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A project that really rocks

Give pupils an opportunity to direct their own work. They'll thank you, eventually

One of the most successful projects we have ever done was one based on pre historic rock art. Funding and support allowed us to work with archaeologists, a cultural geographer, and a glass artist.

While it isn't every day you get the time and money to work with such people, what they showed us continues to be used and filtered into classwork.

Initially pupils were taken to see the rock art at Belford, carvings made by Neolithic and Early Bronze Age people in Northumberland in North-east England, between 6,000 and 3,500 years ago.

Stan Beckensall, archaeologist and expert in Northumbrian rock art, showed how we could find these markings, which are often concealed in the landscape. It led to questions who made them, what do they mean, why were they carved here?

With no answers, the pupils let their imaginations run wild. They copied them, researched signs and symbols around their own town and began developing designs on the beach, in paint, in sculpture, in pastel and finally in glass.

If there was one project which allowed pupils the freedom to direct their own work, to question the experts and make their own decisions on how to project their own personal thoughts, this was it. Their ownership was amazing.

The work went on show at the Museum of Antiquities in Newcastle and this is how the catalogue described it: "The project explored issues of identity and place, engaging young people with the past through archaeological excavation and artistic exploration of themes such as boundaries, landscapes, symbols and maps.

"They were encouraged to map their own lives, values, aspirations and the places they live through art, poetry and maps using evidence of people's lives, seen through the landscapes and monuments left behind."

Sharon Simpson teaches art at Greenfield School Community and Arts College in County Durham

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