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Public Art Inspires Big Ideas

Students and teachers at King George Secondary had a chance to leave their classrooms this year and take their learning to the streets thanks to an educational partnership between the Vancouver School Board (VSB) and the 2009-2011 Vancouver Art Sculpture Biennale (VB).

And this April, the students will have the opportunity to showcase their own work in response to the sculptures, in a series of art installations called The Big Ideas: Responding to Public Art.

The opportunity to take learning outside of the classroom and into the real world is an exciting one for Peggy Bochun, the VSB's Fine Arts Coordinator. The VSB and VB collaborated on the unique teaching opportunity to explore questions inspired by the sculptures which are situated in parks across Vancouver.

"Moving curriculum topics into the community stimulates a sense of real inquiry for both teachers and students. It creates experiential learning that touches on student knowledge, and multiple intelligences," said Bochun.

Teachers and student teachers at King George Secondary collaborated earlier in the year to develop a group of lesson plans inspired by the sculptures and that involved an interdisciplinary approach and included curriculum from all the curricular areas. 

The lesson plans were field tested and the final lessons offered teachers suggested activities, curriculum challenges and creative learning expressions to involve students from multiple grades. Bochun said that involving the public art installations injects a sense of real purpose into the curriculum studies.

As an example, "A-Mazing Laughter" the popular sculpture by Chinese artist Yue Minjun located in English Bay was the inspiration for a lesson around censorship and involved curriculum from art, history, social studies and English.

King George Secondary students and teachers with the sculpture "A-Mazing Laughter" near English Bay.

As an example, "A-Mazing Laughter" the popular sculpture by Chinese artist Yue Minjun located in English Bay was the inspiration for a lesson around censorship and involved curriculum from art, history, social studies and English.

In preparation for the outings, teachers were invited to workshops that helped teachers to engender a sense of openness, reflection, and creativity in their students.  Once teachers returned to their classrooms they applied the curriculum and concepts in their teaching.

Once on-site the teachers began their lesson by leading students in a mindfulness exercise as a way of opening their minds to learning. Mindfulness is defined by author Jon Kabat-Zinn as "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally."

"Our student's wellness, as it relates to their physical, social and emotional well-being is important to us and in order to create understanding, we tried to help them to fine tune their awareness by focusing inward," said Bochun. 

Researchers, such as Dr. Daniel Siegel, Harvard neuroscientist, have shown that practicing mindfulness is beneficial in reducing reactivity states and in increasing receptivity by establishing new neural connections in the brain and by promoting neural integration. For this reason, mindfulness is also a key component in enhancing creativity and learning. 

While in the park, the students interacted with the sculptures, exploring them from every perspective, and were asked to focus on a guiding question that involved reflection on the background of the art, the artist, and the role of sculpture in public places. 

Students of different ages worked collaboratively in teams to prepare their responses. Back at the school, students were available by phone to help conduct research and support the teams in the field.

As a final step, students are now creating works in response to the public art as a way to express what they've learnt. In April, the students will showcase their own work in a series of installations called The Big Ideas: Responding to Public Art.

These thought provoking and inspiring series of secondary student art works will be displayed in three locations in Vancouver from April 16 to 28 including Sunset Community Centre, the Roundhouse Community Centre, and the Vancouver Main Library Gallery. 

The works explore big ideas like homelessness, cultural identity, science and technology, societal norms and the environment.  Participating secondary schools are: Lord Byng, Churchill, David Thompson, King George, Magee, Point Grey, Prince of Wales, Tupper, Vancouver Technical, and Windermere.

In addition to the secondary schools, the Trudeau Elementary Grade 6 and 7 students are working on a collaborative installation of multi-media artwork inspired by the immigrant experience reflected in the sculptural work of the Vancouver Biennale sculpture "We" by Jaume Plensa.

This project is funded through an artist-in-residence grant provided by ArtStarts and the Vancouver School Board, and will be exhibited at the Sunset Community Centre from April 4 - 14.

Pictured: Trudeau Elementary students interact with "We" located near the Vancouver Aquatic Centre in the West End.

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