A case study by Vhairi Walker who was part of the 2018 Collaborate//Educate cohort along with class teacher Mr Wells
I’m Vhairi Walker a freelance photographer and artist based in Torphins, I graduated from Gray’s School of Art in 2012. I draw my inspiration for my personal photography work from the outdoors and the ever-changing landscape but am open to embracing all types of creative practice and have worked with organisations and groups including one to one sessions with young people, parent and infant groups and with people who have disability and mental health challenges. You can find out more about myself and my working processes online at…
Being involved in Collaborate//Educate allowed me to experience work within a school environment and work together with teachers and the curriculum. It allowed me to also gain knowledge about engaging with Primary school aged children which is something that really excites me and something I would love to do more of. I was paired up with Mr Wells from Skene Square Primary School and his Primary 3 class. They were going to be looking at African Animals for their project, with the aim of the project being to give an open-ended learning opportunity that would encourage creativity and individually.
before and after
The hardest thing during the planning stage was deciding exactly what we were going to do, we had African animals as a base, but our minds ran away on us with tangents of ideas, one even involving maths and a rap! We had to discuss time restraints and determine an activity that would not only engage the children but would also put our own creativity to good use and work within a very limited time frame. It has taught me to be more realistic and to try and reign in my ideas. We decided to make 3D animal face masks using junk, paper and paints and wanted to ensure that the main aim of this would be creative freedom for the children.
We had set up the materials for the children to use before the children had come into the classroom, so they would be excited from the off, I was introduced to the class after morning registration and started off with my presentation to discuss what we were going to do.
To make sure that we didn’t impose on their creativity or imagination it was decided that we wouldn’t have any examples on display that the children might copy and only to have a small presentation discussing techniques and a few images of different masks at the beginning of the session.
Mr Wells was responsible for putting the children into small groups and making sure the children remembered the classroom rules still applied during the activity, I had responsibility for keeping an eye on the time and progress of each group, answering questions and engaging with each group throughout.
The pupils were excited and had 10 minutes to decide what animal they were going to make and what materials they would need, they drew pictures and wrote down ideas on whiteboards. They then went and poured their own paint, glue and choose items they would need. This was great as they discussed who would get to do what and I felt gained independence from this task alone.
Realisation of just how little time we had became very apparent halfway through when the children went on their morning break and the creative carnage of the classroom was very evident, paint and materials everywhere, but also the most amazing creations!
Within a classroom environment I feel it could be difficult to get messy and let the children loose with their creativity, but the mess was also beneficial, they realised that they would be responsible for cleaning up the mess afterwards, but they didn’t mind as they had enjoyed the activity so much.
At the end of the session each group laid out their masks to dry on paper on the floor, no two masks were the same and the pupils had used such varied techniques to achieve their finished pieces the results were amazing. Full of colour and such imaginative uses of materials.
Reflecting on the session both myself and Mr Wells thought that a full day would have been more beneficial and a visit to the class the week before the session would have been helpful, so I could have met the pupils, they could meet me and so I would have known the classroom layout. I would have also displayed the materials for use in a more central location within the classroom for easier access. I would also take into consideration the time it took to initially gather materials and clean up after the activity. These are all useful things to think about for future work within schools.