Staff Spotlight: Ainsley Buckner

Ainsley Buckner Zoetrope Project

PAA Artist-Educator and Program Coordinator Ainsley Buckner working with third grade students to assemble a zoetrope at Orchard STEM School.

Ainsley Buckner joined the Progressive Arts Alliance full-time staff in spring 2013. In her role at PAA, she serves as both Program Coordinator and Artist-Educator. She is a visual artist who attend the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) where she majored in general fine arts and participated in MICA’s Community Arts Partnership. Her work at PAA includes overseeing the design and implementation of our programs at our partner schools and library locations as well as experimenting in the PAA lab to help test ideas and discover new methods for students to realize their artistic creations.

During the spring 2015 semester, Ainsley collaborated with two of PAA’s artist-educators to help launch new projects that our organization has not implemented in the past. We had a chance to catch up with Ainsley between running from school location to school location to discuss her recent work.

Editor: We’re excited that you’ve designed and fabricated a hydro-powered zoetrope for a third grade residency with PAA artist-educator Jen Craun at Orchard STEM School. Can you describe your process of designing and testing the zoetrope? (For more information on what a zoetrope is, click here.)

Ainsley: The challenge for my design was to use everyday materials to emphasize repurposing of materials and encourage students to think about how they could make a hydro-powered mechanism on their own. The materials I used were a CD spindle, plastic spoons, a piece of Styrofoam, modeling clay, a threaded rod, PVC pipe, a block of wood, nuts, washers, and a cooler chest. When testing out materials and designs I had to keep in mind that 3rd graders would have to be able to construct it and I needed to consider ways that I could scaffold the instruction for the students to be successful, but still leave room for exploration. The other main challenge in designing the hydro-powered zoetrope was figuring out how to change the direction of motion from vertical to horizontal. I solved this issue by using a bevel gear, which the students constructed out of two wood laser cut circles and fluted dowel pins.

Ainsley's planning sketch for the hydro-powered zoetrope project.

Ainsley’s planning sketch for the hydro-powered zoetrope project.

Editor: As you were guiding students into building the parts of the hydro-power system that you designed, what did you notice as the students engaged in the process?

Ainsley: Once the hydro-power zoetrope was complete, you could see students start to compare their hand-powered zoetrope with the energy from the water. The students developed an understanding on how the two different energies affected the motion of their zoetrope animations and which energy source is the most sustainable.  (See the zoetropes in action at the link below.)

Editor: What did you learn as an artist by going through the design process to design the zoetrope and its hydro-powered system?

Ainsley: Going through the design processes helped re-emphasize the importance of being open to learning through testing and letting my mistakes inform new iterations of the design. While building the hydro-powered mechanism with the students, I realized how important it was for me to share the steps I took and the problems I faced in the design process to deepen their understanding of how everyone can learn from their failures.

Editor: 3-D printing is a one of the current and rising trends in the growing Maker Movement. This semester you’ve worked to implement 3-D printing as part of the process of creating installation art with fourth graders at Michael R. White STEM School, in collaboration with PAA artist-educator Allison Bogard. What are some of the challenges of using 3-D printing in the elementary classroom?

Ainsley: I think one of the biggest challenges in teaching 3-D printing is having students understand how the object they’re creating exists in three planes, since they are used to working traditionally in 2-D or two-dimensional planes.

Editor: What did students learn through the process of creating a three-dimensional object? How did students react to seeing their creation come to life on the 3-D printer?

Ainsley: The students learned how to simplify the complex components of a bird’s figure into simple shapes. After breaking the body into simple shapes they were able to see how each body part of their bird informs the body as a whole. The students were very excited to see their 3-D models come to life. They were amazed by the additive sculpture method that takes place during the 3-D printing process. The printer takes plastic filament, similar to how a hot glue gun works, and heats the filament so it can be extruded as a liquid. The liquid then hardens back into a rigid plastic after seconds.

Editor: What does engaging in the process of designing and creating interactive installation art provide for students?

Ainsley: I think teaching students about interactive installation art shows students how they can not only transform a space through visual art, but also how they can inform and educate people through hands-on engagement of their audience.  (Take a peek at the link below to see the process of creating a 3-D bird.)

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