Polish spirit

1st July 2005 at 01:00
A Warsaw school hosted pupils from all over Europe for a week of creative collaboration, as Justin Stevens reports

At the end of each episode of the 1980s TV series The A-Team, George Peppard's character (Colonel John "Hannibal" Smith) would utter the words:

"I just love it when a plan comes together." The team had done it again against the odds and the world was a better place.

During the culmination of a week's international workshops at 220 Stanislaw Kopczynski Primary School in Warsaw, the skill, enthusiasm and teamwork by teachers and pupils from five countries brought that immortal line to mind and, quite often, a lump to the throat. The week of workshops, called Face the Door 5, was organised by CREATE (Creative Realisation Emphasising Aspects of Transitional Education) which in turn is a collaboration between Dorcan Technology College in Swindon and software provider UniServity.

The project allowed schools from Finland, Italy, Spain, Romania - and Swindon - to send pupils and staff to Warsaw for a week of workshops and to meet those they had been collaborating with for several months. But why "Face the Door"? Bryan Jackson, assistant head at Dorcan explains: "A German actor and primary teacher called Max Petersen came up with the name.

With Face the Door you face up to and conquer your anxieties and fears."

The presentation at the end of the week-long workshops includes macrame - not what most people would consider an exciting choice, but it gives students the chance to parade their bag designs on the catwalk to the tune "Mambo No 5". This is nothing compared with what follows; the same group then delivers a barnstorming exhibition of percussion to some lively classical pieces, as well as to Queen's "We Will Rock You". Someone asks me in faltering English: "What workshop is this?" "Macrame," I reply, to an incredulous face.

I had approached the workshop the day before with little enthusiasm. But what I saw changed that. The session, which included a number of special needs children, involved percussion and dancing. Everyone was all smiles and concentration as the Polish teacher guided them through their routines.

No one wanted to let her down and they were all determined to do their best: a real case of going beyond expectations, and a tribute to teacher and pupil enthusiasm. It was the same with all the workshops, as pupils in art, music, gymnastics, food technology, choreography, design and technology and media showed what they had achieved.

Work started in October, when 180 pupils were split into 30 groups of six, with at least two or three nationalities in each. They were given two briefs: to design a clock (from January to February); and a child's push-along toy based on a vehicle or animal (from March until May) with the aid of 2D Design software.

Using the portal provided by UniServity, groups exchanged ideas by email.

Once a group had agreed its design, it was put on disk or emailed to be made at a Swindon pressing plant, part of Dorcan Technology College.

Face the Door is the annual culmination of the project, giving pupils and staff an opportunity to work together. Simon Neads, DT teacher at Dorcan, has really enjoyed his 2D Design workshop which has seen pupils create cars, boats, radios and hairdryers: "The software has really made the whole design process so much easier. The children can now create their own designs while getting the dimensions spot-on. Then they can save it on to a floppy disk to work on it later, or we can press it up at the Swindon plant."

During the workshop, Simon also got his students to make spinning tops and football rattles - but getting across what a football rattle was to some of his multi-lingual group proved difficult. "We had a bit of a laugh with that," says Simon, but judging by the noise they made with the rattles at the presentation, they certainly know now.

From the UK, Simon was joined by Natasha Romanek (12) and Stephanie Penny (13), both Year 8, and in the dance workshop which produced a electro-country hoedown; Kelly Mitchell (14), a Year 9 who was in the art workshop which experimented with oil paints on glass and paper cut-outs, and Ellena Howells (14), a Year 9 who worked on the e-zine workshop.

Ellena interviewed me for the e-zine. In its workshop, students logged daily reports (words and photographs) of the sessions around them. Not only did it keep students and parents informed, it tested their language skills as they had to translate their stories into Romanian, Polish and Italian.

The final presentations underlined just what could be achieved in a week with a mix of nationalities and ideas. The CREATE ideal and its Face the Door offshoot showed pupils and staff a little seen, but real face of Europe.


* Dorcan Technology College, Swindon, and UniServity are partners in CREATE, bringing together children and teachers from across Europe to work on a design brief that duplicates the multinational demands of today's industries. Finished designs are produced at Dorcan's Swindon pressings plant. In May each year, pupils can go for a week of workshops at Face the Door.


* UniServity is the provider of the portal and support for the CREATE and Face the Door projects. It also offers software for collaboration between schools.


For schools UniServity has worked with: www.school-portal.co.uk

* 2D Design software was used in the design of the clocks and at Face the Door 5.


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