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My left-field lesson - The moral of the tale? Collaborate to create

An art project on myths and fables gives teens a taste of teaching

An art project on myths and fables gives teens a taste of teaching

We teach our students all manner of skills, but we rarely tell them anything about teaching. Hardly ever do we open the door to our world and let our classes see what life is like on the other side. I decided to change that by giving my group of 16- and 17-year-olds the chance to teach children aged 4-5. The results were better than I could ever have expected.

The starting point for this experiment was a visit with the older students to the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum in Athens, Greece, which celebrates the work of the famous jewellery designer. Its permanent displays also explore everything from science to ancient Greek antiquities.

The purpose of the visit was to raise students' awareness of their own heritage and culture, and to give them some interesting visual stimuli to inspire them as they embarked on creating their own jewellery. Two central themes were chosen: Greek mythology and Aesop's fables, tales that have strong moral value.

Back in the classroom, the students drew mind maps and formulated various ideas for pieces they could create that would link the past to the present. Some drew parallels between the tale of the hard-working ant and the reckless cicada - or grasshopper in some versions - and the recent financial crisis.

The second part of their task was more challenging: they had to complete a collaborative project with the help of the kindergarten students at our school. This meant coming up with a concept for the piece, linking it to their original ideas, dividing the manual work between themselves and the younger students and finding ways of clearly communicating what they wanted their little helpers to make.

The result? The younger children gathered eagerly into groups and followed their "teachers" for the day. The classroom was bustling, filled with energy, innocence, excitement and often brutal honesty - mainly from the kindergarteners.

The works produced were varied: clay sea horses; painted paper flowers attached to a large-scale portrait; drawings of Greek goddesses and gods; clay tools; painted balloons that formed the wings of Icarus; drawings of the myth of the Minotaur that later became an animated film; and Medusa's hair created from tights filled with plaster.

Initially, the older students were in shock from the trauma of having to present their work to a surprisingly demanding audience, but they worked out how to adapt their projects to the younger students' needs. They lowered or raised their expectations, found ways of communicating using simple language and went through all the emotions a teacher experiences: excitement, anticipation, frustration, stress and finally pride at a job well done.

There was an extra reward to come. The works produced were put on display in an official exhibition at the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum that lasted four months and attracted the attention of the press and visitors. It was the perfect reward for the students' hard work, but more importantly it consolidated the fact that group collaboration and working outside one's comfort zone can have effective and exciting results.

Marina Kouroumali is a visual arts teacher at the Moraitis School in Athens, Greece

Top 10 resources on Greece

1. Head start

Struggling to get your unit on Greek myths under way? Download this pack of great teaching ideas and worry no more.

2. Model answer

This resource includes not only varied factsheets but also model questions and answers, making it a very useful tool indeed.

3. Fantastic facades

Packed with images and information, this PowerPoint provides an excellent introduction to ancient Greek styles of architecture.

4. Cast list

These printable Top Trumps cards will help your students to find out more about characters from Greek myths.

5. In the beginning

This colourful and engaging set of resources will help you to plan a topic on creation myths and origin stories.

6. Question time

Quiz your class on everything from Hades' marital arrangements to who designed the wooden horse of Troy in this fantastic lesson.

7. Design with deities

See how the different Greek gods and goddesses have been presented in art through the ages in this stimulating visual lesson.

8. Greek guide

Take your class on a tour around modern-day Greece with this in-depth visitor's guide in PowerPoint form.

9. The lowdown

This pack of resources, including posters, worksheets and displays, provides a treasure trove of information for a series of lessons on the ancient Greeks.

10. Play it right

Introduce your students to Greek theatre and tell them about the origins of comedy and tragedy.

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