Birstall Primary Academy

Project: The Light of Clay
Science topic: Working Scientifically
Participants:  Year 3 pupils
Artist: Ammie Flexen

We have chosen to focus on Working Scientifically and may incorporate some experiments with light too – it could be fascinating to learn about light by using clay, and vice versa! We have already been looking at soils and testing their properties as part of our science work in class. We’ll build on this in our sessions with Ammie, discovering that there are many uses of clay as an irreversible and transformative material, which is why it is used in engineering and in a multitude of day-to-day items from bricks to face-creams. Thinking about its many uses in ancient history, and linking our investigations to our current Stone Age topic as well perhaps to modern technology and engineering, we are going to test, measure, observe and record. We’ll explore what we can do with clay on a big scale and a very small scale, find out what makes it porous and translucent, and test out how to make marks using slips and pigments and pressing objects into clay. With all these possibilities we will have to record and reach conclusions very carefully – there will be a lot to consider as we develop ideas for our exhibition piece.


Session 1: 6th February 2017
Today we met Ammie and Havovy.   Ammie is an artist who works mainly in clay, which is also known as ‘ceramics’. Havovy is a professional scientist/engineer. Together they are going to work with us to develop our creative skills and learn about working scientifically. We spent our first session working with clay on a large scale, in builder’s trays on the floor. Our term topic is the Stone Age and we talked about how the first people might have discovered that clay dug from the ground can be changed by fire and made into pots and vessels to store or cook food. We talked about the engineering that Havovy works with, and how the turbo that Cummins make are fitted into big engines and machines around the world. To get to know the clay and what we can do with it, we made imaginative machines and thought about who or what they might carry. We learned that we can stretch, squeeze and manipulate the clay into different shapes and stick them together. We also discovered that we can make something bigger by working together as a team. We created the longest snake we could, that went around the room, then we built it into a tall pot. We made some shapes inspired by Stone Age carvings using coils of clay, then smoothed the surface. When we turned them over we had a surprise to see the pattern still there. We left them on the window sill for the next session, when we will be carrying out experiments to see if we can predict what happens to the clay.

“I can’t wait till next week, we have already made predictions to what might happen if the dried clay is put into water and if the air dried clay has shrunk over the week”

“Such an amazing morning, I had so much fun!”

“Meeting a real scientist, Havovy, was amazing!”

“I liked it when we created tiles using clay, we smoothed the top but when we turned it over it had a fantastic pattern!”

” Working as a team was great fun”

” We got to use different tools to show different effects on the surface of the clay”

“We had to really concentrate to add detail to the surface of the clay, not pressing on too hard”

Session 2: 13th February 2017
Today we explored clay in new creative and scientific ways. We tried a new technique of painting onto clay tiles using slips coloured with the same stains that would have been used by Stone Age people. They would have used crushed rocks containing iron and metal oxides. Just like Stone Age people would have used pictures to tell stories about their lives, we were inspired by our homes, family and favourite things to make images using the ‘scraffito’ technique (scratching through the slip to the clay beneath). We set up a scientific experiment and predicted what would happen when we add water to clay. We made textures using porcelain and Ammie will be firing the pieces to see if we can see the light through the porcelain. Finally we worked in groups to think about what our final piece of artwork may be and test our ideas using drawing and clay modelling.

“What a fantastic morning! I have learnt so much about what happens to clay that we got in different states when we added water. We had to make predictions on what would happen if we added water and what a shock I got with the results!”

“I can’t wait to see what happens to the paint that we used on the clay tiles when they are fired”

“Getting all our ideas together and thinking about our class project is getting really exciting. We have so many amazing ideas”

“We are using our science words in all our explanations which is a challenge but lots of fun”

Session 3: 13th March 2017
Today we tried out new ways of creating designs and ideas, by working on a small scale individually and then working on a large scale together. We learned about the effect of light sources through these techniques. We have decided that our final piece for the exhibition will be clay robots, using the different types of clays and techniques that we have tried out. We drew our ideas on acetate transparencies and then projected our designs onto the wall using the overhead projector. The coloured designs were magnified onto the wall. We used our bodies and boxes to create shadows to draw around on the wall. We used the boxes to think about components and fitting together sections for our robots. Finally we used red clay for the first time, creating textures for one of our robots on flat slabs of clay. These will be dried out until they are firm enough to be cut up for the next stage.

“I was amazed when my small picture, which I’d drawn on acetate, became massive when projected onto the wall”

“‘We have used a variety of different clay, white, grey, red and porcelain. They all felt so different”

“It’s getting really exciting now because we are beginning to build up our final project. It’s going to be fantastic!”

“Our Science word of the week is Collaboration. We used it with Ammie to create some fabulous ideas that kept growing!”

“I can’t believe what textures I have produced on my clay. They look amazing, I’m so proud of my work”

Session 4: 20th March 2017

After testing our robot ideas out last week on a big scale using projectors, boxes and our bodies, this week we made small individual robots. We thought back to the first week when some of us tried to carry a bag of clay, and how engineering involves creating machines to make big tasks easier for humans. Thinking about that we used our imaginations to create robots and invented tasks and even characters for them. Each one was different. We thought about whether they might have wheels, or caterpillar treads. Some of us gave them exaggerated characteristics, like huge hands. After that we chose characteristics from some of the robots to decide on four final collaborative robots. We prepared them using tubes and slabs of clay to make the components. We made textures inspired by some of our earlier ideas. We have already learnt that wet clay can’t carry its own weight, and that it bends, so if we want it to be flat and straight, it needs to be dried out. We discovered this by observing what happens to clay as it dries and what happens if we build it tall, while it’s still very sticky. We are looking forward to seeing the components we made, put together to form our robots, once the clay has dried.

“Ammie brought the fired painted tiles for us to see from session 2 and I was so shocked to see the brightness and shine of the glaze. They looked amazing!”

“I liked making the mini clay robots, they looked so cute. We have lots of ideas that we are going to put together for our final robot”

“Making all the components for our final project was really tricky! We thought back to the parts that Havovy brought us in session 1 from Cummins and tried to make the same textures”

“I’m so proud of how the children have worked throughout all four sessions. They have been engrossed from the very start and produced some amazing work. I can’t wait for the exhibition. A fantastic experience for the children and teachers”  Staff member

Some feedback from our Cummins buddy

“Although it was a time-consuming project, the children’s enthusiasm about engaging in fun experiments to learn scientific concepts made it an intrinsically satisfying activity. I was very lucky to be partnered with a committed artist and a class with well-mannered children with such a dedicated teacher and teaching assistant.” Havovy Cama – Cummins Turbo Technologies

A few final words from our teacher

“All the children in the class, no matter what ability or confidence level, shined in lots of ways…

The Teaching Assistant and myself feel more confident in using clay with a whole class and have already discussed how we can link Art with Science for other projects. We have a Science Word and an Art Word of the week up each week for the children to try to use within their weekly writing – this has inspired other teachers that like the ideas.” Gail Brook – Year 3 Teacher