Opening cupboards, opening minds

Starting the second year in your new school is like touring an old neighborhood you used to live in – ah yes, here is where I get these items, this is where I found comfort, this is where we had fun etc. Or the opposite feelings too; like my feelings about these grey cupboards. Ah grey cupboards, my old friends – so many secrets, so many hidden treasures, so difficult to access!

IMG_3700In my pursuit of open-ended-what-on-earth-is-this-going-to-look-like-units (I am sure there is a fancier name for this). I did not know what materials my students needed, they didn’t know either. As the briefs opened up, students designed individual, very different and very exciting plans for their artworks. This started happening:

“Ms Anna do you have?” – Ah, maybe… let me check, I have this size and this size… not big enough huh? Let me check this cupboard…

“Ms Anna where is?” – I think its on the left top shelf under the… no the other side, no the other way, actually its in the other cupboard, wait a moment I’ll come and look…

Multiply these questions by about 160 students – arghhhhhh! These cupboards were hindering the creative process.

Students need free access to materials, they need to touch and feel the properties of the materials and their possibilities, they need to mix and match, test and make mistakes, create the unknown… the materials themselves are invitations to play (by the way, Early Years teachers, you know more than all of us!) and experiment. Enter in our “stations”.

These have only been up and running for four weeks now and I have already seen a dramatic increase in ownership, the art sketchbook as a tool to document process, sharing of ideas amongst students (I’m learning new ones too!), curiosity and delight. I love watching students dart across the room mixing and matching materials. Painters are blending wet materials in ways they never had before, constructors are working with three dimensional materials in a new ways I have not seen either. Flip it around, those students who cannot let go of their love of markers are freely exploring other materials with a low-stakes, see what happens environment. My students are artists and they are working the art studio like an artist does. They come in and pick up right off where they left and its so rewarding to watch! For all parties involved, even my wonderful assistant said “Ms Anna I was a bit worried about putting all these materials out, I thought they would go to crazy but its really nice”.

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