One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching I have found is witnessing the literal “light bulb” moment in the arts-integrated classroom. The third graders at Michael R. White STEM I worked with during the fall 2015 semester were certainly enthusiastic learners, but the concepts of screen printing and printmaking were totally foreign to them. The assignment was to design and draw a life-cycle, which they would then screen print onto a square of canvas. These squares would come together to create a quilt, depicting life-cycles found in our natural world. They were excited about the project, but it was the physical act of screen printing that made students’ eyes truly light up around me. It was like magic for them, seeing their drawings burned onto screens, and then printed on canvas. The students loved moving the ink across the screen with the squeegee, watching it seep into the mesh and onto the fabric. A student who was particularly restless, a self-proclaimed “trouble maker,” became entranced with the printing process. By the end of our first screening session, she was reminding students to “flood their screen,” and demonstrating the proper way to hold a squeegee.
Another “Aha!” moment occurred when we began the second half of our project: sewing. Students were finding personal connections within this project from the beginning; when we looked at pictures of historic quilts, students were exclaiming “my grandmother makes those!” or “we have one at home!” Many of these students had helped their relatives with quilting and sewing in the past, and were very intent on creating patterns with a plastic needle and yarn. As a class, they sewed each other’s squares, working together towards their goal.
The history of quilts comes from bringing together different elements to create a single collaborative blanket, something warm and familiar, something steeped in history and personality. The third graders at Michael R. White took this opportunity to create something educational that also represented each of them as individuals, and as a class. The quilt will be installed in the school during the second semester, and will remain there long after these students have graduated; a little piece of history.