Contagious creativity

Issue: Volume 95, Number 8

Posted: 9 May 2016
Reference #: 1H9d1s

From Batman villains to superheroes, a Cosplay-themed textiles project at Hutt Valley High School caught the interest and showcased the talents of a range of technology and fashion students.

For students in Nan Walden’s textiles class, lesson time seems to fly by.

Nan’s technology students have been creating unique costumes as part of a Cosplay theme in the department, and she describes the excitement in the air as palpable.

“Students often hear the bell and can’t believe the lesson has gone by so quickly for them,” she says.

At the beginning of last year, Cosplay was chosen as a critical learning context for the technology department at Hutt Valley High School.

Initially proposed by a senior textiles student, the idea to get her students dreaming up characters and making costumes was already buzzing around in Nan’s head.

“The concept came from when I lived in Japan. I really loved seeing how young people there dressed up as different characters just to go out. A year 13 student had come to see me about it – we had both been thinking about doing something Cosplay-related – so I decided to run with it.”

Potential of project-based learning

Nan believes The New Zealand Curriculum offers great potential in the technology learning area, in encouraging innovative design, and in celebrating student success.

“When I look at planning for these types of project, I always use The New Zealand Curriculum to ensure my idea is robust enough to meet the vision and achievement objectives, as well as adhere to our school values."

“I felt that this particular project was especially good in relation to what I think of as the ‘heart’ of the student, as it’s described in the front end of The New Zealand Curriculum – which I think of as the ‘student-first’ approach,” she says.

“I believe the Cosplay context was just a really engaging one for my students – it tapped into their passion and enthusiasm for creating. If my students have something that they’re hugely passionate about, the key competencies, the principles and values all fall into place."

“I say to them, you choose something you really love, and let’s create from there. And then it has the ability to hit what I think of as The New Zealand Curriculum vision, which I believe helps us create a confident person, and an actively involved lifelong learner. That is my mission!”

“That’s the core of the front end, and then we get to the back end, which is the nitty-gritty of the outcomes for the student. What are they going to be learning, how are they going to be learning it, how are we going to plan for that to happen?"

“So at level 8, this process is really involved. But if you have a really good critical context, all the learning just happens. It’s also easier to hit the Achievement Objectives, gain the Achievement Standards and foster my students’ enthusiasm for aiming high.”

The year 13 student who sparked the Cosplay context was awarded a technology NCEA Scholarship grade for her work throughout the year, in addition to a special Cosplay award.

“She found out about her Scholarship pass one year after beginning the project,” says Nan.

“She also won the technical construction award for excellence at the 2015 Armageddon New Zealand Cosplay Cup in Auckland. So all in all, it was an amazing journey for her."

“I think winning the Armageddon award contributed to the success of her overall Scholarship report, as it allowed her to be highly reflective of her work.”

Costume creation

The Cosplay theme was widely interpreted by students, and proved to be aspirational for younger students at the school.

“We had Rosella, whose costume was made from a classic 1980s dress that was cleverly restyled by the student, before having big roses sewn all over it. An international student made a beautiful outfit directly inspired by Princess Anna of Arendelle, from the film Frozen."

Another student designed and constructed a costume for Captain America Girl, including a painted rubbish bin lid used as a starting-point for a handmade shield.

“This accessory is now hanging on the wall of our classroom, sparking the curiosity of younger students,” says Nan.

“We had ‘Harlequin’ – the notorious Batman villain – who was actually made by one of the year 9 students who really wanted to take part too.”

Due to a timetabling decision, one of Nan’s year 13 students took an extra session of fashion at the same time as the year 11 class – so the younger students were supported by the older one to create their costumes.

“I used my year 13 student to guide my year 11 class, in a way. She organised a Cosplay competition, and then the younger students made costumes to enter into it."

“The brief for my year 11 students was to create a superhero costume, and they took part in the special competition."

"We also used the costume designing and drawing process as part of our external assessment for NCEA design and visual communication – those drawings were sent away and marked.”

Exhibiting student success

The students’ Cosplay creations have travelled beyond the classroom walls.

It’s important to Nan that her students get the chance to share their work with their wider community.

Each student who made a costume was given the opportunity to be included in a number of public exhibitions, including one at the Dowse Art Gallery, the Westfield Queensgate shopping centre, and a shop window display at local store Moreland Fabrics.

The importance of enthusiasm

Why is it important that we continue to offer textiles as a subject?

“Mostly because the students who take this subject are really interested in making things, in being creative, and in using their hands,” says Nan.

“As a teacher, I can tap into that passion and so much learning happens through the design and construction process. Students become so engaged in their work, they don’t like it when the class ends.”

But, says Nan, there is an obvious answer to that question: “Everybody needs to wear clothes!”

Nan says another important element to teaching textiles is encouraging discussions about the fast-fashion industry, sweatshop labour and environmental sustainability.

“I believe we can make the world a better place through the technology learning area,” she says.

What is Cosplay?

Cosplay is a shortened form of two words – costume and play. The early 90s saw the rising of Cosplay into popular culture, although it is thought to have originated in Japan.

Cosplay is the practice of portraying a fictional character – at times completely identifying as that character – while in costume.

Unique and exciting: student voices

  • “I won my fashion Scholarship! It’s a $500 monetary award, but the affirmation that my whole Cosplay project was actually worthy on an academic standard is far worth the blood, sweat, effort and tears that went into the whole thing, and I am so excited for what the future holds for me.”
  • “I really liked the Cosplay awards because I got to base it on something I like, and create a superhero.”
  • “I like that we could create what we wanted and it was a character, and unique person!” “I liked it because it was different, I had my own ideas and no teachers saying I can’t do this or that or follow this instruction – it gave me freedom to be creative.”

BY Melissa Wastney
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:16 PM, 9 May 2016

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