Tag Archives: 3rd grade

As a Matter of State: Solid, Liquid and Gas Decoupage Dioramas

During my recent residency at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Academy, 2nd and 3rd grade scholars engaged in  many conversations and much investigation into matter’s various states. After their investigations, scholars decided to build three-dimensional decoupaged dioramas to demonstrate their understanding. The class was divided into three groups: solid, liquid, and gas. Students brainstormed ideas within their categories and then ultimately selected their favorite liquid, solid, or gas to create a three-dimensional diorama. Some ideas were difficult to categorize, resulting in robust classroom discussion. For instance, oatmeal. Is it a solid or a liquid? And then there was basketball. Is it a solid filled with gas? How about ice? Is ice a liquid frozen into a solid state? The states of matter discussions, and the excitement for making a three-dimensional dioramas of their item generated a lot of enthusiasm.

With an idea in hand, students sketched in their diorama planners making sure they considered the background, middle ground, and foreground for their object’s environment. They drew their objects as the main figure within the space of their 3-dimensional dioramas.

hot air balloon plan

Hot Air Balloon Plan and Decoupaged Diorama.

Next was the most unexpectedly difficult portion of the project: tearing the tissue paper into pieces [without shredding, wadding, or other frustrated efforts]. This fine motor skill proved far more challenging for the students than anticipated by myself or the teacher. The victory of finally getting all five interior surfaces of the diorama boxes covered in thin layers of tissue was a major feat!

The figures within the dioramas were created on tabbed card stock, so they could stand and or hang from the space as desired. The students excelled at this construction method quickly after the greater learning curve of the technique of decoupage had been mastered. As we placed and adhered the finished objects into their created spaces, students were alit with accomplishment and the room was filled with the fervor of their excitement and pride.

bricks diorama

Student showcases her solid state of matter diorama; a brick wall.

water diorama

Student showcases her water state of matter diorama; water.

wind diorama

Student showcases her gas state of matter diorama; a gust of wind.

Upon reflection, it continues to amaze me at how profoundly important even these seemingly simpler residency projects are. Students initially struggled at every technical interchange of the process: in creating small pieces of tissue paper, applying the right amount of adhesive, and in covering the surfaces with flat but overlapping thin layers. These struggles, however, paved the way for hands-on learning that was so rich, and ultimately provided the reward of successful projects. Seeing and coaching the students as they pushed through these challenges, turned out to be the most memorable aspect of this residency.

orange balloom diorama

Student showcases his gas and solid state of matter diorama; a balloon filled with helium.

Students were absolutely beside themselves with pride, standing next to their brightly decoupaged boxes with wide smiles and sticky hands.

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Revising a Favorite Lesson

One student artist built a heart in the bottom of her pot using the coil method, then enhanced it with a contrasting glaze.

One student artist built a heart in the bottom of her pot using the coil method, then enhanced it with a contrasting glaze. A crowd favorite during our critique!


I was thrilled to have the opportunity to repeat my 3rd grade residency in clay from last spring (which you can look at here), and used the opportunity to make some adjustments to the pacing of the lesson. Clay residencies have some unique challenges: they have more intensive set-up and clean-up than some other media, and they also require careful planning to allow for enough drying time prior to firing the students’ work in the kiln.

(For non-ceramicists: firing the clay makes it permanent and strong, and involves heating it to over 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Firing damp clay can cause it to explode because the water molecules inside the clay will turn to steam and break through the dry outer layers, and nobody wants their project to explode.)

This time around during the fall 2014 semester at Hannah Gibbons STEM School, I re-scheduled the project to include a mix of long and short sessions. The longer sessions enabled us to limit our time working with wet clay to one period, which saved on both time and materials by eliminating the need to store damp projects wrapped in plastic from one session to the next. The shorter sessions allowed us to accomplish simple tasks like glazing our pieces while giving damp clay more time to dry before firing. It also allowed us more time to add details to our pinch pots using coils and spheres than when those had been made in a single session. Overall, I felt this version of the lesson was more streamlined and polished than when I had taught it previously.

The lighter colored glaze in the bottom of the pot was blocked from oxygen by melted glass.

I also discovered one additional lesson about chemical changes in ceramic art. One of the glazes we used had a different color where it was blocked from oxygen by the melted glass. It was really fun to see this hands-on example of how the presence of oxygen in the kiln during cooling affects glazes’ color development.


Students loved sharing their results!


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