On the road to creativity

1st February 2008 at 00:00
A five-mile route along the M74 motorway is providing inspiration across the curriculum for a Glasgow school.

The modern-day creative muse comes in many forms; Damien Hirst's shark in formaldehyde is a world away from Wordsworth and his dancing daffodils. Yet most people would still struggle to see much potential for artistic inspiration in a motorway.

But for the past three months, Transport Scotland's pound;500 million M74 Completion project has been just that - providing an unlikely catalyst for a burst of creativity at Glendale Primary in Glasgow.

It began last term when 220 pupils from P2-7 got hands-on experience of an archaeological dig at one of four large excavations along the M74 extension's five-mile route.

Since then, inspired by the discoveries they made among the 19th-century Glasgow tenement ruins, the children have gone on to interpret their experiences in music, poetry, art, drama and film, working with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, an award-winning film maker and the Hopscotch Theatre Company.

Much of the children's work has been captured in a video diary, which combines documentary footage with animation and was produced by P3 and 4 pupils with film-maker Holger Mohaupt, who is based in Scotland.

The DVD will be distributed to more than 1,000 primary and secondary schools across Glasgow, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire as part of a special history education pack next term.

It is also being considered as a resource for teacher training and continuing professional development to show how archaeology and video can be used in imaginative ways as a tool for learning across the curriculum.

For Mr Mohaupt and the class of budding Pixar and Disney animators, it has been a rewarding experience. "I didn't go with a fixed concept because when you work with children it is always best to listen to them and see what happens," he says. "They have so many things on their minds and this is reflected in the film. There are songs, poetry, acting. That is a joy for a film-maker. Fantastic."

He took six hours of footage during regular half-day visits spanning three months, but whittled those six hours down to 15 minutes.

The film starts with pupils at the excavation and records their work in school, creating a play about time-travellers with Hopscotch Theatre (P2), music and songs inspired by Victorian life with BBC musicians (P6 and 7), ceramics on tenement architecture (P4 and 5), and the animated film (P3 and 4).

"I felt animation would work best. Children are good at drawing and performing to camera when they are having fun. The teachers were amazed at how well they worked. Seven-year-olds have a limited attention span, but in our sessions they were asked to do four or five different tasks."

Teachers prepared the ground before filming. "The M74 project is about the history of the excavation, but it is also about traffic, so the teachers discussed alternative means of transport beforehand," says Mr Mohaupt.

"The children came back with drawings of all sorts of creatures - camels and elephants - as well as skateboards and rollerblades. And their cars were all the colours of the rainbow. It was wonderful."

They then brought them to life on an animated street.

"All the movements were done by the children," he says. "Animation is time-consuming and disciplined. They would spend two hours filming to get just 10 seconds of footage. In the end, I used everything and even left in the occasional hand to show what was happening behind the scenes."

Salam Shamki, 7, was amazed to discover that her favourite cartoons are created the same way. "It took a long time, but it was fun," she said. "I put smoke coming out of my car. I also made a flower and a tree for the street and a scooter with Bart Simpson's face on it, which made Holger laugh. I wish we could do it every day."

At the start of term, pupils performed their play and musical compositions at the Scottish Youth Theatre in Glasgow. An exhibition of their art work will soon open at Scotland Street Museum. The museum will also offer schools loan boxes of genuine artefacts and archaeology workshops to support the new education pack.

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