One of the most important qualities that a teacher should practice, exhibit, and model is flexibility. We should strive to be flexible in terms of multiple facets of teaching—being open to variety in student problem solving, opening ourselves to different ways of sharing content with our students, and being willing to make changes to our curriculum when necessary, among other things.
The reason I bring this point up is because the following exploration of shape, collaboration, and digital tools would not have occurred in my classroom unless I was willing to make changes to my curriculum without being sure of the end product, but knowing that the process would be highly engaging for my students.
LAST YEAR, BEFORE ATTENDING the NAEA convention in New York, I was planning on having my second-graders continue to explore the element of shape with a cut-paper collage project. While at the conference, I went to a makerspace session where I saw the head designer of the app, “Morphi,” demonstrate how you could take a virtual 3-D solid and drop it into an image from Google Earth to create a site-specific virtual sculpture.
Boom! I loved that idea, but wasn’t fluent enough in Morphi to teach it to my kids yet. Then I realized I could do something similar with the “Assembly” app. The previous year, I had a number of grade levels experiment with Assembly and found that there was a lot of student success and high engagement while working.
SO, ON THE PLANE RIDE HOME, I put together my new digital lesson that still allowed students to continue exploring properties of shape, while also providing an opportunity to practice collaborating throughout the design process, and an opportunity to experiment with digital technology in art class.
I turned to the work of Maya Hayuk for a contemporary art connection (see page 37). I have shared her work with students before and my students are strongly attracted to her use of bold colors, geometric shapes, and how she turns bare walls into stunning, large-scale murals.
When we looked at Maya’s work I emphasized her use of layered, overlapped geometric shapes. I didn’t expect the kids to copy her work, but I did want them to focus on geometric shapes and layering, like they would in a cut-paper collage. We also noticed that some of her murals have a strong sense of symmetry while others do not. I wanted them to be able to recognize this principle in their designs as well.
After I introduced them to Maya’s work, I shared a short how-to video for the Assembly app, as we prepared for using it in class. We viewed the video in a couple chunks, after looking at Maya’s work.
I REALLY ENCOURAGE PLAY with this project. Since it’s a digital collage, they can erase shapes and delete parts they aren’t digging with the touch of the screen. Assembly is a very user-friendly app. It’s easy to add, flip and rotate shapes, and change sizes and colors. It also offers the option of using a blank collage support or importing a photo to build your digital collage on. For this project, the photo background option added another layer of design and meaning for the students.
Before I met with any classes I went around with a bunch of iPads and took photos of several blank walls on campus with the idea that students would choose one to make more beautiful.
As we started, I asked them what would they do, if they could, to make an empty wall look cool at school. Students selected one photo from the iPad camera roll to serve as the background of their Assembly creation. Then, the teams of two started to experiment.
There were many choices to make with this project in terms of shapes, colors and subjects. I did set up a few constraints to challenge them: no natural shapes, include overlapping shapes, and all of the design must be on the wall. (This last one is key because a muralist cannot paint on the sky in real life!)
ONCE A TEAM HAD CREATED a satisfying composition, they saved it and continued to play. They could choose a different wall and go, or simply clear the shapes and work with the same wall. I have done collaborative projects with all of my grades for several years, and it is very interesting to see my students develop more skills with it. They are learning to speak about and listen to ideas, to demonstrate skills to one another, and to be respectful of each other.
To publish their images, I transferred them to my computer and then emailed them to the kids’ classroom teachers, so they can look at them on their smart boards back in class. I know this wasn’t the smoothest or most efficient way to do it, but I was not savvy enough at the time to do it any other way and I didn’t want that to hold me back from giving my students this digital design opportunity.
I also printed a bunch of the images out to include in our annual student exhibit and for several other real world exhibition opportunities that students took part in.
MY STUDENTS CONNECT strongly with murals because our campus is covered with them and because we had a local muralist create one on campus that they got to witness as it was being made (see “Local Love” in our Jan. 2017 issue–Ed.). If your school does not have murals on campus, you can share any number of murals that have been made by artists in your community, so that students relate more to the process.
I think this project is a great way for students to think about designing with a purpose. In this case, it was making something that would turn their playground environment at school into something more beautiful and enjoyable.
When planning this lesson, my intent was for these designs to remain digital, but after seeing many of the results, I do believe it would be a missed opportunity to not develop the lesson further and to create a number of student designed murals for permanent display on our campus. I’ve got to stay flexible in my thinking!
Elementary students will …
• collaborate throughout the creative process to create a visual design.
• demonstrate an understanding of geometric shapes and symmetry while completing a design problem.
• show respect for the ideas and feelings of a partner while involved in collaborative work.
• CREATING: Brainstorm collaboratively multiple approaches to an art or design problem (grade 1).
• CREATING: Discuss and reflect with peers about choices made in creating artwork (grade 3).
• iPads or other mobile devices with cameras
• The Assembly app
• Color printer
• Pencils, small-sized paper
• Images of Amaya Hayuk’s work
click here for resources related to this article
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Don Masse, is a K–5 visual arts teacher at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in San Diego, California.
Want More Classroom Projects From This Issue?