A little inspiration, a lot of hexagons, and plenty of rolls of the secret weapon – brown paper tape – resulted in the spectacular constructions you can see in the images above and below. Mark Barrett, a teacher at Llanishen Fach primary school and one of our Art Champions, and his pupils created these fantastic planets as part of a summer term project. Read on to find out how.
Mark has been teaching at Llanishen Fach primary school for 18 years. Over the years he’s been responsible for a range of subjects, but a skills audit by the headteacher five years ago led to Mark specialising in Art the following year.
What do you do at Llanishen Fach?
“I currently teach art across the school as a specialist teacher, and I cover Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time teaching art.
“We have a designated art room and teachers come along to maintain their skills base or upskill them. They get a timetabled period where they work alongside me, so we do team teaching of the art I’ve planned, and then they also deliver some of the art curriculum, so they still do teach art.
“We’re currently very strong on visual arts, but looking to the future and the changes to the curriculum, we want to deliver a broader range of arts.”
Can you tell me about your Planet Project?
“The year 2 teachers who were looking for a context for their summer term teaching. They started with a book called ‘The Aliens are Coming’ by Colin McNaughton. He introduces, in rhyme, the weird and wonderful members of an alien fleet determined to conquer Earth but in the end they turn around and go back to their home planet. We decided to look at what would happen if the aliens had actually arrived.
“Year 2 teachers integrated the project into their curriculum and as the arts person I was looking for different ways to get involved. They came up with the idea of creating alien homes, and then we thought, by making the planet, we could fix the homes onto it, and have cities of alien dwellings. This involved creative writing, literacy and numeracy, creative thinking in working out how the aliens were going to get back home, team working and problem solving and much more.”
How did you make the Planet?
“We created a Buckyball, which is a cage-like structure that looks like a football and is made up of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons.
“The children made alien dwellings and glued them on to the planet. They brought in cardboard boxes and we opened them all up and reversed them the so printed surfaces were on the inside, and the children painted them.
“They then combined these different boxes and cylinders – there’s lots of maths going on here – and painted them to create a dwelling of their choice. Then they stuck them onto the planet. You had homes upside down, and had children lying on the floor and up on ladders sticking the houses on! Then once the houses were stuck on, they painted the land and sea around the planet.
“Because we had a designated room, groups of 15 children would come in for an hour at a time – to maintain their concentration levels. We worked on it for two weeks, and even invited their parents or carers in to see it.
“We’re now doing a reprieve of it, creating another one for Rhiwbina Festival, and this time working with older children and they’re making the planet themselves.”
What was the timetable for completing the work?
“I was able to work with the year 2 teachers and pupils for two weeks, and got to be with them when they were doing maths or science or geography.
“Initially, before we started, I got the year 6s involved, working on calculating the length and the sides of the hexagons and pentagons. We looked at how you calculate the circumference of a sphere, and we used the maths of that to work out the dimensions of the globe. It worked perfectly!”
How do you get your inspiration?
“It’s about going beyond what seems reasonable. I like to push the limits, not doing the obvious, thinking what could we do, and go further.
“My original idea was to get paper lampshades with wire spirals, and put papier-mâché over the top. When I couldn’t get hold of any, I realised I had to make a sphere, and I researched it, and thought, why limit the size, let’s make a massive one everyone can contribute to.
“It’s a bit like JFK, who said we went to the moon not because it was easy but because it was hard! We do a lot of that – not being complicated for the sake of it, but so there’s a bit of ‘Wow’ in it. Children need to remember things, you want them to remember milestones, and have fond memories of their time in school.”
What do you think the children got out of it?
“It gave real value to their work. Rather than being something they could take home to show their parents or carers, this was large and their parents or carers came in to see it. I made a film and used The Planets music by Gustav Holst, and went on Instagram so the children could share it with their family members. It gave them a chance to have real pride, and have it valued and seen.”
How does it link with the new curriculum and creative learning approach?
“There are lots of opportunities for independent working (creating the homes), co-operative working (deciding where to put the homes), and exploring ideas through creativity. The project as a whole has lots of links with cross-curricular working. They did some videoing themselves, there were links to the Literacy and Numeracy framework – speaking and listening, creative writing about the aliens and their homes, maths (a lot of measuring and calculations), and lots of art skills were involved such as the use of colour, shape, combining shapes, and 3D working.”
Do other teachers learn things they can then carry on in school afterwards?
“Definitely, because they work alongside me, and see the kinds of strategies I use. Teaching art is about a particular way of managing the classroom which everyone can learn from. Making choices about materials, how they’re organised in the art room, giving children a much broader range of resources so that they can develop their ideas in a variety of different directions and have some say over what their work is going to look like. The year 2 Teaching Assistants went away and built a spaceship in their classroom and used the cardboard construction idea, using gummed paper tape.
“An art room has a different atmosphere to other school rooms, which is conducive to creativity. And if you can get that in an English lesson, that’s got to be a good thing
“We get young people engaged and working very quickly, then as the teacher you go and talk to them about what they’re doing. There’s lots of room for questioning, for what ifs, and there’s some quite demanding questioning going on in the art room. Maybe other subjects are kind of factual, and you get trapped into questions that are quite factual, but art is more about opinions and feelings, which is quite different.”
Has anything changed as a result of this new kind of learning?
“The children’s art is much better than it used to be. The thing that’s changed is that art in school is very individual. Although we work on tight projects, I have this rule: if children can’t recognise their own piece of work they’ve failed. They need to have really got stuck in and for it to be memorable for them. If you hold a piece of art up, they can not only say if it’s theirs, but also who else’s.
“You need to give pupils the opportunity to show you what you can do – once you do, they do some do amazing things.
“Everyone’s work is valued. At the end of every lesson we talk about everyone’s work, and select pieces of work and say what we like and what people could have done differently. The focus is always not whether it’s a brilliant picture of a sheep skull, but have they used the skills we were concentrating on that week, and how well have they applied the skills? It’s important to have some critical reflection which is linked to they’ve been learning – the learning objective and the success criteria.”
What are your top tips: what can people learn from you?
- Think about what skills you want the children to learn. Decide on the skills, decide on what you’re going to give the children to start with, but try to avoid having your mind set on what it’s going to end up looking like.
- Give the children choice. They made choices about the scale in which they worked and they did abstract work. One used a 50cm square piece of paper and another used a 10cm square piece of paper, so the children were making choices about all sorts of things from the size of the paper, paint, or pencils. Not everyone does a painting necessarily, unless painting is the skill. But once they have the skill they need an opportunity to apply that.
- My practical top tip is – brown paper tape! The way we joined the models we made was using gummed brown paper tape. Sellotape is difficult to paint on, and the material below it can show through. Brown paper tape solves that problem and it produces a really strong join. My other tip is to suspend the rolls from the ceiling on string, so it doesn’t drop in any water, otherwise it’s ruined!
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