2017 Schoolroom

In June and July 2017 the Reading Ancient Schoolroom welcomed c. 200 children in years 4 to 10 at 7 different schools, as well as numerous families. Everyone had a great time as well as learning a lot; as one teacher commented, “They were challenged but they loved it!” And one child commented, “It felt like time travel!”


Children from Dolphin School enjoy the event (photo: Alex Wickenden)

Sonning children 7* copy

Children from Sonning Common Primary study poetry

The wax tablets were a big hit, with children commenting,

“I liked the wax tablet because I really felt like a Roman child using it.” – year 5

“I liked the wax tablet, as it showed me the way ancient Romans recorded information, and also because it’s therapeutic to carve into a wax tablet.” – year 9

“I liked writing on the wax tablet because it felt like I was making my mark on ancient civilisation and it was fun.”

“I enjoyed copying out the extract from Julius Caesar on the wax tablet; I had never realised how difficult it was! The fact that they sometimes had to melt the wax and then freeze it again was really interesting.”


Learning about wax tablets (photo: Alex Wickenden)



Writing on a wax tablet (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Writing on ostraca (pieces of broken pottery) with pen and ink was also a highlight:

“I liked the writing best on a pot, for it gives you an idea of how hard it was.” – year 5

“I liked copying the poems onto the clay; it was really calm and nice.” – year 10

“What did you like best?” “Writing with ink, because it was fun.” – year 9

“I liked writing the most because although it was hard, it was interesting and rewarding when we finished.” – year 9

“What did you like best?” “Writing, because it was a challenge.”


Writing with a reed pen on an ostracon (photo: Alex Wickenden)

Writing on ostraca 1

Writing on ostraca

Reading ancient style, that is tackling archaic poetry without spaces between the words, was also highly rated by participants, who commented,

“What did you like best?” “Reading and reciting, because it was a challenge.”

“What did you like best?” “Learning about the ancient English language.”

“What did you like best?” “Reciting the Iliad, because I got the meter right.” – year 9


Reading from papyrus — who knew Dryden could be this much fun? (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Discussing poetry (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Working individually


A featured activity this year was the Roman maths, which attracted enthusiasm even from children who normally do not enjoy maths. Calculations in Roman numerals work completely differently from those in Arabic numerals, and are done using counters (dried beans in our event) on a counting board. For more information, including a downloadable counting board and instructions on how to use it, see our Resources for Teachers page. For a podcast interview featuring Philomen Probert (the person who designed our maths lessons) explaining why they work so well, see https://ukedchat.com/2017/07/17/ukedpodcast-episode-12/.

Children commented:

“I loved the lesson on mathematics because it was much more practical than the math I’m used to.” – year 5

“What did you like best?” “The maths, because I usually don’t like maths.” – year 5

“What did you like best?” “The maths, because I have never done anything like it and it’s my favourite subject at school.” – year 5

“I liked best the Roman numerals because the teacher was really nice.” – year 4

“What did you like best?” “Doing math, because I found it interesting about how they multiplied the number to get the correct answer, and the task they did.” – year 10

“What did you like best?” Maths because it was difficult but fun when I understood it.” – year 10

“I liked the Roman maths the most because it allowed us to use logic and reasoning whilst learning about how the Romans would do it.” – year 9

“I liked the Roman counting best because it was a very clever way of doing maths.” – year 9

“What did you like best?” “Mathematics – very interesting and challenging – new skill.” – year 9

“What did you like best?” “Maths, it was engaging and took a decent amount of thought.”

“”I liked maths because I understood it.”

“I liked the Roman maths because I learned a lot.”

“I liked the maths best because it was challenging.”

“I liked maths best because you use old number charts.” – year 5


A Roman maths lesson (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Children try the maths for themselves (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Counting boards and kidney beans (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Visitors to the schoolroom also had a session in the Ure museum of Greek Archaeology, where they had the chance to handle real ancient artifacts and learn identification techniques. Children commented,

“What did you like best?” “Looking at authentic pots. Because you could see what people actually used.” – year 10

“What I liked best was the interesting facts that the staff had provided, which were jaw-dropping.”


Children from Dolphin School in the Ure Museum (photo: Alex Wickenden)

Another activity outside the schoolroom was a session on using quill pens, in which participants learned about Roman or medieval scripts, Roman graffiti, and/or how to make a quill pen. Children commented,

“I liked doing graffiti in Latin.” – year 5

” I liked it when we did the graffiti because we wrote things in Roman and Latin and drew Roman pictures.” – year 5

“I learned how old graffiti is.” – year 5

“I liked the graffiti best because I liked writing with the pens.” – year 5

“What did you like best?” “The quills, because it was challenging.” – year 9


Children from Dolphin School practice writing Roman-style graffiti with quill pens (photo: Alex Wickenden)


The graffiti teacher prepares for her workshop (photo: Alex Wickenden)

There was also a Roman cook selling Roman food, explaining how to make it, and giving out recipes, — and papyrus merchants selling papyrus, reed and quill pens, wax tablets, and kits for making tablets and papyrus. Most of the replica writing equipment can also be purchased online from our supplier, the Roman Shop.


Papyrus merchants and food stand (photo: Alex Wickenden)


At the papyrus merchants’ stand (photo: Alex Wickenden)


As always, the ancient schoolroom was made possible by a team of incredibly hard-working, multitalented volunteers, to whom everyone is extremely grateful! This year’s volunteers included:


Katy Davey, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Henry Maxwell, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Nadin Marsovszki, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Dom O’Reilly, maths teacher and Reading undergraduate (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Jenny Wight, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Charlotte Edwards, Roman cook and Reading undergraduate (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Charles Stewart, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate


Anna Godsell, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate

Marco with Sonning child

Marco Prost, schoolroom teacher and visiting student at Reading


Jackie Baines, liaison person and Reading lecturer

Kalliopi (hers)

Kalliopi Kasotaki, Ure volunteer and schoolroom teacher


Alison John, schoolroom teacher, graffiti artist, Greek teacher, and Edinburgh graduate student (photo: Alex Wickenden)

Lydia and Tania

Lydia Walmsley and Tania Spicer, papyrus merchants and Reading undergraduates (photo: Alex Wickenden)


Cheryl Gupta, schoolroom teacher and Reading graduate student (photo: Alex Wickenden)





Philomen Probert, maths teacher and Oxford professor (photo: Alex Wickenden)


People not pictured, to whom we are also very grateful, include:

Rachel Mairs, schoolroom teacher and Reading professor

Emma Aston, straw supplier and Reading professor

Blythe Varney, maker of the yellow tunics and Reading undergraduate

Rachel Hufflett, head costumer and Reading undergraduate

Rebeca Bird-Lima, schoolroom teacher and Reading undergraduate

Hella Eckardt, inkwell specialist and Reading professor

Amy Smith, curator of the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology and Reading professor

Jayne Holly-Wait, Assistant Curator of the Ure Museum

Claudina Romero, Education Officer, Ure Museum

Joanna Vieira Varela, Ure volunteer

Flavien Marchal, Ure volunteer

Carol Fuller, Institute of Education, Reading

Richard Harris, Institute of Education, Reading

Nick West, Institute of Education, Reading

Jessie Clark, Institute of Education, Reading

Eva van Herel, Humanities executive support at Reading

Jessica Lutkin, impact co-ordinator at Reading

Peter Kruschwitz, head of Classics at Reading

Karla Pollmann, head of Humanities at Reading


Eleanor Dickey, schoolroom slave and event director (also, in her spare time, Professor of Classics at Reading) (photo: Alex Wickenden)