As a Creative Agent for the Arts Council of Wales (see previous post), I’ve had the privilege of working with Year 8 and 9 pupils at Cefn Hengoed Community School, Swansea for the last 2 years.
Our projects were BUILD I and BUILD II.
BUILD I explored scientific and mathematical concepts through practical activity, individual learning and subject related experience. The pupils explored materials with the aim of designing and building structures in the school grounds. The project introduced pupils to architecture and contextualised themes traditionally delivered in the classroom.
Directed at a class of Year 8 pupils, with lower than average literacy and numeracy skills, they benefited enormously from a different style of teaching, and in particular the opportunity to be creative outside of the classroom.
The activities increased self -esteem, confidence and enjoyment in learning. Through cross-curricular collaboration, pupils were encouraged to recognise their creative skills, value their contribution and understand the relevance of the themes and practical application.
The project was launched at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea where they met Yasmin Al-Ani Spence: Wilkinson Eyre Architects, who were responsible for designing the building. She walked the pupils around the museum and talked to them about different aspects of design and architecture. Returning to school, Yasmin gave an inspirational presentation on her life and work as an architect.
BUILD days followed with Amica Dall and Dan Hallahan: Assemble Studios, who won the Turner Prize in 2015. They visited the school and engaged the pupils in practical challenges and activities relating to buildings, which incorporated scientific and mathematical principles. During this time, the pupils created structures from bamboo, and designed and made forms from concrete.
‘The students were enthusiastic throughout … as soon as we started practical work, things unfolded in a really positive, open way. We noted that quite a few of the girls in particular asked questions about professional training in construction and manual crafts towards the end of the second day, which was really great and I hope it offered some of them a new ways to factor in when thinking about their future’ (Amica Dall)
Dan and Yasmin re-visited the school at the end of the project to install the structures in the school grounds and to quiz the pupils about their learning experience.
The finished artefacts were amazing, and the concrete forms have become a permanent feature of the school garden. Most importantly, the process of learning was exceptional … the length of engagement of the learners, their willingness to change their attitude to learning and to try new ways of solving problems and tasks. The pride in the achievement of the pupils at the end of each session and the standard of work produced was outstanding.
I had no idea what I wanted to do after school and for a career. When Yasmin Al-Ani Spence gave her presentation, I realised I wanted to do something creative, possibly interior design or graphic design.
The project enabled me to trust others in my group. Before the project, I didn’t mix with all the people in my class. Since the project, I find it easier to work in teams. The project helped me to become more confident.
My Science teacher has adapted her teaching to our group. She’s more hands-on and wow she’s amazing!
I chose Engineering and Art & Design for my options. I thought it would be good to mix both creative and technical areas for a career. I want to go to college and the university to study Engineering. I also want to work abroad.
The aim of BUILD II was for learners to design and build a creative visual interpretation of a biological system, mapping the different stages and processes in an imaginary journey through the body.
Pupils selected 'The Digestive System' from their science topics and they created an innovative, factual story, showing the journey of food through the body.
The learners chosen to participate were a group of Year 9 pupils, middle ability and lacking aspiration. As Year 9 is an important year for choosing GCSE options, it was a good opportunity for this group to take part in the project, engaging them and broadening their outlook in terms of career choices and subject pathways.
The project, delivered by Scenic Artist, Beth Tearle and Animator, Sean Vicary was a highly organised series of practical workshops. Icebreaker activities and tasks relevant to the project were delivered on the first day and subsequent workshops challenged the pupils to research and design in teams, and create individual 2D and 3D artwork.
The outcome was a series of mobile stage building blocks to form a multiple sided wall with both paintable and projectable surfaces, and an animation of original 2D and 3D artwork to illustrate the digestive process.
Ensuring the learners maintained ownership over the project challenged both Beth and Sean. It stretched them to find ways to best engage the group, ensuring their ideas filtered from the design stage to the final outcome. The project provided an opportunity for Beth and Sean to collaborate and develop aspects of their respective practices in an educational environment. This proved a great success with a lively synergy emerging between the two disciplines, Scenic Art and Animation. The collaborative, cross-discipline way of working captured the imagination of pupils and enabled the production of large-scale creative work.
‘We wanted to find a way to re enthuse learners within this group, particularly some of the boys. Our aim was to raise their aspirations, demonstrate to them through practical, engaging, creative activities that there is meaning, and purpose that behind the less practical, more academic work they regularly take part in within the science and maths classroom. We wanted them to be able to work on something tangible that culminated in a visual outcome by utilising mathematical and scientific concepts and knowledge. The aim was for them to understand the relevance of these lessons; and as a result become more focused and have higher aspirations for themselves’. (Ruth James, Science Technician)
I loved our project, especially working on the animation, creating characters and drawing organs. The project showed us how tricky it was to do animation. I could take that job when I’m older … it was such fun.
The project was different to our normal lessons. We were more active and not stuck behind a desk. We worked as a team quite a lot and on our own. The project helped me to understand more about the organs and bacteria. I didn’t know there were so many millions of bacteria!
I really enjoyed the drawing exercise when we sat back to back. It really made you listen and concentrate hard. I like communication and teamwork and I especially like games with strategies like Yu-Gi-Oh.
The project was a huge success. The ‘fussy’ members of our class were calmer when they worked on the project. It’s because the work was active and more interesting and fun and they didn’t have to sit at a desk. In class they are usually fussy and talk a lot, which is annoying.
I worked well with the artists and learnt about their careers. They listened to all of us and gave advice. I would like to go to college now. Before the project I wanted to be a footballer … but I realise most boys want to do that when they are young. My dream job would be a Physicist or Scientist.