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Pimp My School

Learning Contexts

Visual arts - painting (can and stencil), mixed media drawing, photography and digital film; Social sciences; Mathematics


Simon Gray


Dargaville High School

Duration of Project

10 weeks

Students Involved

60 - 70 students, year 10

The Artists in Schools project reaffirmed my belief in the importance of creativity and how it can and should play a central role within the education system and from there develop in the wider community

(Simon Gray).


Dargaville High School students were given the responsibility for the beautification of selected areas of the school. This was followed up with a temporary gallery installation/exhibition and an associated blogsite. Three art classes of year 10 students were involved, in addition approximately twenty-eight year 10 media studies students, documented the project from start to finish.

Year 10 students visit to Auckland to visit TMD Crew - in front of the school bus painted by TMD Crew (graffiti artists)
Photographs of the end of project exhibition at a shop space in town Photographs of the end of project exhibition at a shop space in town Photographs of the end of project exhibition at a shop space in town


The central theme of 'the school environment' was chosen because the school, although well maintained, lacked visual stimuli. It was also felt that the students would take more ownership and pride in their everyday environment by being engaged in making work that would have a tangible and lasting effect on the school and the wider community.

The opportunity for the students to experience a wide range of media, genres and techniques including digital film, photography, painting, stencilling and mixed media was both exciting and motivating.

The project allowed teachers to see and experience alternative ways of working with the new curriculum document. This included inter-departmental cooperation, opportunities to work beyond their specialist areas, teaching outside of the classroom, and flexibility to develop project outcomes when students raise new ideas.

The project directly involved students in aspects of the new curriculum by encouraging inquiry-based learning, problem solving, cooperative and social skills. The potential cross-curricular pathways created a new dimension of visual literacy and enabled students to encounter the work of artists and other visual communication in a relevant context.

The blog for the project was linked from the Dargaville High School website, so parents and people visiting the school website could see the work made by the students. ' The Big Idea ' website, a site for the arts and creative industries, was also linked to the blog. The blog and the project outline were linked with other educational initiatives around the world. This enabled the students to make connections with other schools and groups around the world.

The blogsite was extremely informative covering most of the stages of the project with images of the wide range of artworks and videos created by students.

Stage 1 Students were given the task of exploring the school environs - image gathering by taking photos of any details that looked like a letter or number. These images were filed on the computer as the initial stimulus for the project. This was followed up by a visit to The Maximum Dose Crew (TMD Crew) in Auckland to learn more about graffiti art and to have the school bus painted by TMD. Media students from the school documented the whole process.

Stage 2 Simon (artist) and Caroline (teacher) introduced the students to Simon's work within a discussion forum. The content included the many universal concepts around environmental art (in its many forms). Brainstorming to generate a myriad of possible ideas took place as well as decisions about 'situation' and 'place'. Further photographs were taken and stored on file in response to this discussion. Media students followed this up by interviewing the artist, teachers and students.

Stage 3 Ideas were then formulated and developed by students through the production of work. Students collaborated in groups or worked individually. Students were encouraged to work in a manner that related to their 'situation', for example boarding students did a project on night time/long-exposure photography in the dorms with the focus of exploring "time". Other students' work included activities such as installations, murals, stencilling and more.

Stage 4 Students continued in the production of their work until it was resolved sufficiently for an installation. Additional time was required to complete projects and to arrange the public exhibition of students' work in the town. In conjunction with this, worldwide and community connections were being made through the blog site with the aim of planning for possible further local projects.

Student Learning

The students were offered a completely different approach to making art works than they were used to. The students were given their own space and it was their zone to make art. They were given the freedom to develop their own ideas and to choose to work in groups or as individuals. For some, collaborating on a group project was a new experience. Every idea was valid and all work made was considered as a possibility. Group projects allowed some students to share their skills with others and this in turn benefited them in their own work.

The finished mural inspired by TMD Crew The Library window murals

The project enabled students to demonstrate their ideas and creativity through the development of their work by drawing on their interests and experiences. The students began to understand that a notated scribble or a photographic sketch, were equally as valid as a "final work". Drawing upon the students' own interests, and incorporating them into the project, helped to develop a higher level of engagement.

The freedom to change ideas, experiment and fail were all important aspects to the underlying ideas of the project, based on integrating the new curriculum. In particular, the focus was to look at how to show the importance of creativity and innovation, not only in the arts but also across the learning areas. Students took the chance to develop a series of projects that demonstrated they could produce a wide range of interesting, innovative and creative work despite this being a new way of working for them.

Working with an artist as opposed to a teacher gave a distinctive dynamic to the project as whole. The students were able to build different relationships with the artist and their teachers, which gave the project a more distinct "feel" than if it was simply run by teachers.

Students were introduced to Photoshop and other computer programs, where appropriate, for their projects. This helped them to visualise how their work might look in-situ and allowed them to show others the concept for the finished project.

1. Year 10 Students working on individual projects 2. Simon Gray (artist) explaining digital storage of images 3. Year 10 students mapping out their mural design

Curriculum links

Direct links with the New Zealand Curriculum were evident in the student-centred learning. The values of diversity, and respect were a main focus of the project as well as the principles of inclusiveness and community engagement. Teachers and the artist utilised the effective pedagogies of 'knowing the learner', 'shared learning', and 'making connections to prior experiences'.

Values were an important part of the conception and ongoing development of this project with an emphasis on diversity, community and participation towards a common goal.

Key competencies developed by students included; thinking creatively and critically; participating and contributing in group projects; and using language symbols and texts to communicate meaning.

All four strands of the Visual arts curriculum were integrated: Understanding the arts in context; Developing ideas; Developing practical knowledge; and Communicating and interpreting, with more emphasis being placed on Developing ideas and new Developing practical knowledge strands.

Related learning

Cross-curricular links with other learning areas were an important aspect of the project both during the project and also identifying possible areas of collaboration between departments after the project was finished. Teachers from different departments had opportunities to contribute and participate throughout the project. For example in the initial stages of the project, data and information was gathered from around the school - measurements were taken, mapping carried out, plans and designs drawn up.

Collaboration with the Social sciences and Mathematics curriculum areas supported students to produce and consider information in a number of forms, such as combining statistical, geographical, anecdotal and visual information in ways that may not have been explored by students before. Media studies students recorded and documented the project throughout and developed various ways to present the information including documentary, interviews and video diaries.

By integrating the learning areas the project further developed student literacy by making it relevant, supporting individual student learning and engagement.

The philosophy behind this project was to support the idea of creating a learning culture where students see the results of their participation in the education process.

Other cross-curricular collaborations were less structured and developed as people saw what was going on with the project. These collaborations will continue and over time specific projects between departments will be developed. Central to this will be the idea that creativity is not only for the art department but rather an essential skill for all areas of the curriculum.

(Simon Gray)

Impact on school community

Some of the benefits of this ten week project are longer term. These include developing some of the project ideas into work with the rest of the school and with the local community. Supporting collaboration with local iwi, whānau and groups who are linked to the school will hopefully in turn encourage students to consider the needs of society and the development of the local economy.

This has already begun to happen through a Ministry of Justice grant to work with some of the same students and the local community to solve local graffiti issues. Another project which has developed directly from the Artists in Schools programme is working with local skateboarders to put together a film and DVD about their plans for a skateboard park which will be used as a fund raising and promotional tool.


Working in a school environment gives artists an important insight into the way the education system is structured including the challenges of delivering short lessons, the impact on other learning areas, students missing lessons, and everything else associated with school life.

The commitment shown by many of the students and the opportunity for them to develop their creativity through the project was a great experience for the artists to be a part of. It was a chance to work collaboratively with many of the students through sharing and developing ideas and for others it was just a case of giving them the freedom to explore their ideas.

The web feedback has been so positive and has enabled me to bring a worldwide perspective to one small Art Department by making links with schools in New Zealand and also globally to share experiences and develop relationships with other schools and artists. I am now considering using other stimuli, such as 'zines' to collate and encourage continued dialogue with the local teenagers on other issues which are important to them, for example, raising money for a skateboard park

(Simon Gray)

For teachers the project stimulated ideas about teaching and learning- how to get the students thinking through making and doing rather than planning outcomes. Themes and genres that motivate the students and ways in which collaboration and working in groups can contribute effectively in students' learning were explored. The positive learning experience has had a flow-on effect by lifting student numbers wanting to take visual arts courses at the senior level.

It has given me the confidence to allow the students more autonomy over their learning and not feel the need to direct the process and determine the outcomes...the students are now more confident about making art and are less concerned about whether it is good or not. They make it anyway.

(Caroline Gray)

I plan to shift my teaching practice to allow for greater student choice in planning and I have sharpened my questioning skills to illicit answers that support the student ideas, not to measure the tasks I set.

(Caroline Gray)

Curriculum Links

The NZ Curriculum states as its vision for young people that they are confident, connected, actively involved and lifelong learners. Realising this vision was an integral part of this project as all the children involved were actively involved in music making and had multiple opportunities to relate to adults and their peers in an innovative and creative way. The experience set high standards for the children of what they could achieve with dedication and life-long learning.

The values in the NZ Curriculum found real expression in this collaboration with Julian and Strike. The students aimed for excellence in their performance, were introduced to a diverse range of cultures through song and developed a strong sense of community while working together towards a common goal.

In developing the key competencies the students related to others as they listened, kept open to new ideas and shared their thoughts. They developed skills of co-operation and tolerance, managing their own behaviour and setting high standards for their own contribution.

All four strands of the Music - Sound Arts Curriculum were encompassed through the learning. Students learned to: Understand Music - Sound Arts in Context; Develop Practical Knowledge as they learned to sing and play instrument; Develop Ideas as the worked to create their own music; and Communicate and Interpret music of a range of cultures for performances.

Where to next

The structure set out for the project was designed to allow the students to develop their own work and to have the freedom to explore and change their ideas throughout the course of the project. It gave both the visual arts staff, and other staff members from other learning areas the opportunity to see how a different approach to learning might work and to discuss areas that might need further development.

Useful links

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