Wonder and a-maze-ment — learning the NUSA way!

The learning maze at NUSA
13 Jun 2011 13:31:06.607
PA 185/11

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, art installation and celebration.

But Nottingham University Samworth Academy (NUSA) in Bilborough, Nottingham, is hoping that its quirky new temporary ‘learning environment’ will harness the curiosity and wonder of its pupils to boost their literacy levels.

NUSA’s Agent of Wonder Matthew McFall, who has led the project to build the learning maze, said: “It’s like an intricate puzzle box but on a giant scale. We wanted something that would help the pupils to improve their literacy but not in a really obvious or boring way.
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“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 giant structure is 16 ft wide and 32 ft long and is constructed with more than 40 wooden panels each adorned with a fabulous array of the weird and wonderful covering the broad spectrum of the curriculum. However, instead of being divided up by strict subject areas, each panel features a display on a broad topic area such as Communication, which looks at the use of heraldry through history, secret codes, the shorthand alphabet, hieroglyphics and early languages.

Inside, the Maze is divided into a number of intriguing areas including the Realm of Science, the multi-mirrored Infinity Room and the Transformation Suite in which pupils need to use a UV light lamp to reveal hidden words painted on to the walls.

The Wishing Tree will offer pupils time for reflection by making a wish and tying a ribbon to a giant tree, while a life size rendering of a lion will offer budding artists the ultimate model and the chance to learn about form and perspective.

In the spirit of all good attractions, there’s even a gift shop at the exit — pupils can build up credits for the shop by posting questions, contributions and suggestions through the Maze’s letterbox. Credits can be exchanged for items from the shop, such as small puzzles, games and literacy-based activity sheets.

During the Maze’s two week run at the school, teachers have the opportunity to book the structure to use it as the basis for an interactive lesson in place of their normal classroom activities.

The Maze began last year when NUSA was given the chance to 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.

Staff at the school decided to use NUSA’s Wonder Room — a modern cabinet of curiosities which gives pupils access to a varied range of artefacts and objects to explore the world around them — as the inspiration of the project.

Pupils were then asked to contribute words which appealed to them such as ‘drama’, ‘jokes’, ‘beauty’, ‘darkness’ and ‘illusions’, which helped to shape NUSA’s choice of a maze as the final concept.

Artists were invited to apply to work on the project with staff and students and a Maze Factor-style day was held where artists came into NUSA to present their vision for the project and to take part in workshops with pupils.

Chosen to get on board were designer Florian Kremb, storyteller Kat Quatermass, installation artist Graham Elstone, graphic designer Ruth Disney and scenic artist Tom Cleaver.

The specialist and diverse skills of NUSA staff, including Science teacher Danny Collison, technician Steve Amos and classroom assistant Shelley Hawley, a former theatre sets designer, were also called into play.

The Maze has been constructed in an area of the school known as The Street — a large, central glass-covered atrium — and has been created in a way that means that at the end of its two-week run it can be disassembled and stored for future use.

The large display panels are secured with Velcro fastenings, meaning that the concept of the maze can be re-imagined in the future 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. It's also a lot of fun! 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 first academies to have direct sponsorship from a university, in partnership with businessman and philanthropist Sir David Samworth. The school’s new £24 million state-of-the-art new building, built on the site of the former William Sharp School in Bilborough, was opened last year by Olympic gold-medal winner Dame Kelly Holmes.

Story credits

More information is available from Dr Matthew McFall on +44 (0)115 939 1763 or ttxmsm@nottingham.ac.uk

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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