. JC.) We hope in the future to involve the children more directly in the creative process and in the construction of the site.

5.3.1 Images

Within the site we aim to use an informative mix of text and images, pictures of objects from the Museum's collection, maps (Fig. 11) and diagrams to convey a wide range of information about what life was like on the 'Northern frontier' of England prior to and during the Roman period.

Map showing greatest extent of Roman Empire
Figure 11: Stylised map of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent, designed 'in house'

The inclusion of archaeological plans (Fig. 12) and professional drawings gives children access to a form of information usually only available in adult publications.

Archaeological diagram showing a ditch and bank
Figure 12: Professional diagram from an archaeological report, coloured up and with simplified labelling to make it more accessible to children

Using Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Fireworks, we have created montages (Fig. 13) of the children's illustrations to provide gateways into particular sections of the site.

Montage of drawings
Figure 13: This colourful picture forms the gateway to 'Celtic' religion. A montage was created using a backdrop drawn by a pupil. Images drawn by other class members were superimposed on it. In this way the separate components could be drawn larger and then scaled down after scanning and clean-up procedures, giving greater detail

We also use image maps (Fig. 14), which have areas of action for the user to explore, as a means of encouraging children to explore the site further.

Screen shot from web site
Figure 14: Gateway to 'The Wretched Brits' from 'This Way to the Northern Frontier'

A drawing of Eddie from Blyth by Charlotte Broadley

One class, who weren't studying the Romans during the time the Project was running, decided to look at what the Romans had done for them. They created the artwork for an animation of a typical 'Geordie' Man ('Geordie' being the nickname given to men who come from Blyth); the idea being that certain items of his clothing or belongings would fall off or disappear. Because of the restrictions we had imposed on the site we couldn't use animation to re-create this so we used slices, attaching the action to certain words to make the items disappear. (To access this part of the web site select 'The Legacy of the Romans', then 'What did the Romans do for us?' to see Eddie in all his glory!)

Most of the images within the site lead to more information by clicking on them, which also enables the user to view them more closely. This has worked particularly well with the museum objects, which are included in the Website to provide archaeological evidence for aspects of life during the period and widen the audience for the Museum's collection. By linking greater detail to the clicking action the user can decide the degree of information they wish to receive.

Roman brooch
Figure 15: A dragonesque brooch from the Museum of Antiquities collection

5.3.2 The written copy

The Project's Education Officer generates most of the copy, based around topics children want to know about and with an emphasis on readability as well as factual accuracy. The content is researched and checked by archaeological specialists and reflects our current knowledge of the daily life of people living in the North East of England immediately prior to the Roman invasion and in the subsequent four centuries of Roman rule. As mentioned elsewhere, there is currently a paucity of information aimed at children reflecting the very different way in which the Romans impacted upon this region of Britain. We are constantly aware of the need to balance text with images and seek to maintain interest through a variety of written forms, trying to keep it personal by creating character dialogues and using children's original writing. Quotes from literary sources are included as a way of introducing children to classical texts and the evidence they provide. They are indicated by an icon (Fig. 16), and are written in red to make them stand out from the body text.

Quote 'The images of the gods grim and rude were uncouth blocks formed of felled tree trunks. Their mere antiquity and the ghastly hue of the rotten timber struck terror.'

Figure 16: This quote forms part of the text given to pupils to create the montage forming the gateway to 'Celtic' religion (Fig. 13). The drawing of a garlanded head is used to indicate a classical text

5.3.3 Glossary 'pop-ups'

Active words or phrases in underlined red text are scattered throughout the site. These lead to glossary items. Since a key feature of the site is that the information given is based on archaeological evidence it is important that the user understands some specialist terms. It is also the case that, with the urbanisation of British society, it is no longer possible to assume that children know about current processes associated with, for example, food production, and are therefore able to extrapolate from present experiences to past practices. Nor do they necessarily know about craft techniques such as weaving or pottery making. This has been forcibly brought home when explaining to pupils the process of turning grain into flour. Blank looks resulted and children have asked where the grain comes from. In an attempt to make sure that confusion is minimised we have included glossary items that appear as 'pop up' boxes when the user clicks on the active text.

Wattle and daub wall
Figure 17: An example of an illustrated glossary item.
"Strong wooden poles, especially grown from hazel trees were put into the ground. Thin, split branches of hazel were then woven through the poles - this is the wattle. Clay mixed with straw was used to fill in the holes - this is called daub. Wattle and daub was used for hundreds of years to build walls."

5.3.4 Activities

In each area of the site we have tried to include a follow-up activity; a story to print off and read or ideas of things to make (Fig. 18). In this way we hope to extend the children's interest further.

Glass beads
Figure 18: 'Glass' beads made with modelling clay. The web site provides instructions on how to make this bead necklace.


Last updated: Tue Aug 20 2002

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