Put art in the picture

27th February 1998 at 00:00
A world premi#232;re is taking place at the Education Show. There will be no stars or fanfare to herald it, but, in its own quiet way, it could well change the way teachers think about and teach art.

Schoolart is being launched as the world's first comprehensive art education site for teachers on the Internet. Its aim is to help teach art through hundreds of practical examples. But it isn't all pretty pictures with captions.

Masterminded by art educationist Nigel Meager and developed with Will Howard of IIP Wales Ltd, it has been written by some of Britain's leading art educators. Although Schoolart is open to both primary and secondary schools, its particular emphasis is on helping the general primary school teacher whose confidence and background in art might require support.

The model projects, or units, are content driven and describe how lessons can be planned in a progressive way to stimulate interest, liberate creativity and build up skills.

Meager says: "The intention is to promote work in art, craft and design that is meaningful and allows children to express their own ideas and feelings, rather than those prescribed by adults. However, teachers and children also need straightforward, down-to-earth advice on how to set about making art."

So, a primary school teacher without much background or knowledge on weaving, for example, can tap into Schoolart's user-friendly search engine to find units that will cover everything from materials needed to teaching specific skills and processes.

There are also units that cover the visual elements of art, craft and design, offering teachers strategies for introducing concepts of shape, pattern, colour, texture, space, form, line and tone.

"Non-art specialists, particularly those working with young children, find that these ideas offer an insight into how art can open up exciting and meaningful ways for children to investigat e the world," says Meager.

Schoolart is jointly supported by business and education: Crayola (Binney and Smith Europe) and the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) have teamed up on what is initially a three-year development programme. Although Crayola clearly has vested interests in promoting its name to schools, Meager insists that "they have no edit-orial or content control over Schoolart. Crayola crayons are not mentioned anywhere in the text. This is a sensible, pragmatic relationship between business and education."

Pragmatism is at the heart of Schoolart's rationale. Its contributors include artists, primary and secondary teachers and art educators, such as Professor Arthur Hughes, head of art at the University of Central Birmingham, and John Bowden, art inspector and adviser for North Yorkshire,chairman of the Art Advisors' Association and president of NSEAD.

So far, the seven contributors have produced 250 units, equal to a book of 500 pages. Every unit has been given a test run in classrooms to check its practicality and effectiveness. The idea is to expand and revise the text continuously, responding to users' feedback as much as to new ideas and methodologies. The project aims to have 2,000 units of work by the year 2000.

As well as lesson plans and practical guidelines on skills and processes, all entries have supporting notes, advice and illustrations of either classroom practice or finished products. Entries also provide cross-references to other parts of the site and resource lists, giving information on equipment necessary to carry out activities described in the unit, books and cross-curricular applications. Teachers can print out and keep all the Schoolart material they wish to for school files or their personal use.

Schoolart is being run as a subscription only service. Schools pay a nominal #163;35 a year for full access, while individuals pay #163;25. Subscribers also receive a free Schoolart magazine, with articles on the content and ways to use specific units. There will also be an online mail order service for the NSEAD bookshop, containing more than 250 specialist art publications.

There is little doubt that this is a progressive and enterprising initiative. It is also very much needed, contends Meager. "This is about democratising quality art education for all teachers. For the first time, primary teachers will have access to a wide range of materials and practical applications and ideas. There are so many different ways that art can function in the classroom to benefit children. And the beauty of it is that, because art naturally fulfils any curriculum structure, it liberates teachers, too."

* Schoolart, Cliffs View Studio, Penrice, Gower, Swansea SA3 1LN. Tel: 01792 391290.

Website: www.schoolart. co.uk Stand C14

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