Each class period, they got to observe the caterpillars. This was truly the most joyful part of our year! Every day they saw something new – they were so surprised by how quickly they grew. I had a couple of classes that were fascinated by the caterpillar poop. I told them they could talk about it, but they had to use the scientific word for it – fras.
I created videos so that I could share interesting moments with the classes that missed them. For a few weeks, it became a wonderful ritual that we would watch the latest video during our Circle Time at the end of class. One lucky group was there when a caterpillar morphed into a chrysalis. Another class got to be there when we released one of the butterflies.
I only have my students for 28 class periods, which makes me want to fit art history into every facet of our classroom routines. I discovered a great way to expose my students to important art history figures while keeping their artwork organized and easy to pass out.
The supply box at each table has their artist’s name taped on it, along with a portrait and example of the artist’s work. The names change each year, so that over a student’s experience at our school they will become familiar with 24 different artists. I choose a diverse group of artists from different time periods and styles.
On Centers Days, we spend 5-10 minutes learning about one of the artists that their tables are named after. We discuss the artist as a class first, then each table discusses their answer to a question about specific works of art. I created a Coloring Page Centerso that my students would have something tangible to help them remember each artist.
I publish an art newsletter that keeps our faculty and staff informed about what is going on in the Art Room. I post it in the bathrooms and leave a stack in our waiting area for parents to read. Each month, I include a section about one of our table artists.
I created folders for each class that have their artist’s name written on both sides. This is how they turn in their artwork at the end of each period. I use the folders as a way to separate their art on the drying rack. It makes passing out artwork at the beginning of class so much easier!
These simple routines have made our classroom run smoothly. Students always know how to turn in their art and at the beginning of the period they can get right to work. They are so excited when we get to learn about the artist that their table is named after!
High school students design a solution to the challenge “Create a piece of artwork using only paper and adhesives.”
Paper (Construction, card stock, origami, etc.),
Adhesives (Glue, tape, staples, etc.)
At the beginning of the second semester, I decided I wanted to try something new. With such small classes, I felt like I could open up the projects so that students had more room to explore. I came up with the idea of presenting assignments as “challenges.”
The first challenge they did was simple: I asked them to create a piece of artwork using only paper and adhesives.
In order to get their brains thinking of ideas, I showed them a PowerPoint filled with examples of artwork that were made out of paper. I made it very broad so that they could see how many different directions they could take their project. I didn’t leave the PowerPoint up while they sketched because I wanted to encourage them to come up with their own solution instead of copying another project exactly.
Another way I helped them to think of ideas was to list examples of all the different kinds of paper and adhesives that we had in the room. If a student was stuck coming up with an initial idea, I would help them begin to narrow it down by asking them if they wanted to make a 3D or 2D piece of artwork.
Instead of requiring them to do a sketch first, I told them they could choose between sketching or experimenting with an idea. I was impressed by how many of them took their experiment seriously and came up with some very cool results.
High school students use coil and hand-building techniques to create ceramic animal containers.
Clay tools, plastic knives, unfolded paperclips for carving
Small containers of slip
Underglaze, clear glaze
Bristle brushes (hold the glaze better)
The students created a container and added animal features to it. I started by having the students draw a rough sketch of what their design would look like from 3 different perspectives: front, side and back. I emphasized that this was a rough sketch. Some of my students were getting frustrated because the drawing didn’t look like the idea they had in their mind. I told them that the sketch was just a plan. I wanted them to put their artistic energy into making the clay look like the image they had in their mind.
I began by teaching them how to coil build a container. They could choose whatever kind of container they wanted. I put very few limitations on this project because I wanted to see where their creativity would take them. While they were coil-building, I constantly reminded them to score and slip. I also focused on having them smooth out the sides of the container when they were finished. The flat side of a plastic knife works really well for getting a smooth, even edge.
After they finished their container, I taught them hand-building techniques to add their animal features. I told them that you can’t add a solid piece of clay that is bigger than the circle your fingers make when you do the “A-okay” sign. (A piece any bigger than that will have air bubbles, which could cause it to explode in the kiln.) I also reminded them to score and slip every single thing they added on. If they didn’t do those two things, the piece would pop off in the kiln. I had a handful of breaks, but we were able to repair them with glaze paste and another coat of glaze.
While we waited for the pieces to air dry and get bisque fired, I had the students work on a watercolor project. Once they were all fired, we spent a week glazing. They used underglaze, with a coat of clear glaze on top. We spent a lot of time talking about how to take care of the glazes, since they are the most expensive art supply we’ll work with all year. I had them dip right into the original container, so that we wouldn’t waste glaze pouring it back and forth. I also emphasized how critical it was that they wash their brush in between colors.
I explained to my students that the underglaze would appear much lighter when they painted it. I showed them finished examples so that they could see how the colors would brighten and darken in the kiln. We talked about chemical reactions, especially when they were putting on the coat of clear glaze. I reassured them that the clear glaze would not stay blue; the heat of the kiln would turn it into glass.
The underglaze had to dry overnight before they could put the clear glaze on. I demonstrated how to dab on the clear glaze instead of paint it on, so that it wouldn’t smear the underglaze. There were a few students who had really gone above and beyond with their clay project. I allowed them to use special glazes that would create interesting reactions.
Some of my students finished glazing in just two days. I had them work on Independent Projects if they finished extra early. When about half of my class was done, I set up a table with watercolor supplies and had them continue working on their painting. The watercolor project paired really well with glazing. I was able to reference watercolors when I explained that glazes are transparent, which means you can’t cover one color up by painting another color on top of it.
Once all of the glazed pieces had been fired, I lined the back counters of my room with all the work from all of my class periods. Usually, my students write about their own artwork for a critique. For this project I wanted them to be able to see everyone’s work, since I wouldn’t be able to hang their work on the walls. I lined that edges of the counter with neon “Do NOT touch the art!” signs and told the student not to let their fingers, nose or toes cross the blue line I taped on the floors. One table at a time walked through the back of the room and observed the art. Each student chose one piece of art, other than their own. As their critique, I asked them to describe the form and glaze well enough that I would know which piece they were talking about. I also asked them to imagine what would they use it for, if they could buy it and take it home.
A Note on Materials: The only way we were able to afford to do this project is because a local artist donates big buckets of his clay scraps to us. Us art teachers spend a lot of prep time re-claiming the clay. It’s a bit time-consuming, but oddly therapeutic (and a great workout!)