Global Goals with p 5/6/7 at Danestone School

A case study by Cat Hotchkiss who was part of the 2018 Collaborate//Educate cohort along with class teacher Lynn Greenwood

As part of the Collaborate//Educate project in 2018 I worked with Lynn, a NQT primary 5 teacher in a local Aberdeen school. Together we brought an art project about sustainable production and consumption to a group of three P5-7 classes, but not before it grew arms and legs.

Lynn’s classroom is more open plan than your average – made up of four quadrants – so when she introduced her initial thoughts to the Collaborate//Educate group it immediately caught my attention. Lynn wanted to include the other classes partly to involve, rather than disturb them from the bustle of children making-and-doing, but she was equally keen to share the creative learning process in a wider sense with her school. As a textiles graduate Lynn saw the value in creative and exploratory learning and was keen to make time for this in her classroom more explicitly.  This was a 5 week programme that we both designed together, the intention was that I would be involved in delivering  the first sessions and Lynn and the other class teachers would continue the project.

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My ‘art practice’ lies between creative organising and facilitation (although I studied painting and printing I do not practice either as a craft), and so bringing a big group activity together appealed to me. I had previously curated a primary and jr. school art festival in South Wales, and I joined the Col/Ed project for more hands on, in-classroom experience.

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After a few sessions of discussing the curriculum for excellence and the significance of creative learning, our group of artists and teachers were assigned partnerships. Lynn and I formed an immediate plan by deciding on the topic and roughly outlining how the workshop would run. Being face-to-face for this initial exchange meant that we quickly gained clear parameters to work within. Something that clearly helped establish trust and good communication was exchanging contact information, availability and assigning actions for moving the project forward. This meant it was clear who was doing what and what our expectations and flexibility could be. The next time we would speak was for a video-call of the classroom quadrants and to bring ideas together.

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Due to the breadth of the topic we both left the meeting with a framework but lots of research to do in order to coordinate the session. We ambitiously decided to share materials which made us think about sustainable production and consumption but being busy a ‘mood board’ idea didn’t come together. Instead I researched the teaching tools available for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals- this having inspired our theme- and progressed practical ideas to bring to Lynn. I was thinking about the ways in which a circular, sustainable economy (as opposed to a linear, wasteful one), could inform the structure of the workshop groups that four classes would be split into. The creative activities could feed into each other and be built upon so that the focus was not on producing individual art works but collaborative making, ensuring that there would be space for personal creativity. One of the Collaborate//Educate leaders introduced me to the Mantle of the Expert, a teaching approach developed by Dorothy Heathcote, which inspired the ‘responsibilities’ we then assigned to each group: they would act as architects, designers, authors, and city planners in building a model future city-scape.

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Seeing the classroom through a video call helped gain a sense of the space available for wet play as well as possible limitations – if Lynn wanted to build the project over 5 weeks, storage would be a consideration. An installation of buildings and fabrics couldn’t be left out and added to, it would need to be modular and put together in the final week. I decided to visit the school as it felt helpful to first meet the children that my workshop would be engaging with. Visiting would also normalise for them me being in their space and allow for a follow up face-to-face planning meeting. I also wanted to meet the other teachers participating in the project, as they would be leading a group each during the workshop. I would only be there for the first week of what would be a 5-week project, so it was essential that the staff were fully on board with our plans and had a moment to feed back any ideas of their own, or voice any foreseeable issues. Seeing how the school day worked really helped practical considerations of the real-life time available for the workshop.

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Lynn drew up a lesson plan with learning objectives and went through this process with me so that when approaching future school groups my processes and outcomes could be sympathetic to the curriculum aims, and the way teachers work.

I have found observing & experiencing the parameters teachers work within essential to considering ways of circumnavigating them; creative learning is essential because it can differ from other forms of pedagogy, but ‘art’ classes are often limited by the schooling system. One thing Collaborate//Educate was excellent for was for creating a dialogue between artists and teachers about how this exploratory type of learning could be catered for in the Scottish classroom. The Mantle of Expert is an interesting learning tool as it incorporates topic-based learning with real-life situations, creative-thinking and problem-solving.

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One lesson for me was the amount of flexibility that needs to be written into a workshop plan when working in a school. After drawing together the project one of the classes were unable to participate, leaving me with one less station to contribute to the final model-city installation. The initial aim was quite complex due to making accessible the dense subject matter and wanting to provide different activity stations for the groups to participate in each week, all of which would feed into a ‘circular economy’. We decided to mix the classes so that children from different years could work together, this also meant the expectations of participation had to be acutely flexible within each group. Another consideration was that the teachers, rather than myself, would be leading the groups so I had to ensure that my instructions were clear, but flexible to be interpreted as needed. I would have got a lot more out of the project if I had been able to return to the class every week and tweak each activity as the groups moved between them. Although I designed the plans for the stations, not having the opportunity to lead them left me wanting as much detailed feedback as possible from the teachers, something that was difficult because I was only in touch with Lynn. In future I would have wanted to trial all of the workshop ideas before providing instructions for other leaders to ensure they worked well in the allotted time scale.

 

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It was exciting have the sessions running over 5 weeks because it allowed the children to develop an idea of what to expect from their peers who would have taken part in other stations to them previous weeks. Lynn reported that the most engaged pupils ended up being a group of  ‘architects’, their greater input came through working on the buildings extra-circularly. This group were then given the responsibility to put together the final cityscape; my initial intention had been for this to be an activity engaged in by all pupils, but again this had to be flexible to the classroom dynamic.

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Pupils fed back that they enjoyed the activities and asked Lynn if it would happen again the following year. Teachers reported that it was good experience for the children working collaboratively on a art works, and across year groups. Lynn and I would agree that our biggest bit of learning was simplicity; a topic as large as production and consumption really required a whole term so that they could engage with it across subjects. As a one off workshop I would have taken the information of the introductory power-point and made that into the entire workshop. But to actually include the form of a circular economy into the making of the work- with the children moving between stations and contributing to a whole recyclable project- I think that required a deeper understanding which needed to come from outside the moment of ‘making’. It is really important to allow children time to be expressive, and because that freedom is often limited in school it would a priority for me in future art workshops to encourage this aspect of learning, beyond any other heavy content.

 

Cat Hotchkiss is a visual artist with a socially engaged practice.

catherinehotchkiss@gmail.com

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