Unlocking the door to the past - Copyright©ISQ, LRamos, 2016
Unlocking the door to the past - Copyright©ISQ, LRamos, 2016

How to motivate students for learning? Sometimes, just getting away from the classroom isn’t enough. Following the museum guide repeating words, after words, a speech by heart could be hard to follow and easy to forget. And room after room, in group, quiet, “don’t touch or you’ll damage it!”. The same old fashioned teaching methods conceived from the Industrial Revolution times are over. We can no longer produce standardized citizens like an assembling line and teach and learn by the book. So, how do we combine heritage and the future? How can our students and trainees learn from the people and places that are live testimonies from the past without feeling bored and disconnected? Let them do the questions, let them claim for knowledge. “Help me to do it alone”, said Maria Montessori.

In this journey, we take learners to the Ancient Gunpowder Factory of Vale de Milhaços, in Seixal.

Entrada editada

© Lara Ramos, ISQ, 2016

It was settled in 1898 with a main goal of manufacturing black gunpowder to export to Angola. In 1922, it was acquired by Mr. Francisco Camello, whose descendants still owned the property, changing its name to “Gunpowder African Society". This industrial set, comprising the Black Gunpowder Circuit, preserves unique industrial characteristics dating back from the 19th century.

Its most emblematic element is the Joseph Farcot steam engine, of 1900, with 125 horsepower, fueled by a João Peres wood-fired boiler from 1911. To have the opportunity to watch it work constitutes a true journey back to the days of the Industrial Revolution.

The Gunpowder Factory of Vale de Milhaços is classified as a Building of Public Interest and is an extension of Seixal Municipal Ecomuseum, aiming at its preservation and turning into a museum. (adapted from the website of Câmara Municipal do Seixal)


Copyright©ISQ, LRamos, 2016
Copyright©ISQ, LRamos, 2016

Deliver to your students some photos from the place you’re going to visit. In this particular case, it was the Gunpowder Factory of Vale de Milhaços – Seixal. Divide them into small groups (teams) and ask them to bring their own devices (tablets, mobile phones, etc.). Instruct the curator (a former worker from the factory) to receive the students in a rather free way and to let them ask the questions, but, of course, making sure that they are safe during the visit and never alone.


Copyright© Fábio Pereira, 2016
Copyright© Fábio Pereira, 2016

Step one: Ask them to be creative!

Before starting the visit, ask your students to try to find the places they see on the photos. Ask them to collect as many information as they can, related to those images. Also ask them to recreate the photos - the posing and posture of the people that are in the original picture - when they find the places and post them on a platform of your choice (for example, the school webpage, class blog or a Facebook group).

Immediate objective: to have the most creative photograph published online during the visit.

Step two: Make them search for it!

Instruct your learners to find out as much as they can about the factory and the places, machines or even people they have photographed on their first task: their history, purpose, machines, way of work, safety measures, rules, timetables. Ask them to Google some information and compare it, at the same time, with the environment and the information that the guide/former worker tells them. Advise them to take notes!

Step three: Ask them to make the right questions to the right persons!

Instruct your guide to let the students make the questions and, more or less, guide the visit theme. On the other hand, instruct your students to ask as many questions as they can to the guide, to find out about the “hidden treasures of the factory”, the ones that they cannot find on the internet. If you want, you can give them some examples: “Did you work here? How was it?”; “Are the machines still working? Can we see them?”; “Can you tell us an interest fact about the factory that only you know?”. They will take notes, photographs and films with their own devices, collecting the maximum and varied information.


© Lara Ramos, ISQ, 2016

Step four: Bring it together!

On your way back home, ask your students to bring together all the information - notes, photos and films – and prepare a presentation about what they have discovered. It can be a short film, a power point presentation or a smart publication on a social network, as long as it is creative and with accurate data.

Suggest them to Google some more information and compare the differences between the two sources.

Step five: Debriefing

After each group do their presentation, ask them to make a final reflexion about it: what kind of information did they find during the visit, in loco, that they didn’t find on the internet? Do they complement each other?

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge acquired

  • Fundamental knowledge of self-directed learning methodological approach required to set up such kind of visit
  • Fundamental knowledge of Post-industrial heritage concepts and principles
  • Advanced knowledge on communication principles and rules, including active listening

Skills acquired

  • Recognise post-industrial heritage as a pedagogical resource
  • Organise the visit from the practical point of view (transport, scheduling)
  • Guide learners on how to prepare for the visit in order to take as much as they can from the experience

Competences acquired

  • Take alternative pedagogical practices in order to promote autonomy and self-directed learning in trainees / students
  • Independently use post-industrial heritage as a pedagogical tool
  • Perceive post-industrial heritage as an instrument in a mechanism of social change
  • Mediate the intergenerational dialogue, summoning knowledge and respect for local history


Some doors are meant to be open. Be the hand that turns the knob.


Warning: file_get_contents( failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.0 429 Too Many Requests in /home/echoesquests/public_html/plugins/system/sourcerer/helper.php(628) : runtime-created function on line 7

Warning: file_get_contents( failed to open stream: HTTP request failed! HTTP/1.0 429 Too Many Requests in /home/echoesquests/public_html/plugins/system/sourcerer/helper.php(628) : runtime-created function on line 7