From Education Project Manager & Artist Educator Aidan Adams
Preserve time for open exploration when introducing a new material in the classroom. The opportunity to play, explore and review its properties can lead to a greater understanding of its applications in creating works of art, and in the wider world.
1. Create a verb list
When planning for the first session, have a think about the options presented by the material. Artist Richard Serra makes work by creating a verb list. He takes any material in his studio and writes a list of verbs of what he can do to that material. Then he tries them out to see what happens. It can be as simple as: Fold, crush, twist, cut, join…
Set the material up in the classroom, with a different provocation on each table, giving pupils 5-minutes to create a response using their given verb. Rotate the groups across each table so that they have the chance to manipulate the material in different ways.
Ask pupils to volunteer their own ways of working to be added to the verb list.
2. Explore its sensory properties
Sensory play can be a really effective tool for deeper engagement with a material. Its benefits extend beyond EYFS - and subsequent learning and discoveries can lead to a greater intention when approaching making stages of a project.
Transforming the classroom into a sensory space can enable pupils to begin to apply their knowledge of a material and start to think of ways in which it might affect their surrounding environment.
Divide the classroom up into five distinct spaces, taking care to include interesting objects or features within each. Link each of the spaces with one of the five senses - this will determine how pupils work with the material in the space.
Materials will naturally evoke certain senses - whilst others you will need to model and demonstrate ways in. Focus on using the material to change the understanding around it or another object – often this problem-solving element can be shared with the class - and encourage them to look at things in a different light.
See below a few example provocations from materials-led projects:
- Touch - recreate an interesting texture or surface found in the classroom.
- Sight - create a work of art that (partly) obscures an object or space near you.
- Hearing - use the material to make (or complement) a sound.
3. Play, Make, Evaluate
Often the ideas that have been generated will provide a platform for larger projects. Pupils will be better able to thoughtfully engage with a brief having examined the infinite possibilities around a material.
And make sure to continue to interrogate your findings at each stage of the process. Encourage pupils to critically reflect on their progress and share moments of magic with the group. Philosophy for Children (P4C) provides a useful structure for enquiry and the exploration of ideas.