Thursday, December 22, 2016

Snow Dough!

     Recently, my wonderful EES Kindergarten colleagues mentioned to me that they were going to make fake snow for their students to play with during choice time. What?! Snow that doesn't melt? I'm in.

   That afternoon I went directly to the store, where I picked up just two simple ingredients, for a grand total of $3.

   Now, I have made a lot of dough and slimes with kids. Flubber, diy bouncy balls, Ooblek, homemade play dough, and most recently, an attempt at kinetic sand. (Fail.) While all of those things have merit, none has had the wow factor of the snow dough.

   It's heavy, cold, packs like real snow, and crumbles back apart again. It has true heft- the two quarts I made weighted almost five pounds- it might even be heavier per volume than the real deal. And it really looks like snow.
I swear I didn't shovel this from the playground.
 Depending on what conditioner you use, it could be neutrally or strongly scented. It would be delightful to scent it with peppermint oil or balsam, but I am all about trying the two-ingredient method to start out. The 4lb. box of baking soda mixed easily in a large bowl with the conditioner. No doubt there are real recipes and proportions for this, but I winged it, and used all but an ounce or two of the conditioner, which I am saving in case it seems dry later. So that was it for the recipe- a 4lb box of baking soda and 13 ounces of conditioner.

Offer artists buttons, sticks, pipe cleaners, and little pine branches.
So, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with art? Isn't this just free play, and how is it teaching anything?

Open-ended exploration of art materials leads to exactly the places I want kids to go- spontaneous creative places. Questions that students ask (such as, What can I make? How does this material work?) encourage social interactions around creative tasks, language skills, and fine motor skills.  Consider this question asked: Can we put cars in it? Do we have a snow plow?

 Creative ideas like acting out Katy and the Big Snow, shown above, connect to literacy and storytelling. Creativity becomes collaborative when students offer additional questions, like Who could we have Katy save? Let's get more cars!

This is not what art class always looks like. I teach many structured lessons, but art teachers have a few perpetual challenges for which I have developed a variety of answers over the years. What to do with early finishers? (Sketchbooks, stations, art jobs.) What to do with an extra class before a school vacation? (Don't begin something new with a group you aren't going to see again soon.) Give them, and yourself, a break. Do fun stations.

That. by the way, is the face of authentic surprise, joy, and disbelief in how the faux snow works and feels.
And that's what this is- a super fun station kids K-5 clamor to get their hands into. Put a fake fire on your projector screen, put on some instrumental sleigh-riding music, and relax with awesome art activities.  My biggest take-away from making this seasonal dough is to make more!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fantasy Fish

What happens when students watch nature documentaries in art class? They combine all of the design elements that they know to create some fantastic fishies.

Second graders spent time in art class observing tropical fish swimming around coral reefs, and virtually exploring the Great Barrier reef.

Students were asked to make observations about the shapes, patterns, colors, and forms that they noticed in the different fish species. On that first day, students shared the things they noticed about the commonalities and differences in different fish varieties, and made sketches combining these to make an original fish all their own.

The video footage was left running for students to observe the landscape as well. There were so many types of plants, corals, and urchins in endless forms and a rainbow of colors to inspire the habitats students created for their creatures.

Artists used several different materials for their projects, beginning with pencil sketches. The sketches were colored in with a thick waxy layer of crayon. 

The crayon acts not only to add bold color, but to resist the watercolors painted over it. I make liquid watercolors from old markers, which I soak in containers of water and combine in different ways to create lots of colors. These are stored in repurposed glass jars, which I label by dipping a strip of white paper in each paint and taping it to the jar so students can see the colors.

These act just like any other watercolor when painted over wax, and they interact beautifully with salt as well. 

When the watercolor is newly painted on and still damp, students sprinkle a little pinch of salt on top, and it absorbs water and color to create the little white "bubbles" in the picture above. When added to those white crayon swirls to show the water current, it makes a pretty convincing ocean!

 I am easily suckered by students who ask for extra materials to create a little more enchantment in their artwork, so when kids asked for glitter, I knew just the kind, and several artists chose to add some diamond dust glitter to their fish. Because, Mrs. Elliott, ocean water is sparkly, after all!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Starry Night and Types of Line

Kindergarten artists have been exploring lines in art class throughout the last several weeks. They have drawn lines, made their body into different shaped lines, and are now painting line types.

One of the first artists I have introduced to Kindergarteners this year is Vincent Van Gogh. It is exciting for students- most of whom know the names of few, if any, artists, however many know his name. Their eyes light up that they have a connection from outside school to the content.

The Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889
The Starry Night is an artwork that utilizes many of the types of lines that we are exploring in art class. Students hunt to locate lines- wavy, zigzag, straight, dotted, and spiraling lines- and examine how the artist has used them in his picture. Straight lines make excellent buildings, wavy lines create rolling hills, and the winds twists and spirals through the sky.

Kindergarten artists used Van Gogh's masterpiece as a jumping off point to explore lines. They could choose to use line however they wanted- abstractly, realistically, or to recreate The Starry Night- it was up to each artist. The expectation for the group was that the finished work should show as many types of lines as they could create, and that they should be able to point to, trace, and identify line types in their paintings.

On the first day, students used cool colors of tempera on black paper. We have also been discussing color temperature, and how all cool colors have blue in them.

Cool colors at left, warm at right.
Warm colors are easily remembered by asking students to think of things in nature that are hot- lava, fire, the sun- and those colors we used the second class.

When the artists looked at Van Gogh's painting, they noticed that he used warm colors largely in places that he wanted to show light.  Kindergarteners then used warm colors of oil pastels to create stars, moons, the sun, or to enhance their lines.

It becomes sort of a "status" claim among the 5-to-6-year-old set to be able to draw stars, so I show them several different approaches to drawing them, and remind students that even Van Gogh was not painting five-point stars. It relaxes them a bit to know that there are lots of ways to show light. In the painting above, for example (top of the work, left of center), the artist followed Van Gogh's lead to create a star with a single point of light surrounded by rings of dotted lines to suggest a "glow" and vibration.

As our unit on line comes to a close and we move into a unit on shape, we will transition with a project that teaches how to hold rulers. Students will learn how to make straight lines with a ruler, and will use the ruler to create geometric shapes.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Light Unit Art Integration!

If you ever want to give kids a project that they are so excited about that they are daily pestering their homeroom teachers to know if it is an Art day, this is it.

Oooh. Aaah.
Presenting, Magic Wands in grade one, a lesson on integrating Science and Art; a lesson that brings the science to the art-minded and art to the science-minded in equal proportions.

An aside: 
The truth is, I was afraid of science for a long time. It said it wasn't "my thing," but really, I was scared because I didn't understand it. Very few teachers along the way presented science to me in a way that made me feel motivated or confident. So, if you are an art teacher reading this, and you are feeling scared of the science in this lesson too, hang on. I gotcha, and we are going to make this okay.  You will love it. You will learn along with your students. That it isn't just "okay" for kids to know you are learning too- it's actually awesome and brave to model life-long learning.

Back to the project:
The first graders have a comprehensive light unit. For the most part, this is a part of science that we art teachers actually do feel comfortable talking about. The light unit covers shadows, light sources, and how permeable different materials are to light.

So that was where we began in the Art room, while during the homeroom science time they did work on the same area. On the white board I wrote the above vocab words, then students sorted materials using a flashlight to see how much light came though- none, some, or all. Students tacked up those materials under the word they felt was a best fit.

Here is the part which, until a few years ago, I found intimidating: How would we turn on our own lights to explore? Circuitry can seem mysterious, but it is actually pretty straightforward, enough even that my first graders can tell you the basics now.  So can this fabulous dynamo celeb kid, Sylvia. To listen to her explain electrical circuits in just a couple of minutes, watch this video, beginning at 3m15s.

Here is how we made our circuits: Hang tight, you can do it too!

Red/Green/Blue LED
This tiny light bulb is a slow color-changing LED, which rotates colors by having red, green, and blue bulbs inside. Here is what they look like in action:

 I purchase mine directly from China on eBay. They are marvelous, and they cost $5 for 100 pieces.  If you look carefully at the photo above, you can see the legs of the LED, called leads, are twisted around a piece of wire. I did that part for the kids, because little fingers have a hard time making that strong connection. It helps that I soldered this connection as well, but you don't have to- twisting them is enough. I attached black to the negative (short) lead of the LED, and red wire to the positive (long) lead.
This is what it looked like- two wires, around 12" each, twisted to an LED

The other thing kids need is a battery. I use a standard button cell, coin-type battery, but don't use those with kids younger than kindergarten, or children with special needs. They cannot go into mouths. These came from, and cost about $0.20/each.

On the first day, the kids spent time with those two objects, just exploring what they might be. The class' thoughts that first day were amazing to hear, as they helped each other investigate ideas:
It's a little light, maybe.
I think this is a shiny magnet that stops the light from turning on.
These are batteries, I think.
Yeah, put it against the metal I think.
It's not turning on. I think it should turn on.
Twist it like this.
No, you don't have to twist it.
If I hold the the wires really hard I can make it blink!
Put the black wire on the not-word side and the red one on the word-side of the metal thing.

That's all there is to it. The black touches the negative side of the battery, and red touches the positive side of the battery. Pinch it, and it lights up!
If you have got this far, you are golden. Tape the LED to the top of a stick or dowel, and wrap the wires downward, as in this photo below. Kids taped the black wire to the negative battery side, and left the red wire free to be the off/on switch.

Make sure to tape the battery and black wire to the dowel, leaving part of the positive battery side exposed. Turn it off and on by pressing the red wire under your thumb, and then releasing the pressure. That is your pressure switch!

Now, make that thing look a little more magical. Class #2: Wrap it in yarn and cover that wire! We leave the battery uncovered so that kids can troubleshoot if their tape comes loose.

In class #3, we experiment with transparent, translucent, and opaque materials to make a cover for the bulb. In the photo above, the student wrapped clear tape around her fingers (sticky side out), and stuck it into foil confetti in the shape of stars and moons. She slid it off her fingers and taped it on right around her LED, wrapping it again in tape to hold it in place. It is both translucent (the tape) and opaque (the foil pieces).

The top of the ones above and below are made of tin foil, which the artists poked holes into it to let the light out, as foil is opaque. It's pretty nifty, because when it is on, it casts little dots of light.

Did you see those feathers and flowers and tulle? These artists really went to town on the opportunity to make theirs look magical!  Here are several more beauties- this is a great place to explore making the wands extravagant with feathers, fake flowers and leaves, your best ribbons, etc.

Surely for a wizard of the forest.
One important thing to know is that when you send these home, include a little warning/educational note about the small parts and battery. You can never be too cautious, honestly, and they still look lovely.

Here is the note up-close:

One of my groups takes theirs home TODAY, just in time to add some serious wow to their Halloween costumes. These students are suddenly finding themselves the envy of every older kiddo in school, who are asking, Can we go back to first grade?! 

Happy magic-making! 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Monochromatic Scenes in Silhouette

   Let's be honest. You almost didn't read this post. The name for this project is terrible. Monochromatic Scenes in Silhouette? Hardly rolls off the tongue, and kids will look at you oddly when you say it.  Even though I wanted to call these landscape/seascape/cityscape/ or-sky-only paintings simply scapes, to ease matters, I couldn't. Because scapes  are a whole other thing, and here in Vermont, kids actually know what they are.
Garlic scape. Obviously.
And the kids would wonder, why are we silhouetting the flowering tops of garlic plants in the moonlight, Mrs. Elliott?  That's nonsense. Delicious in pesto and stir-fry, however. Try it sometime.

Anyway, now I am stuck with this dumb name for their amazing projects. If you have a better one, please recommend it. Moving on.

Monochromatic sky and hills

Students in fourth and fifth grade began this project by creating a color they loved, and using only white+the custom color to create a sky. We began with white at the light source, gradually adding hints of color circling outwards. Some students created only sky, while others added water, hills, and mountains.  To do that, students had to consider if the color of the hills showed atmospheric perspective (paler in the distance, darker in the foreground), and if adding water, did it reflect the sky?

That was the first class (or for some, the first and second). During the next class, students experimented with both collage and ink, to see which they preferred for creating objects in silhouette. Once they were comfortable with their choice, they began on their painted background paper.

Some artists created cityscapes, such as these. Do you see that tiny laundry line on the right-hand image? 

One of the hardest parts of making art is knowing when to stop. We have been talking about salting your food as a good metaphor for this. No salt might be bland, a little is delicious, and too much is just overwhelming, and not yummy anymore.

The classes have been working on telling one another when to stop, before it goes overboard. Our mantra has been Just because there is space, doesn't mean you need to fill it.

In other words, when giving constructive feedback to each other, resist telling your friend to fill all empty sky space with planes, UFOs, hot air balloons, and a thousand birds. Pull back a little, and focus feedback on how the artist can improve what is already there. Our mantra has been helpful enough that two students actually thought they had gone too far, and elected to come in at a recess to begin again.

The results have been overall pretty wonderful, although the ink can be difficult to control, drips easily, and therefore requires flexible thinking about what to do if you make a mistake.

The artist who made the picture above did that task beautifully. He dripped quite a lot of ink in the upper right third of his painting, just when he was nearly done. Bamboo brushes are both magical and tricky like that. After gathering feedback from peers, he decided to turn it into the dark smoke stream of a jet.

You know a project is great when kids are so proud of their blending, their ideas, and their product that one shouts "I feel like a real artist!" Now the lesson just needs a better name!