The case study focuses on the work of Kate Cosgrove, Assistant Head Teacher at Mundella Primary School. It involved 80 Year 1 and 2 children using the iPad Brushes app and a class blog to encourage creative artwork. The project was inspired by David Hockney’s work and was displayed for the public in the Sheffield Millennium Gardens as part of Sheffield Children’s Festival. Working with a professional artist the children created images of flowers that were compiled into a digital mural, ‘A Bigger Bloom’.
5.1.8 Case Study 8. ‘Bigger Bloom’; Digital Literacy and Creativity
Mundella is a larger than average primary school in Sheffield. The majority of pupils are white British. A few pupils speak languages other than English. In the latest Ofsted report (2011) it was rated a ‘good’ school with an ‘imaginative and effective curriculum’. There are 274 pupils on roll. For the majority of children, English is the first language; 5% of pupils are eligible for free school meals.
The teacher, Kate, has long used Web 2.0 tools to support her class teaching and professional practice. She is committed to extending learning beyond the classroom and to widening the classroom community through blogging with her class and using a Twitter feed to connect with the parents. Twitter and her class blog keep parents informed about what her class is doing. She often poses a question for children, for example about their favourite food, or what they are doing for Sport Relief etc, connected in some way to the class topic or to school events. Kate has developed resources for other teachers at Mundella who were not familiar with blogging and Twitter. Her site is gaining considerable interest: to date it has had 6,676 hits.
220.127.116.11 Digital Literacy Practice
The case study was inspired by David Hockney’s work and used the Brushes app to create images of flowers. These were compiled in a digital mural, ‘A Bigger Bloom’.
The aims of the project were to:
- Extend the use of Web 2.0 tools to enable the class to participate in communities beyond the school
- Explore the creative potential of digital technologies
- Explore the use of iPads and in particular the Brushes app
Prior to the project, children had not used iPads at school, so Kate began by giving them iPads to play on and explore. She was impressed at how quickly they learned how to use them and found that there were many things they discovered without any formal instruction.
This project was supported by the Manager, Richard Johnson, an artist himself, from Sheffield Children’s Festival. He showed the children how to create a flower on Brushes using the colour wheel and brush tool. The children looked closely at flowers – dahlias, aubretias and violas – and used these as the inspiration for their paintings.
Richard was able to provide clear guidance for children in creating their flowers. Kate noticed that, because her children were confident with using iPads, Richard was able to focus more on developing the artwork rather than the use of the technology:
Transcript of video
Richard: The first thing I want you to do is to press the colour wheel. You know what that is I think, don’t you? [‘yes’] because you have been working on these already. Can you see the dark and light bar here? [‘Yes] I want you to scroll along there until you get a light green. And then I want you to go into your brush button, and I want you to choose a brush size of around about five – a very thin brush, ok? [It’s six’] That’s ok, six is fine. Now then, hands up who can tell me what shape that flower is there? Yes, Gabriella?
Gabriella: Oh well it’s a circle inside …
Richard: It’s a circle isn’t it? Now the secret I want to tell you is that an artist is very careful, and they don’t draw something in the shape that they think it is. They look very carefully at all the shapes of the thing that they are drawing and they try and draw the shape that it actually is. …. This bit is very important, so I don’t want you to rush it, I want you to take your time and do the best drawing of your flower that you choose … that you possibly can … Can you see that I am drawing and looking at the flower all the time. Drawing a bit … looking at the flower. I am not imagining any of this, I am drawing it as it actually is. Now there are some petals hiding behind those main petals, so I am going to put some of those in too … There’s one behind here … and there is one just sticking out there. I don’t want you to worry about making mistakes either, because we are going to add loads of colour to our pictures … and the last thing I want to do is we are going to tidy up any bits of this light green sketch colour that we have used that we don’t want. Alright? So I want you to very quietly and carefully go to back to your iPads, and start …
Sharing expertise video
Richard talked to one child, but the camera sweeps across the table to another child who is expanding and contracting her picture using a pincer movement with her fingers.
Transcript of video
I’ve used the eye drop tool to find the green in the background. I’ve got to brush 14 or 15, it’s that solid brush there.
Is this a pen? It’s like a pen, and we are going to get rid of …
The children quickly became adept with the app, and were able to use different tools with confidence. During the project, they interviewed each other about using Brushes and the iPads.
Yeah, because when you zoom in, don’t you, you can see very closely what you are looking at.
And that helps you if you want to do very good detail, you zoom in, and then you can do … brush strokes, and then zoom back out and you can see what it looks like.
The children were not afraid to experiment with the app.
Child A: There’s like a little square box, and you can choose the colours, and if you first get it, it starts with a colour. And if you click on that there is a colour wheel, where there’s a wheel with lots of different colours, and there’s like a pallet, and there’s a pallet next to it, and you can click on the little brush thing and do a painting there.
Child B: To make it brighter, you can move the little switch right up to the high, and then if you want it darker you can move it back to the other end.
Child A: And you can put checks and you can put grey bits but the checks don’t work, you can’t see them, you have to have it on plain font … I think to make it work … we’ll have to try it out!.
Kate invited children to use the blog to reflect on what had happened during the project and how they had felt about using Brushes.
The individual flowers were collected in a digital mural – A ‘Bigger Bloom‘ – a meadow of all their creations. As this project was using Brushes app in a new way, Richard, the children and Kate had to experiment with the best way to enable individual images to be created that could be used as part of the large mural; the aim was to be able to access the work in different ways to both celebrate the children’s creations and provide insights into the process.
This final artwork was displayed for a week in Sheffield Millennium Galleries in July 2012; members of the public, including children and teachers from other schools, were invited to explore and interact with the exhibit (see Bigger Bloom Digital Meadow). As visitors clicked on each flower, it brought up a trace of the process through which the flowers had been created, for example, a child’s comment from the blog, a video of the children at work or an interview with individuals about using Brushes (see Case Study 14)
As the followup to the case study, the children shared their experiences with parents, grandparents and siblings showing them how to use the iPads. The children were very much the experts, giving careful instructions about how to use various techniques and passing on their skills. Both children and teachers have become more confident in using iPads and the Brushes app in particular.
18.104.22.168 Reflections on Teaching
Kate studied digital literacy as part of her MA and has been interested in developing this further; the case study enabled her to think about how her understanding of digital literacy had progressed by focussing on her classroom-based practice.
From my observation throughout the project, the children appeared competent and confident to access and use a range of technology in order to communicate with peers, teachers and a wider global audience through blogging. This confidence grew as the project developed and I felt that we, as a class, were forging a path of modelling high-end technology in a world restricted by the high costs of hardware by making the most of what we had.
When thinking about the confidence of her children Kate recognised that they live in a technological world and as such they instinctively, and naturally, respond to the digital technology presented.
My six and seven year olds were probably more confident than my own 14-year-old secondary school student. I realised that all I had to do was present them with the technology and they instinctively moved between programmes, games and the web to create a feedback-laden world that was rich in communication and dialogue.
For Kate, these reflections have helped her define her understanding of digital literacy:
Digital literacy here was about being digitally literate; using technology with confidence; applying skills to a new platform; using knowledge in a range of contexts.
Digital literacy for my children is having the confidence to have a go. Having the skills in place to touch the screen and not be scared: ‘The undo button means we don’t have to worry if we make a mistake.’
When thinking about any problems she faced during the project Kate said:
There were problems to overcome, but most of these centred on the technology - charging, emailing finished pictures, compiling the final mural – and were battled out using trial and error on my part. The children had no problems with the task. They had no barriers to overcome, as iPads are so user friendly; they took to them straight away.
Kate is passionate about sharing experiences and working with others to develop their use of technology but recognises that a good way to do this is through a supportive, hands-on approach, and by networking with others who have the same passion and the skills. She also comments on the incentive the project has given her to continue with her professional development:
Because the technology was introduced to other Key Stage 1 colleagues by Richard in a supportive and relaxed session, other teachers are open to using the technology again and have enjoyed using the set we have in school. Our school development plan for this year has embedded the use of iPads, and I will be researching further the use of the iPads in the classroom, and searching for apps of a similar quality to Brushes (perhaps for the music curriculum).
It has been interesting for me after studying digital literacy as part of my MA studies to see how my ‘real’ life understanding has progressed through a project routed in classroom based practice, not practice forced by MA enquiry. This whole process has been really organic and focused on my children, their interests and my passion.
22.214.171.124 Reflections on Learning
After the project, Kate summarised what had happened on the blog and invited the children to comment. Here is a small selection of their comments, taken from the blog.
Children’s Brushes interview: Transcript of audio
Interviewer: Why do you like using the iPad you two?
Child A: Because you can draw pictures with different fonts of brushes and different sizes
Child B And you can get lots of games on it like angry birds.
The blog allowed the researchers to find out more about children’s experiences when using iPads:
126.96.36.199 Reflections on Digital Literacy
This case study raises questions about how we define digital literacies and how we see these as related to other domains such as art and design or technological competence. Throughout the project, the children spoke confidently about notions of colour and line, concepts associated with art and design. We could argue that the skills of visual composition, so much part of the composition of digital texts, should be seen as part of ‘digital literacy’, with ‘literacy’ including a wider range of communicative and expressive practices beyond the verbal or alphabetic.
We gain a different perspective on digital literacies by looking more broadly at this case study as a cluster of activities that include the children’s comments on the blog as well as Kate’s tweets and blog posts. Here we can focus on digital communication that enables Kate and her children to ‘do’ something different from what would be possible with paper – to share their thoughts and perspectives alongside their images. Their writing, in this context, enables them – like the children at Bradfield Dungworth Primary School [Case Study 7] Sharrow Nursery [Case Study 5], Winterhill [Case Study 4], and Halfway Junior School [Case Study 2] – to participate in broader communities.
The comments also tell us something about the process of composition – and perhaps help us better understand the creative process that was occurring around the use of Brushes on the iPad. They tell us about the skills and understandings that children gained – about colour, about how to use the app, and so on; they also remind us that children were not just concerned with skills – how well they could represent their flower on screen; and finally, they provide an insight into other aspects of their experience. They liked the feel of drawing on screen with a finger and of playing with the iPad and of being allowed to use the screen by themselves. These choices by the children were not just shaped by their developing skills but intersected with their personal preferences, enjoyment of playing with the app and physical manipulation of the screen. The use of web 2.0 tools here helps us to understand the children’s experiences of meaning-making that perhaps enable us, as educators, to better understand how they approach this and what matters to them.
We can look at this case study in a variety of ways. First we can focus on the skills children were learning, which were analogous to those that might be developed in a more traditional observational drawing lesson: learning to look carefully and represent what they saw using available tools. The recordings of children’s peer interviews demonstrate how articulate they were about the process of composition using the iPad. These children are very clear about the decisions they make and how they could achieve the effects they wanted. Of course they may have been just as articulate had they been using crayon and paper. However, they do seem very able to explain what they did. This helps us think about what happens as we tackle a familiar task using a new tool? Does this help to raise our awareness of what the original tool did? Do these new awarenesses transfer back to using the original tool? Does this matter? Some evidence would suggest that when children communicate in forms analogous to – but different from – those normally associated with schooled literacy, this develops metaliguistic awareness, which may be useful in paper-based meaning-making. We can see this in research that has considered children’s writing on and off screen (Burnett, Dickinson, Merchant and Myers 2005). Maybe this is true for drawing too. When these children were prompted to compare drawing digitally and on paper, it is possible that the act of comparison helped them be more explicit about what they were doing in their use of colour and line for example. This is not to suggest that drawing digitally should only be used to support drawing on paper. Brushes provides a new and different media for children to use. It does, however, raise questions about relationships between creating on screen and creating on paper.
Second, we can look at the iPad itself. While some children were excited about using Brushes, for others it was the opportunity to use the iPad that seemed significant. Some of the children had access to iPads at home or at least knew family members who had them. At home of course these devices became very much part of everyday life – one child told a story of an iPad getting scratched when a grandparent’s dogs came to visit; another told of not being allowed to touch her mother’s iPad. iPads are not neutral technologies but are already associated with specific contexts, events and experiences. Through this project, the children came to explore the iPads themselves and perhaps encountered new possibilities. For some, the attraction was that this gave them access to a whole host of familiar resources – playing Angry Birds was a favourite, for example. For others, being introduced to Brushes seemed to give them their own way of using the iPads, sometimes going beyond what their parents knew. We saw this in the competence and confidence with which they instructed their parents in the use of Brushes at the parent open days.
Third, we can look at this case study in relation to the digital texts produced around the composition of the flower: the children’s comments on the blog, their podcasts and videos and Kate’s tweets. The creation of the flower is just one of many compositions that formed part of this project. The digital interactions that happened around the flower paintings were also important. The children were not creating an image to be displayed in a classroom or sent home at the end of the day but an image to be added to a digital mural and displayed publicly in Sheffield and online. Their linked comments and thoughts – capturing the process and their own perspectives on the experience – all became part of the digital event. The significance here is more in how digital technology allows an over-layering of what happens in the classroom with happenings elsewhere. Their compositions seemed to ‘mean’ something different – or have an increased significance because they were accessible to a wider audience.
188.8.131.52 References/Links to Further Information
Burnett C, Dickinson P, Merchant G and Myers J (2005). ‘Digital connections: transforming literacy in the primary school’. Cambridge Review of Education, 36(1): 11–29.
Brushes: Accessed 2/11/12
Changing Horizons (2010) Martin Waller: Blogging and Badges, [Blog] Accessed 2/11/12
iPads for learning (2012) Accessed 2/11/12
Learning with iPads (2012) Accessed 2/11/12
Mundella blog: Accessed 2/11/12
Sheffield Children’s Festival: Accessed 2/11/12
Space to Create (2012). A private social networking site serving to connect youth from around the world, Accessed 2/11/12