Tag Archives: Ceramics

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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I can’t believe we’re finished already!

I finished up my final session of our five week long residency on clay and states of matter last week. It is always deeply satisfying to watch the students’ work come to completion, but also sad that our time together is ending. I had to keep reminding the kids that I really wouldn’t be in their classrooms again the following week, but that I would definitely see them all at the STEAM fair on May 17th!

One of the most exciting (and sometimes nerve-wracking) parts of working in and teaching clay is the unexpected, and sometimes unpredictable, nature of the finished product. My students, most of whom had never worked with clay before this experience, did a lot of double-takes when they saw their finished pieces. The transformation that occurs when glazes are exposed to the heat of the kiln is just that incredible!


We measured the tiles before and after firing, recording data on how much the clay shrank.

Because this unit focused on how heat affects states of matter, we also put glass marbles in the bottom of our pinch pots prior to the glaze firing. Students made hypotheses about what would happen to the marbles. Some thought they would explode, some thought they would change color, and many correctly guessed that they would melt. When they saw the finished pots, a lot of the students didn’t even realize at first that their marbles were still in there! They gazed at the deep pool of melted glass in wonder, asking me how it came to be there, and I had the pleasure of explaining how the heat of the kiln caused the marbles to melt and spread as a liquid, then as they cooled they turned solid again, filling the bottoms of the pots.

student work

Student work laid out together for a final critique.

Our critique was a really fun way to wrap up the sessions. We played “pass the compliment,” in which each student fives the person to their left one specific piece of positive feedback using art vocabulary. I was impressed by how creative, articulate, and eager my students were when discussing each others’ work. Compliments ranged from the associative (“your lines remind me of the ocean”) to the explicitly descriptive (“I like how you made an orange stripe around your pot”), and everyone relished the opportunity to appreciate each others’ work. We truly ended on a high note!

student critique

Students participated eagerly in our critique process.

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