In late June I was lucky enough to be invited to carry out a special project with Woodrow First School in Redditch, Worcestershire. The school is a wonderful, creative place of learning, with a focus on delivering their rich and varied curriculum through Mantle of the Expert approaches designed by Dorothy Heathcote. They also have an innovative reciprocal partnership with the Qattan Foundation teacher exchange programme based in Ramallah.
The project, which took place in the early Autumn 2015, aimed to investigate the red clay on which the school and town stands…. The connection is fairly obvious through the place-name – Red-ditch, but a quick investigation on the UK Soil Observatory website made the link even more concrete…. We decided to use the project to develop the children’s knowledge and understanding of materials and the way they change, linked to a wider theme of shelter (a good lead-in being the Three Little Pigs story….perfect for an introductory assembly which would include four year olds….). The outcome was to be a series of sawdust fired tiles.
As an additional outcome, we decided that I could turn our excavation site – i.e. our clay pit / marl-hole, into a wildlife pond.
The project was really successful in engaging two classes of Year 3 children (7-8 year olds) over a full week, all of them helping with the testing (ring tests), blunging, sieving, tile making, decoration (printing key words linked to shelter), kiln preparation and initial lighting (the kiln burned over the weekend)… The ground was way too hard, with an arm breaking compacted stony layer, to involve them in the actual digging, but they were witnesses to the digging and drying on large plaster slabs…..
The children have decided to use their tiles to protect the roof of a hedgehog house that is now placed in their wildlife and growing area, next to the pond. Some of the tiles were also given to exchange teachers from Palestine on the Monday morning after the weekend sawdust firing. Perhaps one of the most profound moments was the response to the watching of John Anderson and Robert Fournier’s 1965 film about Isaac Button. This silent, black and white film, lasts for over 30 minutes. I thought we might show a clip of about 4-5 minutes. The children recognised the processes they had been in engaged with immediately, and were spellbound for the full half-hour. “He makes it look so easy” was a memorable quote….especially when they had seen how hard the preparation process was, how heavy clay is as a material, how difficult it is to form, how sensitive it can be on firing (we had different coloured tiles from oxidising and reduction conditions)….
Huge thanks to Richard Kieran (Headteacher), Seb Benney and all at Woodrow First School for giving me the chance to work with them on this project.