Tag Archives: Mixed Media

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.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Arts-Integration

Passport to Knowledge

The 4th grade students at Michael R. White STEM School in Cleveland, Ohio completed their land form low-relief sculpture games before the 2014 winter break. The last blog post about this program explains how the students drew topographic maps, cut them apart and used the pieces as stencils on cardboard. Once stacked, the cardboard formed a low-relief sculpture of the land form that they had been assigned.

The second half of the residency was spent using different techniques and materials to transform the stepped form into a sculpture that more realistically represented land forms and then turning their sculptures into a game.

Students used a paper mâché pulp made of shredded paper that had been soaked in water for several days and wood pulp to fill in the geometric ‘steps’ of the forms. They then smoothed the area further with strips of newspaper dipped in wood glue. This was the point where they started to fully understand the relationship between the topographic maps and the actual landforms. Prior to this point, they learned how a drawing could relate to something with depth, but they didn’t see the in-progress sculptures as landforms. This was 100% realized when they painted their works. Students learned how to gray down colors by mixing in the complimentary color and how to create transitions between colors using a dabbing brush technique as opposed to brush strokes. They were a bit amazed at how realistic the sculptures looked in full color. For those that were still struggling with the academic content, seeing the separation of water and land in color was extremely helpful.


Our last step was turning the sculptures into games by placing them into a labyrinth game base that consisted of knobs attached to strings and springs which allowed the game user to tilt the board in all directions. Each student determined a path that they wanted the ball to travel and selected spots where holes were drilled as ‘traps’ that the game player had to guide the ball around. Click below to see brief footage of students experimenting with a game featuring an island landform:

During the final session students received a passport booklet and learned how passports were used for travel. The booklets had areas for the students to draw each land form and answer questions about it’s location and physical characteristics. They ‘traveled’ to different landforms, played the game and answered the questions. If they filled in each page correctly they earned a stamp just as someone would receive on their passport if they traveled to a foreign country. The creator of each sculpture (and expert on that specific land form) was on-hand to answer questions if necessary. The day was a reward for the work that the students put in that continued the educational process.

This is a follow up article to Land Takes Form published on 11/4/14.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Arts-Integration

Finishing Up Our Chimerae

Read about the start of this project here.


Adding details to a chimera using Sharpie markers.

After the students had finished adding the details to their chimerae and cut them out, they still needed to create the environments in which their animals could live. Every environment, students learned, needs to support its residents’ basic needs, including those for water, food, and shelter, and it was a blast to see how each 1st grader chose to depict these in his or her background. The backgrounds were drawn first in pencil, then in permanent marker, and finally painted using thin coats of tempera paint.


Painting the backgrounds.

Once all the components were finished, it was simply a matter of assembling them using spray adhesive. Because spray adhesive has a strong odor, it must be used outside, which made it a fun diversion in the students’ day. They had never seen glue that sprayed on like that before. After I applied the adhesive, students had to carefully place their chimera into its environment then press down all of its loose edges so it would be firmly attached. They were so excited to see the finished pieces come together!


Pressing down the loose edges to create a strong bond.


Finished work!



Leave a Comment

Filed under Arts-Integration

Starting our installation in the Mound library

Today was my first day with the second grade students at Mound STEM School, and we kicked things off with a bang! Students rotated around four stations, producing pieces that will ultimately be used to turn the reading area of the library into a coral reef. I had never used stations before as a teaching strategy, but it worked so seamlessly that I will definitely find reasons to use it again in the future.

At the first station, students worked collaboratively to produce these clusters of “sea anemones” using rolled up paper. It was great to see them work cooperatively to produce one finished piece, rather than each being so focused on his or her own individual work. These pieces will be installed on the library shelves amongst the books, to enhance the feeling that we are really in a coral reef.


Rolled and fringed paper representing seas anemones.

The sea urchin station was a big hit with everyone! We made all sizes of sea urchins, too. These will also be tucked in amongst the library books when we are done with everything.


Sea urchins made from styrofoam balls, toothpicks, and acrylic paint.

Our jellyfish are looking really gorgeous. Altogether we produced about 7 really great looking jellyfish between two classes of students, which we will hang from the ceiling using fishing line so they look like they are floating in the water. One of the students touched the “tentacles” and pretended to be stung, because he remembered that jellyfish have stinging venom in their tentacles. It was pretty adorable. 🙂


This “jellyfish” is upside down and in progress– trust me, they look great now!

To tie into our art vocabulary of texture, we used rubber casts of real fish to create Japanese style gyotaku, or fish prints. Students spread our rubber fish with tempera paint, then pressed paper over them to get a detailed impression of the fish: scales, fins and all. The anglefish will be cut out and attached to the wall as a swimming school, while the starfish will be mounted on cardstock and propped up on shelves.


Gyotaku is so much fun! Someone always asks if the fish are real.

The students really enjoyed working in stations, because it gave everyone a chance to try lots of different activities, but never for long enough to get bored. I am so happy I did it this way, and I will definitely use stations again anytime I have a project that requires lots of different processes.



Leave a Comment

Filed under Arts-Integration