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The Ripple Effect: Experiential Learning at the International School of Beijing

By Kate Ferrier
The Ripple Effect: Experiential Learning at the International School of Beijing

While in Beijing, Ann Weber (at right) visited at length with ISB's students (photo: ISB).
The International School of Beijing (ISB) invited San Francisco-based sculptor Ann Weber as an artist in residence last October; the school also commissioned Ms. Weber to create a large-scale sculpture piece for the Beijing Global Initiatives Network (GIN) Conference.
During her residency, Ms. Weber and students in Grades K-12 created a collaborative sculpture entitled The Ripple Effect, which uses the metaphor of place to address the theme of water in today’s China. The name of the collaborative piece epitomizes the wide-ranging nature of the project and its impact on the school community.
The creative process actually began before Ms. Weber arrived on campus. Art students were introduced to her sculpture methods and techniques through videos and her website. Some art classes had already started working in cardboard and other recycled materials, investigating issues and questions that developed as part of the school’s project-based learning initiative.
Once here, Ms. Weber held sessions for each grade level in the elementary school, providing opportunities for students to gain insight into the techniques she uses to make her cardboard sculptures and inspiring their own work.
The artist’s preferred material, cardboard, complemented the elementary school’s curriculum unit of up-cycling and recycling. This project also provided unique ways for students to access the science curriculum: being tasked to create cardboard sculptures that would represent water, the GIN conference theme, to contribute to the collaborative piece.
Ms. Weber’s visit brought together students from different grade levels to collaborate on this project. Most mornings, Ms. Weber shared techniques with groups of students that they needed to contribute to a section of the project. She then tasked these students to pass on their technique to the next group of students working on the piece, and for those students in turn to pass the techniques on to the next group.
In addition to developing their skills as artists, students were being challenged to work together and learn from one another. As they collaboratively created, their work took shape on site at ISB and there was an infectious creative energy that permeated the school, making the title, The Ripple Effect, seem even more apt. Students and teachers experienced how creating a large-scale work of art requires creativity, problem-solving skills, effective communication, flexibility, and cooperation.
The collection of work created during Ann Weber’s residency was exhibited at a public gallery in the Beijing 798 Art District, creating the opportunity for students to present their work to the general public.
Creating their art with an established artist also provided students with the opportunity to gain an understanding of the vocation. One of ISB’s Strategic Plan initiatives promotes the school’s work with external experts, and from the very beginning of Ms. Weber’s residency the importance of this school-wide goal became apparent for effective teaching and learning.
The students were energized by her presence; the youngest were in awe and excited by the very idea of working with an artist, while the older students were proud their work was being given the attention of a professional. Though Ms. Weber has now returned to San Francisco, the impact of this project based learning experience continues.

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