Monday, June 30, 2014

Building STEAM!

 On July 18, I was lucky to attend a STEAM/Big Picture Learning conference.  Many friendly faces were present, including seven colleagues from Flynn in Burlington, and David Bouchard, Enrichment teacher at Jericho.
So why has it taken me so long to write about it?  Because I had to wait for the egg to come in the mail, and for my son, the addressee, to open it.  More on that later.  Look at this wall.

What do eggs have to do with stone walls?
People are builders.  Children are builders. They stack rocks because it's beautiful, a great way to explore gravity, and because it's fun.  And then they can build a wall.  And maybe someday a house.  Andy Goldsworthy has made stacking natural objects a career all his own.

Not all children love math and science, but the arts can bring them to it, and vice-versa.  So STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) education is a chance to use their imaginations and creativity in areas that were previously meant for more "serious intellectuals" to study. As a girl I was afraid of performing poorly in science, so I avoided it, which is why I have changed my tune 180 degrees to bring this subject matter to other young learners in forms such as conductive play-doh, magic wands, and motorized, light-up toys.

What a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and learn more.  Our big task was to work with very basic materials to successfully construct a package that could ship an egg or slice of bread to ourselves. My partner was Nina Madore, Flynn School Speech and Language Pathologist.

At work with our supplies- photo credit to Rebekah Thomas
We were given a large flat cardboard sheet, a sour cream container, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, a popsicle stick, tiny kids' scissors, a bit of brown paper, a sheet of plastic, a pencil, and a ruler.

Note that tape and glue were not included.

 Nina and I prioritized the fact that this package would be mailed, and therefore had to be relatively compliant with USPS regulations, so we decided to build a box.

 After much measuring, scoring, and drawing, we made a million tiny snips with our mini scissors and created out little origami masterpiece.

Here it is, unfolded and open.
We packed the egg into the sour cream container with padding, and put it into the box, which we carefully sealed with the arrow-shaped, fishhook-like tabs we cut.

Then Nina, because she is incredibly kind, suggested we address it to my son.  Who would not be home for a week.  Oh, how that egg would smell in a week if it broke in the package.

Teams introduced their ideas, and defended their designs

This team wanted a package that was largely compostable, and so they avoided plastics.

Teams had so many cool and different solutions. 
So, it got mailed, arrived a few days later, and waited for my boy to come open it.  Arriving was an accomplishment itself, and to me the biggest one.  It passed USPS guidelines, and didn't come apart in the mail.
Here it is!
Pulling out the inner container- if I could do this again I would have skipped it for the additional challenge.

Opening the egg bunker

Voila! Intact egg. Whew!
Imagine if this was what you did all day at school? Not varied or deep enough for you? Consider this project for a child: the math skills, the communication and team-building, the compromise, planning and engineering, fine motor skill exercise, learning to label a package with an address, researching acceptable USPS guidelines, the list goes on.  

Now, it is great that it arrived unbroken, but it might have been even more interesting if it had failed, because that's where the real learning happens- what variable could I have changed?  Hands-on learning yields such creative problem-solving.

Arguably my biggest take-away was this:  the more restrictive and complex the directions, the more limited in scope and creativity the solutions can be, and conversely, the simpler the question and objective, the broader and more creative the answers and results.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Rainy Day Art Making How-to

It all started here, when I saw this shirt on the Mini Boden website.  Oh, cement mixers, how children across the land do love you.

So I decided to make one. It's raining like crazy, and is clearly not going to be a hiking or beach day. Commence sketching.
Not too fancy.  Easy to sew lines.

 First time at this? Give yourself two or three hours and a cup of tea to see you through.

If you decide to get into applique sewing, there are really not a lot of materials you need. The two main things are a basic sewing machine (zig zag stitch throughout) and fusible interfacing called WunderUnder, available at fabric stores like JoAnn's.
Fabric collection ready with interfacing
Because I love to sew, I have a lot of extra little pieces of fabric around. I iron these to the WunderUnder and stash them in the bag you see above until I am ready to use them. When you want to make an applique, just draw on the back of the fused fabric+WunderUnder.  Because it has a paper backing, this is really easy.  Then cut out your pieces with sharp scissors.
The pieces to make the mixer.
This is a red long-sleeve tee I found at Old Navy for 0.99, but you could do it on any blank or striped tee, or even on tie-dye.
Peel off the paper backing from the pieces you just cut out, and arrange them on the shirt.
Peeling the paper backing.
Arrange, and iron the pieces on with an iron that is hot and without water.
And here I assume that you own an iron.  But you may not. Or you may be like me, and yours rarely sees the light of day, so when you pull it out your two-year-old gets wide-eyed and asks, What's that?!

Keep the iron moving slowly.  The glue needs heat on it for around fifteen seconds to adhere properly, but I usually go double on each area to be sure.
Keep ironing. 
Am I done?!  Nope.  Well, maybe for a last-minute Halloween costume, but not for a washable garment you want to see worn dozens of times.  At RES I did have fourth graders in 2012 make an awesome quilt using this exact technique, and they did not do the stitching on top and it has held up well. Here is a snapshot of it:

Species of Vermont quilt, by RES 4th graders
  It is in the RES art room, and is a species of Vermont quilt that hangs on the wall. Each child did a quilt block after researching, planning, and sketching their Vermont animal or plant, and then they used a sewing machine to stitch it all together.

Done ironing, now onward to sewing.
The sewing is not as intimidating as you might be thinking. All you have to do is set your sewing machine to a wide zig zag and a short stitch length, and voila! A satin stitch.

Pin computer paper to the inside of the shirt (or if you have some, wash-out fabric stabilizer, but I never buy that actually). The paper underneath will keep the fabric flat and smooth so you have no puckers.
Use a thread color that looks good with the fabric, but it doesn't have to match.
 Trace the edges all the way around.  If it has a cut edge, go over it.

All those extra threads will be trimmed later
On the wheels, I increased the stitch length so that it would look a little more rugged instead of smooth, being a cement mixer and all.

Here is what it looks like when you take it off the machine.
Yikes, what a mess.
Pull all of the paper out of the inside, like this.
It will come right out.

Trim off your extra threads.  If you want it to be super durable, pull the threads through to the back, tie them to a neighbor, and then trim.
After the haircut
Throw out those extra threads, and iron it once more with a little steam.
Beep, beep, beep!
And there it is!  A rain morning's craft, ready-to-wear.  It will look good for years to come.  Or, until the child spills ice cream down it.  Thankfully, you can throw it in the wash, no special care required.
Have fun!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Burlington Free Press article on Project Explore!- Flynn Elementary

Well now, isn't that nifty?

So proud of the work these students did.  A whole page in the Burlington Free Press, in the Hometown section.  Watch your mailboxes for a copy of your own!

You don't live in the area?  Here is the text.  (Although as an aside, if I may suggest it, you should consider moving here. Vermont's quite lovely. )
Your head is likely tilted slightly sideways to read this.  You are welcome.  I did that so that you would look especially deep in thought as a reader.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

You Drive Me Bananas- RES

The most amazing things happen when you least expect it.  Like on the last day of school, in the last class period of the year. 
As I welcomed in Ms. Purvee's first grade class to sit with me on the carpet, they presented me with a gift.  Now, on the last day it's usually the art teacher handing over lots of artwork, so imagine my surprise when they presented me with this.
The Picture, they called it.
It's time to give you The Picture.

Now what, you ask, is that?  It's around TWENTY-SEVEN FEET of artwork, all taped together into a single piece, presented as a scroll for me to unwind.  They tell me they have been working on it all year, whenever they had bits of free time, and anyone in the class could add to it.
It cannot fit into a single camera frame from anywhere in my room. And it shouldn't have to.  It's awesomeness is too big.
Well kids, color me impressed. Especially impressed that an entire class of small children kept this mum all year.  I am so grateful for all this color in the room as those shelves got emptier and emptier from handing back all the artwork.
 It's too great not to show you a few details.
That intricate beauty in middle is apparently the part that started it all.
Different parts by different students. More than half of them took part in this project.
Look at that car and banana. This one stopped me, and I looked at them- Huh?

Get it, Mrs. Elliott? they asked with huge grins. You drive me bananas!

Well geesh, kids!  You drive me bananas too.  In the best, most creative, awesome ways.  Thank you!

Art Books! RES

Presenting, the Kindergarten Art Book.

Cover page, inspired by Van Gogh's Starry Night
I cannot take credit for this tradition, but do I ever love it. All year long, all of the two-dimensional Kindergarten work is saved and matted onto 12x18" paper.  Towards the end of the year, students collate their books and glue on project descriptions that share a little with others about the goals of the project or what book, artist, or technique we explored.
This project focused on learning the parts of plants and mixing colors
There are many volunteers who make this possible over the year.  People come in to help glue the artwork to the background paper, by far the most time-consuming, year-long task.  You would be welcome anytime to come help with that!   
A color optics lesson inspired by Eric Carle's Hello, Red Fox!
A special thanks goes out to the two people who did hours of book binding this year, the amazing Jackie Wintersteen and the fabulous Natalie Villeneuve.  
Around 650 matted and bound artworks from our creative K's!
Over time (and sadly, many crushed, wet, or torn artworks), I have come to the conclusion that 2D artwork should go home in a bundle at the end of the year to reduce the likelihood of losing the work to catastrophe. 

Another sunflower vase- all the colors were mixed from the primaries
 A large percentage of the projects changes each year as I explore new ways to teach curriculum.  For Kinders, my main areas of focus are on teaching use of tools (grip of writing and drawing implements and scissors, especially), exploring lots of textures and materials, color theory, and recognition of geometric and letter shapes in our world.

Below, we focused on shapes in people and architecture.  Check out all of those rectangles, triangles, circles, and squares.
Our Families and Homes project
In the fall we went outside to look at a tree without leaves.  Now, that is a really complicated thing to draw, but looking carefully, Kindergarten artists decided that drawing a tree was really just a line repeatedly splitting into two, like the letters V and Y.  A look at how one came out:
Trees in Autumn project.  Can you see all of the Y's and V's?
For our Owl Moon inspired watercolor resist paintings, artists used their knowledge of geometry and writing to create a scene from the story.  Circles, ovals (even concentric ones!), triangles, rhombuses, semi-circles, the letter V... so many detailed observations by this artist.
Resting on a branch under the full moon
Students come in to class in September at a vast range of levels and abilities. The growth that happens in fine motor skills is huge by the end of the year. 
Cutting so neatly!
Working in a grid  (inspired by Jasper Johns), with thanks to Thea Hodgson in Burlington
Coloring inside of focused small areas with super control! Inspired by Joan Miro's circuses
The last project of the year for the book is a self-portrait, using math to place facial features and all of the geometry of shapes they have learned all year. 
Kindergarten self-portrait

Look at the details this Kindergarten artist included! So much expression.
Enjoy these books with your student!
Homes and Families

Monday, June 16, 2014

Kindergarten Last Class Stations- RES

On the last day of Kindergarten art class, I have several priorities in mind.  When I talk to myself, it generally goes some thing like this:
Send home all those art books! And then, what? What can they do with forty minutes that won't add to the pile they already need to carry?  Can't make new paintings and drawings... how would they get into the book? 
And then I ask myself the most important question:
How can we fit in the most fun and mess in that amount of time?

Voila! Last Class stations.
Shaving Cream
Now, this is not the kind of art making that parents get to see come home.  No products, just joy. There are no judgements or assessments in shaving cream. There is, however, the chance of getting it in your hair.  And on your face. 
Ta da!
Who doesn't love shaving cream?  Mess that cleans itself and makes you smell good, too. 
Self portrait?
Students could draw in it, squish it, and run texture combs through it.
Thankful for lots of smocks!

The next station was pattern blocks.  Students could build anything- make a pattern, a picture, or lets-see-who-can-build-the-tallest-tower-before-it-crashes.

Getting taller!
Outside students drew with chalk.  The class is working on a sidewalk chalk "quilt," so everyone filled a square with words or pictures.

Finally, students squished, cut, pummeled, and rolled clay at the free play clay station.
Pinch pot pro, folks.


And at the end, of course, these lovelies took home their Kindergarten Art books.  More on those soon!