Mound STEM School 4th grader working on coding his Scratch animation.
The 4th graders at Mound STEM School in Cleveland were already well-versed in landforms when I began my residency this past fall semester. Their teachers had done an excellent job teaching the students all about weathering, erosion, and the formation of landforms. What I found lacking in this class was the ability to visualize these landforms. They could tell me how a valley or a glacier was created, but they could not tell me what said valley or glacier looked like. They could describe the weather associated with these landforms, but not the visuals of them. This is one of those key factors missing from our education system: the ability to let students experience these realities first-hand. Although we cannot take the students to the Grand Canyon or to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains, we can show YouTube videos, paintings and images to give our students a glimpse of these environments.
It took students some time to realize their visions for their Scratch animations they made as part of my residency work. The animations included drawn imagery sourced from discovered images and videos research. Once they had conquered the imagery, the students incorporated facts about their landforms to educate other students and other viewers. We then used conductive materials such as graphite, aluminum foil, and copper tape to create conductive drawings, which worked along with the Makey Makeys to trigger the Scratch projects. The conductive drawings were a result of experiments completed by the students, during which they tested various materials to find what the most conductive materials were to use for their artworks.
Experimenting with conductive materials and the Makey Makey.
The results of combining these various materials and methods was a (surprisingly) cohesive and exciting project. The students learned the basics of coding, digital painting, physical drawing, and conductivity, along with their landform curriculum. This was a very challenging residency to accomplish, and the results were far from perfect. I would love to do this residency again, with slight adjustments to streamline the process. The students were very proud of their work, and their projects can be viewed here. I enjoyed my time with the 4th graders at Mound STEM, and I look forward to seeing what these enthusiastic learners create next.
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.
I have found that interactive artworks are conducive to a kinesthetic learning environment; as a student, I learned through research and hands-on activities. As an artist, I learn through experimenting and peer critique. The third graders at Mound STEM School in Cleveland, Ohio served as both the students and the artists in our Fall 2015 residency. The students created three-dimensional interactive sculptures, using components of illustration to communicate life cycles of different animals. The sculptures were designed to appear as the set of a play, with a stage set to showcase the illustrations. The illustrations themselves sit upon a wheel, which is spun by the viewer to experience each particular phase of a life cycle.
The words “illustration” and “drawing” were absolutely terrifying to the students when I first introduced our project. “But what if I can’t draw?! I can’t draw anything!” resounded throughout the classroom. Yet over the next month or so, I witnessed the confidence levels rising as we researched and planned our drawings, practicing basic shapes and patterns, and discussing color theory. The class spent one class creating still-life drawings from flower arrangements; I have never seen a class so young so intent on observing their subject. At the conclusion of the class, the students lined up for a “gallery walk.” We walked around the classroom looking at everyone’s drawings, the students quiet and concentrated. When we sat down to discuss the work, I was astounded to hear a student say, “Izzie’s composition is really nice, I like hers a lot.” I have never heard a student say the word “composition” before without first commanding them, as I did at the beginning of the session: “repeat after me guys, a composition is how you arrange an image.”
When I was first designing this residency, a friend told me I was “crazy” to expect the level of attention needed for successful observation drawing from 3rd graders. I was thrilled with the results of their drawings, and the attention to detail came through in their final sculptures. Every student put time and effort into their works, and the result was phenomenal. I will be doing a similar residency this upcoming 2016 semester with the third graders at Michael R. White STEM and Hannah Gibbons, both schools in Cleveland. The subject matter will be sustainable energy as opposed to life-cycles, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of this residency within a completely different context.