Alchemy (Where Science meets Art)

Sometimes as a teacher you have these moments when a student wows your mind! I have had several of these magic moments this last term when students have had an idea and have been so self-driven they have taken it to another level of creativity!

Alchemy (Where Science meets Art)

One of our students never ceases to amaze me with their insatiable appetite for making – dismantling, fixing or creating. They have their own ideas about what they would like to do with a level of intent, focus and infectious curiosity that would impress the most experimental of Scientists, a desire to create that would be admired by the greatest of inventors and a knowledge base and memory that makes all things seem possible. You can almost see their mind working in real time. Throw in an open fire, some scrap materials and a tool or two and you are off!

This student often knows what they want to do and how to do it, or at least the capacity and will to think about what needs to be done and it is a truly inspiring thing to watch and if you’re lucky, to be included. Its difficult not to get excited, they rarely need help except to provide the tools or materials (then I step aside..sometimes asked quite politely and reassuringly “ I know what I am doing!”)

The first time I noticed this about this student, it was a quiet day, they had an idea to make something and were looking for any spare materials and tools they could use. They had already got a plan (they didn’t want any help with it), and had found an old tin can to take upcycle. Along with some scrap copper and wire and some metal tools; a mini anvil block, a hammer and some punches, they spent the rest of the afternoon transforming the bits of scrap to make functional candle holders, then army style ID tags for fellow students (even taking orders from peers!) I was even later honored to be asked by the proud maker to choose one to take home for myself, that is precious!)

Fuelled by the excitement of alchemic possibilities of metals, the next idea evolved – to create a ‘forge’ in the fire to try and smelt a variety of metals to see if we could melt them together or change their form or colour. Now it started to get more interesting and unpredictable… this student is very careful with tools and fire and had to work safely to change the structure of the fire to make the entrance to the forge whilst keeping its heat in order to slide in the experimental metals and see what would happen. We had some old copper wires from discarded cables and a bit of brass from somewhere else I don’t recall… that were placed together and were even wrapped in foil to be then heated up in the centre of the kiln and carefully monitored to see what would happen – some changed, some didn’t, some took a long time to heat up, some were lost to the inferno but the exclamation of satisfaction when the alchemy worked and resulting rainbow oil slick looking colours were revealed, it was well worth the patience. It is a wonderful and privileged thing to watch a young mind astounding itself.

Fire Metalwork Alchemy
This photo also shows Anna’s charcloth tin at the back. The fire really was being used to its creative max that day.

Apart from the student initiating these spontaneous experiments with enthusiastic glee (can we bottle that?) the best part of this was that everything was from scraps – I was told firmly that they only wanted to use it if it didn’t cost very much as they only wanted to recycle scrap so not to waste!!! (music to my #Skraptacular ears? )

The next best part of this is that it wasn’t a pre-planned activity – it wasn’t even a timetabled lesson – it was this student’s resourcefulness to make and re-invent using the materials around them. Truly an admirable attribute that we should nuture (for it is a unique and possibly dying art in our throwaway world) and I appreciate how lucky we are at Running Deer to be able to encourage our students interests, run with them wherever they may go and help each one realise their potential. The ability and desire to invent and create is a magical thing but the real skill is believing that you can do it (and persevering when it doesn’t work out to plan). When you are learning by ‘doing’ there is so much more learned about success and failure, problem solving, lateral thinking, patience and stamina; it’s a gift to be able to teach in this way.

I write this as we start the new term as a reminder that all students are capable of great things in unique ways and when we can meet them where they are, empower them and value teaching things differently, they can achieve so much more (and even possibly enjoy it!). It is a reminder to look for the teaching opportunities – when to interject and when to stand back and allow them to happen. When the right energy is flowing and the brain is in the appropriate gear, sparks ignite and we should try to acknowledge the moment, going with the flow but steering if needed and fueling it with all the encouragement we can.

Fire Alchemy
These moments may or may not happen that often, especially in these uncertain times, but when they do it’s up to us to notice, appreciate and most importantly not let them go to waste.