Just Association - Creative, Collaborative Interfaces.

'EvacZo,' with Allanson Street Primary School & Creative Partnerships

EvacZo is a bespoke educational computer program, developed by Just Association as a part of our Creative Partnerships ‘Carries war’ placement at Allanson street primary school in St Helens. It was built by myself, and devised in collaboration with Creative Practitioners Sarah Pickering, Dave Bixter, John O’Shea, and year five teacher, Michelle McGrath.

The overall aim of the ‘Carries war’ project was to stimulate the pupil’s interest in the book
‘Carries War’ by Nina Bawden.
The book chronicles a young girl and her brother’s experience of WWII evacuation from the city,
into a strange and atmospheric countryside village.

More specifically, we were working to engage the pupils with the book through activities based on four key headings.
These were, the environment, objects, empathy and characterisation.
On day one the pupils participated in a carousel of activities led by Dave, Sarah and John, each activity dealing with one of the first three headings and was aimed at a different learning styles.

Acivity one: Delivered by Dave Bixter.
The Ration Book - Looking at Objects.
Aimed at linguistically minded young people who preferred verbal communication, the young people discussed the one object they would take with them if they were evacuated and produced a drawing of it on a ration card.

Activity two: Delivered by John O'Shea.
In their Shoes - Looking at Emotions and Empathy.
The young people were introduced to the concept of empathy through a miming game. By the end of the activity the young people had written down a favourite ‘emotion’, which they remembered via a mime. They also produced a plastercine model of someone expressing this emotion.

Activity three:delivered by Sarah Pickering.
The Postcard - Looking at the environment.
This was a Visual Art activity; the young people were taken on an imaginative journey to a strange new place, which they then represented by making a postcard.

EvacZo, built in Macromedia Director, is a free standing offline application, used to simulate the online experience of web 2.0 social networking websites. Split into two sections, the first ‘page’ enables young person to import images and other graphic elements, in order to create a fictional character profile. In order to consolidate and build on the previous days learning, this character was constructed by recombining the digitzed content created during the previous days activities into the EvacZo profile format. This format included a picture of ‘me’, a postcard of where I am now, a ration book with my favourite object on it, text boxes to explore my emotions and skins to customise the page.

The second ‘page’ mimics the form of a chatroom which allows the young person to alter the chatrooms appearance via skins, and to script an imagined conversation between their freshly created character and characters from the book.

By using content that the young people had created themselves, this gave the young people a strong sense of ownership of the profile. This could be described as constructivist, syntonic learning, as it allowed them to put themselves in these new characters shoes, as the characters identity was constituted from the elements they created in a previous session.
These elements were also connected to their own kinaesthetic, verbal, and visual knowledge.

Michelle McGrath (teacher), describing the virtual postcard writing aspect of EvacZo wrote.
"Writing the postcards called on the pupils to think back to the previous day's excursion activity, they described the strange environment, new situation and, significantly, many described how they were feeling to be in this place/situation."

Akil Morgan, Advanced skills creative practitioner wrote.
"Participants can add a personal touch to the characters, affirming it in their minds….It leads to active thought about the characters and how they would interact with each other."

The efficacy of EvacZo was hugely reliant on the offline environment in which it was delivered. The young people participated in the EvacZo session with support from the creative workers and their teacher. Some young people needed particular IT support, some struggled with literacy. Without the teacher and the creatives to encourage the young people to make the connections between the different parts of the profile, and to explore what these characters might think, feel and say to each other, EvacZo would be of very little use indeed. These elements were all in place for the delivery of the project, on day one and two, and because of this, EvacZo enabled young people to engage with the characters in 'Carries War'.