I saw the sites...
The first time was a visit to the Millennium Dome in Greenwich. From the air (if you fly over London to Stansted you get a good view) it could be a giant's drum kit. On the ground, it looks as if it's made from immensely strong, taut canvas. In fact, the structure, designed by Richard Rogers and twice as big as Wembley Stadium, is fibreglass, punctured by tall, crane-like masts.
Whatever you think of the building, that part of London will never be the same again. Greenwich teachers have taken the opportunity to find out about the monster in their midst and turn it to educational advantage. An information pack is available to all teachers. Tel: 0870 241 2000.
The other welly-wearing outing was to the Tate Gallery of Modern Art (TGMA) , until recently Bankside Power Station on the Thames. It might seem premature to visit a gallery which will not be ready to exhibit until May 2000, but the exciting thing about this enterprise is that education has been an integral part of developments for a year. Caro Howell was appointed education programme officer last September and asked to integrate her plans with those of the two curators. Education is thus being given equal status with the building's artistic administration.
Howell has been on hand during the development of the interior to ensure the best possible facilities are available for school groups.
So far the main impression is of a breath-taking, cathedral-scale space, which used to house the old turbines. Beyond this are hints of many levels, from floor to ceiling. There will be "wet" and "dry" workshops for practical sessions, resource centres, an auditorium, film and seminar rooms and an area for packed lunch eaters. There will be brasseries, a shop, entrances on different levels and facilities for the disabled and visually impaired.
When visitors have explored the higher galleries they will be able to look down through glass walls at the activity in the main hall ("a sorbet between courses," as Howell puts it).
She and her colleagues have drawn up an impressive set of principles about involvement of visitors and the local community, promising a far more democratic approach than we are used to in major institutions.
Perhaps the most important are: "Visitors' expectations, responses and experiences must be understood and must influence TGMA's policies and practices" and "TGMA uses the term 'interpretation' to include education and information"; "interpretation" is usually the preserve of the experts.
Tate-related activities are already well under way in the surrounding area and in local schools. When the neighbouring Shakespeare's Globe education department held its Southwark schools day in July, some children paraded spectacular, abstract banners made with the help of artists who had worked with them under the aegis of TGMA. Their themes - race, gender, parent-child relationships and justice - matched those of The Merchant of Venice, scenes from which were performed by hundreds of children on the Globe stage. Afterwards the young artists curated their own exhibition of the work at the TGMA visitors' centre. For information on future TGMA events, phone 0171 887 8764.
Christmas is closer than you might like to think. The Magic of Pantomime Roadshow has started a tour taking in Wales, the Midlands and southern England. Aimed at key stage 2 children, the show is performed by a couple of Ugly Sisters who present the history of panto, lead improvisation sessions and show how a script is put together. Tel: 0171 836 2795.
A more serious purpose is served by the Norfolk and Norwich Festival (October 7-18) which tackles the environment. The education strand reflects this with "recycled" music: re-orchestration, variations and the re-writing of fairy stories. There are two main projects, Sunstorm and Pied Piper of Norwich, The first is a cross-arts project at the new Ecotech Centre in Swaffham. Composer Elfyn Jones, members of the Britten Sinfonia and a visual artist are working with Year 10 pupils from four schools on the theme of man as controller and puppet of weather, leading to a performance at the centre on October 16.
The weather will also feature when an entire middle school along with classes from four others give the story of the Pied Piper a modern twistin which acid rain and global warming replace the plague of rats.
There will be a grand performance and processions in the city centre on October 17. And like the two huge projects in London - Dome and Tate - the Norfolk festival also owes its existence to Lottery funding. For tickets information, tel 01603 764764.