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.
Supplies: Whatever extra stuff you have crowding your cabinets!
For our art program, I needed to do two things: 1) Fill in the weird schedule gap caused by our Field Days. 2) Use up the boxes of donated supplies that I wasn’t going to be able to move to our new school. Installation art was the perfect solution!
I started by grouping our supplies into sets that would work well together. I had pipe cleaners, foam shapes, cardboard tubes, art straws, wooden blocks, popsicle sticks and bamboo skewers. The foam shapes worked well with the pipe cleaners and skewers. For the other materials, I gave each table an adhesive, like masking tape or hot glue.
About a week before we started, I set up a hot glue station at the back of the room. Kiddos who finished their art project early helped glue the popsicle sticks into triangles and squares. Having those pieces ready to go really streamlined the building process.
I made a very big deal about the hot glue safety rules! Each students had to sign the Safety Pledge and wear gloves to protect their hands from accidents. (I was thrilled to find kid-sized gardening gloves at the Target Dollar Spot!)
On the first day, each table brainstormed about how they were going to use the materials and where they would want the sculpture displayed. At the end of each class, they wrote a note for the kids who would be at their table next.
I changed the set-up of the tables as each of the sculptures got to a new step or were completed. By the end of the week, the cardboard tube sculpture took up 3 different tables: one for taping, one for painting the outside and one for painting the inside.
We installed the sculptures in waves; as soon as one was finished, I would assign a table to take the pieces outside and secure it in the ground. Bamboo skewers and tape helped to hold up some of the more flexible artwork. The students taped laminated signs about installation art to the sides of some old magazine holders. Bamboo skewers were able to keep the sign boxes in place.
The installation art made quite a splash! The students were so excited to see the finished projects they had helped with. Teachers and parents also commented on how much they enjoyed the artwork. It was a fun way to introduce an new art concept to our school’s community.
I wrote my hybrid animal lesson plan the first year I was teaching. I had middle school students, and it was the perfect mixture of silly and structured for them. This year, I decided to try out a variation of the lesson with my 4th graders. They really enjoyed it!
I start off the project by showing them examples of Photoshopped animal hybrids, which always grabs their attention! Then I give them a pep talk about drawing realistically. The main point is that drawing is all about teaching your eyes how to see because your hand already knows how to draw the simple straight, curved and angled lines that everything is made up of. I let them choose two photos to use as reference for their animal. I inherited a whole notebook full of animal facts that have great photos, but I also take requests and put photos of specific animals up on the board.
The first day is spent sketching their animal. We talk about the different ways that the artists of the Photoshopped examples combined their animals. I spend this class period running around and helping students to “see” the lines and shapes so that they can draw their animal how they envision it. It helps that the final outcome is supposed to look kind of weird and crazy; it takes the pressure off for the drawing to be perfect.
If they have time on the first day, they can start drawing their background. I talk with them about habitats and ask them to imagine what kind of habitat their animal might live in. I start off the second class period with a brainstorm about ways that you can color neatly. The kids write their ideas on scraps of paper and I randomly draw several to add to our poster. I have found that this step makes a huge difference in encouraging them to take their time when they start using the colored pencils.
Once the first student is ready to start coloring, I have the class circle up to watch a demonstration. I show them several ways to add texture to their artwork using the colored pencils. I usually demonstrate leaves, bark, rocks, fur, feathers, and scales. Then, I’ll ask if anyone has any other textures they’d like to get ideas for. I also show them how they can blend colors by overlapping them.
The coloring part of the project goes at wildly different paces for different students. Some students finish in just one day and others need extra time during centers after the assignment is over. When they finish early, their sketchbook project is to draw their animal at different stages during its life cycle. If a student finishes that project early also, they can draw anything they choose in their sketchbook and color it with colored pencils.
Every quarter I get to collaborate with the Music and GT teacher to put on a Showcase for our students. I let my students choose two pieces of artwork from their portfolio, they help me mat it and we hang it in the hallways for a week.
I like to have a collaborative project that changes every quarter. I use the same curriculum each quarter, so having a project that changes helps to break up the monotony of teaching the same assignments again and again. And it means there is a surprise installation that the school gets to look forward to each Showcase.
Last quarter, I made a center for two Fridays in a row where the students worked together to create a branch as a class. Instead of introducing an artist, we spent the beginning of class talking about color theory. The first week, we talked about analogous colors, and they painted the base layer. The second week, we talked about complementary colors and they added dots and lines to their branch. (I compared the dots and lines to sprinkles on a cake, so that the base color would still show through.)
I was able to find 6 branches to use by walking around the yard outside our school. The biggest prep component was mixing up the analogous colors for the first day. I mixed the whole set and then covered them with empty trays so they wouldn’t dry out. If you have more time or older students, you could have them mix the colors.
I learned from the first class to give the students separate brushes for each color. The water thinned out the tempera paint so much that it lost it’s vibrancy.
I displayed them two different ways. For the Showcase, I tied dental floss (that stuff is an amazing, cheap way to hang art!) to each branch and used a binder clip to hang them from an outside ledge. Then, I retired them to a blank wall by the GT teacher’s room by tying all of them dental floss together and using and looping it over a metal hook. Displaying them as group definitely made a stronger visual statement. (Spreading them out made them stand out less.)
I hung up a laminated sign that explained how the students had used color theory. I hope that as students and teachers walk by, they will get to learn something new also!
This was such a fun project to do, and an exciting way to introduce my 3rd and 4th graders to color theory. I love how the branches look in the outdoor spaces that we displayed them. I couldn’t have done the hanging part without help from the music teacher, so I highly recommend asking someone to assist you!
My students started this painting while they were waiting for their clay projects to get bisque fired. I showed them examples of incredibly detailed animal drawings, most of which were filled with abstract designs. Since they had just finished creating an animal out of clay, I gave them the option to choose another subject if they wanted to. I had a big box of animal photos and facts for student to look through if they decided to draw an animal.
They sketched their design before transferring it to watercolor paper using the carbon copy technique. (They shaded the back of the sketch with pencil, taped it on top of the watercolor paper, and traced over their design.) Before they began painting, we had a day of experimenting with the watercolors. I demonstrated five different techniques. I’ve found that letting students practice on a small piece of paper first gives them more confidence on the final artwork.
For the glazed wash, students would paint a color and let it dry, then paint another color. This showed them that watercolors are transparent and that you have to let the first layer dry if you don’t want the next color to mix with it. I gave them small spray bottles to moisten their paper with for the wet on wet technique. (I bought body mist at the dollar store and filled it with water.) When they combined colors on the wet paper, the colors blended together in an interesting way.
I explained that “sgraffito” means scratched in Italian and showed them that they could use the other end of their paintbrush to scratch a design into the paint. In order to make the salt technique successful, they had to paint a very liquid-y layer before they sprinkled the salt on top. Once the paint dried, they could scrap off the salt with a rag. The rubbing alcohol was the most popular technique. After painting a fairly wet layer, they would dip a Q-tip into rubbing alcohol and then splash it onto their paper.
It was so much fun to see so many of my students come up with their own ideas of what they wanted their subject to be. My goal is for students to become more and more comfortable branching out on their own as the year progresses.
After they were finished with the watercolor portion of the project, they worked on an Independent Project while they waited for the paint to dry. Then, they used felt tip pens and Sharpie to trace over their pencil lines. This really made their designs pop. I almost didn’t include this part because our order of black pens hadn’t come in. I glad I re-ordered them because their pieces looked so much more polished after this step.
We worked on this project in bits and pieces because it was combined with the clay project and fell in the middle of a testing week. It was easy for my students to pick it back up where they left it. I will definitely pair it with clay again.
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!)