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Intern innovation through art

By Heidi Wicks

Being tossed amongst 20-odd third graders with a limited attention span can be a daunting experience, to say the least.

Whether she’s mesmerizing the kids with her impressive collection of pop-up books, creating Picasso-style cubist self-portraits, or making creature alliterations out of magazine cut-outs (try a She-key – “sheep-monkey” combo – on for size), Kerrie Cochrane knows full well that coming armed with creativity and imagination is a powerful weapon in such a milieu.

Ms. Cochrane is wrapping up her internship at Bishop Field Elementary school in St. John’s. After teaching in junior high schools and not really identifying with the age group, she decided to return to Memorial on the fast-track B.Ed. Program for primary/elementary education.

“I found personality-wise I was more suited to that age group,” she said.

Ms. Cochrane is also an accomplished artist, and completed an art apprenticeship two years ago in printmaking and copper etching, with Janet Davis in Wesleyville, NL.

“I was doing a portfolio to go to art school, because I wanted to include art in my life. So Janet suggested we apply for a grant through the Department of Innovation and Rural trade, where I would learn from her.”

While in Wesleyville, she got news she was expecting her daughter Jesse (now 20 months young), and decided that starting a “starving artist” career fresh wouldn’t totally jive with having a new baby.

“So I figured, ‘What’s a way I can combine my love of art with something else I’m good at or already know how to do?’ I love teaching, but I also felt that going back to do the fast-track program would really give me the tools to feel totally confident in a primary/elementary setting, and it has,” she said.

“It has been awesome. I’ve had some amazing profs, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve implemented a lot of that in this internship and in the classroom. And I feel very confident as a teacher. My personality really didn’t work with junior high – I was teaching math, and that’s not exactly my forte,” she laughed, adding only half-jokingly that being a smoker didn’t help her stress level.

She notes that Dr. Anne Burke’s children’s literature course and Peggy March’s social studies coarse were particularly helpful in establishing curriculum that she now uses in the classroom.

“Peggy March developed what’s called Extreme Place Race from the Atlas Canada website. The social studies text is from 1989, so it’s outdated. So I devised an Extreme Place Race using Newfoundland communities, as a way to introduce the towns to the kids. Each community had a link on a word document, and the students would click on that and navigate around the net to find the answers and determine which of those communities was the most extreme one, via a webquest. Right now they’re in groups and they have a criteria list for their group’s particular community. They’re researching information on their community and they’re going to do a poster presentation at the end. I’d like to see them be more independent as researchers, and to get them to not write things word for word.”

Ms. Cochrane said the key to keeping her students engaged is flexibility, and do your own research in order to keep things as interactive and hands-on as possible.

“This afternoon we’re doing a scavenger hunt around the school,” she smiled, explaining that it’s part of her introduction to structure. “They’re going to learn about arches and different types of structure. Then they’re going to sketch it from where they saw it in the school, and make a symmetry structure from construction paper.”

As if she doesn’t do enough during school hours, Cochrane also operates an after-school art club, along with fellow intern Katie Baggs.

“The first week we had 35 kids, it was chaos!” she laughed. “But they’re really loving it. We’ve been doing some collaging with organic and geometric designs with tissue paper and construction paper. We introduce a concept and then just go to town on it. Sometimes it’s just throwing paper on the floor and saying, ‘paint!’”