To explore strange new worlds…

Image, The Whitworth Art Gallery

Our Space project reached a very satisfying end recently when, after creating their alien beings (and adding to their designs back in school), the group of children from Old Hall Drive primary school arrived at the Whitworth Art Gallery (our ‘sister’ university gallery and, coincidentally, my other place of work).

We had a fun-packed day and I was delighted to see how engaged the children were throughout.

We started with a recap, using drama, of how you might move on an alien planet with different gravity or atmosphere or landscape to our own, before creating statues of our alien creatures which then came to life!

The first job we had was to gather clues about what a habitat needs to include – we began by discovering birds and animals hiding within the textiles collection. This led into a discussion of some the key elements we would need in a habitat. We decided on:

  • shelter
  • availability of food and drink
  • feeling safe
  • camouflage potential

The class then explored what it would be like to live and move in imaginary environments within some of the Gallery’s artworks, before taking a trip outside.

Our main idea was to really study the shape of trees in detail (to adapt them to suit our alien environment), but we were very quickly distracted by a very playful pair of squirrels enjoying games in and around the trees near to the Gallery. Getting back to the job in hand, we took the opportunity to investigate how trees feel to the touch and how they’re not just ‘green blobs on a stick’.

The best bit of the morning was yet to come: back inside, we slowly used every member of the class to build up a ‘working model’ of a tree, starting with the heartwood and roots, and then adding on the sapwood, cambium and bark. Each part of the tree ended up lying on the floor in different positions to represent their part in building the tree – and yes, each part of the tree had a phrase or sound connected with their role:

  • heartwood – “tall and strong”
  • roots – great slurping noises as they sucked up water
  • sapwood – ‘whee’ noises as they carried the water up into the tree
  • cambium – “we grow outwards”
  • bark – “we protect”

You can imagine that the gallery was far from quiet as the ‘tree’ came to life – proving how much fun can be had doing science in a gallery. This activity also gave us chance to investigate how harmful it is to a tree to have its barked stripped off, as well as giving us food for thought about how a tree might develop differently in high or low gravity.

(The activity was adapted from this – thanks to Michael Carpenter of the Groundwork Trust / Trafford Ecology Park for bringing this activity to my attention)

Image, The parts of a tree

Image, The parts of a tree

After a well-earned lunch, the children were very imaginative in selecting individual elements from artworks which inspired them to create features for their alien habitat. The final job of the day was to use all the clues and ideas they had gathered to create ideas of what their habitat might look like – on enormous strips of paper. The freedom to spread out over the paper and the engagement and imagination the children had shown throughout the day meant that the resulting masterpieces were a fantastic record at the end of their project – and certainly some great spaces for their alien creatures to live in.

Thank you to Asha Khalique at Cedar Mount High School for approaching us and instigating this project and thank you to the children, staff and parents at Old Hall Drive school for getting so involved. I know both Hannah and I really enjoyed this project – and we’re hoping that elements of the project will find their way into our schools’ programme next year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s