Session One: Space, Space & More Space

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Monday 14th November 2016

Artist: Helen Barry /Teacher: Sharon Smyth

Having initially popped up to say hello to the school a couple of weeks ago I am still amazed at the size of this classroom. It is without a doubt the biggest classroom I have ever been in. To give you a size of scale there are 30 children in the room and if asked to hide in the corner as a group it would be possible not to the see them! Even the ceiling is heading out to outer space.

St. Raphaela’s is an all girls school. The 30 children are in Senior Infants and they will turn 6 and 7 years over this academic year. Their teacher Ms Smyth’s brief was ‘I would like the children to do something that they would normally never do in the classroom’ – We are going to have so much fun together.

A core theme of my practice explores learning about learning. In previous collaborations with early ears children in Junior Infants and Senior Infants I have used the pedagogical tools used in the classroom and different ways. On my initial visit I had noticed that the children had been exploring ideas of the planets and space. As an initial introductory workshop I decided to use this as our theme. I arrived with lots of different materials all on a large scale to match the scale of the classroom. My collaborative work with children relies heavily on my eves dropping on their conversations as they work. I have found getting the class to work in pairs or in small groups. This demands that they discuss their ideas together and understanding that that working in groups supports building on a big scale. I am a sculpture and a kinesthetic learning both influence how and what we do together.

We pushed back all of the desks and gave ourselves as much room as possible. I unraveled the long rolls of metallic insulation foam I had brought with me and invited the children to create spaces and move about. The foam is fantastic to work with being sturdy it holds it shape well. It’s height added a further playful element being almost head height with the children. I wanted the children to start to think in three dimensional in relation to their own shape and size. One of the children mentioned walking on the ceiling in my initial visit and it really got me thinking on how we could play around with gravity. That gave me the idea to build a rocket ship: But we of course had to design it first.

In small group the children got to work designing a rocket ship. We took a look at some of the materials I had brought with me and they selected some interesting white polystyrene shapes as our basic starting point. I talked to the children about the roll of the designer, the makers and the engineers. The astronauts would be involved at a much later stage……..

I was really quite taken with how the children worked in small groups. Naturally some groups found this task a little more challenging than others but overall they discussed their deigns in great detail with each other. I think working on very large sheets of paper on the floor was something they liked also. After each group had completed their designs they presented them to the whole class. After much debate they identified key parts of each teams that would work well together. Before finishing our first session together I set the class a couple of tasks and looked forward to working with this group and Ms Smyth again.

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