Such a ‘cool’ day of lessons…www.virtual-emotions.nl

If you work in education you are often all too used to being in the centre of attention during your lessons. It’s fantastic when the chance comes along to take a back seat and just watch. Today was just such a day for me. It was an unusual in other ways too, in fact not a day of normal lessons at all really, instead a day of workshops for my groups of fifteen and sixteen year old pupils in the context of our broad art and culture lessons. The workshops formed a part of a series of lessons that focus on the role of new technologies in the cultural world and artists and creative people who are involved in this area. We spent time looking at the design work of Daan Roosegaarde for instance, a creative and experimental designer who leans heavily on new technologies in his work.

For examples of Roosegaarde’s work and a film about his activities follow this link.

Seeing and thinking about such work, and discovering a little about the personalities behind it, can be a real eye opener for a teenager. However in terms of engagement it is no secret that actual direct involvement and participation can be a fantastic learning experience, which brings me back to today’s workshops.

The workshops were provided by Edwin and Frans Jan from www.virtual-emotions.nl. It’s not so easy to describe what they do, but let me try. With the help of a camera, a computer an area of a classroom is scanned continuously. The computer senses movement within this area and throughout this zone various sounds are located. By moving the sounds are activated and the degree and type of movement effects the volume and other qualities of the sounds.

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In effect, by moving your body and being expressive with your arms, hands and legs, you ‘play’ the space like it is your musical instrument. Stand still, and slowly all sound fades away. This is about movement and making music, it shouldn’t be confused with dancing, in fact it is kind of the reverse of dancing. With dancing the music comes first and we move as a reaction to the music, with virtualemotions the movement is the trigger that creates the music.

It was fascinating to watch pupils tentatively enter the space and discover the effects of even the smallest movement. I hadn’t anticipated just how far outside the comfort zone this was going to be, particularly for the boys. It was strange, and in a way a little disorientating, but as the penny started to drop and some in the class started to see just what the possibilities were, the class slowly loosened up and started to let go.

Having initially had a go in the space individually the pupils started to use the space in groups of two or three, allowing interactions between them to start taking place, again fascinating to watch how the pupils succeeded (or not) in working with one another.

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We can offer offer our pupils many creative activities at school. But today’s workshops were something genuinely different. Interestingly the pupils who play a musical instrument or have had dance lessons didn’t necessarily seem to be at an advantage. The ones who thought and listened carefully to the consequences of their actions were ultimately the ones who achieved most. Such alert self awareness is definitely a skill that we should stimulate in all areas of education!

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Guessing your future…the unexpected happens

The fourteen and fifteen year olds that I teach are in the process of starting to think about their so called ‘profile choices’, the point in their journey through secondary school where they can drop a few subjects and possibly choose one or two new ones.

In the Dutch contFullSizeRender(8)ext where I teach, it is a relatively small range of possibilities that they select from, at the end of it all they still have a timetable with between eight to ten different subjects. As far as future university studies or career choices are concerned a great many options are still open with such a broad knowledge base. Yet somehow the message that seems to settle in the minds of the pupils, partly through the input that they get from school and partly from family and friends, is that even at this early stage they are stepping onto the rails that will lead them to their future chosen career.

I have to admit to having some problems with the system that creates the impression within the minds of the pupils that they are somehow choosing a future career at the age of fifteen. This degree of certainty is something of an illusion, there are so many twists and turns on the educational road ahead, coupled with the fact that the nature of work and employment is in such flux, that many jobs and employment opportunities of the future are unimaginable to us when viewed from the present.

But actually my bigger problem with the message that seems to be getting through to the pupils choosing their subjects for next year is that every choice should be related to simple career perspectives. Choosing a subject because (a) you simply enjoy it or (b) it may contribute to your development as a person or even (c) because it allows you to use skills you seem to have that other subject areas ignore all are largely ignored in the whole process.

Neither education or life are linear processes where everything fits so neatly into one career game plan. It is an illusion to think that it should. In addition to this education should be seen as a more holistic process. We have a role to play in shaping the individual and creating balanced and broad minded citizens for the future. We need to value and nurture the variety of skills our young people have, encourage them to use and develop them all. Our educational systems have a tendency to value only academic development, neglecting the social, creative and expressive.

Almost as if to illustrate the way in which career choices in the real world have a tendency to twist and turn in unexpected ways I listened yesterday to a talk given by an ex-pupil of our school to the very same pupils I had been talking to about their selection of subjects to earlier. She left the school some twelve years ago to study law at the nearby University of Tilburg with ideas in mind to become a criminal lawyer, as she put it herself, “like you see on the tv!”. However, due to people she met and elements of the courses she followed her interests started to broaden and take her focus to unexpected areas. She has now worked for the Dutch ministry of Defense and NATO, being particularly involved in projects that focus on the place of women and children in lands that have been effected by conflict and has taken her to various places including extended placements in Afghanistan.

Lipstick, powder and paint….and abstraction

I’ve been working on a project that focuses on abstraction with my third years (15 year olds). The direction of the various parts of the assignments touch on a number of issues such as design principles, dynamics in an image, colour and draws a parallel with the abstract nature of music.

Some years I have made three dimensional work during this project, but this time round I have chosen to focus on the two dimensional image and try and push the creativity of the pupils as far as I can using simply drawing materials. As we near the end of the project (and the school year), I am certainly not unhappy with the results and the pupils themselves seem to be feeling a sense of achievement, certainly when they see the work they have made grouped together.

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I’ve been also trying to encourage the class to mix up the materials, look for interesting combinations, get the class to ask themselves ‘what else can I use?’. For the most part I had in mind a little collage in combination with the more obvious pencil or pen work. But as the photo here shows this has extended to some of the girls reaching inside their bags and pulling out the make-up and working the pearlescent and metallic colours into the design. I’d been showing plenty of Frank Stella’s work in the build up to the project, that may have influenced some of their choices. I’m sure he would approve!

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