Good Practice Guide - Maths & English
The MARS Award
by Derek Johnson, Director of the School of Art and Design at West Suffolk College
"If we were to name one focus in The School of Art and Design at West Suffolk College - it would be to open and develop inquisitive minds. We believe this is where future happiness and prosperity lies.
"In 2013 we undertook a level three assignment based on the Hindu god of Shiva, the pulse of the universe and the CERN Hadron Collider - this went internationally viral when it was celebrated by the International Hindu Society – it was really crazy! This inspired us to develop a wider approach to study and creatively express the wonders of Maths, Art, Religion and Science… and the MARS Award was born in 2015.
"The vision for this is for all 400 of our FE Art and Design students in term 2 to work collaboratively with The School of Science (students and resources) to a set of rich, creative, technical and challenging assignments. These must ‘fuse’ all four areas of MARS together into one dynamic learning experience.
"There are winners on each course and then an overall winner – judged by an invited panel. The award was won in 2016 by Lauren Jones a second year level 3 Graphic Design student who explored the Periodic Table through religion, mathematics and reinventing the symbols as a result. Incredibly sophisticated work – all a result of embracing the rich wonders of wider world. In 2017 Louise Gooden explore human mathematical optical interpretation of the cosmos and the process of faith, life and decay.
"One example is a drawing into 3D assignment that involves mapping fir cones according to the Fibonacci sequence and then measuring the geography of the subsequent drawing through a study of coastline Fracals using dividers made with cocktail sticks and liquorish strips. The work of mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot (1967) is a wonderful contextual reference for this. The resulting designs become powerful building block for architectural designs for spiritual centres/temple concepts. A process with demanding mathematical systems – but loved by students. The engagement has been genuinely thrilling. It has inspired staff and students to strive for ever greater levels of innovation and contextual exploration. Furthermore, our awarding body (UAL) have recognised the award as unique practice and we presented the initiative to their annual conference in 2016 and at several UAL training events. Lecturers from other colleges have embraced the ethos of MARS and we have continued to share our ideas.
"On February 24th 2017 we won the TES Award for Best Teaching and Learning Initiative. This was a huge honor. Our local MP, Jo Churchill, praised us for this in the subsequent Prime Ministers Question Time and Theresa May PM returned this by stating that ‘all colleges should strive to reach this standard’. The media storm that followed was very positive for our School, college and FE as a whole. Exciting times!
"We believe respect for world religions, STEM and maths is learnt without being preached. We have embraced the opportunity to stretch and challenge and the MARS Award has raised standards of depth, integrity, technical and creative skills as a result. Above all – and most importantly in all education – for all staff and students it has developed inquisitive minds."
How to make do, how to make it work, and how to grow
What to do?
- Identify innovative practice from within a team – something a bit unusual
- Identify areas of staff skill, personal interest and enjoyment
- Identify something/s that has worked well - ideally more than once
- Identify an area of collaboration – between curriculum areas, schools, business or another country maybe
- Identify something that will positively cover educational expectations
- Identify something your instincts tell you… this feels cool and ‘right’!
What to do?
- Integrity - put student experience and learning at the heart
- Share student work at best practice events. No pressure on staff – fast and unrehearsed show and tell style
- Create an engaging visual leaning environment that build a mind-set of activity and innovation. Get stuff on walls
- Inclusive – it must be for and by everybody – so it become a whole culture and a whole success
- Do not do anything that is a drain on staff time and resources – only something that people will be keen to do and something that builds on existing success
- Sell it… have clarity why we are doing it?
- Create a cool and snappy name of the initiative
- Set it in stone. This is what we do - and it is part of who we are
- Build on early stories of success – media, internal stories, displays – make sure VIPs know… they will pass on the good work at a high level later.
- Talk about it a lot… keep feeding the fire - it embeds a mind-set and culture
- Refine – trim and develop as it begins to form. Listen to feedback and be open to ideas. You need you need the whole team on-side
- Zero cost and no permissions needed
- Give out professional level awards – no school-like tacky certificates. Have images of the winners on the walls
- Keep it simple – hold the line – vision – and ambition
- Believe in it and apply for national awards – no spin – tell the story of transformational education – this builds a culture of success and makes us all feel happy, valued and ready for the next day.