Sunday, 27 September 2015

Den building - the journey!

In the dim and distant past I met an amazing group of people whilst doing some work for 4D creative in Manchester. One of these was the brilliant Cathy Cross - a theatre designer who can turn a whole pile of random stuff (include stuff I would have thrown away) into magical worlds and art.

For the past two years we have been working on a book all about den building. Originally this was aimed at teachers and we had a complete ball literally 'playing'

This was the original intro to this book.

When you tell people that you are writing a book about ‘den building’ in the classroom, you get one of two responses:
1.       A completely blank expression followed by a ‘tumbleweed moment’, usually swiftly followed by a nervous cough or laugh and a comment along the lines of ‘Sorry …you are doing what?’
2.       A huge grin followed by ‘that’s amazing – do you want to come to my classroom …I’m so jealous.’
Why den building in the classroom? The combination of a den builder with a theatre arts background and a photographer with a creative teaching background gives you two grown woman with a license to ‘play’, experiment and create. The beauty of den making is that anyone can do it – it doesn’t require a range of specific skills, just an openness to different ways of working with children, a willingness to ‘have a go’ and the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child again.

If you think back to your own childhood, most of you will have created a den of some sort. It may have been in the living room with chairs, an old clothes horse (wooden or plastic, depending on your age!), a blanket, some cushions and a torch.

Over the last two years we have worked with every age group from Early years through to A'Level, to student teachers to whole school teaching groups. We have worked with SEN pupils with a whole range of needs.
We have made so many friends, we have laughed, we have broken a few things and collapsed exhausted but exhilarated.

Why den making? The positives for the classroom are -

1.      .. Children learn by interacting with each other and developing social skills.

2.       Problem solving skills are vital – children need to work out how to fasten materials together?  How do they ensure that the den is safe?

3.       Empathy – they need to put themselves in the shoes of a person who would use or need this space.

4.       Understanding of abstract concepts – the den is a representation not a replica.

5.       Using all of their senses – multi sensory approach, texture, lighting and sound. – Does it feel different to write a poem in the dark?

6.       Becoming a team leader - children now take the lead and make decisions.

7.       Deepen understanding and become fully immersed in their learning.

8.       Children are ‘hooked’ into their learning and the magic in everyday objects is revealed.

9.       They begin to adopt a different way of looking at the environment.

10.   Children are doing what comes naturally – playing, using their imagination and creating their own worlds.

  Having spent a long time in classrooms we decided to branch out and aim this book directly at children. Teachers don't worry - we have loads of 'stuff' you can use - Cathy will come and build dens in your school and we are happy to support and offer advice.   is a separate blog just for den building in your classroom.

   The book is finally on Amazon and can be ordered HERE or using the link in the side column.

Cathy and I are really excited and can't wait to share this with you and see what you think. Please feel free to get in touch with us x

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Poignant images and the ethics of photography

Following the heightened media discussion last week about the poignancy of images I wanted to share an extract from my book - Learning through a lens in the hope that it might support teachers in the discussion of such images. 

There have been many images which have been described as ‘iconic’ and that have influenced the thinking of thousands of people. The photograph of the young Syrian boy last week was one such devastating image. As adults we can respond to this and have the depth of emotional literacy to allow us to process this. How do we introduce our pupils to images of this nature? In fact should we introduce them to such images at all?
We live in a digital age where images are beamed almost instantaneously into our homes.  Horrific images were shown of the bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon – heart wrenching, graphic but they told the world what was happening. If we had just been told that there had been a bomb would we have understood in the same way without the images or were the images too graphic and too upsetting to have been shown?

learning through a lens

The Pulitzer Prize winning image by Kevin Carter referred to as ’waiting for a meal’ has been described as ‘a picture that stunned a somewhat complacent world’ The photograph was taken in the Sudan in 1993 and depicts a vulture that appears to be waiting for a starving child to die. 
In interviews Carter stated that he waited about 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings. When it didn’t, he took this image and chased the vulture away. The image was first published in the New York Times and prompted many enquiries as to the fate of the child.
 The newspaper subsequently ran an editorial in which they claimed that the child ‘walked away from the vulture but that her eventual fate was unknown.’
The questions raised from this are manifold but the image itself portrays a stark reality, children were dying due to malnutrition – did the world need to know and was this an effective way, or the best way, of conveying that?
The statements below are all about the Carter image - They can be printed off and cut up – give them out randomly and ask pupils to introduce their statement where appropriate in the discussion. By doing this they may actually have to argue a point of view which is different to the one that they actually believe in, thus encouraging empathy and looking at an issue from more than one point of view.

·         Journalists and photographers in the Sudan at that time had been told not to touch famine victims because of the risk of disease - So he followed instructions.

·         Carter has been heavily criticised and referred to as ‘another predatory vulture’ on the scene.

·         Carter won the Pulitzer Prize for this image
·         Carter committed suicide 3 months after the photo was taken.

·         The vulture has been used as a symbol of oppression or representative of governments.

·         At the time the image was taken the girl’s parents were receiving food from a UN plane and would return to the girl.

·         The publicity generated by this photograph has been immense.

·         Carter was suffering from depression.

·         The girl was obviously very weak – Carter could have infected her and any food given to her could have been too rich and caused an adverse reaction.

·         There were relief workers in the area.

·         Carter waited 20 minutes before taking the photograph.

·         Because of this image the world became aware of the atrocities in this region.

·         ‘Sometimes I want to ask God why he doesn’t do something about world hunger – I don’t because I’m afraid that he might ask me the same thing’ Anon

·         This image moved many to donate and so effectively saved the lives of many children.

There is a whole chapter in Learning through a lens about the ethics of Photography and the use of poignant images. Discussion around reporting wars, disasters and the concept of ‘Compassion fatigue’. This is a difficult concept to introduce into a classroom but as teachers we can provide a safe environment for children to develop their own emotional literacy.

Photography quote

Monday, 7 September 2015

YSP Poppies - Wave Installation

Just a quick link to my Photography blog which has information about the Poppies at YSP along with several images which can be used in the classroom x
Yorkshire Sculpture Park September 2015