Ice Road Trucker

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On Friday 3rd February 2012, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to combine my two great loves Caravans and Ice Road Truckers as I took my Moveable Museum of Found Objects on a very chilly adventure.

The destination was The Myle Cross Centre in Lincoln; the event was ‘Innovate and Inspire,’ the Lincolnshire Art and Design conference for KS1-KS5 Teachers. After waking up to snow, I braced myself for some extreme caravanning. I collected my co-pilot, we hooked up the museum and headed off with nervous anticipation.

My avid viewing of Ice Road Truckers: Worlds Most Deadliest Roads was put to good use once we reached Lincoln where the perils of snow were replaced by steep gradients, badly parked cars and speed bumps. I made the assent to the top of the city in second gear and with nerves of steel and a carefully controlled clutch. The final pre-conference challenge was a car park slalom where I negotiated a series of gates and manoeuvred the museum into place with the help of my ‘spotter.’

Once pitched up I switched into conference mode. During lunch the Moveable Museum was open for tours of We Found Art’s crowd sourced collection and a new photographic exhibition documenting our trip to The Bathing Beauties Festival in Mablethorpe.

After lunch I spoke about my work with Fulbridge School and its Caravan Gallery, the development of We Found Art and how I use social media to support creative learning in the classroom, (which led into a practical workshop using found materials).

The conference was exceptionally well organised and if I hadn’t been there to deliver I would have loved to have been able to participate in the interactive sessions. ‘Pimp your Lesson’ and ‘Up-cycled Fashion Wear,’ filled the conference hall with frenetic energy and an excited buzz, an atmosphere which luckily for me spilled over into the afternoon.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day and felt privileged to spend it with teachers who are so passionate about creativity. It was also reassuring to know that there are so many Lincolnshire schools that value creativity in the curriculum and clearly support their teachers learning.

Grateful thanks go to my Dad who was my Co-Pilot, Museum Assistant and Photographer for the day.

If you attended the conference I have put together a I Love Caravans Web Links pdf that you might find useful and you can see more photographs from the day here.


Waterloo Sunset

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I recently visited the Southbank Centre’s celebration of the 1951 Festival of Britain for the launch of its Schools of Creativity Pavilion.

The original Festival of Britain heralded the dawn of a new age of optimism. The post war era was a boom time for creativity, innovation and
idealism defined by the Declaration of Human Rights which stated ‘everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in the scientific advancements and its benefits.’

The Festival of Britain embodied these values with culture clearly identified as the fabric of civilised society. It was described as a ‘tonic for
the nation’ and after the Blitz and years of rationing British people were given the opportunity to celebrate their freedom uniting across class divides. The site itself was chosen to bridge the affluent areas North of the River Thames with the slums of the North symbolizing a ‘practical utopia.’

The more I read about the 1951 Festival of Britain, the more I wonder if it was like visiting the future. The sprawling site whose modernist
architecture was inspired by the Bauhaus principle of form following function was intended to present a new urban landscape. It included a dome of discovery with an ‘escalator to outer space and sky’ and its symbol, the Skylon, levitated in the air with no visible means of support.

Navigation was by foot and although the visitor could expect to see 50 murals and 30 sculptures by British artists including Barbara
Hepworth’s first public commission ‘Contrapuntal forms,’ they were just as likely to encounter a herd of jersey cows! I would heartily recommend a visit to the Museum of 51 at Royal Festival Hall to discover more.

The Southbank’s 60th anniversary of the Festival celebrates the exuberance and optimism of the original site. There is so much that I enjoyed from the urban sea side and its customised beach huts and bunting to the emotive voices of the Lion and Unicorn installation. I have captured my
best bits here in photographs.

The primary reason for my visit was to attend the launch of the Schools of Creativity Pavilion. The 1951 Festival had a series of ‘Pavilions’ celebrating all aspects of British achievement from agriculture and engineering through to education. The aspiration expressed in the New Schools pavilion was for all children to access the latest resources needed to learn. The Schools of Creativity Pavilion celebrates this legacy showcasing the positive impact of creative teaching and learning in British Schools.

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I am thrilled as Fulbridge School’s Creative Agent to have six of my photographs included in the exhibition which document our seaside project developed to encourage a life-long love of writing. 42 schools have been selected to show work and each presents
exemplary practice which is unique to the challenges of each setting.

Since visiting the Pavilion I have spent time reflecting on the future of creativity in English schools. The English education system is currently facing austerity and the Coalition Government will not be funding the Creative Partnerships programme beyond this academic year. The programme has worked with nearly 1.4 million children and over 125,000 teachers, delivering more than 8,500 projects in 5,800 schools which have involved nearly 9000 creative practitioners and arts organisations in England since 2002. Its positive impact on the UK economy, attainment and attendance in schools and parental engagement has been well documented.

My initial thought was to question whether we are celebrating the end of an era rather than looking towards an idealistic future. I may be naive but I don’t believe this to be true; as a Creative Agent the impact of the programme on my own professional development has been huge and just writing this blog is a result of CPD from CCE. I feel well equipped to face the future and I know that there is a critical mass of people including teachers, creative practitioners and young people who have embedded sustainable creative teaching and learning into their school’s curriculums and lives and will not be turning back.

The loss of CreativePartnerships will present a considerable challenge but will be the catalyst for many to develop more creative ways of being creative which has certainly been the case for me! I am passionate about learning, participation and the creative use of technology and have been liberated by the latter to explore new models of engagement.

Scan me!

My recent involvement in the QR-3D project is an example of this. The brief was intended for individual artists to create a 3D textiles QR code but I instantly saw the potential for a crowd sourced collaborative project. I chose to invest my time not in making but facilitating, engaging over 200 people in the effort.

I used the resources available to me; Matthew Brown a CP practitioner, gave up his time to help me create an instructional film with my Fulbridge School Mini-Agents. Individuals could watch the film online and make a postal contribution and schools and groups took part in session that I led. The piece involved making 1089 felt balls which would probably have taken me over 100 hours as an individual. I invested the same amount of time in the group effort but was able to promote the creative use of technology, teach felt-making skills and highlight the possibilities of collaborative working. I also enjoyed the process of creating the piece far more.

The future for creative teaching and learning in schools is going to be tough; there is no doubt about that. Maybe the key is to be open to, and seek out opportunities to collaborate through networks which engage and mobilize people into action. I have not worked out how to pay my bills and
feed my children yet but am excited by the new direction in my creative journey!

A Life Beyond Plastic: The Sequel

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Yesterday I had a joyous day with Fulbridge School celebrating their second year as a Creative partnerships School of Creativity. This year their programme has focused on developing more opportunities for active learning and child centred creativity in the Foundation Stage.

Karen Burton, Lucy Cawthorne and Clare Scott, the 3 reception teachers, have worked in partnership with creative practitioners Gizella Kate Warburton and Ian Etheridge since last September. They have been supported by monthly training sessions from the Mary Barlow and Barbara Thomas at the Totem Pole where they have explored a toolkit to embed the High/Scope approach into their practice.

Charlotte Krzanicki, the most energetic, motivated and inspirational Creative Co-ordinator I have ever worked with runs a tight ship. When I arrived at the school after an unscheduled tour of Peterborough, I stepped into a space filled with awe and wonder. Charlotte, Ian and Gizella had created a large scale reception class in the hall. The home corner was filled with the smell of fresh fruit and vegetables, there was a metallic story cave to explore with kaleidoscope torches and a construction area well stocked with wooden off-cuts and real tools.

I was happily banished to the outdoor area where I spent the day den building. Charlotte had allocated each class in the school a time slot to enjoy an interactive ‘show and tell’ with help from rotating groups of Reception children. Fulbridge hosts 700 pupils and 130 members of staff so this was a logistical triumph in itself! Throughout the day pupils visited the hall and outdoor area to find out about the project, meet the practitioners and most importantly play!

I worked with small groups of children to construct a den which linked into the introduction of story caves in the Reception classrooms. I was very conscious that the children would only have a taste of the activity so this is where I introduced some new technology. I was thrilled to be able to use my I-Pad to show the children my previous blog post which includes den building instructions. We looked at the photographs of each stage and discussed what had come before and what would need to be done to complete the process. Seeing the instructions, the children were all very keen to have a go with their teachers.

I loved the experience of seeing the children’s reactions as the construction grew. They made repeat visits enroute to P.E, at break times and at the end of the day to see how things were progressing. They solved problems, worked collaboratively, were sociable and made unexpected discoveries. Staff chatted excitably about how they could recreate the den as an Anderson shelter and parents used it as a chill-out zone with their toddlers.

A high point of the day for me was to meet Shakespeare Class who are prolific bloggers and regularly Tweet. They share my passion for social media and told me how blogging has had a positive effect on the quantity and quality of their written work. We crammed ourselves into the den and I introduced them to the We Found Art blog. It was a surreal moment. If anything in the world is possible, it’s possible at Fulbridge and I feel very fortunate to be part of their amazing creative learning journey.

Life Beyond Plastic


Today I have been at the National Early Years’ Conference, ‘A Life Beyond Plastic’ , an event organised by the Totem Pole , a unique Early Years training centre in Grantham, Lincolnshire. The whole day explored the benefits of giving young children real experiences.

Early Years consultant and trainer Mary Barlow explains: “In our manufactured world adults and children use plastic objects every day. These are very similar in many ways – they are often smooth and have no smell or taste.”

“By offering a wide range of objects that are not plastic – even something as simple as a bottle top or a fir cone – we enrich children’s learning by giving them open-ended experiences.”

Mary Barlow is the owner of the Totem Pole and an inspirational trainer. I had the fortune of being trained by her myself 7 years ago and her skilful facilitation of the High/Scope approach has had a huge and lasting impact on my practice. We have worked together many times over the years, co-developing and delivering training. More recently, I invited Mary to be an external partner of Fulbridge National School of Creativity and St Mary’s Change School where she has supported Reception Teachers and Creative Practitioners to develop a child centred creative approach in each setting.

My background as a creative practitioner is rooted in the early years. Highlights have included working as an Artist in Residence at Staniland Nursery in Boston, delivering training for Lincolnshire County Council’s Birth to Five Service and working with parents and children at SureStart centres across Lincolnshire. As well as the High/Scope approach, I have been inspired by the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia.

Today I have led a couple of breakout sessions creating tempoary environments; we have been den building! This is the reason for this post. The structure of our den was created in a very prescriptive way and introduced as an adult group activity. The idea was to create a frame, which if used in an early years setting, could be presented to the children as a space for them to develop through active learning experiences.

In the past this has been an effective activity to introduce the idea of developing spaces within a setting that respond to children’s interests but there has always been a downside! I tend to avoid instruction sheets as everyone has a different learning style and what makes sense to me doesn’t necessarily seem like logic to others! So here lies the challenge that I set myself today. I wanted to see if I could collaborate with the workshop participants to develop a set of mutually agreed instructions that could be posted here for all to access. The results are below and I am very grateful to Janet who volunteered to be our scribe.

To create a den you will need:

25 x 4 foot sturdy garden canes

50 plastic coated paperclips

Masking tape

Strong string


Lengths of lightweight fabric, curtains etc.


Unfold the paperclips into an ‘S’shape then attach one to each end of the canes with masking tape.  The paperclip should make a small loop, not a hook.

Lay 3 canes on the floor and arrange them into a triangle, tie each of the three corners together with string, leaving the string long.  Then attach the other two canes to one corner of the triangle (this will now be known as the top). You need to make five of these shapes.

By sliding the shapes on the floor, move and assemble them to make a pentagon (five sided shape) by pushing the bottom side of each triangle together. Then tie each of the corners of the pentagon together securely with the string.

Lift the point of the triangle off the floor and move one of the moveable canes to the left and attach it to the top of the adjacent triangle, with string.

Then lift the last of the moveable canes towards the centre, making a roof for the structure and tie them securely together with the string.

You can now add the magic and decorate your structure. Enjoy and have fun!!!! 

 If you attended today’s sessions you might be interested in the following blogs written by artists working with Reception aged children using a range of artforms:

Sarah Wakeford, Ian Etheridge, Rosie Ward, Gizella Kate Warburton.

If you are intending to do some den building in your setting, please report back by leaving a comment. I would love to hear how you and your children have developed your ideas, (Click on the speech bubble under the title of this post to open a comments box).

If you came to one of my sessions and didn’t experience Mark Whelan’s Forest School’s session, you might like to check out his website and his latest adventure St Georges Preparatory School.

A Year’s Worth of Learning


A year ago today I had an inkling that I had struck lucky. I had overcome the first challenge of the day by successfully finding where I was supposed to be going with all the confidence of a sniffer dog! A quick sweep of the training venue, the fabulous Wallace Space, revealed a kitsch 50’s style toilet with complementary smellies, a posh cafe providing a lavish breakfast (my second of the day) and the promise of a thai curry for lunch. All boxes ticked!

It was not what I was expecting however, and neither was the rest of the day. On 10th May 2010 with a keen mind and wearing a knitted tank top, I embraced new technology. I didn’t think that we’d make a good match but a year on, we are still going strong! We have connected through social media, slightly more competent IT skills and a love of digital innovation. On our first anniversary, it seems fitting to reflect on how what was initially a 100hr challenge has paid dividends and proved to be the most influential CPD opportunity in my career.

Why so? Well, I have recently been reading Charles Handy’s ‘Gods of Management’ and have discovered that I fit best into a Dionysian culture. Dionysian’s learn from life, by immersion and by new experiences. They can be difficult creatures to manage and Handy describes in a nutshell, their feelings towards self development: ‘Dionysians will resent any attempt by others, particularly an organisation, to plan their futures or to develop their abilities. They want opportunities, but demand the right to choose between them.’ Hmmm, approach with caution.

The training that I attended (led by Ewan McIntosh and funded by CCE) was elective, I wasn’t sent or made to go; I wanted to be there and I wanted to learn. Touch paper lit, I launched myself  like a rocket on a voyage of techno-discovery. Over the last year, through 365 hours+ of digital exploration rooted in social media my world has become more vibrant, challenging and fulfilling:

  • Twitter has given me access to an army of brilliant minds; I have posed questions, offered opinions, read research and been inspired by innovation on a daily basis (in 140 characters or less!)
  • WordPress  has encouraged me to reflect and document on what I do and why I do it, improved my IT skills and helped me to connect to the wider world
  • Facebook, Tumblr and Flickr hold the processes and products of my first online project and encourage collaborations and random encounters

Like a viral marketing campaign, my enthusiasm for social media has spread through my work. I have encouraged and supported teachers and creative practitioners through Creative Partnerships at Fulbridge School of Creativity and St Mary’s Change School to use blogs to reflect on and document their creative journeys. The quality and volume of blogged material has been overwhelming and creates a persuasive argument for the use of social media in the classroom.

My family have not escaped unscathed from the social media onslaught either! My 10 year old son Jude has become a competent blogger. Previously a reluctant writer, he will now happily write about places he’s visited and ‘stuff’ he’s done peppering his compositions  with slideshows of photographs he’s uploaded.

Embracing web 2.0 technology has enriched my life. What I am most surprised about is what I have learnt about the social meaning of creativity. I realize that I have only dipped my toe in the water but with a background in community based participatory arts I am hungry to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between making and sharing creative material online and doing it in the real world. This will keep me going for the next 365 hours at least and will be formally captured through my MA dissertation. I have just bought David Gauntlett’s ‘Making is Connecting’ and after I have cast Handy aside I think his discourse of how creativity, craft and community intersect I’ll be off on my next adventure!

If you haven’t taken a peek already, please do check out my online project ‘We Found Art’ and get involved. If you are reading this and we’re friends on facebook or you follow me on twitter, thank you for the companionship (and more) that you have contributed to my amazing learning journey! I will stop now before I descend into an Oscar style speech… If I cry, I may fuse my keyboard and will be restricted once more to old skool learning!

Connecting, Reflecting and Imagining the Possibilities

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My tag line is ‘connecting, reflecting and imagining the possibilities’ and expresses what I am constantly doing in life.  Increasingly it is becoming more obvious to me that I should view this statement as a cycle as each element is intrinsically linked and influences the others.

Let me put my musings into context. At the end of the summer term I evaluated two Creative Partnerships projects.  One had built strong partnerships between Teachers and Creative Practitioners whereas the other had seen little Teacher interaction. The later had demonstrated that in some respects this shortcoming had a positive impact on the relationships built between the Creative Practitioners and Pupils but my concern was how creative teaching and learning would be embedded into the school’s curriculum without the teacher making a direct contribution.

Before the project continued into a second year, I was interested to explore the barriers to teacher interaction. When I spoke to the staff they acknowledged that the Young People had benefited immensely from the project but the overwhelming view was that it was perceived somewhat as an ‘add on’. They also felt that it was only relevant to the year group directly involved. They hadn’t been able to make the link that a creative approach could enhance cross curricular learning and encourage a whole school approach to creativity.

 The other school that I was working with had an established thematic approach which was topic based. Through their Creative Partnerships programme, its Teachers had explored how a more creative approach could challenge something that was already working well. They focused on raising literacy standards through their year 3 summer topic and from the outset made it clear to their Creative Practitioners what their targets were.

In a nutshell, the outcome of this project was that the Creative Practitioners energised the topic with a fresh perspective and take on its delivery. They facilitated a diverse range of experiences to stimulate the pupil’s desire to write based on the Young People’s responses to a trip to the seaside. Through the project the Teachers were able to position themselves as the literacy experts building on the stimuli. It gave them confidence in their own skills and a creative approach that they could implement in subsequent topic work without external support.

It was at this point that I made the connection. The majority of my work requires me to flit between two worlds; education and the arts. These worlds have different identities, expressed through their language, values, etiquette and dress sense! Bringing them together often requires skilful mediation; sometimes it requires back-up. As my workshop practice encourages peer to peer learning I decided that I needed to bring the Teachers of each school together so one could communicate the unique selling points of a creative approach in a language that could be heard and understood by the other. Hold this thought.

Next came the reflecting. A very perceptive comment that a Young Person had made during an evaluation conversation resonated with me. She had said that during the Creative Partnerships project her Teacher had become a Learner and that sometimes this was scary for her. From my observations, in both schools the most exciting creative outcomes had happened when project participants (teacher, practitioner and pupil) were challenged to learn and especially when this took them out of their comfort zone . I met with both school’s Creative Co-ordinators to consider what the learning would look like in year two of the programme.

Although both schools were at very different places on their creative journey their pupils had the same entry point, that being Reception. I began Imagining the Possibilities of an Early Year’s focus for this year’s project with the Creative Co-ordinators which led to discussions around the High/Scope approach. As a High/Scope practitioner I could see how it would sit well with both the Teachers and Creative Practitioners whilst challenging their current practice.

‘In the High/Scope Approach to early childhood education, adults and children share control. We recognise that the power to learn resides in the child, hence the focus on active learning practices. When we accept that learning comes from within, we achieve a critical balance in educating young children. The adults’ role is to support and guide young children through the active learning adventures and experiences.’   David P. Weikart. 1995

It was at this point that the project planning began to fit together and ‘connecting’ on my tag line cycle made an appearance again. It seemed that I had an obvious opportunity to bring two programmes of work together to share experiences and resources, to support and learn.

Reflecting on my mission to promote the use of social media as a tool for reflective practice and a platform to document and evidence creative learning I also put forward the idea of training the Teachers and Creative Practitioners involved to blog so that their experiences during the project could be shared both between schools in the form of a virtual learning network and with a wider audience.

Imagining the possibilities and beyond; The Story so Far

At the end of the summer term I brought together Creative Co-ordinators from St Mary’s Change School and Fulbridge School of Creativity with High/Scope Trainers at the Totem Pole. We developed a structure for the joint programme based on the plan-do-review cycle.

We planned to bring together Teacher and Practitioner pairings who would work together for three days a month for a six month period. Each month they would come together at the Totem Pole to explore an element of High/Scope practice. This would then feed into collaborative planning both between themselves and Reception children, a delivery session and reflective blog post.

We anticipated that by using this structure, pairings would choose to develop a ‘spark’ or ‘lightbulb moment’ into innovative new practice each month and that this would look very different from pair to pair. Also because each session would explore a different element of High/Scope practice participants learning would scaffold from month to month and that planning would be responsive. The programme would therefore evolve rather than being seen from the start as having a beginning, middle and end.

At the beginning of the Autumn term, Fulbridge’s  Creative Co-ordinator Charlotte Krzanicki led a day for St Mary’s Reception Teachers and Practitioners to experience the ‘Fulbridge Way’ and to hear Teacher’s experiences of last year’s Creative Partnerships programme (connecting; peer to peer learning).

This week Mary Barlow and Barbara Thomas led the first High/Scope session at the Totem Pole, bringing together five Teacher/Practitioner pairings in a room for the first time. And what a room; the ‘Studio’  training room, is a soft, homely space which is conducive to active learning and created an energy  between participants before we even got started!

It was a fascinating experience bringing the worlds of the Arts and Education together. I observed commonalities between us all and quite obvious differences. The common thread surprised me; everyone was feeling quite anxious about the unknown but assumed that everyone else was more comfortable entering into it. This echoed the young person’s comment about her Teacher being a Learner and it being scary.

Terming ourselves as Learners created a supportive environment and we gave ourselves permission to ‘ask stupid questions’. We created collages to introduce ourselves and here I noticed an interesting difference. When the Creative Practitioners made their introduction they defined themselves in terms other than their job or role. They spoke passionately about their values and beliefs, challenges and issues and were brutally honest and open. It created an interesting dynamic and seemed to relax the group.

The day was filled with awe and wonder, curiosity and intrigue and of course a decent sprinkling of fairy dust.  We explored active learning and intrinsic motivation and the latter exposed me as an anomaly. I am driven by the factors of intrinsic motivation: Enjoyment, control, interest, probability of success and feelings of competence and self confidence but I also love a prize!

 I started this blog as a response to Ewan Mcintosh’s 100hr challenge and I got the prize (Tina Seelig’s What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World, it has a note inside to acknowledge my triumph and I treasure it). I am keeping a journal to monitor the prize loving Katie’s behaviour and am ashamed to say it already contains a holographic sticker from my dentist for being brave!

The next step in this exciting journey is a New Technologies training day for the Learners next week. We will create a virtual learning network with the guidance of Abhay Adhikari so that we can share and reflect on how the learning from the Totem Pole will facilitate creativity with the two schools Reception children. Some pairings may travel along a meandering country lane; others may head for the motor way. It could be a bumpy ride or a cruise on fresh tarmac, either way we will celebrate our successes and failures alike. This is a rare adventure and a huge leap of faith for all involved.