Tag Archives: STEAM

Landforms, Relief Sculptures, and Topographic Maps

Say “topographic map” to a 4th grader and see what their definition is. Of course, this would be after the incredulous and bewildered look you’d probably receive, but I digress.

Topography is a difficult concept to explain without visual aids; paper drawings, foam models, and computer images were imperative for helping these students understand the breakdown of height and depth for their relief sculptures. The fourth grade at Michael R. White explored color, gradient, and three-dimensional surface application throughout this project. This gave the students a full sensory experience of their landforms in an effort to make this abstract concept more concrete.

The students were assigned landforms and  researched them using Google Earth. They created two-dimensional paper models, which were individually scanned into a computer and laser cut out of foam. I challenged the 4th grade by asking if we could use color to help people understand our topographic maps. They responded by painting each piece a slightly lighter or darker shade of one color to create a gradient. The gradient demonstrated where the sunlight would hit the top of their island or mountain thus communicating the height of their landform. The results were absolutely stunning, and the students were thrilled to put together their sculptures. We put papier-mache over part of landforms to show the surface. This allowed the students to see both the gradient layers beneath as well as the Earth’s surface on their landform.

Seeing the sculptures all together created a visual map of relief sculptures which showcased each students’ favorite part of the project. Some were carefully painted to demonstrate light and darkness on the papier-mache as well as the gradient. Others were delicately drawn out and researched with some exactly papier-mache’d to show the curvature of the surface. Each sculpture was incredibly unique with great variation in both color choice and form. In the future, perhaps the sculptures would stop at the gradient to show the full topographic map. This is the only change I would consider making to this project.

Overall, this experience was incredibly successful for the 4th graders at Michael R. White.

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Filed under Arts-Integration

Trip to Cambridge Brings Clarity and Purpose

Boston Arts Academy STEAM Lab

The STEAM Lab at Boston Arts Academy.


I returned to Cleveland from our trip to Boston and Cambridge, MA inspired and with a new perspective. Three lessons were woven throughout all of our conversations we had with colleagues and experts in the field from including those with Edward Clapp at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and Nettrice Gaskins, STEAM Lab Director at Boston Arts Academy.

These lessons include:

1. The process is essential to problem-based learning, and in turn, to real life applications. It is important that this is not lost despite our culture’s demand for product.

2. Staying true to our mission is key. It can be easy to stray when there is a path of less resistance, more funding, or a quicker ‘fix,’ but we must maintain and act upon a clear vision of why we are working in the field of arts integration.

3. We must be vigilant and open to adjustments. From noticing how a student learns and applying it to instruction to being aware of and controlling inflections in my voice to maintain the teaching persona that I seek to embody. Great discoveries may happen at any moment, and without adjustments those discoveries are rendered worthless.

These lessons are simple in theory, but complex to fully implement. I have been focusing on these goals within my teaching and art practice.

There have been several times when I have made adjustments to my actions when students didn’t follow directions. Instead of telling them that their technique was wrong and providing the given instructions again, I informed them of when their technique may be useful and what results it may render prior to guiding them back to the assigned task. I have been trying to honor the process of experimentation within the constraints of time, so that students create new paths of discovery and artistic expression as opposed to me putting up roadblocks for them when they stray from the path that I have outlined.

Since our trip, I have tried to be as vigilant as possible to fully internalize the strengths and learning habits of individual students, especially those who struggle with directions or the comprehension of content. Oscillating between serving a whole class and individual students is something that I continue to push myself to improve on, as I know it is one area I have room for growth.


Filed under Artist-Educator Experimentation, Professional Development