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Monday, July 24, 2006

End of Year: informal report

Looking back this has been a good year for art in bucks. I managed to see about 12 exhibitions and am full of admiration for the quality of work students are doing. It was good to see so much strong (and often large) drawing and painting. Some superb figure and portraiture work with references to Jenny Saville and Lucien Freud. Often this work has an intensity and honesty which is very moving as students use their art to genuinely explore ideas about themselves and the world.

It seems that the use of digital camera's and art software has now come of age and most shows contained students' works which showed confidence in the use of digital imaging as a means to explore, record and develop ideas. To a certain extent this has meant that images are very often informed by photographs that students have taken and processed (cropped, coloured, filtered) themselves. Often students will also work over coloured printouts with traditional media.

This year also saw the first cohort through the digital art GCSE course at Chalfonts Community College. This work was intelligent and funny and often drew directly from the cultural references of the students themselves. Animations which originated from video captured by mobile phones, for instance. Another thing that occurs to me is the coming of age of Specialist Arts Colleges. The exhibitions this year showed how the curriculum offer has been successfully extended and widened and how courses in endorsements such as graphics, theatre design, textiles, photography are based on real expertise and experience. These courses are now showing the fruits of the real efforts by teachers to develop these courses and extend their experience and repertoire. We should recognise, value and find ways to share this expertise if we can. The year also provided an opportunity to host a national BECTA course for teachers at Chalfonts Community College and this also broke new ground. We moved beyond Photoshop to work which included animation and digital sculpture. The course provided an opportunity for 14 teachers to exhibit their work in public in the Waddesdon Manor Wine Cellars.

This weekend festival was very successful. It included over 2,000 pupils in performances of art, dance, drama and music. We have convinced Waddesdon Manor that schools can deliver sufficient content to fill the stages, grounds, marquees and buildings of this most impressive venue in Buckinghamshire. As a consequence this is likely to be an annual showcase for the arts and for schools. A brilliant result.

During the event slide shows or work from many schools were shown projected onto the brick walls of the wine cellars - it looked fantastic and people stayed for up to an hour to watch the show of over 200 images. Next term I will be pleased to add this to the other work I have tried to gather and share with schools. (thanks to those schools who were able to send images for this exhibition) Thanks also to Marc Berrett and Greg Hodgson for all their work making this event successful.

In the last week of term some Bucks teachers and I were involved in a QCA working party to review the proposals for a new programme of study for KS3 to be introduced for 2008. Another Bucks teacher worked with art advisers at the British Museum to share how we are begining to explore the opportunities to extend and enrich learning presented by the Bucks VLE. This enables us to share ideas through the internet and web conferencing between schools and artists. Bucks teachers are also presenting at an international conferfence for users of MOODLE (our VLE) during the holiday.

The most exciting thing, however, is the widening circle of colleagues begining to work together across schools and phases of education. This is happening through the network of AST's and Specialist Arts Colleges. This group is increasingly taking responsibility for CPD and for networking. This 'Arts Team' is begining to make a real impact. All in all Bucks teachers and schools are making a name for themselves and I am proud to be able to recommend the work we are doing in Bucks.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Developing Creativity

Recently I spent an afternoon working with Advanced Skills Teachers talking about creativity. The intention was to establish a common vocabulary and set of reference points. It was also to begin a discussion about how AST's might work strategically with each other and with the authority to develop creativity in schools. In the event there was little time to develop a discussion and evaluations (rightly) noted that those present had not had any time to discuss the issues raised.

This is for them. Blogs are new to me but it seems interesting to see if they provide an opportunity for easily sharing ideas and to continue a debate begun at face to face meetings. If so it will be a useful way to sustain discussion following professional development courses, among other things. I should note that this blog is an attempt to research the use and value of this medium for professional debate. This blog is not openly published and is only available if people have the URL. It is also a personal project.

In my presentation I said that, AST's, it seems to me, are particularly important people. They are the people who are inventing and testing the next generation of pedagogies. They are the champions of innnovation because they have credibility based on their day to day practice in their own classrooms. We explored the role of AST's as 'champions' who are prepared to develop innovative practice as well as the role they have as mentors and supporters of other teachers. We noted that some of the time available to them can be, and has been, legitimately devoted to developing their own skills and innovative practice. If they can not pursue innovation who can?

In our meeting we explored the concept of AST's modelling creativity and working with other AST's to explore new practice. For instance, AST's for art and mathematics developing and testing ideas together. We also noted that the loosening hold of QCA 'units' on the curriculum and the evolution of local distinctiveness is an opportunity for AST's to develop and promote new curriculum units and resources. Again if AST's don't do this who will? However, we did not explore what this might mean in practice and this was a missed opportunity - hence this blog.

For instance some ideas might be:
  • AST's developing and publishing exemplar material illustrating creativity in teaching and learning. In this case the modells of practice would be undertaken inn their own school. The material could be written up in AST time.
  • AST's working together to develop curriculum plans and resources (within subjects and across subjects)
  • AST's working with advisers and consultants to develop creative practice.
  • AST's promoting creativity in their work with other schools - perhaps developing a repertoire or menu of skills and practice that schools might opt for.
We would welcome the comments of those at the meeting and the opportunity to see if a blog is a useful way to pursue professional debate. We understand that this can not replace personal contact and we hope to pursue the idea of a focussed seminar about creativity next term.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Beyond Photoshop

Usually ICT in art lessons means Photoshop or one of the other image editing packages. The big advance in recent years has been the move from 'bitmaps' to layers, transparency and effects. It has involved the development of ICT as an essentialy collaging medium rather than a medium for directly generating art imagery. The ubiquity of digital camera's, or mobile phones, as they are often called, has dramatically changed the way first hand images are researched and recorded. the advent of Flickr points to ways in which collaborative work can be done between groups who have no social or geographical connections.
Next steps may be to explore the way that images can be used in the environment. It may be that the widespread availability of digital projectors in schools will enable students' digital art to take on new forms embracing sculpture and installations used in contemporary art but seldom in classrooms. For instance, images and animations can be projected onto other surfaces and images - thus doing in the real world what Photoshop has been doing in the virtual environment for some time. However, it is instant and does not require many hours spent wrestling with software.
Work in the last month with both primary and secondary teachers has involved experimenting with ways of using digital projections to create sculptures and installations. The latter involving sound as well as animation. This provides a new and powerful aesthetic vocabulary as the digital projections bring images into the real world which are big (projecting onto walls enables the use of scale in ways impossible previously) and subtle as the quality of the image gently modifies the objects or spaces it is projected onto. Installations by teachers and pupils have been exhibited and transformed the old victorian vaulted brick wine cellars at Waddesdon manor providing an environment of animation, sound, light and colour which was genuinely innovative and powerfully expressive.