Tag Archives: art

The Art of Learning: Day 27

Art is essential to learning.  I like to integrate it into all we do in the classroom.  Art takes many forms: writing (like the poetry we’ve been composing), music (singing and dancing), and of course, the visual arts including painting, drawing, photography…and today, clay.  Art seems to release inhibitions and increase confidence when students have the space to fail…and to iterate.

We’re lucky at my school.  We have access to clay, glazes, and a kiln to fire the products we make.  But as the classroom teacher, I have to have enough confidence and knowledge to teach the skills and processes to my students.  And I am no expert.  I talked with the teacher at my site who is in charge of the clay materials and kiln about working with clay, the ideas I had in mind, and then used the internet to further explore possibilities.

Yesterday I showed my students my ideas for our clay project and a short video demonstrating the techniques they would use today.  And today, I pulled out the clay and the creating began. Students created pinch pot ocean creatures.  The room hummed with creativity and imagination.  They supported each other, they accepted feedback, and they worked independently. They know that disaster might be around the corner as our creations hit the kiln…and they are hopeful.  We’ll try a second iteration on Monday.

clay

Clay

 

Earth offers

her treasures

damp soil

a malleable medium

shaping ideas

creativity

possibility

hands molding

smoothing, crafting

cool earth

warmed through manipulation

giving life

to expression

embodying imagination

forming tangible objects

as earth

becomes art

 

Douillard 2018

And a student poem about earth’s bounty:

The Artichoke

Dragon scales tough and sharp

An artichoke with leafy greens like dragon wings

Flapping high in the wind as it soars

To a new spot with its dragon-like head.

Kai

Art and earth…and of course, day 27 of poetry!

Stories in Glass: Reflections on Making and Learning

Intense heat and human breath give shape to these vessels. Twirling, pinching, another breath, back into the fire, working and reworking until art emerges from what was once sand and rock. Is this what makes us human? The ability, the desire, the necessity to make…to create from the materials around us?

Evidence abounds, from cave paintings to stained glass creations, super-sized cloth installations that line valleys and islands and spray-painted graphics on the sides of railroad trestles and freeway overpasses. They all suggest a need to make and mark our world.

A visit to the Chihuly glass museum in Seattle served to pique my interest in this question of making and art. I love an art museum and had heard from others that this was a museum worth visiting. I had seen photos of glass art and had already visited a glass studio, just down the street from our favorite donut shop in Seattle. Yet, I was prepared to be underwhelmed, to see beautiful bowls and other vessels, delicate blown glass creations too pricey for my budget.

Instead, I walked into the first display and was mesmerized. My eyes were drawn to the white: shiny glass lighting up a dark room. Long stalks of lighted glass protruding like shoots from irregularly shaped bulbs. As in nature, the irregularities were an essential part of the beauty as this stalk curved, that bulb leaned. It was impossible to see where one piece ended and the reflection from the shiny black floor began, creating a sense of infinity that stretched the exhibit well beyond its actual size. This wasn’t a piece of blown glass that I was enticed to purchase, this was an installation of many glass pieces arranged and lit to create an effect. I was drawn to the description “…created by simultaneously blowing and pouring molten glass from a stepladder to the floor below…electrically charged by argon and mercury…” I stopped to take a picture or two, knowing that I would want to look at it and think about it again and again.

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I moved from space to space, now intensely curious about what each turn would offer. In one room an enormous sculpture twisted and curled to the ceiling; fish, octopi, and other sea creatures nestled within it. In another, the room was bare…until I looked up and found a glass ceiling filled with individual pieces that together created a stained-glass effect of intense color and variation. When did glass bowls and balls morph into something more: stories in glass, sweat, heat and breath?

I find myself thinking not just about the exhibits and sculptures, but about the maker and making behind the art. I’m a maker too. As a writer and blogger I use words to pull ideas closer so that I can think about them, poke and prod at them, turn them over and look under them, and invite others to look along with me. As a photographer, light becomes my medium to inscribe meaning through my camera lens. And I know that ideas in my head often don’t come out through my words or my lens in the ways I intend. But that, for me, is part of the allure…the seduction of making. I surprise myself with new understandings born from moving my fingers on the keyboard or ducking under the bench to get closer to the weed growing along the crack in the sidewalk.

I’m reminded of Seymore Papert and his theory of constructionism. In this theory, different from constructivism, learning happens when the learner is engaged in a personally meaningful activity outside of their head that makes the learning real and shareable. The activity could be making something tangible like a robot, a puppet, or a model bridge—or it can be something less concrete like a poem, a conversation, or a new hypothesis. What’s important is that the making come from the learner rather than being strictly imposed and directed from the outside (from a teacher or an employer). This element of choice and ownership often propels the maker to tinker and improve their make to meet their own criteria for better, allowing for reflection and reworking based on that reflection. This self-directed making can be a challenge in the classroom.

Traditionally it is teachers who direct and make decisions about student learning. So it’s important to create spaces that allow students to see possibilities beyond their own experiences, yet still offer choice and opportunity for experimentation and iteration. Chihuly’s first experience with glass blowing came from a college classroom assignment that required him to incorporate a nontraditional, non fabric material into a weaving. He wasn’t directed to use glass, but may not have experimented with glass without the constraints and possibilities of the assignment.

Making is about transformation. Transformation of materials, like glass or words, or images through a lens. It is also about transformation of thinking and ideas. And it begins in playfulness. Mitch Resnick of the MIT media lab describes a cycle of learning (and making) based on his observation of young children. Beginning with imagination and spiraling out to creating, children make and learn based on their ideas. As they play with their creations and share the ideas and creations with others, they have opportunities for iteration and reflection on their experiences, which leads them back again to imagine new ideas and new projects to work on or ways to improve their original idea.

I could see this in Chihuly’s glass creations. Elements of one sculpture showed up in new ways in another, chandeliers hanging from ceilings in one display turned into bigger and more elaborate free standing sculptural elements in another. And yet, each also showed new thinking—about color, about translucence and light, about placement and size, about cultural references and interactions with the larger world. I watched a few videos that included Chihuly’s reflection on his work where he talked about how his experience with a particular exhibit gives him vision for the next. I was particularly interested in the garden beneath the Space Needle in Seattle and its origins. I learned that this space, formerly a parking lot, was a blank canvas for Chihuly, something he—in collaboration with the landscape architect—could transform to allow others to see the beauty of his hometown in new ways, to expand their experience beyond the glass into the fairyland where light and glass and flowers and bees play with the backdrop of Mount Ranier and the Space Needle. Chihuly’s reflective videos helped me see and understand the spiral of experience and design and how it propeled him to new ideas and new thinking about his chosen media.

Photography is like that for me. I find myself looking at my world through the lens of my camera, and instead of limiting my view, the lens draws my attention to details of light and shadow. I see the variation of blues in the ocean waves and the foamy white of the lacey breakwaters. The white head of the bald eagle catches my attention and I watch, rapt, as it dives and swoops and then soars into the trees. I have many photos that are not taken, where I’ve missed the moment because I moved too slowly, had the wrong lens in place, or simply had to stop and wait and watch. But those missed photos become inspiration and information for tomorrow’s attempts. As I imagine, make, share and reflect, new thinking emerges and my understandings transform.

I want this for my students too. Opportunities to make and create new understandings, to transform the world as we know it. Learning, like blowing glass, needs to nestle close to the flame—the flame of needing and wanting to know and understand—and then the learner takes a breath and blows out and maybe even includes the breath of another to add dimension, depth, and diversity. Learning needs to be shaped by the learner, to expand beyond basic facts and figures and matter in the world, and in the world of the learner. Learning needs space for reflection and nudging from co-learners and outsiders—and teachers and employers—to expand the realm of the possible. Maybe we need a museum for visitors so they can walk through the breathtaking beauty of learning at the hands of those who learn best: children.

Rather than pushing children to think more like adults, we might do better to remember that they are great learners and to try harder to be more like them. –Seymore Papert

Weekly Photo Challenge: #Make Art

Some days finding a photo to take and post is a challenge.  Most of the photos I take are “found”–meaning that I don’t stage them other than moving around to get a better angle or to change the light.  I seldom arrange things or stage a shot.  But yesterday was different.

First, I was thinking about the idea of re-mediation, a concept being explored in the second make cycle of the CLMOOC.  My photo-a-day prompt was shadow…and I had just gotten home from a full day at the Summer Institute.  As a break from working on my #beachpeople documentary, I grabbed my camera and headed outside to look for a shadow opportunity. Nothing was grabbing my attention–the shadows I noticed seemed ordinary.

That’s when I decided to pick a dandelion puff.  As I looked at it I wondered how I might photograph it in a different way.  I thought about blowing on it…but couldn’t figure out how to hold it, blow on it, and photograph it at the same time…and where would I get shadow from that?  Instead, I started holding the dandelion out to see how it cast its shadow.  I tried the sidewalk, the side of the house, my car mirror, and the shiny paint of my car.  I had to work to get the focal length of my lens right so some portion of the shot would be crisp.  I took a number of shots.

When I headed back inside to study my work, I noticed some interesting images…but I wondered if I might re-mediate them in some way.  I rejected my go-to apps and started to explore some that I seldom use.  PicsArt caught my eye–could I transform this experiment into something that looked like art…rather than a photograph?  (I do think photos are art–but I was looking for something that looked less like a photo and more like a painting or some other kind of art.)

Here’s what I started with–the original, unedited photo.

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And here’s the art I made as I re-mediated the image.

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I love the resulting image–the crispness of the near dandelion and the echo from the shadow.  I might need to print this one and hang it in my house somewhere!

So, make some art!  That might mean playing with some new editing apps, staging the perfect scene, or maybe even catching someone else making art like I did on today’s beachwalk!  (Love catching #beachpeople in action!)

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You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #makeart for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So grab your camera and make some art!  You make the rules…and feel free to re-mediate and let your imagination run wild!

Enormous Smallness: April’s Photo a Day Challenge

Photography reminds me to appreciate moments, to slow down and notice light and shadow, a fleeting smile, the graceful curve of a limb and the reflection in a mirrored wall.  Another blogging photographer I admire, Joy of Joyfully Green, just today said, (photography) “…literally lets me stop time for a split second.”

There is something enormous about capturing the smallness of moments–making time stand still–so we can look more closely, study the details, and savor what is often unnoticed.  Paul Strand (among others) did that with his photography.  A friend of mine recently gifted me with some Paul Strand photo postcards from the recent exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art…and I am inspired by the simplicity and grandeur of the everyday moments he captured.

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And I borrowed the title of this post from the title of a picture book I ordered today about the life of ee cummings–a poet who captured enormous smallness through his poetry.  It seems fitting to celebrate the special qualities that photography and poetry share during April…typically a month that celebrates poetry (at least in schools).

Just this afternoon I was mesmerized by the buds on the orchid plant that nearly didn’t survive some time outdoors during our recent kitchen remodel…and the afternoon sunlight highlighted the enormous smallness of these emerging blossom.

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And this tree that grows near my driveway often appears in photos when the sky catches my eye…like this sunrise a week or so ago.

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Sometimes the enormous smallness is found in places where I share experiences–and food–with friends and family.  And the people who accidentally appear in them serve to enhance that quality, like this photo of the Shake Shack in Washington DC…

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or this from the inside looking out from Milk and Honey in Baltimore.  (I like the way the words are reversed since I was photographing from the inside rather than the outside.)

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Sometimes it’s in the grandeur of the mirrored high-rise that I notice the reflection of the neighborhood…

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or the durability of historic architecture that reminds me that there is much to be learned by reading the world rather than solely depending on books.

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Then there is the interplay of past, present, and future in our nation’s capitol–the place where government resides, but doesn’t live.  Our laws and values are enacted in our neighborhoods and cities, but there is something about buildings like the capitol building that remind us that what is national is also local.

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And in my local community where this historic movie theatre still hosts first run films, a place where people gather in the shadows of those who settled this area before the streets and infrastructure that we take for granted existed, we see that our lives interact with those who came before and will influence those who come after us.

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So April’s photo-a-day challenge is to seek out enormous smallness, the beauty in the everyday, the complexity in simplicity, making meaning of seeming chaos.  If you need them, here are some prompts to get your started:

1. April Fools

2.  history

3.  place

4.  outdoors

5.  new

6.  family

7.  work

8.  poetry

9.  laughter

10.  inside

11.  misery

12.  in front of

13.  behind

14.  tears

15.  life

16.  tired

17.  energetic

18.  writing

19.  fear

20.  house

21.  wheels

22.  doors

23.  nature

24.  advocate

25.  old

26.  near

27.  eyes

28.  food

29.  small

30.  enormous

So for April, find the poetry in the everyday…be on the lookout for enormous smallness. Pick a single photo to post each day or create a gallery of your efforts. Post a photo or gallery each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twitter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts. If you would like to expand your exploration, write the poem or the story of the photo, compose a blog post about a photo, a week’s worth of photos, write a photo essay, or make a video or slideshow. You are invited to create a pingback by linking to this url or post your blog address in the comment section. It’s fun for me to see what others are doing with the same prompts I am using!

You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life. You can post your pictures in the order of the prompts or post the one you find on the day you find it–or make up your own prompt for the day or the week! You get to make your own rules as you seek out your own enormous smallness. Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!

Appreciate those moments…and be on the lookout for instances of enormous smallness in your life.  I can’t wait to see what you capture through your lens!

In the Spaces Between

Between the ocean waves and the shear drop of the cliffs is a stretch of beach…at least when the tide is low.  This was the perfect setting for a walking, photo taking, trash picking up meeting today.

There’s something wonderful about between-ness.  Meeting between activities we love and see as rewarding, walking this stretch between water and road, noticing the sun between the clouds, feeling the sand between our toes.

And today’s walking meeting ended with a wonderful, playful find…sand castles decorating the spaces along the cliff wall, tucked into small caverns, some close together, some standing tall and separate from the others.  This felt like performance art as I spied a couple, almost hidden, sitting up above this temporary work of art.  Were they the artists?  Perhaps…but either way, they enjoyed our delight in the sand castle find.

castles on the cliff

cliff castles

close up castle

castle on green

Lighting Up Writing and Art: a Design Challenge

My students love a project!  Project communicates to them that they will be doing some making, some designing, some problem solving, and probably a good bit of collaborating.  They also know that projects are about sustained time to create something they will value…and likely, others will too.

The project they did last week comes from 21st Century Notebooking: work I have done in collaboration with Paul Oh of the National Writing Project, Jennifer Dick of Nexmap, and David Cole of CV2.   I’ve had a few opportunities to explore the possibilities of “lighting up” my writing and art–and knew right away that my students would both love the opportunity and learn a lot from working with circuits and writing and art.  I feel fortunate to have the chance to pilot the use of LED stickers with my students and explore the ways a project like this works with young students (grades 1, 2, and 3).

On Monday we started with a pre-assessment to document what my students already knew about circuits and electricity (not much) and then to read a picture book to give them a bit of background knowledge about how electricity and circuits work.  We read Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger to give students an overview of electricity and circuits.  And while the book is a bit dated, it did pique students’ interest and generated lots and lots of questions.  “Breaks” in circuits in conjunction with switches created lots of confusion!

On Tuesday we began talking about how light might impact a piece of writing and art.  I showed students examples that I had created and then they began to brainstorm other possibilities…focusing on topics and things they cared about.  They were invited to come up with at least four possibilities and began sketching them in their writer’s notebooks.

Just this small selection shows the variety of ideas…and students were eagerly discussing not only what they would draw, but also what they would write.  And in typical fashion they were already questioning whether they had to write in the format I had written (I had written a Haiku as my example) or if they could write in some other way.  For me, this was a demonstration of the ownership they were already feeling as the creative juices flowed.

On Wednesday, students were asked to commit to a design and draw it on their folded booklet. Then I showed them how to draw a circuit diagram on the inside of their booklet that would allow them to put the light(s) where they wanted them to shine through.

circuit diagram

series diagram

Thursday was the day that the kids got their hands on the copper tape and LED light stickers. Before they tackled creating their own circuits, I showed them how to work with the materials, how to make turns with the tape, how to use the stickers to measure how far to run their tape…and then they set off to work.

working with led stickers

guiding copper tape

The room hummed with the 43 six through nine-year-olds all focused on getting their circuits constructed with the tape and lights.  Many worked with a basic one-light circuit and a few brave students tackled a parallel circuit that included two lights.  When the first circuit worked, the entire room lit up with the students’ excited energy.

circuit success

But as you might imagine, every student was not successful on their first attempt.  We suspected we might have to deal with a few tears of frustration during the course of the project…but, although there was frustration, everyone kept at it, and the spirit of collaboration and encouragement could be felt across the room.  Some students became expert debuggers–and helped their classmates figure out why their circuit wasn’t working.  And my teaching partner and I also became experts, giving recommendations and helping those little hands that had trouble keeping their copper tape smooth and getting their battery lined up and clipped on.  Even before everyone finished, it was time to clean up…and we reassured them that we would return to the project the next day.

On Friday we were fortunate to have our school’s science teacher design a lab to complement our project.  She had students work in groups of four to attach components to make a circuit with an AA battery and battery holder, a light holder and a small incandescent light.  Because of their experience with the circuits in their project, this was a fun review for them…and they loved that they were able to get their circuits to work!

science lab with circuits

light

light with Joe

As part of the lab, they also explored conductors and insulators and noticed which materials allowed the light to light up and which interfered.  All of this was useful information as they returned to their circuit/notebooking project to problem solve circuit issues and continue with their art and writing.  By the end of the work period on Friday every student had successfully gotten their circuit constructed and their light(s) to work.  And we learned some important lessons along the way.  The stickers are pretty easy to work with, but grubby little hands can cause interference with the conductivity of the adhesive.  We had a few instances where we needed to pull the adhesive off and use tape to secure the sticker.  And sometimes our best approach was to peel the copper off and begin again.

Here are few examples of student projects:

circuit project-CJ

circuit project sophie

circuit project-elke

circuit project_Eva

We still have some final details to complete…including some writing about the science learning that took place during the project. And students are anxious to get a closer look at everyone else’s projects too!  So this week we will take some time to concentrate on the finishing details and already have a gallery walk planned for students to get a close look at all the projects.  The kids can’t wait to take these projects home…but they will have to wait until after Open House later this month.  We just have to have them on display on that night to allow families to experience the “wow” factor in the classroom.

With all the work we have done with the power of iteration this year, I am wishing for some more LED stickers to allow my students a second chance to use these materials.  I am wondering what they can do and would do now that they understand the possibilities.  Maybe I can talk Jen and David into scrounging up a few more just to see what my students would come up with…

Making…and Learning

Making…a powerful venue for learning.

Our students have been doing a lot of making…and learning lately.  Sometimes that making looks and feels a lot like play.  And that’s a good thing.

This week we were lucky enough to have the Lux Art Institute come to our classroom with The Story Box from their Valise Project.  On Tuesday our students spent an hour examining the wood carving, block prints, and sculptures of Jim Lawrence based on fairy tales…and were invited to either write their own fairy tale or pick a favorite to create a block print image today.

Our students were excited to think about fairy tales…and write their own.  The creativity of children is amazing…their stories sometimes meander a bit, but there is no shortage of imagination and wonder.

And today they had the opportunity to create their own “blocks” for printing.  Using styrofoam sheets, they used pencils to etch indentations of their image…and even learned some techniques for writing their names and other words backwards so they would print forwards.  (They made a few mistakes…but that, too, is part of the learning process.)

Using a brayer and paint, they smoothed paint onto the surface of their etching and then pressed it onto colored paper to create their prints.

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They created beautiful images…whimsical, cute, fanciful, scary…and everything in between.

For more than an hour, my students were happily engaged with drawing, etching, painting, and writing.  They had to think critically and problem solve.  They had to practice patience as they waited their turn to paint.  They focused and produced.  They were making.  Making art.  Making stories.  Making memories.  Making connections.  Making understanding.  And they were learning.

What have you made lately?