Tag Archives: Art Education

Illuminated Artist Books: Created Constellations

During my illuminated book residency at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy, 4th graders were interested in the stories of the sky. Together, we looked at several constellations, the legends behind them, and the various ways in which they are mapped and drawn. Students created their own star stories, and then designed constellations to illustrate their creative writing. After much practice with copper tape techniques, and wiring successful simple and parallel circuits, students were ready to dive into their own illuminated constellations for the collaborative class book.

Playing again with line, we returned to our essential questions that are navigating our Illuminated Artist Book Circuit investigations:

What is a line?

How can we use the line to both draw and illuminate our drawing?

We took our inquiry of line discussions in the direction of connecting-the-dots. We discussed the constellation schematic drawings that chart out our star-filled skies with points and lines. The congruency to connecting our LED lights beneath our constellation illustrations was perfectly paired to these discussions, as our parallel circuits became quite constellation-like themselves.

Circuit Planning

Circuit planning with students.

Though several of the circuits took on a similar path as the overlaid illustrations, many circuits took an entirely different connection route as students worked out the logistics of space and connection for their parallel tracks of copper tape.

Constellation Book

Student showcasing the cover to the collaborative constellation book.

Students drew their constellation illustrations with gold pens on navy blue cardstock. They indicated the major stars of their constellations with punched holes backed with yellow translucent vellum which provided a tiny window for the lights to glow through from beneath.

Constellation Circuits

Students illuminating their parallel circuits under their constellation illustrations.

After the light locations were determined, students designed and wired custom parallel circuits to compliment their constellations and illuminate three or four LED lights, indicating their major stars, beneath their illustrations. With a little trial-and-error, several tricky turns, and and a handful of tight corners with the copper tape, all of the constellations were alit.

constellation pages

Student Constellation Drawings.

Student Constellations Illuminated

Students with their illuminated constellation illustrations.

As students folded their constellation drawings over their illuminated circuits, excitement and amazement dotted the room like stars crowded in the night sky.

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Animals in their Habitats: Decoupage Dioramas

The second graders at Paul Dunbar School are learning about animals and the specific habitats that they live in as part of their science curriculum. For our Progressive Arts Alliance residency partnership, we decided to construct these habitats using decoupage in three-dimensional dioramas. Each student independently selected an animal, and conducted several pages of research determining the various needs and interesting features of their animals. Compiling their research, students  then sketched out full-color plans for their three-dimensional decoupage dioramas where they could bring to life their animal in its habitat.

We discussed the three-dimensional opportunities that dioramas afforded, and determined which aspects of our plans would be in the background, middle ground, and foreground. We also determined that our animals should be the primary figures within the space.

Some landscapes were wide open skies with grass, others were the thick of a jungle, or a wooded environment, several were underwater, a couple were ice and snow covered regions, and one was deep into a dark cave. Students selected the respective colors for their determined habitats and got to work tearing and layering down their background first, their middle ground next, and lastly their foreground.

While the interior surfaces of their dioramas dried, students began drawing their various and specific landscape features, including: tress, vines, rocks, caves, nests, coral, floating ice, and rivers, onto cardstock that would be inserted into their space. They also drew and decoupaged their animals.

Students with Dioramas

Students with their Habitat Dioramas: Bat and Giraffe.

All of the various animal and landscape elements were constructed with folded tabs, so students could make spatial determinations for where all of the figures would layer into the space, moving them around like game pieces until they determined their final layout. We discussed activating both the middle and foreground to keep the primary focus of the dioramas on their animals.

Animal Diorama Fox and Whale

Student Habitat Dioramas: Arctic Fox and Whale.

After all this researching, and planning, and pasting — this is when the magic happened at last! Suddenly students brought their brightly colored boxes to life, completely transforming and filling them with detail. Inspired by the full-spread habitat photographs within their research books, students excitedly pored over and created all the details of  their specific animal environments.

Animal Diorama Dolphin and Bear

Student Habitat Dioramas: Dolphin and Bear

Tabbed orange coral stood tall upon the ocean floor in the foreground of the diorama that featured a long gray dolphin gliding underwater. Turtles crawled through the sand of a shore, leaving a nest that contained eggs still waiting to hatch. A spotted and stretched-tall giraffe mingled in its savannah landscape dotted with a few trees.

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It’s what we talk about in Cleveland.

I am writing this during a day off from school (the fifth in less than two weeks) due to ‘continued, dangerously low wind chill temperatures’ or ‘extreme weather conditions’ as some news channels proclaim and am thankful this was a fall residency and not scheduled for now. The second grade students at Michael R. White STEM school scripted, performed and recorded their own weather reports from both their news room and outside. With this age group repetition (each class produced three reports throughout the fall and into the winter) was not monotonous, it was an opportunity to learn new vocabulary, improve upon past experiences and polish the performances. There were less than twenty students in each class and everyone was engaged at all times, rotating through different production roles as the sessions went on.

On our first production day there was a student who seemed less than thrilled to be selected as a news anchor. His demeanor made it apparent that he was frustrated and angry, but it quickly became evident that he was just afraid of forgetting lines and messing up. Through positive reinforcement and witnessing his co-anchor forget her lines a few times (without any negative repercussions from the others in the class) he began sitting a little straighter, his hands no longer covered his mouth when he spoke, his legs lost their jitters and his voice began to project. All of this over the course of ten minutes. He had transformed into someone new. He began to smile when he made a mistake instead of covering his face and putting his head on the desk. From that point forward, regardless of his assignment, he was also the default script assistant, memorizing the words for each production and mouthing them to the new anchors from his role of camera operator or lighting technician. As an educator, it was really amazing to see how much this program impacted how he held himself and I see so many more situations where this confidence can serve him as he grows.

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Confidence Through Articulation

Read a summary of the Mound 7th grade LED Cloud Project here.


Ben Horvat exploring circuits with La’niya

During our residencies this semester in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Prek-8 STEM schools, PAA’s artist-educators together with our partner classroom teachers have been focusing on students being able to articulate what they have learned through project-based learning.  This may seem like an easy task, if the kids are engaged in the project they should be able to talk about what they learned.  However, that is often not the reality.  It reminds me of the process of learning a second language. Although you may have progressed to the level of being able to read it, write it, and pronounce some vocabulary words it does not necessarily mean you can speak the language fluently. As educators in the classroom, we have the advantage of witnessing first-hand our students’ demonstrated growth in their academic and artistic performance. Yet, that growth is not always apparent when third parties speak to the students about their experience – many students have a hard time verbalizing their experience. Being able to articulate a cohesive explanation of the process in which they engaged is an important 21st century skill that students need to develop for their future in college and beyond


Discussing the cloud armarture with students.

In the Mound 7th Grade LED Cloud residency Ben Horvat, my co-artist-educator (a.k.a. “MacGyver of Circuitry”), and I implemented various strategies to enhance our students’ understanding of the art vocabulary and technical practices they were learning with us in order to enable them to be able to confidently speak about their learning and understanding. Even though it is tempting with a large project to jump right into making to maximize time, we would start each class out with a review.  This was valuable reinforcement of the material, but it also let us know what level of understanding the students had reached and what concepts or terms they were still struggling with articulating.  Following the review, when students were building their sculptures, we would circulate the room asking students what they were doing and why.  We would actively try to engage them in a conversation about their process and how it connected to the content.  Having two artist-educators in the classroom made this much easier to accomplish.  One of our collaborating classroom teachers, Mr. Pearce, then reinforced this by having the students write out the steps of what they did that session with an explanation, giving the students an opportunity for reflection.  I felt this was an effective method and our students did a great job of presenting their project both at their school showcase and at the school district-wide STEM Fair.


7th grade students report their process at Mound STEM School Showcase.




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Using Templates to Teach Photoshop

Sammon Spring2014 8th

I have taught Adobe design programs to students ranging from first grade through high school. Giving both verbal and visual directions as well as repeated demonstrations has always been at the core of instruction. This spring I have added another visual cue to help students understand the tasks I’m asking them to complete and the functions they are learning in Photoshop.

My current residency is the first in which students are creating finished projects within a custom template. I designed a grid and labeled each section with what imagery or text belongs in that area. This is adding a new layer of instruction, reinforced academic content and has been very successful in keeping students on task. By providing the prompts or instructions on each screen, the students can stay focused on their own project and I can move forward with the example project that is being projected for the demonstrations.

One of the other advantages of this process is that it provides an immediate introduction to layers, one of the more challenging and fundamentally necessary component to the Photoshop platform.

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