Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wind Tube Challenge!

Having gone full geek, I decided recently that my life was lacking without my own wind tube. After using them in other places, including at Champlain Mini Maker Faire and at Wildflower Studio in South Burlington (never heard of it?! Stop reading here, and go visit that place. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Bring your kids. Or leave them at home and go have all the fun yourself.)

Thanks to the marvel that is Exploratorium's web presence, it wasn't too hard to figure out how to make one for myself with these directions.  With the convenience of online shopping and generously shared acetate from Samantha Spisiak at Wildflower Studio, I had my supplies together within a couple of days.

Why does an art teacher need a wind tube?  Because artists are the original scientists. We like to tinker, experiment with materials, build interesting shapes and designs, and see what happens. We also like our stuff to look great, too. And if my class can be the entry point for either budding artists to learn and love science, or for science-minded kids to love art, well then I have won at the whole interdisciplinary teaching game.

Let me just tell you, when kids came in and saw a balloon levitating in my class room, mysteriously and wondrously hovering in a funnel of wind, they wanted more. No child, not one soul, asked what the art teacher was doing with a wind tunnel.

By contrast, when I brought it to my son's school for the Maker Faire this week, an adult asked me what I teach. I said art. It worries adults when we don't fit in boxes. He looked puzzled, disappointed, and then irritated as he demanded to know, Well, why not science?

Because I love all the subjects, I said. Because if I teach art, I can teach everything. I can blend art and science and writing and math and movement and more.  It's all there in the art room.

Now, you might argue it's all there in science, too, and I sure hope you are right. We are a weird system of silos in public American education, so I hope more and more teachers are broadening their approach.  In art, 5th graders had twenty minutes to lift a little plastic sea creature out of the tunnel using a selection of materials. The challenge, which the kids didn't know, was that no single item would work alone.

The students had coffee filters, strawberry baskets, paper bags, cardboard tubes, string, pipe cleaners, tape, and small plastic bags. They also had markers and crayons, because, you know, aesthetics.

The coffee filter, which looks like a parachute, seemed the obvious choice for most students, who worked in pairs. But a single coffee filter did not catch enough air to provide the needed lift.

That when you go back, redesign, and try again.  Just as we were running out of time, along comes this guy:

Quietly, thoughtfully, confidently, he connected five coffee filters at varying heights to a single plastic octopus. It flew right out of the tube, all the way to the ceiling. The other students were floored. One great thing about varying what and how I teach is that it lets different students shine in ways that excite and surprise the class.  He got applause.

This is engineering. What does this have to do with art? Good art needs a good engineer. You don't want your sculptures to topple over, and you want that windsock to fly. Engineering is a basic skill that can build into many life directions. Science is one. Art is one, too.

Unlike the sea creatures, my son was a bit heavy to lift out of it, no matter how many little parachutes we attached to him.  Every design has it's limitations.

 Oops. Forgot the fan. Maybe more wind next time.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Shapes Are Poppin'! EES

  In Second grade, the artists are poppin'! Lately we have been talking about some big, fancy sounding art words like "contrast" and "contemporary." We looked at the incredible, contemporary (current) artwork of the pop artist Burton Morris.
Penny A Pop, Burton Morris, Serigraph Print
Students learned how pop artists take easily recognizable, everyday objects, such as cans of soup, packages of candy, or common office supplies, and make those common objects the subject of an artwork. 
Coffee Cup 1998, Burton Morris, serigraph print
This practice "elevates" those objects into something extraordinary, like this cup of coffee. The bold, graphic shapes, strong contrast in colors, and sense of movement in the composition make this no ordinary cuppa joe. 

I had seen this lesson online which inspired what I did with students, which belongs to an art teacher who used Burton Morris' work as a jumping off point for a Valentine's Day project. The results are lovely, and it is an excellent lesson in process for sure, which I used in very much the same way with my students. I avoid "holiday-themed" lessons, but it seemed like a great start to a potential geometry connection.

Ta da!  These second graders have some talent.
Second grade artists chose a common two-dimensional math shape, and by adding effects such as outlines, movement lines, and shine, made the ordinary extraordinary!

Did you know that hexagons could look so cool?
Classes brainstormed lists of math shapes on the board, and selected one that they felt was both commonplace and held great potential to be awesome.

It is making for one seriously eye-catching display to see all of these shapes zooming, falling, and bouncing around the page.

Rhombuses blasting off
Students felt that some of these projects are viewable from different angles, and were rotating their pages to find that a shape that looked like it was rising now looked like it was falling, a discovery about which artists were pretty excited.

Trying this lesson in your own classroom? Awesome. This project also works in tons and tons of scissor practice, and can be easily modified for students who would benefit from tracing shapes or using adaptive scissors. Tracers or stencils can also be used in reverse to help students outline the shapes with marker.

The basics are the same as in the lesson I linked: begin with the colored background, altering the edge and cutting out V's. Mount on black paper and alter the straight lines to echo the edge of the colored paper, leaving a border. Cut out one large shape (some kids may want rulers), and 2-5 small ones. Outline shapes in marker, and add the white paper "shiny spots" and movement lines. It took most kids three 45-minute class periods. One more tip: I used colored copy paper instead of construction paper. The colors are clean and bold, and it cuts with a nice clean edge.

Come see the display in the 2nd floor hallway to see how our artists have created their own pop art!


Friday, March 4, 2016

Student conversations are the best! EES

Two third graders were sitting with me in art today, having the following conversation:

Student A: Did you know that you have this thing in your brain called an umbilical cord?

Student B [rolling eyes, like it was obvious]: Yes, I know.

Me: Huh?  Um, that's the thing that connects mamas and babies before they are born. It was where your belly button is now.

Student A [irritated]: No.  Not that umbilical cord Mrs. Elliott. The other one. The one in your brain.  You know, it's the one that connects your brain to your imagination.

Oh. My. Goodness. Sometimes I think my heart will burst with my love for children.
 Thanks for sharing them with me!