Blended learning in the digital arts: tips and tales from our Tate-inspired project

Giacometti inspired tin foil people

From making Giacometti-inspired people out of tin foil to creating art galleries in Scratch, CLC’s latest Tate-inspired large-scale digital arts project, which brought together hundreds of children virtually to make art, shows the real potential of blended arts learning in the classroom – and beyond

For the past four years the Connected Learning Centre team has brought together children from different schools as part of the Tate Exchange programme. Once a year we take over the Exchange floor on level 5 of Tate Modern, giving 200 pupils from local schools the chance to create digital and non-digital art inspired by Tate Modern’s gallery collection. In March 2020, as the pandemic was taking hold, it was the last face-to-face CLC event we took part in. It felt poignant being together making, especially as we had teachers and children from our European partner schools joining us at Tate and anxious parents wondering if they’d get home. 

Fast forward to 2021 and Tate Exchange was unable to go ahead this year. But we’re lucky to have worked with the excellent Tate Kids team during the pandemic and saw an opportunity to draw on our previous experience at Tate, using the Tate Kids resources as inspiration. Our aim was to inspire children through artworks at Tate, give them the opportunity to respond through digital making and then to share their creations and critique each other’s work. 

“When it became clear that a face-to-face Tate Exchange event wasn’t going to be possible this year, we decided to pivot to a virtual format,” explains CLC teaching and learning consultant Caitlin McMillan. 

“We wanted to maintain the elements that make Tate Exchange so special – the chance for pupils to create and explore with other schools, and the opportunity to choose from a range of creative and digital activities.”

We decided to make a Padlet wall of potential activities and let the schools lead on what they wanted to create. The result was music, photographs, video – and a whole host of digital artworks. On the day itself, we all made sculptures with aluminium foil inspired by the works of Alberto Giacometti. 

We wanted a simple art activity related to an artist exhibited at Tate – and Giacometti features in a Tate kids resource – and devised the silver foil people making activity as a way we could all be making the same art at the same time and see each other making. Classes did more in-depth art activities beforehand but having this practical live element worked well.

“Being part of this event has been the highlight of the term,” says CLC director Sarah Horrocks. “Although the classes linked with the CLC team and each other virtually, the buzz of hundreds of children live in classrooms, talking to us and each other was amazing. I loved seeing the high quality of the digital creations children posted to their Padlet galleries and the perceptive questions and critiques children came up with in response to work done by other schools. And it was great fun all of us making our tin foil people together at the same time.”

Of course, it’s not a CLC event without some Scratch programming. One of the creative options on offer asked children to use their programming skills to create a virtual art gallery in Scratch that features their favourite pieces from Tate Modern.

“From some individual children’s confident contributions which they chose to put together in Scratch, as a means of presenting about an artist’s work, it was fascinating to see CLC help and input from an earlier stage of the year from another member of our team – Rowan – coming to fruition and being applied in quite a different context,” explains Peter Lillington, teaching and learning consultant at CLC.

Other children made art-inspired music using Chrome Music Lab, while others made tours of their favourite art. All the work was shared on Padlets.

Tips for successful blended digital arts events

At the CLC we’ve been refining this large-scale blended learning model through a series of events, such as the News Project in the autumn (read all about it here) to a recent collaborative event with Westminster Abbey. It means we’ve learned about what works. 

Here are some key elements to take account of if you’re planning a blended digital arts project:

  • The pre-event teacher CPD session is crucial in making sure everyone is confident with the tools and on the same page with the activities.
  • There is a real value to each class working in depth and over time on their creations beforehand.
  • We’ve previously written about the role of audience and especially peer audience. Children had different opportunities to present to other children, certainly through the Padlet collections but also in their questions and feedback to each other live 
  • Padlet was a great platform to create the digital galleries on because it makes it so simple for children to upload their work and the collated work was easy for other children to look at. Every child could take part.  
  • Having a stimulus for artistic response, such as resources online or previously visiting the actual galleries, makes a difference.
  • Keep it simple – we didn’t do anything too complicated in the live session. 
  • The increased confidence of teachers and children in using platforms and blended mediums – live Zoom, work in class, uploading of digital assets to a platform, meant this kind of event can now be more successful and accessible than previously.

We will be doing a gaming ‘game-changer challenge’ event in autumn and we’re planning more events like this with museums and cultural learning partners.

“For me this way of working captures our new approach of blending and mixing being together in the classroom and connecting with others in real time to share and learn,” concludes Sarah.

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Upcoming CPD

New to subject leadership in primary school computing session 1, 2 and 3
New to subject leadership in primary school computing session 1, 2 and 3

This programme is designed for primary teachers who have recently taken on responsibilities and leadership for technology and computing. It will cover curriculum planning, tools and resources, methods for supporting colleagues and progression and assessment. Colleagues will be expected to attend all three sessions. The third session will be held in a school and will include classroom visits.

Further details for sessions 2 and 3 to follow:

Session 2: 9.30-11.30am Thursday 27 January (virtual)

Session 3: TBC (in person)

- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Computing subject leaders, Headteachers...
Everyone can Code with Swift Playgrounds – a blended approach
Everyone can Code with Swift Playgrounds - a blended approach

Get hands-on with the Swift playgrounds app for iPadOS and resources from Learn to Code and Everyone can Code.

- 17:00
KS1, KS2
Computing subject leaders, Headteachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
- 14:25

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

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