Tag Archives: STEM

Building a Biome From Scratch

The transformative power of successful experiences never ceases to amaze. Watching students become more confident and willing to take risks made this a very memorable experience. The 2017 spring semester was the start of my PAA journey and began with a residency in Mrs. Reynolds’ 7th grade class at Michael R. White STEM School. The goal was to reinforce knowledge of abiotic and biotic factors of an ecosystem. To a 7th grader I’m sure this sounded about as much fun as watching paint dry. To make this much more engaging, and utilize 21st century skills, we decided that they would create their own animated biome presentation using Scratch. None of the students had ever used Scratch before. They had to learn the interface and the visual scripting all while presenting accurate, standards based information to their audience. This would be challenging, and they knew it. They were very rambunctious and filled with nervous energy when the project began.

One student in particular sticks out in my mind. Let’s just say he was not most cooperative. Initially, he was often cracking jokes, having side conversations, and generally just fooling around. He seemed to have little interest in the project. However, by the last few sessions he was leading his peers in various techniques and code application. At our final session he was visibly upset when reminded that it was our last day together. “So we are never gonna (sic.) see you again?”, he asked in a weak voice. I told him that I would be around the school and that he could always go online and use Scratch on his own. He then told me that he wanted to start making Scratch games and be an artist.

 

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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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As a Matter of State: Solid, Liquid and Gas Decoupage Dioramas

During my recent residency at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Academy, 2nd and 3rd grade scholars engaged in  many conversations and much investigation into matter’s various states. After their investigations, scholars decided to build three-dimensional decoupaged dioramas to demonstrate their understanding. The class was divided into three groups: solid, liquid, and gas. Students brainstormed ideas within their categories and then ultimately selected their favorite liquid, solid, or gas to create a three-dimensional diorama. Some ideas were difficult to categorize, resulting in robust classroom discussion. For instance, oatmeal. Is it a solid or a liquid? And then there was basketball. Is it a solid filled with gas? How about ice? Is ice a liquid frozen into a solid state? The states of matter discussions, and the excitement for making a three-dimensional dioramas of their item generated a lot of enthusiasm.

With an idea in hand, students sketched in their diorama planners making sure they considered the background, middle ground, and foreground for their object’s environment. They drew their objects as the main figure within the space of their 3-dimensional dioramas.

hot air balloon plan

Hot Air Balloon Plan and Decoupaged Diorama.

Next was the most unexpectedly difficult portion of the project: tearing the tissue paper into pieces [without shredding, wadding, or other frustrated efforts]. This fine motor skill proved far more challenging for the students than anticipated by myself or the teacher. The victory of finally getting all five interior surfaces of the diorama boxes covered in thin layers of tissue was a major feat!

The figures within the dioramas were created on tabbed card stock, so they could stand and or hang from the space as desired. The students excelled at this construction method quickly after the greater learning curve of the technique of decoupage had been mastered. As we placed and adhered the finished objects into their created spaces, students were alit with accomplishment and the room was filled with the fervor of their excitement and pride.

bricks diorama

Student showcases her solid state of matter diorama; a brick wall.

water diorama

Student showcases her water state of matter diorama; water.

wind diorama

Student showcases her gas state of matter diorama; a gust of wind.

Upon reflection, it continues to amaze me at how profoundly important even these seemingly simpler residency projects are. Students initially struggled at every technical interchange of the process: in creating small pieces of tissue paper, applying the right amount of adhesive, and in covering the surfaces with flat but overlapping thin layers. These struggles, however, paved the way for hands-on learning that was so rich, and ultimately provided the reward of successful projects. Seeing and coaching the students as they pushed through these challenges, turned out to be the most memorable aspect of this residency.

orange balloom diorama

Student showcases his gas and solid state of matter diorama; a balloon filled with helium.

Students were absolutely beside themselves with pride, standing next to their brightly decoupaged boxes with wide smiles and sticky hands.

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Printing the Planets

The fifth graders at Hannah Gibbons were studying the planets of our solar system in their science curriculum. They had lots of questions. What colors are the planets? What gives the planets their color? What are the surfaces of the planets like?

We projected the various planets on the big screen and it almost felt like we were in the planetarium. For the majority of the students in the class, this was the first time they had seen large full color and up close images of the planets. Awestruck is a great way to describe their reactions.

The collagraph plate seemed the perfect printmaking partner for their artistic investigations. We set out together to create collagraph plates of each of the planets that we printed in limited editions. The students became expert printers and grew quite skilled at operating the etching press as they cranked out their small stack of prints. We also tipped our best prints into a handful of collaborative artist books showcasing one of each planet in our solar system.

Collagraph plate, inked and ready to run through the press.

Students asked and answered their planetary questions in many formats within their field journals. These journals recorded their research, and included further investigations of the textural surfaces and appearances of their selected planet with rubbings, collages, and proof prints in preparation for creating their collagraph plates.

Planetary textural rubbing with the beginnings of watercolor study.

Field Journals

Students showcase their textural studies within their field journals.

Sure, there was a little snickering with an occasional Martian and Uranus joke, but there was a lot more serious inquiry and investigation.

Team Mars, also known as our Martian Men, with their first proof prints of Mars.

Armed with their field journals, which were absolutely packed with their findings, students mined their new understandings to create a collagraph printing plate of their planet. We made test plates of nearly ten different texture gels so that the individual planetary student groups could determine which acrylic gels they would use to create their planet and showcase its unique and specific surface. Students cut their circular planet plates, including rings for several of them, out of thin foam core, and built up their textural surface with various acrylic gels including: sand, pumice, fibers, and glass beads.

Students made proof prints of their planet collagraph plates with a single primary color of their planet to get their first textural read of their collagraphs. This is the magic I most enjoy in my printmaking residencies. We’ve spent weeks together, absolutely up to our eyeballs in both investigations and making, yet when students lift their first print off of their plate that they both created and inked, their eyes alight with disbelief. The magic of printmaking!

Team Earth with their printed edition.

After their first impression has been made, students began blended color relief rolls for their small editions. Lastly, they printed their best prints on rice paper to be collaged into our collaborative books.

Planet Printing

The printing process.

The results? They were out of this world!

Team Mercury, also known as The Mercury Girls, showcasing their prints.

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Telling the Story of our Landscape with the Makey Makey and Scratch

Mound_scratch

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.

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.

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Screen Printing and Quilting: Creating Magic in the Classroom

mrw_printingOne 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.

mrw_print

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.

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Interactive & Illustrative: Sculptures that Spin

Mound_Sculpture

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.

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The Force and Motion of Life

As an Artist Educator, my goal is to deepen the learning experience for students and educators through engaging and innovative project-based learning residencies. In these residencies the scholars participate in hands-on learning experiences that provide opportunities to learn and practice transferable skills. They develop and nurture critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication skills. These skills not only enhance comprehension of the content from their academic classes, but they also apply to their lives outside the classroom.

Design plans for a chain reaction sculpture.

This fall, PAA organized a kinetic sculpture residency hosted at think[box], Case Western Reserve University’s innovation center.  The goal of this collaboration was to integrate the middle school science curriculum content standard into an experiential learning workshop, including content focused on force and motion. Five schools participated, serving approximately 150 students over a one week intensive residency.  Each scholar participated for two full school days in designing and building chain reaction kinetic sculptures at think[box].  Experiential learning opportunities like this provide avenues for students to explore force and motion in a hands-on way; enhancing their ability to incorporate theory into real life examples. Students worked in teams to collaboratively plan out their design based on the materials provided, thinking critically about the relationship between the material and the science.  They continually learned from their mistakes and tested out new methods and materials to come up with creative solutions.

Construction phase

Construction phase at the think[box].

These innovative residencies also provided invaluable teachable moments. I observed instances where the students referenced their own perceived abilities related to force and motion. Many students struggled with their self confidence in their ability to build a working chain reaction sculpture. In particular, one student struggled to recognize her own potential.  At the beginning, she expressed to me that she identified as being “stupid.”  I explained to her that what we are capable of is often determined by our mindset.  With coaching and encouragement she built up the self-esteem to participate in the project. Metaphorically, she is a ball at the top of a ramp filled with potential energy and the support we provide as instructors is the gravitational force that allows the ball to roll down the ramp and change into kinetic energy.  The hands-on learning of force, motion, and chain reaction became a relevant metaphor for her own lack of self-confidence transforming into kinetic energy.

Completed kinetic sculpture

Completed kinetic sculpture

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Keywords: Agency and Diligence

The PAA artist-educator team arrives at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA.

The PAA artist-educator team arrives at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, MA.

There are hundreds of things I could write about in regards to the trip our team from Progressive Arts Alliance took to Cambridge, MA this past month. Things like how inspiring the Boston area was, what it felt like to be at MIT and Harvard (the big dogs), or given such little time, how much was accomplished. However, I would like to focus on the effect of one conversation in particular as I think it clearly elicits the quality of information gained on this trip.

On Thursday our PAA team met with Edward Clapp, a member of the Agency by Design team that is part of Harvard’s Project Zero.  During our conversation, we had a chance to cover a few topics, but two things really stuck with me. The idea of having and creating agency among students, and being diligent in that creation of agency. As an artist-educator for Progressive Arts Alliance, I take on the the challenge of developing new residencies to lead in Cleveland schools. Though this might sound slightly ridiculous, the biggest challenge I face in developing these projects (and I think many of the other artist-educators face a similar one) is the question “Could this really happen?”

After talking to Edward at length about what PAA is doing, what we have done, and about the results and personal inferences gained from my projects I came to a firm conclusion:

Testing the boundaries of what is realistic, what isn’t, and what might seem insane is what makes the PAA experience amazing. Allowing myself to be vigilant, to not make the project easier, to expect a high quality result in each of these residencies has not only noticeably increased confidence in many of my students, but has also helped them to find new voices and agency in those voices. Striving towards something that may seem impossible today will be among the first steps to making it a reality in the future.

 

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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.

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