In the study of animal adaptations, camouflage provides a natural fit for an arts-integration residency. During their science class time, the 3rd grade students at the Michael R. White school worked in groups to research different ecosystems and the animals that populate them. Around this research project, I walked them through the process of creating all the components for a video that would use green screen to demonstrate the function of camouflage in animals’ survival while integrating the art concepts of pattern, color harmony, and low color contrast.
Applying face paint
We started by painting backgrounds from observation of photographs of different habitats, including wetlands, temperate forests, and grasslands. I explained that after shooting against a green screen, these backgrounds could be edited back in to create the illusion that students were standing in the habitats they had painted.
We then painted costumes that would help students hide from predators in that habitat by using camouflage, as well as costumes for the predators themselves. On the day of shooting, students took turns applying each others’ face paint so that they could be fully hidden within their environments. When the “predator” was off screen, students boogied down with some pretty awesome dance moves, but as soon as the predator could be seen on camera, we paused the music and students froze, unseen because of their camouflage. Once they predator stalked off screen, they could dance again!
Acting like a scary predator for the camera.
This residency was especially rewarding for me because it combined visual and performing arts, as well as traditional and new media, in what I felt amounted to a very rich experience for all of the students involved. Plus, they loved having a real Hollywood experience and being part of a film cast.
Reviewing the footage was a lot of fun!
Performance Day in 2nd grade at Mound STEM School came and went the first week of December. Students spent three weeks drawing together everything they learned about the weather patterns of snow, combined it with our storytelling games, and created original “Weather Plays” with character, setting, beginning, middle, and end. Each play was different and unique and we found ourselves in settings like downtown Cleveland, Lake Erie, a farm in the country, and non-surprisingly their own classrooms. While most plays shared the theme of a blizzard forming and blowing all around them, little details made each of the 56 stories delightfully charming. In one story, Ms. Brahler had a cat at school that was scared of the snow; one student braved the sidewalks after the storm and ended up skating on one foot down the street; in another story students marveled at the blizzard while drinking hot chocolate (some characters took marshmallows, some took whipped cream). What I love most about narrative writing with lower elementary students is that while they are learning about structure and the “rules” of writing, there is still so much room for their imaginations to run free. Within the “rules” of capital letters, cause-and-effect, and periods at the end of sentence, students have a safe place to take creative risks and communicate all the wonderful ideas they have bouncing around their heads.
Brining their words to life was a truly magical session. Because there were a total of 56 stories across both classrooms, we needed to streamline and edit so that everyone could be represented in one mass story. I culled highlights from every Weather Play and combined them together, so that when we read out loud the play as a class, students heard their words and their ideas. I could have brought in a story already written by someone else and it surely would have been less chaotic to start the residency knowing what the final performance story would be, but as we advocate for “voice and choice” in our residencies, it is vital to remember that creative and arts-based learning is a process-based experience. It is at its most effective when teaching artists and students decide and discover together what their creative content is going to be. That might mean not knowing what you are performing because the students haven’t told you yet. It might mean allowing for a flexible vision to carry you from week 1 to week 10. Content will change and evolve as the students tell you and show you what they are good at and what is important to them. The students must represent themselves through the activities and art we teachers bring with us.
The light in the students eyes when they heard their bits of the story is such a moment of ownership and agency for them. That moment will forever be theirs, and no one else’s. In that moment they were recognized by their peers and their teachers as valuable members of the artistic process. In our tech-heavy, autonomous world recognition is a valuable commodity for students, especially recognition for positive contributions. With the second grade residency there was place and space for students to contribute and be recognized for their creativity, ingenuity, and most importantly, their voice.
2nd graders at Mound STEM School are thinking about how to tell stories. They know you can read stories in a book, but we wanted to find other ways to tell a story – especially about weather events like blizzards and tornadoes. Starting with snow and blizzards, we listened to music from “The Nutcracker,” specifically the dance of the snowflakes and the dance of the sugar plum fairy. Students then decided at what parts in the music they thought the weather was changing from gentle snow, to wind, to a blizzard, etc. We used our bodies to create our own snowflake dance, from when moisture exists as water, then turns to ice crystals, then the ice crystals bind together to make snowflakes, until finally when the wind blows so hard that all the snowflakes fall as a blizzard. The range and variety of instruments in our music helped us differentiate our physical positions between water, to ice, to snow, to wind. We started with just our fingertips as water droplets, then grew to hands and arms for ice crystals, then joined out bodies together to make large snowflakes, and then moved in our imaginary wind to be flakes blowing in the wind. When we put together our movements with the music, we were able to tell the story of snowflakes forming and falling all around us.
After each session students reflect in their journals on a question or prompt related to our activities that day. The question I asked them for these journal entries was “How Do You Tell a Story?” In their journals I hope for them to communicate how we are understanding and exploring the science content through our drama and physical theater.