Mini Beasts with P1 at West Park School

A case study by Lorna Campbell who was part of the 2018 Collaborate//Educate cohort along with class teacher Heather Moreton

I am a visual artist with a socially-engaged practice. I believe we are all creative beings and that creativity is vital for our well being. I work with a range of media (drawing, print making, collage sculpture, photograph & video) in response to the subject and group with whom I am working.

The intended learning of our session was:

  • To explore the mini beast topic using creative expression.
  • To develop imagination.
  • To stimulate curiosity and problem-solving skills.

In terms of content, learning covered:

  • Diversity: variety and being different is positive and can help survival.
  • Anatomy and movement: recognising body parts and their function, understanding specialist behaviours can evolve.
  • Habitat: awareness of different environments and why mini beasts choose them.

Each pupil designed and constructed a unique mini beast model, using paper sculpture. We followed 3 steps, each starting with an artist’s ‘how to’ demonstration. Later, pupils chose a habitat for their finished mini beast, installing them on a painted ‘habitat mat’ and outdoors in the school grounds.

In planning, the teacher and artist exchanged information about our work practices and environment. We learned we could trust each other professionally as our skills sets were complimentary and we discovered an exciting synergy as we came to the topic from different perspectives. We had to consider what was realistically achievable in a single afternoon session when, and the pupils ability levels e.g. co-ordination, dexterity, when we got excited about ambitious ideas.

We agreed respective roles as below based on our mutual skills set, our confidence with the subject matter and our relationship with the children.

The artist’s role:

  • to design and prepare the creative activity, including types and quantity of materials and equipment required.
  • to introduce and lead the activity on the day.

The class teacher’s role:

  • to introduce the class to the theme of minibeasts prior to the session. The pupils drew pictures of their minibeasts following discussion about body parts, then wrote a description of their minibeasts.
  • to manage the start and finish time of the session.
  • to manage class behaviour and differentiation of support needs.

Prior to arriving, the artist needed to know:

  • age range and size of class
  • the normal structure and timing of the school day
  • additional support needs & staff available for support
  • photos of classroom space were really helpful to envisage logistics of the session
  • equipment and materials available at the school e.g. scissors, Sellotape etc
  • that the children had been primed to expect a visiting artist

The pupils engaged with the activity by watching the demonstrations and responding to questions, by choosing different colours and textures of materials and enthusiastically making their models. They talked about their own mini beast and what it could do, listened to each other and held their models in the air to move or fly.

The children were excited, laughing and talking about their creations. They found their own solutions when things didn’t work exactly as in the demonstration or they asked for help when stuck; they invented new possibilities e.g. extra pair of wings, unequal numbers of legs of each side, multiple eyes, creative antennae; some pupils helped others who were stuck.

This project enabled the teachers and the pupils to experience art as a way of thinking, a learning approach to use across the curriculum, rather than as an isolated subject – ‘art for art’s sake’.

As an artist, my key learning through this project was:

  • Skills of teachers and artists are very complementary.
  • Collaborative working is rewarding and satisfying for all parties.
  • Almost any learning topic can be approached in fresh ways using art and creativity.
  • Children are very responsive to materials and, given a framework to guide them, are naturally creative.
  • It is very important to pre-plan a clear process which offers some flexibility, as once the activity starts it is intense with demands coming from all directions!

In inviting a guest artist to class, it is useful for teachers to consider:

  • What specific learning goals you want the children to achieve from a creative session?
  • Asking one or two different types of artists what they could offer in response to these goals?
  • Which areas of the curriculum may benefit from creative input? e.g. where it is hard to engage children and they require stimulation or it is hard to retain focus for long
  • Are there creative activities you would like to try but lack confidence without artist input?

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