Say “topographic map” to a 4th grader and see what their definition is. Of course, this would be after the incredulous and bewildered look you’d probably receive, but I digress.
Topography is a difficult concept to explain without visual aids; paper drawings, foam models, and computer images were imperative for helping these students understand the breakdown of height and depth for their relief sculptures. The fourth grade at Michael R. White explored color, gradient, and three-dimensional surface application throughout this project. This gave the students a full sensory experience of their landforms in an effort to make this abstract concept more concrete.
The students were assigned landforms and researched them using Google Earth. They created two-dimensional paper models, which were individually scanned into a computer and laser cut out of foam. I challenged the 4th grade by asking if we could use color to help people understand our topographic maps. They responded by painting each piece a slightly lighter or darker shade of one color to create a gradient. The gradient demonstrated where the sunlight would hit the top of their island or mountain thus communicating the height of their landform. The results were absolutely stunning, and the students were thrilled to put together their sculptures. We put papier-mache over part of landforms to show the surface. This allowed the students to see both the gradient layers beneath as well as the Earth’s surface on their landform.
Seeing the sculptures all together created a visual map of relief sculptures which showcased each students’ favorite part of the project. Some were carefully painted to demonstrate light and darkness on the papier-mache as well as the gradient. Others were delicately drawn out and researched with some exactly papier-mache’d to show the curvature of the surface. Each sculpture was incredibly unique with great variation in both color choice and form. In the future, perhaps the sculptures would stop at the gradient to show the full topographic map. This is the only change I would consider making to this project.
Overall, this experience was incredibly successful for the 4th graders at Michael R. White.
Doing this project with Mound 2nd grade was an incredibly unique experience this past semester. The grade was split up into boys and girls; the girls worked on a modern dance routine with PAA artist Amy Notley, while I worked with the boys to create illustrative sculptures that showcased the water cycle. I have made these sculptures with previous classes, and each time I find that I am able to slightly hone the project to fit each individual class.
For this specific group, we focused on medium and material exploration. The students used watercolor as their primary medium, adding elements such as tissue paper, salt, and oil pastel to their watercolor illustrations. The first session was spent creating paintings that illustrated different parts of the water cycle on paper, to familiarize themselves with the mediums. They would later use these mediums on small rectangular wooden pieces, that would fit into their sculpture to show the four parts of the water cycle. As a class, we wrote a story to go with our illustrations. What is condensation? What symbols could we use to show this? What is a symbol? These questions were discussed, and different symbols for precipitation, condensation, evaporation, and accumulation were discussed and drawn out as a class.
For me as the instructor, the most exciting part of this particular residency was putting together the wooden pieces that would be our sculptures with the class. The students loved learning about and using all of the hardware such as bolts and screws; their favorite part was using the sandpaper, to help all of their pieces successfully fit together. Some of the pieces were better cut by the laser cutter than others, which made the sandpaper necessary. Students were helping each other sand their rectangles and fit them together, through a trial and error process. This required them to work together, help each other, and sand the pieces just right so that their sculptures worked correctly. This is the STEM process in its essence, working with the elements of art to create interactive, illustrative sculptures. As a result of this work and participation, almost every student had a complete project finished by the end of the residency. Each sculpture illustrated by the students, using the various mediums to create a dynamic and educational viewing experience. The boys were able to communicate their ideas successfully, both individually and as a class.
I have done many residencies exploring stop motion animation, and this past semester I decided to bring the focus back to the materials more than ever. Michael R. White 5th and 6th grades both made stop motion animations reflecting different subject matters. The 5th grade focused on the earth’s movement around the sun, while the 6th grade explored principles of rocks and minerals. The different subjects heavily influenced choices of material. 6th graders primarily used rocks and jewell pieces to make patterns, whereas 5th grade focused much more on clay, paper, and foam to create their universes.
The magic students can create with stop motion can be seen in their videos below. The first day of filming is always the most exciting, as viewing and creating these animations is a very different experience. One group of 6th graders became so engrossed in the filming process that they ended up making several videos, featuring their own clay characters, in addition to their rocks and minerals film. Taking pictures to create a video allowed the students to experience movement differently than a traditional filming process.
As the 6th grade was a bit more advanced with their projects, I introduced a different form of animation to the class: Scratch animation, through the offline editor. I was very curious as to which form of creating the class preferred, stop motion(which requires teamwork and creating with your hands) versus Scratch(which is more of a solo experience animating on the computer). Most students preferred the stop motion format, and this will be my primary focus in the future for this age group.
As stop motion does allow students to work together and make creative decisions both individually and as a team, it allows students who usually don’t have to confidence in their artistic skills to showcase them. Watch the videos below, and I’m sure you will be floored by some of the simple material and editing decisions made by these creative artists.
Mound STEM School 4th grader working on coding his Scratch animation.
The 4th graders at Mound STEM School in Cleveland were already well-versed in landforms when I began my residency this past fall semester. Their teachers had done an excellent job teaching the students all about weathering, erosion, and the formation of landforms. What I found lacking in this class was the ability to visualize these landforms. They could tell me how a valley or a glacier was created, but they could not tell me what said valley or glacier looked like. They could describe the weather associated with these landforms, but not the visuals of them. This is one of those key factors missing from our education system: the ability to let students experience these realities first-hand. Although we cannot take the students to the Grand Canyon or to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, we can show YouTube videos, paintings and images to give our students a glimpse of these environments.
It took students some time to realize their visions for their Scratch animations they made as part of my residency work. The animations included drawn imagery sourced from discovered images and videos research. Once they had conquered the imagery, the students incorporated facts about their landforms to educate other students and other viewers. We then used conductive materials such as graphite, aluminum foil, and copper tape to create conductive drawings, which worked along with the Makey Makeys to trigger the Scratch projects. The conductive drawings were a result of experiments completed by the students, during which they tested various materials to find what the most conductive materials were to use for their artworks.
Experimenting with conductive materials and the Makey Makey.
The results of combining these various materials and methods was a (surprisingly) cohesive and exciting project. The students learned the basics of coding, digital painting, physical drawing, and conductivity, along with their landform curriculum. This was a very challenging residency to accomplish, and the results were far from perfect. I would love to do this residency again, with slight adjustments to streamline the process. The students were very proud of their work, and their projects can be viewed here. I enjoyed my time with the 4th graders at Mound STEM, and I look forward to seeing what these enthusiastic learners create next.
One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching I have found is witnessing the literal “light bulb” moment in the arts-integrated classroom. The third graders at Michael R. White STEM I worked with during the fall 2015 semester were certainly enthusiastic learners, but the concepts of screen printing and printmaking were totally foreign to them. The assignment was to design and draw a life-cycle, which they would then screen print onto a square of canvas. These squares would come together to create a quilt, depicting life-cycles found in our natural world. They were excited about the project, but it was the physical act of screen printing that made students’ eyes truly light up around me. It was like magic for them, seeing their drawings burned onto screens, and then printed on canvas. The students loved moving the ink across the screen with the squeegee, watching it seep into the mesh and onto the fabric. A student who was particularly restless, a self-proclaimed “trouble maker,” became entranced with the printing process. By the end of our first screening session, she was reminding students to “flood their screen,” and demonstrating the proper way to hold a squeegee.
Another “Aha!” moment occurred when we began the second half of our project: sewing. Students were finding personal connections within this project from the beginning; when we looked at pictures of historic quilts, students were exclaiming “my grandmother makes those!” or “we have one at home!” Many of these students had helped their relatives with quilting and sewing in the past, and were very intent on creating patterns with a plastic needle and yarn. As a class, they sewed each other’s squares, working together towards their goal.
The history of quilts comes from bringing together different elements to create a single collaborative blanket, something warm and familiar, something steeped in history and personality. The third graders at Michael R. White took this opportunity to create something educational that also represented each of them as individuals, and as a class. The quilt will be installed in the school during the second semester, and will remain there long after these students have graduated; a little piece of history.
I have found that interactive artworks are conducive to a kinesthetic learning environment; as a student, I learned through research and hands-on activities. As an artist, I learn through experimenting and peer critique. The third graders at Mound STEM School in Cleveland, Ohio served as both the students and the artists in our Fall 2015 residency. The students created three-dimensional interactive sculptures, using components of illustration to communicate life cycles of different animals. The sculptures were designed to appear as the set of a play, with a stage set to showcase the illustrations. The illustrations themselves sit upon a wheel, which is spun by the viewer to experience each particular phase of a life cycle.
The words “illustration” and “drawing” were absolutely terrifying to the students when I first introduced our project. “But what if I can’t draw?! I can’t draw anything!” resounded throughout the classroom. Yet over the next month or so, I witnessed the confidence levels rising as we researched and planned our drawings, practicing basic shapes and patterns, and discussing color theory. The class spent one class creating still-life drawings from flower arrangements; I have never seen a class so young so intent on observing their subject. At the conclusion of the class, the students lined up for a “gallery walk.” We walked around the classroom looking at everyone’s drawings, the students quiet and concentrated. When we sat down to discuss the work, I was astounded to hear a student say, “Izzie’s composition is really nice, I like hers a lot.” I have never heard a student say the word “composition” before without first commanding them, as I did at the beginning of the session: “repeat after me guys, a composition is how you arrange an image.”
When I was first designing this residency, a friend told me I was “crazy” to expect the level of attention needed for successful observation drawing from 3rd graders. I was thrilled with the results of their drawings, and the attention to detail came through in their final sculptures. Every student put time and effort into their works, and the result was phenomenal. I will be doing a similar residency this upcoming 2016 semester with the third graders at Michael R. White STEM and Hannah Gibbons, both schools in Cleveland. The subject matter will be sustainable energy as opposed to life-cycles, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of this residency within a completely different context.
There comes a point during the creative process where it is absolutely impossible to look at one’s own work from different perspectives. It is at this point that outside opinions and experience become crucial to the growth and development of the project, as well as the creator. The coming together of fresh eyes and ideas is how innovation occurs. With this is mind, together with a team of my PAA colleagues, we traveled to Boston, Massachusetts in search of like-minded creators and educators to help inform the work of our arts integration lab and to share with them insights from our recent work. We were certainly not disappointed by the incredible range of artists, inventors, and scholars who participated in our conversations and we were excited that the work we have been innovating was so well received.
I was particularly struck by our meeting with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Representatives from The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium in San Francisco also joined our conversation. We were given the opportunity and time to share our work, and to compare the Maker movement with that of successful arts-integration. We ended our brain-storming session by collaborating with our MIT and Tinkering Studio colleagues and making our own Scratch Lego WeDo kinetic sculptures. Through collaborations, failures, and successes, there were soon sculptures made from Legos and Makey Makeys scattered across the table. Though the sculptures varied in many ways, they all displayed elements related to the senses: sound, touch, and visual effects resounded throughout the room. The video above is from my experiment!
Experimenting with Natalie Rusk and Eric Schilling in the Media Lab at MIT.
I left the Media Lab with a renewed sense of purpose, full of inspiration and ideas for future projects and residencies in PAA’s partner schools. I have been comparing this productive atmosphere to our brief sessions with students, and I cannot help but wonder what we could do to encourage more of this imaginative thinking. In order to make arts-integration more successful, we need extended time within the classroom. Students need time to fail, to learn from that failure, and to succeed. They need time to understand the various media we provide, and to experiment with them.
Educators need time as well, to encourage these innovations; time to collaborate with other artists, and to develop new ideas and processes. During a meeting with Harvard’s Agency by Design member Edward Clapp, he mentioned his “STEAM with stickers” concept. This refers to making something educational, and adding “decorations” for the art portion of the work. In order to promote truly artistic making and collaborative learning, and to avoid the “STEAM with stickers” stigma, extended time in the classroom is necessary for high quality arts integration.
Experimenting with LEDs with a student at the Southeast Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library.
Winter can be a cold, harsh season here in Cleveland. To get everyone out of the house and into creativity, my colleagues and I have been teaching Conductive Creativity workshops at the Cuyahoga County Libraries over the past several months. These workshops focus on teaching students how to make an LED circuit and how to create a piece of art in the form of a light box. We provide them with all of the materials, give them a brief introduction to circuits, and let them explore. As a fine artist in the education field, it is incredibly fascinating to observe my students as they explore and create with artistic and scientific media that I am just beginning to understand. The freethinking attitudes present in these workshops contribute to communication, as well as innovation amongst peers, students, and teachers alike.
One student’s light box.
There is such inspiration to be found in the informal classroom. In our most recent workshop, I gave students a variety of multicolored plastic film, LEDs, and foil, with which to decorate their light boxes. Students gravitated towards the various supplies, creating light boxes that I would never have visualized. They were all unique, despite having the same initial box and circuit structure. For example, two sisters of similar ages participated in the Middleburg Heights Library workshop. One sister gravitated towards the visuals, creating elaborately decorated light boxes with only a few circuits. The other went on to create an elongated series circuit, choosing to focus entirely on the electronics and the LEDs. It was exciting to see two dissimilar and opposite projects come from two very alike individuals.
I try to encourage advanced students to assist their peers during the making process. At one point, I began noticing that when one student struggles with his or her circuit, another student will instinctively offer assistance. This exchange of knowledge and seamless collaboration and experimentation is something that has naturally occurred in the Conductive Creativity workshops, and it is something I wish to perpetuate in all of the programs I facilitate at Progressive Arts Alliance.
Read about the start of this project here.
Malik enjoying his Fall Background!
The green screen residency at Orchard STEM finished up beautifully, with each kindergartener typing and creating their own ebooks about the seasons as displayed in their green screen photos (as seen above). The students typed sentences about each specific season’s weather, such as “Winter is very cold.” The ebooks served as a challenge to the kindergarteners, as very few of them had typed with an iPad before. I also noticed that several of them were confused by the iPad’s font and capitol letters, and those students subsequently had more trouble with the spelling than those who had used iPads or Apple technology more frequently. We were very lucky to have 8th graders come down and assist each team individually with the intricacies of spelling and grammar during the final session.
As this was my very first in- school residency as the instructor as apposed to the assistant, I was nervous to complete the project on time! The addition of a fire drill on the second to last session was a bit nerve-wracking, but the students were exceptionally eager to learn about and create their ebooks using their own images, and the results displayed the focus they gave to this project.
An 8th grader assisting several students with completing their ebooks
I could not have completed this residency without assistance from Stephen Phillips, who saw the project through to the end with myself and the kindergarteners. Also, many thanks to the PAA office for printing all of the images and ebooks for the class. These kindergarteners are bright and thoughtful, and I have learned so much about teaching from them. When I first started the residency, the students had not yet learned their seasons. It was an amazing thing to have students coming up to me in snow boots towards the end of my residency, telling me how it was really winter outside because of the cold and the snow! Orchard STEM School has recently won a grant for each student to receive an iPad, and I am looking forward to seeing how the kindergarteners use this technology in the classroom beyond this project.
Assisting a student with his ebook.
Kindergarten students in a previous residency at Orchard STEM School creating landscapes to use for their green screen photography project.
Hello readers, fellow artists, and fellow educators! This is my first post as an in-school artist educator, and I am thrilled to be writing about a subject that is very close to my heart: The Seasons. There is something wonderful about watching a kindergartener learning about the seasons for the first time, watching their faces light up when they realize that snow is indeed white and very cold and falls from the sky. It still amazes me that at some point I did not know fall and spring, summer, and winter, that they did not register as separate co-existing entities. Now, as a landscape painter living in such a varying seasonal location (Cleveland is known for its dramatic seasons), I am constantly amazed by the natural environment constantly changing around me. This awareness of their natural world is what I hope to instill in my students throughout the course of this residency. Another goal of this residency is to give them the knowledge and confidence to successfully navigate an iPad as a kindergartener. I am excited to continue combining traditional drawing and painting with the new photography technologies we have available, such as the green screen and the iPads.
My first lesson was devoted to winter, to using salt and glue on a pastel blue drawing to demonstrate snow. For our next session, I will be using the Color Screen App on iPads and a green screen to photograph their winter landscapes, and photograph the students into their own snowy scenes. The students have been told to bundle up, as though surrounded by real snow. We will be doing this exercise with all of the seasons until they are each green screened into their paintings and drawings! Hopefully the combination of art, technology, and science will help the students to find some understanding of the varying world we live in.