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Project Runway @ Durban Girls' College

My friend Gaye (who teaches IT "Information Technology" at DGC) entered one of my Grade 9 projects in the Microsoft and Schoolnet SA innovative teacher’s competition. I had forgotten about the entry until last week when one of the organisers contacted me via e-mail and told me that I am one of the finalists and I will be presenting my project at the Southern Sun North Beach Hotel on the 1st of April (Sunday afternoon).

I thought I would share this project on my blog & by writing about it – hopefully I would gain clarity & be able to speak about it more confidently. 

I first conceived of this idea in 2008 whilst watching Project Runway: an American reality television series on VUZU channel on DSTV which focuses on fashion design. I became very excited when I viewed Episode 11: The Art of Fashion (Series 4).  This episode starts with the designers being taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  At the museum they are given 45 minutes to explore three Galleries – Greek and Roman Sculpture; European Painting and the Temple of Dendur (Egyptian Art) They then have limited time to design their outfits (based on what they found inspiring at the museum), choose their fabric and make their outfits and finally put on a fashion show.

I started this project by playing clips from the Project Runway show on YouTube for my students.

I wanted my Grade 9 students to feel like real designers – so I wanted to go through a similar process by researching an art period and getting them to find inspiration in virtual art museums (the Internet) thus extending the learning beyond the classroom. Each stage of the project had time constraints to closely mimic the deadlines that the designers went through in the reality show. 

I didn’t want to listen to traditional oral presentations - I felt each student’s work should stand by itself without verbal explanation.  I also aimed at capturing the excitement of a Virtual Reality show so I designed a project that would include music, visuals and text presented in the form of a PowerPoint show.  Our Information Technology department collaborated with me on this & taught the Grade 9 students advanced PowerPoint techniques.

I wanted the students to mark each other’s work (peer assessment) so each show had to have a made up “designer label” – so each show could be viewed without knowing the author and marked without prejudice.

They had two hours to research specific artists and source fabric swatches on the Internet (virtual Art museums) & one hour in class to draw up the design.

They then worked with specific instructions; this included, creating a designer label, scanning designs, setting timing on each slide (so the viewer could enjoy the show with automatic changing of slides), appropriate music to set the atmosphere, editing images in GIMP, writing a rationale, properly referencing images used in the show, learning how to compress images and finally saving the show to a CD. Click here to download the full brief I gave to the students. I also gave them the marking guidelines I intended using.

I made a PowerPoint show which provided an introduction to specific artists/movements I had chosen as a focus. In 2011 I specifically chose female artists to provide role models for the girls I teach.

I did initially look for South African female artists but the content they explored was either not age appropriate for Grade 9 or would be difficult to adapt to Fashion design. This show also introduces students to the basics of fashion design – creating a more elongated stylized figure and mood boards and provides links to resources on the Internet. A very basic PowerPoint template was also provided to give students a format to start this project.

This show by one of my students represents contemporary fashion design based on the graffiti artist Banksy. (design below)  

Through this process they not only learnt how to research but; learnt how to creatively interpret visuals and text into an original design. They learnt how to acknowledge images in presentations accurately.  The skills given to them via the PowerPoint lessons, has made them technologically fluent.    

I have shared this lesson with other teachers on CD & have thought about how it can be adapted for male students. (I have a colleague who used this at Clifton College)  Instead of Project Runway it could be called “Pimp my Ride” & templates of skateboards, surfboards, cars, motorbikes & even bicycles could be downloaded from the Internet & the same research and presentation done for project runway can be applied.

Reader Comments (3)

Congrats Joan on being selected as a finalist. I think this is a fantastic lesson and importantly, one where you get to teach, and the students get to learn and work, in a way which is contemporary.

The use of technology to research, design and to present is so important and makes learning applicable and appropriate for the age in which we live. Your commitment to teaching is evident in the extensive effort and thought in which you apply your ideas. Reading this brief, and your blog, makes me want to be a student all over again.

Your students must surely love learning under your guidance and no doubt are achieving good marks, but more importantly, attaining critical skill.

Well done and all the very, very best.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLara

Congratulations on being selected as a finalist. I am always inspired by the innovative ways you bring art and art history alive and make it relevant for reluctant teenagers.

This is an especially creative and interesting assignment, including computer technology into the project is insightful. The invaluable skills they would have learnt with regards to using the amazing world of the internet as a tool for research and inspiration will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives, creative or not.

With 'New Media' and 'Multi Media' being one of the subjects offered in most Fine Arts and all Graphic Design degrees, this brief introduces the students to what is possible with digital manipulation and is a wonderful introduction to another medium with which they can express themselves.

You continually strive to find exciting new ways to inspire, challenge and bring out the best in all your students, I would have loved to have you as my art teacher.

Good luck, holding thumbs.

March 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGwynn Smith

Well done Joan - you most certainly deserve this!!
When reading through your project I put myself in the shoes of the young teenage 'designer.'In order to make any school project successful one has to consider the initial impact/response of the pupils. This project of yours fits all requirements! You would have their immediate attention as fashion is uppermost in their minds. The way you have structured the project empowers each student into believing that they are that designer that they dream of being. The scope and range of technology provided and researched by you with your school's technology department further enables them to present a 'real' design to the world.
I wish you every success!

March 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJane Jarvis

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