String art fascinated me as a child. Creating circles out of straight lines of thread seemed so delightfully oxymoronic that I would mesmerize myself for hours doing it over and over again. Since the only string art projects I did came from kits bought at the local hobby store, there wasn’t a lot of creativity embedded into my “art.” Like most people, I confined myself to following instructions, and never considered constructing my own designs.
In the last week, however, I’ve found articles about three different artists who would scoff at my string art portfolio.
Now I realize just how unimaginative I’ve been all of these years.
If I was really creative, I would have made a wall-sized owl with big lips using fluorescent string.
Do you notice anything significantly different in the picture below?
My 1st graders are studying different countries. After talking about Japan, we did an origami lesson. Last year, I discovered that origami is a great vehicle for teaching about Growth Mindset. I decided to do the same this year. I talked to the students about things that are hard and easy for them, and how practice can help. I also gave them examples of “scaffolding” – not jumping right to the most difficult challenges right away, but working your way up to them. “It’s important to know when something is too easy for you, but also to know when it’s too hard and that you need more practice.”
After doing a sample origami activity together, I set them loose on some origami websites to try some on their own. They self-differentiated by choosing the activities that suited their experience levels. I told them that I would help them with reading directions, but that I wouldn’t do anything for them.
One of my 1st graders kept trying to coax me into helping her. She grew more and more frantic, and finally dissolved into tears.
I was at a crossroads. I certainly don’t like to see my students hurting, but I also don’t want them to get in the habit of giving up. This student said she had already tried every “easy” origami lesson, and she just couldn’t do them.
This student also happens to be an excellent artist, and I suddenly realized this was an opportunity for another lesson that I want all of my students to learn.
“Just make up your own,” I said.
She looked at me doubtfully.
“Origami is art. Art is about being creative – not following directions. If you want to make butterfly, make up your own butterfly. Who cares if it’s not the same as the one in the picture?”
Everyone in the class was looking at me then. I had just spent 10 minutes telling them to not give up in the face of a challenge, and here I was announcing that this student could give up and do what she wanted. Even I was confused by my own mixed messages.
A little later, the little girl proudly presented her creation to me.
“It’s an origami blanket,” she declared.
The rest of the class watched me carefully for my reaction.
“I love that you came up with your own idea. All origami art had to be thought up by someone originally. Maybe someday people will try to make your origami blanket.”
Earlier this year, I read a book to my class called, Beautiful Oops. This was my student’s version.
I still don’t know if I handled this the right way. But I do know one thing. We spend far too much time teaching our students to follow directions, and then we are flummoxed when they seem to be at a loss when asked to do something creative.
I refuse to be the person who stifles a young artist just because she would rather draw on a piece of paper than fold it.
Across from the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City, Texas, a mill that was built in 1880 closed its doors after one hundred years. It was briefly revived as entertainment complex, but then fell into disuse again for another 20 years.
Once again, however, the mill has been reincarnated. With the vision and determination of a unique team of scientist/educators, the mill has gained a new life as a venue for students to learn about and participate in science. While maintaining the integrity of the old building, including outfitting the original silos as exhibit spaces, the mill has now become a different kind of food provider. Instead of the flour and grain it once produced for the local community, the mill is now a source of food for curious and eager young minds.
The Hill Country Science Mill opened its doors in February of 2015. My 3rd-5th GT classes were fortunate to visit the complex in April. After spending a school day at the Mill, they were all eager for even more time to explore its many interactive exhibits and amazing BioLab.
A couple of weeks after our trip, the 5th graders got the chance to Skype with one of the founders of the Hill Country Science Mill, Dr. Bonnie Baskin. She graciously answered their questions, and gave them insight into the design and carefully-selected exhibits.
One student asked Dr. Baskin about the motivation behind the digital avatars each visitor can personalize when he or she arrives. (Using a “Passport” with a QR code, patrons can scan the code and create their own avatar at the entrance on one of the many iPad mini’s. Once the avatar is created, there are many opportunities throughout the Mill to scan your passport, and you can learn from your avatar the science behind particular exhibits. You can also “favorite” exhibits and follow up on your visit using the QR code once you get home.)
When asked why the staff chose to include the avatars in the experience, Dr. Baskin replied that they really wanted to appeal to an older group of students. Many interactive museums are aimed at the toddler/pre-school set, but the Mill targets middle and high-school students. This is not to say younger ones won’t appreciate the experience, but that there is a great interest on the part of the staff to keep the attention of older students.
My students were fascinated with one of the silo exhibits – the Fractalarium (designed by two San Antonio artists), and asked Dr. Baskin about this inclusion of an artistic work. She confirmed what my 4th and 5th graders had already observed, that math, art, and science often converge in amazing ways. This piece of scientific art, based on the design of the broccoli, is a perfect example.
Many of the students told Dr. Baskin that the BioLab was their favorite room. Dr. Baskin agreed that this exhibit has a special place in heart due to a background in biology, and told the students they specifically designed this room with its zebrafish, mud battery, and microscopes, to resemble a real research lab.
Another field trip favorite was the Augmented Reality Sandbox. The sandbox has a projector above it that shows the contour lines of the “mountains” and “valleys” in the box. It also simulates rain when you hold your hands over the sand. Dr. Baskin shared that this is one of the harder exhibits to keep in working order because so many students enjoy it that the calibration gets off on the projector. However, she said that, like all of the exhibits, the staff finds that the maintenance is well worth it to provide so many interactive experiences for visitors.
The only complaint that I heard from my students about this trip was that there wasn’t enough time to do everything. That’s a good problem!
Many of my students said that the field trip to the Hill Country Science Mill inspired them to seriously consider a career in one of the STEM fields, and most of them definitely intend to return to the Mill for a visit.
You can see a gallery of some of the other pictures my students took below. Of course, if you are planning a visit to the Hill Country Science Mill, you should definitely get more information from their website.
Congrats to Tom Kilgore, winner of the Family 4-Pack to the Hill Country Science Mill! He and his family headed for an awesome experience!
Okay. Full Disclosure – George Clooney is one of my favorite actors. But I promise that is not the reason I chose to mention the “Create Tomorrowland XPrize Challenge” on this blog even though George Clooney happens to be the star of the movie this contest is promoting.
I haven’t seen the movie, and I don’t know a lot about the contest, other than what can be read on the website. However, if you know a child between 8 and 17 years of age who has an inventive imagination, you may want to investigate this opportunity. The contest asks for videos, images, or stories that envision a beneficial invention that might exist in our future.
You can see specific entry guidelines here. Don’t forget to visit the “Idea Portal” for some real-world examples of people who are working to shape a better future for all of us.
Submissions are due by 5/17/15 – so don’t procrastinate! Who knows what life-saving ideas might be hibernating in the mind of a student, just waiting for the right circumstances to be revealed?
Gavin Aung Than, the super-talented artist behind Zen Pencils, published a collection of some of his comics last November. Needing a bit of inspiration this week, I read it again from cover to cover. When I finished, I felt like I was almost as powerful as Rising Phoenix, one of his recurring characters.
Gavin takes famous quotes and creates amazing cartoons around them. Some of the 36 cartoons included in the book are based on selected words from: Theodore Roosevelt, Marianne Williamson, Marie Curie, and Vincent Van Gogh. Gavin’s artistic interpretation of each passage is incredibly insightful and extremely creative.
Of course, one of my favorite gems in the book is Gavin’s cartoon based on Taylor Mali’s poem, “What Teachers Make.” (Not one to show to your students, though!)
To see one of Gavin’s recent masterpieces, take a look at “All the World’s a Stage,” a beautiful adaptation of the Shakespearean quote from As You Like It. This is the closest I’ve ever come to crying over a cartoon – or Shakespeare.
The book includes a wonderful pull-out poster featuring many of Gavin’s cartoon characters and the motto, “Imagination Unlocks the Universe.”
Zen Pencils would make a wonderful graduation gift for a high school or college student or for any teenager or adult who appreciates a healthy dose of creativity and inspiration. I will be adding this to my “Books for Gifted Students – Or Any Child Who Loves to Learn” Pinterest Board as a recommendation for older students. If you have an interest in Zen Pencils, but you aren’t sure you want to commit to a book of 36 cartoons, take a look at the Zen Pencils store, where I guarantee you will find a poster that is perfect for any setting.
For Phun Phriday this week I want to share with you an artist who is, quite simply, incredible. I love the work she does on both of her blogs – Nicole Smeltzer and The Middlest Sister. She meticulously cuts paper to make amazing scenes and tell stories.
One of her latest projects is to make a book for her daughter’s kindergarten teacher. The picture below is the “setting.”
When I saw the above picture, I couldn’t wait to see how it would look once she added the students. It already looks perfect. Can’t you just smell the crayons and Elmer’s Glue?
However, she blew me away when she posted the completed image. I won’t give it away – you will have to visit her blog to see for yourself. And this is only the first page! What an incredible gift this will be for her daughter’s teacher.
If you need to brighten your day, I strongly urge you to check out the amazing art of Nicole Smeltzer on both of her blogs. You will simultaneously laugh at her family and marvel at her talent.
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a #makered Twitter chat and somehow the conversation turned to using the Sphero robots to paint. I was hoping to do this with my 4th graders because we are studying mathematical art and I thought it would be a good way to tie it in with the programming they have learned – but I had no idea how to go about it.
My colleagues on Twitter immediately offered fabulous suggestions: use tempera paint, try it with the “nubby” to give it texture, and buy a cheap plastic swimming pool to contain the mess. One teacher offered to try it the next day with her students and, as promised, sent me pictures of the results. Claire (@pritchclaire) also gave me the suggestion to stay away from red paint as it kind of stains the Sphero.
After receiving all of this great advice, I introduced the topic to my 4th graders. Then we set about coming up with a plan. First, they learned how to program the Sphero to make polygons using the Macrolab app. (We used the free 2D Geometry lesson from Sphero offered on this page.) There is an app that allows you to drive the Sphero free-hand, but it’s difficult to make exact shapes that way. Macrolab gave us the tools to be more precise.
The students needed a good 90 minutes to practice making different polygons. The next step was to sketch a design. I absolutely loved listening to the conversations about the math involved as they tried to figure out the angle degrees for each command. Despite their experience with the complexities of Sphero programming, the students started out with grand, complicated sketches. After doing dry runs, however, they realized they needed to scale things down a bit. Sketching and practicing took about another 90 minutes.
After many practices, each group came to our improvised drawing board. Although I loved the plastic pool idea, I realized that the bottom wouldn’t be flat enough to keep the Sphero in control. I brought a piece of drywall to school that had been sitting in our garage. We used some extra cardboard to add some sides to it.
With disposable gloves on, the students manually rolled the Sphero around in a puddle of paint, then set it up on the “canvas” and started their program. I should mention here that I was describing my day to my husband and he said, “You should have just put the paint in a plastic baggie and rolled the Sphero in that.” Hopefully I will remember that idea next year…
As you can see, the results of using a programmed Sphero were a bit different than the above photo. Personally, either method looks fabulous to me. The students agreed. As soon as they were done, one of them immediately said, “We should find out if we can hang these in the front foyer!”
Can you identify when they used the nubby for their lines?
You can see some video of our “technique” below.
After the experience we got into some good discussions about what art is and why the Sphero might not have always acted according to their expectations. Although this probably isn’t a lesson that could happen in the regular classroom due to time and equipment constraints, I think it worked well for my little group of 6 students!