It’s about as far from a traditional classroom as you can get — a giant maze-like structure that fashions itself on a curious hybrid of fairground ride, carnival sideshow, encyclopaedia and art installation.
But Nottingham University Samworth Academy (NUSA) in Bilborough, Nottingham, used this quirky ‘learning environment’ to harness the curiosity and wonder of its pupils to boost their literacy levels.
NUSA’s Agent of Wonder and project leader Matthew McFall described it as “an intricate puzzle box but on a giant scale.”
He added: “We wanted something that would help the pupils to improve their literacy but not in a really obvious or boring way. Literacy is not just about reading and writing, it’s about the world which harnessing those skills can open up to you. We wanted to bring a flavour of that world into the maze in a concept that would excite and inspire the pupils.”
The walls of the 16ft by 32ft maze featured an array of the weird and wonderful covering the broad spectrum of the curriculum. However, instead of being divided into subjects, each panel featured a display on a broad topic, such as communication, which looked at the use of heraldry through history, codes, shorthand, hieroglyphics and early languages.
The maze was divided into areas including the Realm of Science, the multi-mirrored Infinity Room and the Transformation Suite in which pupils used a UV light lamp to reveal hidden words. The Wishing Tree offered pupils time for reflection, while a life-size rendering of a lion allowed young artists to learn about form and perspective.
And, recognising that the most popular part of many a child’s attraction is the gift shop, pupils built up credits in the maze which they exchanged for items from the shop, such as small puzzles and activity sheets.
The concept of the maze began last year when NUSA put in a bid for funding through the Creative Partnerships programme, an initiative which aims to bring creative workers such as artists, architects and scientists together with schools to inspire pupils and promote learning.
NUSA’s Wonder Room — a modern cabinet of curiosities which gives pupils access to obscure artefacts and objects to explore the world around them — was the inspiration of the maze. Pupils contributed words such as ‘drama’, ‘jokes’, ‘beauty’, ‘darkness’ and ‘illusions’ to help shape the maze. Artists took part in a maze Factor-style day, presenting their vision for the project. Designer Florian Kremb, storyteller Kat Quatermass, installation artist Graham Elstone, graphic designer Ruth Disney and scenic artist Tom Cleaver won over staff and pupils.
NUSA’s science teacher Danny Collison, technician Steve Amos and classroom assistant Shelley Hawley, a former theatre sets designer, also worked on the project.
The maze — which was in an area known as The Street — can be disassembled and reassembled as needed. Display panels are secured with Velcro fastenings, so they can be updated as the pupils’ interests and learning evolves.
Richard Clark, chief executive of The Mighty Creatives, said, “It has been a delight and an inspiration to work with Nottingham University Samworth Academy. Through this Creative Partnerships project, a maze, a classroom, an installation and museum have all combined to make an extraordinary learning space — one of infinite possibility. The project is proof that when children and adults work together using their imaginations, learning becomes hugely memorable and exciting for all. Congratulations to everyone involved in the creation of a masterpiece.”
NUSA is one of the UK’s first academies to have direct sponsorship from a university, in partnership with businessman and philanthropist Sir David Samworth. The £24m state-of-the-art building, on the site of the former William Sharp School in Bilborough, was opened last year by Olympic gold-medal winner Dame Kelly Holmes.
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