Pictured is Dr Edward Curry, scientist at Insight at NUI Galway; artist Ceara Conway and teacher Ger Power with pupils from Scoil Chuimín agus Caitríona, Oughterard, Co. Galway as part of Baboró's BEAST! project. Photo by Chris Tierney
May 28 2015 Posted: 09:36 IST

Research findings presented at a conference today (Thursday, 28 May) in NUI Galway reveal that arts and creative activities are of real benefit to young children. As well as building confidence, and encouraging critical reflection and creative thinking, they also provide a powerful base for team working, problem solving and future development.

The research was carried out by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway and looked at an innovative three-year project, BEAST!, developed and operated by Baboró International Arts Festival for Children in Galway.

BEAST! (Baboró: Environment, Arts, Science and Technology) took the form of an educational arts and science initiative for primary school children, aged predominately between 9 and 12 years. The project worked with schools on using the arts as a teaching methodology to achieve a higher profile for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

Some of the exercises involved the pupils learning about energy usage and climate change with Dr Edward Curry, a scientist from Insight at NUI Galway.  They carried out energy audits in their homes to learn ways of reducing their energy footprint and they also worked with artists to create cartoon animations and storyboards as a means of expressing what they’d learnt. These exercises allowed science to be taught in a more practical and accessible way.

Commenting on result findings, which will be presented at the conference ‘Opening the Door to Creative Teaching and Learning’ today, Professor Pat Dolan, Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway said: “The development of education of children through creativity and the arts should be given equal attention as learning through reading writing and mathematics. Apart from being the gateway to human expression and innovative learning, it affords children the opportunity to see school as a forum for empathy development, resilience building and attainment of mastery and is in essence an ‘antidote’ to classroom bullying. It is imperative that the Department of Education enable and enhance such capacity building in all schools, and particularly for younger students in need of support.”

Dr Cormac Forkan who led the social research team at NUI Galway commented that: “At the highest level, the project enabled the children to be reflective in their own activities and to develop critical thinking. Ultimately education is not just about education for a job, it’s about developing critical citizens.”

The research findings showed that:

  • There was a high level of engagement in the workshops by children and teachers. Children talked about changes in the ways that they perceived science and showed a deeper understanding of science concepts. Parents noted their children demonstrated an increasingly positive attitude towards science and that their thinking about the role of science had changed.
  • Children were taught about various art forms in a highly engaging and collaborative way, allowing children to learn about the societal value of the arts and about the importance of collaborating and sharing with others.
  • Teachers were very positive about the benefits of the more open, creative and flexible approach adopted by the science and arts practitioners and stated they were adapting their own teaching styles, to incorporate cross-curricular and more creative and interactive approaches.
  • The research process provided space to consider and develop a theoretical base for BEAST! from the academic literature, linking the project to concepts such as collaboration, creativity, engagement and participation, creative teaching and creative learning.
  • Creativity is a multi-layered concept that involves multiple actors participating in continuous interactive processes of knowledge sharing, learning and engagement.
  • Embedding an ethos of creativity in the curriculum is not a linear or straightforward process. There are numerous barriers to enhanced creativity that include attitudes towards creativity and knowledge, behaviours established practices, time and resources and others that mediate against improving creativity in the curriculum.

Paul Collard, CEO from Creativity, Culture and Education in the UK, is guest speaker at the conference: “Without creative skills, problem-solving skills, collaborative skills and a good work ethic young people will not be able to succeed in the world of employment. Now is the time to start thinking about how we reimagine education to put the development of these skills at the heart of the curriculum in order to develop the young people we need, to build the society of tomorrow.”

The conference is aimed at parents, teachers and anyone interested in improving levels of confidence, creative and critical thinking and problem solving in primary school children. Speakers at the conference include Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair and Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway; Dr Cormac Forkan, NUI Galway; Paul Collard, CEO of Creativity, Culture and Education and Lali Morris and Teenagh Cunningham from Baboró. Delegates will also have an opportunity to meet with pupils, artists, scientists and teachers who took part in the project to see the work they created.

Baboró’s BEAST! conference, ‘Opening the Door to Creative Teaching and Learning’, takes place on Thursday, 28 May, at the Lifecourse Building, NUI Galway from 10am to 4pm. More info at http://www.baboro.ie/events. Enquiries to the Baboró office on 091 562667 or beast@baboro.ie 

The BEAST! project has been funded by NUI Galway, Science Foundation Ireland, The Ireland Funds, Galway City and County Councils and Galway Local Enterprise.

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