Stepping Stones is a monthly column that breaks down seemingly daunting tasks into simple, manageable “steps” that any art educator can take and apply directly to their classroom. Stepping Stones will explore a variety of topics and share advice for art-on-a-cart teachers and those with art rooms.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT MY STUDENTS
by Heidi O’Hanley
As art teachers, we encourage collaboration in different ways with our students, staff, and schools. Sometimes, we are asked by parents or administration about creating collaborative art projects that can be installed around the buildings, either temporarily or permanently. At least one time during your school year, I encourage trying at least one collaborative art project.
1. WHY COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS? Collaborative art projects focus on cooperation and discourage competition. According to an article in mathandreadinghelp.org, collaborative art balances individual talents with the common goal of the group. In creating collaborative art projects, students can learn to appreciate everyone’s differences and similarities in a supportive environment. Teamwork also helps to achieve this goal. Once a collaborative art project is completed and installed, I often see a student searching for their contribution and, once found, excitingly pointing it out to his or her classmates.
2. CREATING A SCHOOL-WIDE COLLABORATIVE ART-PIECE. In the past, I’ve discussed the how school-wide art projects can be designed and executed with ease. Many popular ideas include International Dot Day installations (inspired by Peter Reynolds’ The Dot), rock gardens inspired by the book There’s Only One You, by Linda Kranz, Pinwheels for Peace (created for International Peace Day), “What Lifts You” wings inspired by the artist Kelsey Montague, and bottle cap installations that feature famous artworks or inspirational personalities.
Every year, a new inspirational idea goes viral on social media, and multiple schools take part in creating their own school-wide interpretation of the project. In planning a school-wide project, it is very important to plan ahead, especially if you need permission to install artworks around the school. First, ask the appropriate administrator if it would be possible to create a school wide project. He or she may ask for details, longevity of project, supplies needed, size, and other questions related to installation. Once you know your answers, look into what materials you need and where to gather them. For example, if you plan to create a rock garden, talk with a local landscaper to see if there are rocks available that can be donated. If you plan to collect bottle caps, advertise in the beginning of the school year so you can collect enough by the spring.
3. CROSS-CURRICULAR COLLABORATIONS. At the elementary level, our students have “buddies” with other classes, and they meet up throughout the week to read, write, create, and design collaborative projects. I was excited to find out how many classes have been creating STEAM projects with their buddies. For example, one of our sixth-grade classes are buddies with another kindergarten class. Since the beginning of the school year, they have designed rocket ships, built towers and bridges, and created holiday-inspired projects. Since grade levels have started working with buddies, it has made a tremendous impact with students of all ages. Early elementary students love working with the older ones, while the late elementary students enjoying supporting the younger ones. I often see buddies working in our school’s makerspace area, or in the hallways designing projects.
4. GRADE LEVEL COLLABORATIONS. In previous articles, I’ve mentioned how the junior high art teacher and I have joined together to create collaborative projects with our students. One popular idea that has gone viral are drawing-to-sculpture creations, combining elementary drawings with middle/high school sculptural designs. If you’ve browsed social media, you may have seen random articles of parent/child creations that have humorous results, or companies that can create plushies or jewelry from a young child’s drawings. Every year, I have my third-grade students create an alien creature inspired by the surreal artist Joan Miró. Students are given a criteria of shapes they must use to design their alien creations. My students are also asked to create a name for their alien, what type of environment they live in, and any special abilities their alien may have. Once their drawings are done, they are shipped to the junior high for students to create a prototype from the drawings submitted. The prototype consists of a box (designed to show the alien’s environment, name of alien, and more; similar to a toy design), and an alien, either created by felt, sculpture materials or clay. The junior high students then give their creations as gifts to my elementary students. When I hand the creations back to the students, they are excited and love to share what they receive with their classmates and teachers.
5. TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT? Will the project stand up over time, or will it need to be taken down at the end of the school year? If permanent, will the artwork hold over time? Will you be able to hand back all the pinwheels? Will the paint on the rocks withstand the cold winters or sun’s rays? No matter what you decide to do for a collaborative project, think about the end result.
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois. Visit her blog at www.talesfromthetravellingartteacher.blogspot.com.