Monthly Archives: September 2010

And another ‘thing’

The Generator

Remember that ‘thing’ that Kirkbymoorside Primary School are looking to create? Well I received an e-mail from Rhiannon Ellis at the Theatre Royal in Wakefield last week that began:

“I recently saw that you were interested in a ‘thing’ to explore science and wanted to let you know that we potentially have a ‘thing’ to give away!”

You see – the ‘thing’ word is catching on just as I wanted!!

Rhiannon explains:  “Over the last six months we have been touring round festivals and so on and  so forth with a specially architecturally designed ‘Cultural Generator!’ (which is kind of like a magical shed!). We have done this in conjunction with various cultural organizations in Wakefield but as we have reached the end of the project  the Generator is about to be installed in an exhibition at the Beam Gallery and we are discussing its life beyond the exhibition. It struck me that perhaps it could play a part in your future project?”

What a fantastic offer.

Why not pop along to see it, and let us know what you think. Or if you can’t make it to the exhibition there is a fun film of it being constructed here. (yep still not quite worked out the inserting video into a post bit – next lesson I think!!!)


B&Q here we come – yes, with Year 3

I met with two amazing teachers at Alderman Leach Primary School in Darlington last week. They were really challenging! After some discussion their creative partnerships project plan is looking like giving Year 3 pupils an opportunity to build and construct – on a large scale. A pupil led project, with materials and tools around, and an exploratory approach offered – in the hope that pupils experience and enjoy taking risks and develop some responsibility for their own learning along the way.

I found it was me panicking, asking ‘but what curriculum do we need to cover?’ as they insisted that they could look at anything that hadn’t been covered naturally at the end of the project and mop up missed topics over the rest of the year. For them it was the attitude to learning that they wanted to explore and support pupils to build curiosity.

All three of us have been inspired by  Grounds for Learning and their approach to risk assessment to support not hinder such activities, and love the idea of taking young pupils to B&Q shopping, loading the trolly up with saws and drills (and that is early years pupils – our Year 3’s should be a dream then!!).  And are enthused by the excitement and achievement of pupils working with The Tinkering School in the US – especially the 7 year olds making their own rollercoaster –  now we are talking….

Gever Tulley founder of The Tinkering School’s blogs this inspiring and challenging post

“One of the great pleasures of running the Tinkering School blog is that I get amazing email from people around the world. One message that really got me thinking was one from John Wood who took some time to list his accomplishments before graduating from high school:

  • Build a 180mph race car
  • Build a cannon that fired a 13 ounce cannon ball 1000 yds into a 12 in. target.
  • Build a house
  • Invent a learning system, to teach my sister the functions of complex machines of any complexity (I later found out that I had rediscovered systems theory)
  • Invent a diagnostic system to understand many of the disfunctional interrelationships in my nuclear family (With a little help from Fritz Pearls)
  • Develop a plan to extort $20,000,000 from the city of Houston, Tx. (Why I mention this ridiculous idea is amusing. I wrote the idea up for a tenth grade composition class and got lots of unwanted attention! It was also the impetous for a successful life long career in security!)
  • Learned to repair and refit loose dentures for my grandpa and read an anatomy book.
  • Graft 5 types of apples on one tree
  • Repair plumbing
  • Repair electrical apliances (vacuum sweepers were my favorite)
  • Operate most common heavy equipment (front loader, dump bed trucks, backhoe, Ditch Witch etc.
  • Use high explosives
  • Work a gold mine
  • Survive in the woods, desert or in a city for a week at a time without planning or provisions. (This one got me grounded for months!)
  • Defend myself against against a knife or gun attack (both have saved my life)
  • Repair an elevator
  • Write a poem to a girl that made her cry with joy

John graduated high school in 1971.

In summary he says:

My life has been enriched by my childhood experiences more than I can express. I have done things others can only imagine or dread. However, without the freedom that my father gave me to risk life and limb without tragic injury, none of my successes or my facinating life would have transpired.I would have stayed the frightened, withdrawn person, I was as a small child.

I’m not advocating or recommending this list of accomplishments, but I marvel at how impossible it would be for most kids these days to do any of them.

But here’s what I do advocate: we should all strive to write a poem that moves someone to tears, we should all have lives that are more interesting that what we watch on television.”

Are we risk averse as adults? How do you fare against the TV challenge? What challenge do you give yourself?

It works….

I received an e-mail from the deputy head at Dormanstown Primary on Friday, her school is just going into its third year of the Creative Partnerships programme. It read..

Just finished our Creative Partners planning staff meeting and can’t believe how far the staff have come in terms of ‘creativity’ and ‘creative thinking’.  So pleased.

That is it – this is just a great news, congratulations to everyone kind of post. Every Friday should have one!

A ‘thing’ is, well, a ‘thing’

I have just written a brief for artists to work in Kirkbymoorside Primary school. Pupils there love hands on activity and have decided to commission someone to work with them to design and make a ‘thing’ in the school grounds. The ‘thing’ will be some sort of structure/sculpture/happening/’thing’ that helps pupils to explore science, so it might have bits that come from it, it might do something, or in itself it may offer an experience. It sounds great this ‘thing’ even though no-one has any idea yet about how it might look, what it might be made of or how it might be used – because they need to decide that through exploration and experimentation.

Over 15 years ago I remember a Crafts Council conference following which ‘the vessel’ came to be common lingo – gone was the quandary over whether to call something a vase, a sculpture, a jug and so-on. Well today it felt like like ‘a thing’ should become common parlance – what else could it have been called? What better description is there? So that is what I put in the brief – a ‘thing’. Anything else would just have limited it.

I’m curious to see what the response will be.

40 seconds of attention

This week I heard documentary filmmaker Emily Barber telling Longbenton College that TV soap opera writer guidelines are to construct 40 second scenes, that being the current ideal for maintaining attention.  They also have to vary sound levels, so that it draws the attention of the ‘viewer’ away from their laptop or mobile phone app, which thay are likely to be using at the same time as having the TV on.

Pupils are going to be making 1 – 3 minute films , it suddenly seemed a long time….

We can hear You

I’ve been sorting through notes from the last school year and came across the scribblings from a wonderful day I spent in Thorney Close Primary School in June. The school have been working with drama practitioners from Northern Stage to support pupils in having more confidence in speaking aloud, and to more consciously modulate language depending on circumstances.

Every pupil in Year 4 and Year 6 gave a short speech that afternoon. There was many a tear from a teacher I have to say – in response to the girl who hadn’t been able to say anything to the class without crying previously, confidently taking her place; when a pupil addressed the audience with why he was proud to be deaf; when we heard how special it was to have friends; what it felt like to be bullied; why a boy wanted to be a footballer but thought they shouldn’t earn more than doctors …..

Pupils had been given total freedom over what they wrote their speeches about, and teachers realised they never gave that permission, that there was always a topic or theme. The power of the experience fed off that autonomy, the success was fully theirs.

When we first met with Northern Stage they expected the school to want drama workshops with a performance at the end. The conversations that focussed the project down were great – it was so clear that this wasn’t about pupils being actors and delivering a script, it wasn’t about ‘shows’. It was about them getting a feel for the power of expressing their thoughts, and that the skills of actors and dramatists might be useful in getting there. It is that negotiation between the skills of educators and artists that create a mix that pupils can take where they need to. No-one in the ‘professional team’ was an expert speech maker, but everyone in the room had experiences they could offer that enabled the pupils to become speechmakers.

In truth it was only a beginning – there is a lot further to go, pupils at the school don’t have the starting point that some children do – but it was a beautiful beginning.

What would your speech be about? How do you feel about making it?

Delightful learning

I confess I got a bit distracted today. I was researching contemporary composers for brass instruments  (more of that later, I’m meeting with five schools on Friday who are going to be developing learning programmes with Brass – an international festival in Durham) and through a series of click, click, clicks ended up off one of those tangents which took me to to a post on Richard Millwood’s blog (which is full of all sorts of interesting things).

Richard writes: Ever since reading about John Heron’s ‘up-hierarchy’ of delight, with his wonderfully expressive language, I have been enjoying adding new elements (although disregarding for now their connection, except as a list). I have made a poster of them …….

Richard Millwood's Analysis of Delight.

The idea is that they are a source of explanation and stimulus for designing delight into teaching & learning.

Why do we like playing games on the computer? – perhaps because high quality and visually seductive graphics offer ‘appreciation’ and the many choices and their consequences feed ‘zest’.

Why do we like learning together? – perhaps because we get ‘conviviality’, ‘recognition’ and ‘controversy’.

Why do we persist when learning is tough? – perhaps because there is ‘interest’, ‘recognition’ and ‘resolution.

Is this all too obvious? Or do you, like me, want to put this poster on your wall to keep it fresh in your mind?

Yes Richard – I want this on the wall and the covers of those planning files I take out with me…… Thinking of developing delightful projects Makes Me Excited….. Thank-you!

Expectations are high after award winning DVD

Tomorrow sees the start of my planning meetings with schools for this academic year.  I’m looking forward to the discussions with Dormanstown Primary School, near Redcar. In June they were winners of a Northern Grid Learning for Learning Award for best use of ICT in Modern Foreign Language and runners up in the Subject category.

The entry was from a Creative Partnerships project  we worked on which saw digital artist Rosie Davey support Year 2 pupils in making an interactive DVD/game – in french! At a time when policy makers are commenting on the lack of take up in language study these 6 year olds showed great enthusiasm for it.

You walk down the street and visit each building along it - interacting in french as you navigate the various activities offered in each.

The DVD provides a computer based environment that enables the ‘player’ to explore a scene and make decisions about where to go – built into the environment are many activities developed by the pupils from games to language tasks. The environment itself was also created by the pupils. This format allowed a wide range of approaches and materials to be used from collage to computer animation, and included speaking and listening activities.

The class teacher Sue Skillcorn was a key part of the delivery team, she feels the project supported not only pupil development but expanded the teacher skill base – she explains:

Increase in pupil confidence and self esteem has been a major outcome, pupils normally reserved in class have become speakers and used techniques like talking through masks to build that, the confidence to speak has transferred into writing approaches and improvements have been seen across literacy areas.

The project gave pupils different ways of presenting their knowledge, in a fun and highly engaging way. Pupils  worked together very effectively, they negotiated, debated and reached conclusions that are based on compromise to a higher level than we usually see in classroom. There was a willingness to share skills, for example a pupil usually quite self focussed offered to support and advise other pupils on using the ICT.

We teachers have become significantly more confident in using ICT across the curriculum and are increasingly planning it into teaching delivery, from using computer through to video cameras. Staff have a better understanding of what pupils are capable of technologically – which is far in excess of what we assumed.

Teachers have also learnt new ways of building individual pieces up into collaborative end points and have begun to use those techniques in different curriculum areas, such as story-writing. The school has a far wider understanding of what ‘arts’ might mean in the school. It has inspired and given permission to staff to think in cross curricular topic based planning.

Redcar and Cleveland Education Authority are so impressed by the children’s DVD that they now want to roll it out to the other Primary schools in the area.

I’ll let you know what the school gets up to this year…..

Student voice – more than choosing lunch menus?

How seriously do we take student voice?

I’m meeting with a Headteacher next week who is interested in developing stronger pupil voice in school, and how artists might support that journey. I’ll be sharing with her this  great piece by Ewan McIntosh the full article can be found here

“….Rather than seeing young people as cogs to be prepared for an industrial age future, learner voice focused school leaders and teachers on letting young people have a say in how their school was run and, much more importantly, what and how they learn. However, it is quickly becoming edu-jargon, with its actual meaning for day-to-day learning becoming less clear to those teaching young people and, vitally, to young people themselves. Learner voice has all too often been reduced to making choices on what the lunch menu will be.

…. What’s clear is that where practice might be considered “the best,” learner voice has not been reduced simply to asking students what they want at school (“What can we at the school cede to learners?”) but has become the principal vehicle for teaching and learning (“What do you want to learn, how do you want to learn it, and what can we at the school do to help make it happen?”).

In Albany Senior High School on the north shores of Auckland, it is the whole system that has been geared up towards letting students direct their own learning…. Every Wednesday, for the whole day, students have the time and the efforts of the whole staff turned towards their passions: whatever community Impact Product they want to create, the school will do what it can to make it happen. One student built a VW “Herbie” car, designed to attract attention and raise funds for Auckland’s children’s hospital, only to be invited to have it shipped to the States for an event. Another student has built a working EPG-fuelled rocket. Others repaired nearby waterways. Still others have designed a content delivery platform for the school’s LCD screen system, inadvertently undercutting the commercial outfit pitching to the local university by some $NZ 280,000. The vision for this is based around Professor R. Shrank’s philosophy:
“There is really only one way to learn how to do something, and that is to do it.”

At the beginning of this process, not all students know what their passion is, and so over the initial weeks of these 15-week projects, mentors in the teaching staff help them to identify what it is they are passionate about, what makes them tick. In the words of one member of staff: “When they eventually work out what it is that makes them tick, their eyes come alive. At that point, there’s no stopping them in achieving what they set their hearts on.”

This  has rubbed off on other elements of pedagogy, thinking, and school management. “Students feel that they are being treated as adults, asked to make important decisions on large projects, and to construct real products of their learning,” said the school principal, Barbara Cavanagh. Barriers to thinking about technology implementations also are taken away: The school does what few have managed, and uses only open-source operating systems and software on its machines, saving around $NZ 200,000 a year (as noted in this Education Gazette article).”

Impressive hey…..


Published by pupils

In searching around education and arts blogs as inspiration for Makes Me Excited….. a post on Carrot Revolution got me excited :

Phoebe is a local photographer who uses her blog as a place to show sneak peaks of projects that she’s working on, explore the use of her lenses, and share both her artistic experiments and successes. That’s what I love about her blog- she takes you through all parts of her creative process. Phoebe’s love of photography is evident in her blog, which was her own idea, and not a class requirement…  (Phoebe is in the 9th grade here in my intro to photography class).

Phoebe has recently changed blog sites, over on her old site Phoebe’s shares her pleasure at the arrival of a photobook:

Phoebe's book

yay! my book is finally here! i must say it’s not perfect but i really love it! i hope i get a good grade on this project. i’ve been waiting for this book for a while and now it’s finally here. can’t believe i have my own book 🙂 the page order got a little messed up thou. but i still love it 😀

This reminded me of a group of pupils at Hebburn Comprehensive who I spoke to last term, they had been working with writer Amy Mackelden and with her support written a book they were now publishing through Blurb – like Phoebe their joy at the thought of being published was infectious. The availability and relatively low costs of digital printing sites make them really useable in the classroom – the impact on both the motivation and self esteem for these pupils is very obvious.

Are we making enough use of these simple digital tools to support pupil attainment and help them share their successes? Note to self: remember how stimulating  it is for pupils to produce their work in professional formats – and build that into project design…