Thinking, photographing, and conversing in the block center

Blocks are a fascinating medium. They provide endless opportunities for exploration, learning, growth and joy. While they have always been a part of our Kindergarten classroom, this year they are an integral part of our curriculum.

Blocks enable the girls to participate in all three domains of learning – cognitive, affective and physical/kinesthetic. The girls engage in mapping and spatial planning, collaborate with each other as they build, negotiate for space and use of blocks, and finally, when finished, conduct tours, as well as answer questions regarding their designs and buildings. The depth of thought and engagement is fantastic!

While building, the girls must think creatively and critically. What will they build? Where will they build? How will they create the various shapes and levels? What if the blocks they want are being used elsewhere, can they create that same block using other blocks? What if their structure is unstable and falls down, how can they re-engineer it for greater stability? Additionally, creative and critical thinking abounds as they furnish their buildings with accessories and special features, and as they create the community of persons who live in, or work in, their buildings.

My absolute favorite part of the process is documenting their work through photographs, and conversing with the girls regarding what I see.

It is incredible what I see, and don’t see, as I look through the camera. And it is fascinating and fabulous what I learn – about the girls, and their buildings – as I ask questions.

  • Can you tell me about your thinking?
  • What is this?
  • How does this work?
  • How did you make that? Is there any other way you could build that?
  • Tell me about this.
  • Hmmm. Could you create a way for …?
  • Why do you think …?
  • Oh wow! How did you decide to do that? How did you decide to do it that way?

Look …

blocks for blog2

Do you notice the two people? The builder was hesitant to add people to her structure – although it had a multitude of spaces where people would congregate, play, and live. Finally after a bit of conversation, she added the larger figure. I admired the figure, listened to her explanation, and continued to photograph the other girls. When I looked back, I noticed she had added another person … on top of the first person’s head! I chuckled and said, “Is she standing on his head?” She looked at me as though I knew absolutely nothing and said “No, Miss James, he’s giving her a piggy back ride!” I responded, “OH MY GOSH! Of COURSE!!!! I get it now.” How else would we show that? She continued creating people – some standing on their heads, some on their feet, and stacked them 10 high on the original person’s head. Evidently, the circus was in town and the acrobats were staying at that apartment building!

Now, do you notice the face with blond hair and a crown? The girl added that to her castle when we were talking about adding people. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder what that is? So, I asked. “Hey, A. What is that? A ghost? A head with no body?” As with the other girl, she looked at me like I was a bit silly, chuckled and said, “No, Miss James, it’s the old queen.” I didn’t get it yet. “The old queen?” She continued her explanation, “Yes, a picture of the old queen, on the wall! Look here is one of the old king!” I laughed and said, “Oh! I love it! Pictures of the people who used to be here. Fantastic! Does someone live in the castle now? Will you be adding them to the castle?” She assured me that she would.

Finally, do you notice the doorway (archway) that appears to have two entrances? I loved it as a structure and architectural detail but I was intrigued to know what the girl was thinking when she created it. “M. would you tell me about this?” She launched into a detailed description – complete with a demonstration – regarding the planning, purpose and use of the doors. Evidently there are good and evil people in her realm – of varying sizes. The good people, big and small, can enter the castle using the appropriate opening. But, should an evil person approach the doorway, the single arch magically moves to block their entrance. And, I believe, should they have somehow made it past that safety measure, there was a trap door waiting for them upon entering!

Fabulous, isn’t it? Their ability to imagine is quite remarkable, eye-opening and entertaining. But, had I not engaged them in conversation with open ended questions, I would not have understood the depth of their thinking!

Squish-squash books in Kindergarten

The other day I taught my kindergarteners how to make a squish-squash book (Special thanks to Dar Hosta for the cool name! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z88mmn_P1Gk).

We worked together (teachers and students) each step of the way. Fold the paper the long way – don’t forget to match the corners, hold the edge tight and make a nice, hard crease. Open the paper. Fold it the short way. Now fold the top paper down to the middle fold. Flip it over like a pancake. Fold the other side down. Now you have an M or a W – depending how you hold it. Hold it so it looks like a W. Now cut the center of the W down to the fold at the bottom of the W. Grasp the top fold on each side of the cut - squish, squash!

squish squash fold

LOL yes, yes, it sounds rather complicated when you just read the words. Perhaps you are wondering - “How on earth did those kindergarteners do that?” Well, let me tell you, with a bit of direction, some encouragement, and a whole lot of respect for them, and their abilities, they did fantabulously!!! (Yes, fantabulously – better than fantastic, better than fabulous … fantabulous! How’s that for creative manipulation of the English language?! My students love the word, by the way.)

The most amazing thing was the response of the students. They were making books and talking with anyone who would listen! They were excited, empowered … giddy even! Some filled each page with illustrations. Some filled the pages with words. Others made many different sized squish-squash books, and gleefully taped them together!

squish squash

Why was this such a powerful experience for the students?

Was it the power they felt as they made their own book-form? Was it the freedom to do what they wanted? (Write, draw, make more books.) Was it the respect of the teachers for the students? Was it the authenticity of the activity? Was it the joy the teachers shared with the students? Was it the fantabulousness of the students themselves?

To be honest, I’m not sure I can pinpoint one thing that made this activity great. I think it was a combination of all of the above – and more – coming together in a beautiful, synergistic dance. And wow, was it great to experience. Fingers are crossed we will experience it over and over again throughout the year!

Munari’s Zoo

I discovered Bruno Munari while attending a conference for educators at the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts. Munari – an Italian artist, designer and inventor, and writer of children’s books, - is loved by Reggio educators. I use Munari’s Zoo and Munari’s Machines in the classroom with great results!

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I enjoy using Munari’s Zoo at the beginning of the year. After a read aloud, we surround ourselves with paper, pencils, crayons, markers, scissors, tape, yarn, pipe cleaners, hole punches, and various other art supplies and tools – and set about making an animal to populate our classroom zoo (bulletin board).

Munari’s book starts with several amusing signs, so we all create a sign for our animal. This year the signs were mostly identifying our animal and the artist that created it. But, sometimes we add signs with instructions. This year there was one sign warning readers – “do not pull the lion’s tail!”

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It’s a fabulous exercise. The students are engaged – working hard without feeling strain or pressure. The spirit in the room is light and joyous. Conversations abound between the students, and between students and teachers. It’s a great way to get to know each other and to do some authentic assessments.

Are the students brave? Do they jump in, or hang back a bit? Do they have many ideas that they share and implement? Do they look to their friends or teachers for ideas? Do they need a little extra encouragement and love? Are they leaders – helping friends? How are their fine motor skills (holding pencil, scissor, manipulating tape, pipe cleaners, cutting, drawing)? Do they know the sounds letters make? Can they stretch out words? What do they hear as they stretch out the words? Do they have an efficient motor plan for their letters? Do they use upper case, lower case, or a combination of both?

The challenge involved is positive and self-regulated. The students are intrinsically motivated to create, and caught up in the excitement of seeing their work displayed, even the most timid writers stretch out words to make their sign. The open-ended nature of the assignment allows the children to self-differentiate. Some students make one animal, some make many. Some use materials they are familiar with, while others experiment with some of the less familiar materials. But, one way or another, everyone succeeds at the task.

This project is an easy, and safe way, to give the students control over their work and learning, and therefore increase their sense of agency, early in the school year. My instructions are simply to make an animal, and a sign to accompany it. They decide if the animal will be real or imaginary. They determine the form, color, and size of their animal. They choose the materials they will use to create it. They decide what their sign will say, and write it (with as little or as much help as they need). Finally, once done, they choose where to place their animal on the board as we create our class zoo.

And, very importantly, I do my best to limit my “interference” and simply listen, question and encourage. For instance, the animals at the top right are peacocks. One has to use their imagination and enter into the mind of the child – as best we can – to see how they are all wonderful representations of peacocks – although not ones we might have imagined. But, notice the color, the beginning structure, and the use of the yarn to represent all the color of the peacock feathers.

I even purposefully limit the amount of help I give them as they write. I try to help them hear the sounds in the words, and encourage them to represent each sound. But I resist my adult urge to “tell them” how to write it. By limiting my “help” I allow them to think, struggle, problem solve, experiment and come up with their own solutions. By doing so, we (they and I together) strengthen their skills, increase their ability to persevere, expand their vision of themselves and their abilities, and (hopefully) positively impact their future work and thought.

 

When 2+2 does not equal 4

We had Back to School Night at our school this week. As I shared who I was with the parents, I began talking about creativity and creative thinking. I told them creativity, and creative thinking, are not just about art! Creativity, and creative thinking, are about noticing, seeing possibility, taking risks, making mistakes, trying new things and thinking new thoughts. They’re about learning. They’re about taking what you know and using that knowledge to go beyond. They’re about playing and communicating. They’re about life!

I was so excited to be talking about creativity, my hopes for their children, and the possibilities for creativity in all venues, that I found myself saying, “Even math is a perfect venue for creative thinking. I read this article once, that talked about when 2+2 isn’t 4!” As it came out of my mouth, and I saw the looks of surprise on some of their faces, I recognized the need to clarify that I would, indeed, be teaching their children that 2+2 was 4! But, I would also be encouraging them to think like mathematicians, and, when appropriate, look for those times when 2 plus 2 was something other than 4.

I want their children to be able, even as kindergarteners, to take what they know and are learning, and transfer it to other situations. I want them to see the more.

Here is how it was lived in my classroom this week.

One of my students loves to get “math problems.” She seems to have an insatiable appetite for them! I wanted to honor and encourage her love for “doing math,” but I also wanted to go beyond the rote “doing of math” and engage her in mathematical thinking! I wanted to give her the opportunity to be challenged to notice things, tinker, get stumped, and keep trying.

Yes, even in Kindergarten this is possible, and appropriate.

So, after several problems with numbers and symbols, I started using pictures. First, I gave her pictures that indicated addition and subtraction. I didn’t tell her whether the problem was addition or subtraction, I let her figure it out. Once she discovered an answer, we talked about why she chose subtraction or addition, and how she got her answer. (By the way, her answers – listed on the page – are great answers, but not the only possible “correct” answers!)

add subtract

Then I asked her to complete patterns or provide the next item in a sequence. She had to think about some of them, and occasionally gave me a quizzical look. I resisted the urge to chuckle, and instead just encouraged her to think about it. Sometimes I realized I hadn’t given her enough information, or I had been ambiguous, so, I amended my instructions.

Each time she got it! I decided it was time to take a chance, and see what she did with more of an open-ended question.

I wrote:

10 equals

She looked at me, and then at the problem. She looked at me again, this time with a bit of annoyance.

“What is this?” she asked.

I responded, “Well, what does it say?”

“10 equals. But what do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, what does 10 equal?” I asked.

She again looked at me with a bit of annoyance, and a bit of confusion. I just pursed my lips, and raised my eyebrows. “You can do it. Think! What does 10 equal?”

She looked down, thought a bit, and finally wrote “10 = 10″

“Yup,” I said. “10 sure does equal 10. Can you think of anything else?”

She thought for a bit and said “6+4.”

“Yes!” I responded. “That does equal 10. What about this? Does 10 equal this?”

10 petals

She watched as I drew. Looked at me when I finished, then back at the drawing, and said, “Yes.”

To which I responded, “Why?”

“There are 10 petals.”

“Indeed!”

We did a few more problems together – sometimes I drew or wrote for her, sometimes she drew or wrote for me. Then, I took it a step further. I gave her this problem.

not 4

Using what she had learned from the car drawing – they were coming together –  she said, “It’s 4.” I said, “True, but what else is it? Do you see? I wrote ‘not 4′ I want you to think a bit. What is it, if it’s not 4?” She looked at me for a bit. I said, “Think. I want you to think. What else can it be? Thinking is good. You can do it!”

After a bit she came back to me and said, “It’s 16!”

“Oh! How is it 16?” I asked.

She showed me the 16 dots. “Indeed! That is 16.” Now it could just as easily have been 8 because of the antennae, or the wings. It could have been 24 because of the legs. It could have been a lot of things! The importance, (outside of the math facts) was the noticing, the thinking, the sharing of thinking, the questions, the explanations, the affirmation that thinking was good, and finally the confirmation that her thinking was sound.

It would, however, also have been ok if her thinking wasn’t sound, because it would have given us an opportunity to converse, rethink, and to come to another conclusion.

So, I ask you? When is 2+2 NOT 4?

Amazingly enough, there are many times! Think. Draw. Write. Be creative. Think in ways that might not be your first choice. Think in ways that seem to defy mathematical sense. But think! Oh, and be sure to play, and have fun.

If you come up with some ideas, please leave them in a comment. In a few days I’ll post a comment with some of my ideas when 2+2 is not 4!

Enjoy!

 

 

A Tree Grows in Kindergarten

I recently attended a workshop at Bank Street College in NYC. They have a tree growing in the middle of their lobby! A BIG TREE! If I remember correctly, it actually goes up to the second floor.

It was fabulous! I wanted one in my space. It would add to the classroom environment. It holds incredible possibilities for all sorts of learning and playing – science, history, literacy, math, art, morning meetings under the tree, and puppet shows in front of the tree. And, the students would love it.

I chuckled as I wondered how I might convince my school to architecturally recreate the kindergarten and library (above our room) to allow a tree to grow within the school building. Realizing that was not likely to happen, I set about thinking how else we might have “a tree grow in kindergarten.”

Ages ago, a friend gave me all sorts of wire to use as sculpting material. I still had a lot of the wire left, in a beautiful basket, on top of my cabinets, waiting. “Woo hoo” for keeping things that have creative potential, even when I can’t figure out how to use that potential.

That wire held the answer! If I couldn’t grow a tree, surely I could make one out of wire!

In my mind, I imagined a grand tree. A wire trunk with real tree branches  “growing” out of the wire trunk. It would be spectacular!

I built the tree in my mind several times - often changing the structure on a long car rides. Finally, I was ready to give it a go.

There was a lot of prep work the night before the build – find fishing wire, fight off mosquitos to get branches, take the leaves off the branches, gather tools (wire cutters, clippers, pliers, a hammer, pencils and a tape measure), load the car, and, perhaps most importantly, try not to forget anything.

The day of the build also held a lot of work – including tons of measuring and re-measuring, a failed try at anchoring (which, thankfully, led to a better engineered tree), an incredible amount of wire work, the realization I had to cover the pointy wire ends (yay for silver duct tape), and many other niggly details and tasks.

tree collage

The process was an interesting combination of frustration, invigoration, exhaustion, perseverance and psych. It was an exercise in patience as I pro-typed, failed, thought, re-thought, tried again, looked, looked from another angle and perspective, adjusted, tweaked and took untold number of relaxing breaths. In the end, my fingertips and back were screaming, but the tree was there, “growing in our kindergarten room.”

I will, no doubt, rebuild it again in my mind. I am already imagining new ways to connect and support the branches to allow for greater artistry and larger branches! But for now, a tree, made of wire, paper, actual tree branches, hard work, and imagination, grows in Kindergarten .

(A close up of the wire bark – complete with knots.)

tree2

 (The tree ready for our first day.)

tree1

I trust the tree will bring joy to those who experience it, and encourage them to be open to possibility, creativity, imagination, hard work,

I hope, now, and throughout their life, they will be inspired, and empowered, to create something new and fabulous – perhaps, something incredibly useful and valuable.

 

Yes, and … in the classroom

Back in July, I hipped you to Uri Alon’s awesome TED talk. (http://creativitylovingeducator.com/2014/07/05/in-the-cloud-with-uri-alon/) I said we’d talk once you watched the video. Well, hopefully you found the time (If not, go now!), because here we go!

So, yes, Uri Alon. How do we transfer his ideas into the classroom? Do his ideas have any merit in a classroom where we are laying a foundation of skills, facts and knowledge? Isn’t it important, and in fact necessary, that we as teachers teach our students what is correct? Wouldn’t we be doing a disservice to our students if we engaged in “Yes, and …” conversations? How is “Yes, and …” valuable in, for instance, a kindergarten classroom?

All great questions. I think it is a matter of balance – not “either or” but, “yes, and!” LOL!

As a teacher I understand the necessity of giving my students a broad base of knowledge and facts. It would be irresponsible of me to never correct a child, but it would be equally irresponsible if I never engage in “yes, and …” conversations with them.

“Yes, and …” conversations provide opportunities for profound things to happen for me, and for my students. Given a “yes, and …” response by me, my students are given permission and space to enter into a dialogue with me, their peers, themselves, and their work and thought.

They must engage in metacognition and  attempt to articulate their thinking. Why do they believe what they believe? How is it true?

By thinking about their thinking, and struggling to adequately express their thoughts, they will practice, and hopefully enhance, many essential skills:

  • metacognition
  • thinking about their thinking
  • critical thinking
  • creative thinking
  • articulating
  • emotional intelligence
  • negotiation
  • listening
  • analyzing
  • comparing
  • evaluating
  • experimenting
  • summarizing
  • valuing mistakes and learning from them, instead of running from them

They may discover their thinking was flawed at a certain point, and upon rethinking, may arrive at the correct answer with greater understanding and knowledge. Or, they may discover why their answer was correct, and grow in confidence and understanding.

Additionally, “Yes, and …” conversations benefit me as a teacher (and learner). By engaging in “yes, and …” conversations with my students I too enhance all the skills listed above. I may discover they are thinking along a path I never considered. I may discover that my instructions, or thinking, were flawed or ambiguous, or, simply different from theirs. Plus, I grow in my understanding of my students’ thinking. Focusing on the process, and the path they took to their answer/understanding, I am more able to encourage, affirm, and/or correct.

house

One year I asked my students to draw a picture of their family. One student came to me, excited to show me her picture. It was a lovely picture, but their were no people in it! I looked at her, and she looked at me. I was perplexed, so I asked her what she drew. “My house,” she replied. “Did I ask you to draw your house?” I asked. “Nope,” she replied. “You asked me to draw my family.” I looked at her with a smile, and a bit of a raised eyebrow and said “So, where’s your family.”

It seemed she hadn’t noticed any problem until I asked her about the whereabouts of her family. She leaned on the table – one hand on either side of her paper – studying her drawing intently. She looked, and thought. I waiting silently.

Finally she looked up, with a huge smile on her face – eyes glowing with the discovery she had just made. “THEY’RE IN THE HOUSE!!!!!” I couldn’t restrain myself, as the answer was so unexpected, and burst out laughing! “They’re in the house? What are they doing in there? Do you think you can draw them so we can see them?” She looked at the picture one more time, said yes, and began to draw faces in the windows.

That was an awesome example to me of a “Yes, and …” type of conversation benefiting both my student and me. She had to think about the task and her response. She had to problem solve. I had to trust her, wait, and re-evaluate my directions.

We both walked away with greater understanding and confidence in ourselves and each other. Fabulous!

 

RESOURCES:

The Art of Focused Conversation: 100 Ways to Access Group Wisdom in the Workplace, edited by R. Brian Stanfield,  http://www.amazon.com/The-Art-Focused-Conversation-Workplace/dp/0865714169

Bubbles Art, Science, Math and Language Arts!

The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences. We must widen the range of topics and goals, the types of situations we offer and their degree of structure, the kinds and combinations of resources and materials, and the possible interactions with things, peers, and adults. ~Loris Malaguzzi, Hundred Languages of Children

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Bubbles are fascinating and afforded us several challenging and fun ways to explore and experience science, art, math, and language arts. There was a plethora of things to notice, marvel at, wonder about, investigate and enjoy!

… The variety of sizes. The delicate and yet strong nature of soap film walls. The colors and reflections that are captured in the bubbles. The many things that can be used as a bubble wand. Do heart-shaped wands make heart-shaped bubbles? The ways we feel when we blow bubbles. Should we blow slowly or quickly? Does that make a difference? Can we fill the room with bubbles if we use a window fan? The joy and sorrow felt as bubbles pop. The way the wind takes the bubbles as they leave the wand. The way the bubble solution feels, and sometimes tastes, as the bubbles pop close to our lips. Can we create bubbles from things other than store-bought bubble solution? How could we create bubbles in art? What colors are bubbles? Which words best describe bubbles and our experience? 

Prior to starting I told the girls we would be scientists, authors, readers and artists, and that the process would take us several days. We experienced bubbles through our eyes, our ears, our brains and our bodies!

  • We did several read alouds.
  • I blew bubbles and the girls experienced them only with their eyes. What did the bubbles look like? How did they move?
  • They blew bubbles. Again, as scientists they tried to observe things about the bubbles, the process and each other.
  • We all blew bubbles, and just experienced the joy of bubbles – much laughing, movement and even some screaming!
  • We created bubble wands using various materials: pipe cleaners, plastic plant mesh, plastic water bottles, straws and string. We tested and observed each – Was it easy to make bubbles with them? Did they make big bubbles? Small bubbles? What shape were the bubbles? Did the bubbles mirror the shape of the wand?
  • After each experience the girls shared words and feelings, which I scribed onto a large piece of chart paper.
  • We ended up with three lists of words. We observed the lists: How many are in each? Which list has the most words? Which the fewest? Why? (We noticed that the words increased as we engaged more fully in each experience and grew in comfort with the process.) We used math strategies to add the lists together and come up with the grand total. We marveled at our abilities to describe our experiences. We used these lists to create our list poems.

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I brainstormed many ways to create a frame for the list poems and finally decided (for ease and aesthetic reasons) to cut a frame to place over the girls paper as they stamped. The frame allowed them to stamp freely while maintaining a clear border for their list poem. I held the frame in place, as the girls used the cardboard tubes and ink pads to create their bubbles.

I was amazed and impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they approached their work. Each girl had her own particular process, but each was purposeful in her choice of tubes (various diameters) and placement of bubbles. My only instructions were to be sure to press straight down so as to get a good print (and not to fret if it was less than perfect, as that added to the uniqueness of each piece) to consider overlapping the bubbles at least a bit, and to not be afraid to overlap the frame.

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I brought in some artist quality pencils to share with the girls. I talked about why I liked the pencils – great colors, nice feel in my hand, beautiful movement across the paper – and why I chose to share them with the girls – they are artists too and I thought they would enjoy using them. I asked them to take care of the pencils as they were special to me. The girls were fantastic with the pencils! They carefully chose the colors, replaced them in rainbow order, only sharpened them as much as necessary, shared them with each other, and really seemed to empowered by using them. (We ended up using them in free choice as well as other projects.)

After the ink dried, the girls worked diligently to fill in each full shape (not the partial bubbles around the edges). We discovered that the ink, though dry, sometimes transferred around the paper, so we used a paper towel to minimize movement. Thankfully any transferred ink erased easily.

bubble words

Once finished with their art piece, the girls moved on to their list poems. The goal was to create a list poem and encircle the bubbles with the poem. (We read, observed and discussed poems from Falling Down the Page by Georgia Heard prior to this project, and emulated the freedom Georgia showed in placing words on the page.) Each girl began by choosing 12 words from the class lists and writing them in the frame of her paper. If needed, she chose more words.

When everyone was finished – and it took some girls many days to do so – we shared our poems and art pieces with each other. Finally, we displayed them on the hall bulletin board, with black and white photos of each of us blowing bubbles as the border.

RESOURCES:

Hiking boot canvases

I found a pair of Asolo hiking boots. Loved the fit, but the color? Not so much … red. I was conflicted. A good feeling boot is hard to pass up, but whew, red? Definitely not my thing.

I walked around the store for a good long time trying to decide what I’d do. Then It hit me – tangle them! If that worked, they would rock! The black sharpie would soften the red, and the tangles would create a functional piece of art.

hiking shoes 1

It worked! (Don’t you think?) Turns out they were a fantastic canvas for tangling.

hiking shoes 2 Now I can’t imagine hiking in anything else.

I am the rockin’, creative, hiking girl in the fabulous, one-of-a kind boots.

 

Sewing, thinking, and creating with Faith Ringgold

Tar Beach is, in my opinion, both simple and profound. it is easy to understand and yet filled with illustrations and ideas that inspire both wonder and discussion. It is an excellent platform from which to explore a female artist/author, and to integrate arts and creativity into the curriculum.

We did an interactive read aloud of the book – actually reading it two or three times at different points along the process of the project. We watched videos of Faith talking about her writing and art – especially her story quilts. We examined pictures of the quilts and noticed that the stories were told in word and illustration. We inquired about, reflected on, and discussed many things.

Why is the book called Tar Beach? What is the tar beach? Have you ever been to a tar beach? Do you think it would be fun? Why or why not? Can someone really fly over the city like Cassie? Do stars come lift you up so you can fly? What could Faith Ringgold possibly mean? Why does Cassie fly where she flies in the story? Have you ever wanted to belong to a club but couldn’t? Have you ever wanted to do something to help others feel better? Have you ever wanted to do something to help your parents feel better? What are your dreams? Where would you go if you could go anywhere?

The discussion was rich, and continued as the girls worked on the art/literacy project.

I combined ideas I found on the web (see resources) with my own ideas to create a project that involved drawing and a certain sense of mapping – choosing and implementing the body position of their flying person, as well as placement of their person on the paper, color mixing, painting, small motor skills (cutting, gluing), sewing, imagining and writing.

The project was not simple. It took a bit of prep on my part and a good bit of stamina and work by the girls. We worked together on this project for several days.

  • I measured the paper and cut many sheets of paper. We needed a background, a piece for the sky, a piece for them to draw themselves flying, a piece for them to write their dreams, and squares to glue around the edge for the quilted part.
  • The girls brainstormed how they might look if they were flying. Once the had an idea they liked, they set to creating it in pencil. Happy with their work, they went over the lines with sharpie markers. (There is something striking about children’s work in black sharpie.) Finally they added color to their person.
  • They pasted the square pieces – in the fashion of a quilt – along the edges of a 12 x 18 sheet of paper. By the way, it takes a LOT longer than you might imagine. I was impressed with the girls perseverance.
  • They created a night sky using various shades of blue and purple and filled the sky with glitter stars.
  • Once their sky painting dried they decided how they would fly and glued their person onto the sky.
  • They were very careful and deliberate with all their work!
  • Finally, after thinking deeply about where they would want to fly and why, they used their best spelling, and writing, to transcribe their thoughts onto the project.

faithringold2

At first I thought that would be the end of the project – glue all the things onto the background and display them. However, it seemed unfinished, and somehow disrespectful of the strength and capabilities of the girls, to have quilt pieces devoid of any sewing.

I was reminded of a quote by Jerome Bruner. After visiting some Reggio Emilia schools (they are early education classrooms, by the way), Jerome commented on the level of respect afforded the children by the educators. “It is like a seminar at the graduate department of the university, with the same kind of respect, of exchange in talking about what you have just said, and about your former thinking” (Rindaldi, p. 58). While the quote comments on thinking, I believe it can be expanded to include respect for the students’ work as well as their thinking.

I decided I would bring in my sewing machine and have the girls sew their art pieces with my machine. We talked about the fact that I, and many of the adults in their lives, sew on a machine. I explained the way the machine worked – in all its glory as well as it’s potential for harm. (No one wants a needle sewn through their finger!) I told the girls that I was confident in their ability (with my help) to use the machine and generate beautiful things. Then, we got to work.

faith ringold sophia

I sat behind them as they sewed. We had a dialogue regarding where and how they should sew. We talked about going fast or slow. We discussed hand positioning. We agreed that if I said “stop” they would immediately remove their foot from the pedal. They were fantastic! For a five year olds, there was quite a bit of sewing – and it was all straight lines so they had to work on keeping the paper at the proper guide. After a bit of time coaching each girl, I was pretty much a watchful spectator.

When we were all finished, I created a used their pieces to create a quilt on the hall bulletin board. It was awesome to notice all the older girls and teachers who stopped to examine, and marvel at, our words and artwork.

faithringold quilt

RESOURCES:

Inspiration for art project:

  1. http://weskart.blogspot.com/2010/12/faith-ringgold.html
  2. http://pinkandgreenmama.blogspot.com/2010/05/art-in-schools-faith-ringgold-paper.html#.U-FFXoBdUoo

Video:

  1. Making the quilt -  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=794M-mcOJY4
  2. Writing Tar Beach –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdPxHvGB1Xo

Faith Ringgold:

  1. http://www.faithringgold.com/
  2. http://faithringgold.blogspot.com/2007/03/faith-ringgold.html

Reggio Quote:

  1. Carlina Rinaldi, In Dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, Researching and Learning. London: Routledge.

Beyond the page with Georgia O’Keeffe

rose“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and thoughts about flowers are impressive and thought provoking. Her thoughts suggest mindfulness and reflection.  Her paintings translate the small and easily overlooked, into something large that captures attention.

My students are always impressed with Georgia’s work. But, while they marvel at the size of her flowers, I  think they have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the changes she makes. In Georgia’s hands, flowers became larger than life – even larger than the canvas on which she painted.

I have done Georgia O’Keefe inspired art with my classes other years, and each time they struggled to use the whole page. They made lovely flowers but they made them small – in the center of the page – not covering the whole page. I encouraged and reminded, but still the flowers were smaller than Georgia’s. I loved watching them examine the flowers, but I hated the feeling of pushing them, and constantly having to say “Oh, can you make that bigger?” or “The whole page, use the whole page!” or thinking in my head “eee GADS, that’s not what I asked you to do.”

This year I tried a new method. I wish I could remember the lesson or book that contained the spark which led to this lesson, because I would love to thank them, and give you a great resource, but alas, I cannot. So, you will have to be satisfied with my lesson!

First we looked at her flowers and talked about what we noticed. One thing we noticed was that Georgia’s flowers often look like they go beyond the edge of her canvas. “Oh YES!” I excitedly exclaimed. “EXACTLY!” I told them I had never been able to figure out a way to help my students draw their flowers off the edges of the paper – until now! I told them I read about what other artists had done, and I found something I thought would work perfectly for us.

I explained that I had covered the tables with white craft paper so they would feel free to draw off the edges of the page. I told them their art piece would actually be the piece of watercolor paper I had taped to the white craft paper (I taped them underneath.) but I said they should imagine the whole white space as their canvas. “When you draw your flower, make it big. Make parts of it land on the white craft paper!”

They asked if they would draw a flower from memory. “No! I brought lots of flowers for you to look at!” I dropped many flowers on the carpet in front of them amidst “ooohs” and “aahs.”

“I want you to be like scientists. I want you to really look at the flower you choose and then create it on your paper.” I suggested they try to make their flower have a shape similar to the flower they chose, but told them they could be creative and change things up a bit. The most important things were to trust themselves as artists, really see the flower (like Georgia did) and to draw their flower big so others would see it too.

Armed with a sharpie marker, I chose my flower and began to  draw for them. I made the shapes simple – matching the flower in some ways and changing it in others. I commented that sometimes I changed shapes because it was a bit easier for me to draw, and sometimes I tried really hard to draw exactly what I saw.

They all wanted to know if we would add color. “Absolutely! But, we are going to use a new method.” I brought out a tray of sidewalk chalk, a cup of water and a paintbrush. I explained we would color with the chalk and then smudge it - just a bit – with our fingers. Then, we would use the paintbrush and water to create our a watercolor on the page. I cautioned them against too much water – “Squeeze the brush out like this before you use it. … There will still be plenty of water. Look!” I told them they might have to experiment with the amount of chalk they added and the amount of smudging they did. I showed them a few different possibilities and set them free – with my fingers crossed.

After carefully choosing a flower, and navigating how more than one might use the same flower, they uncapped their sharpies and began drawing. They were fantastic!!! All the girls made their drawings larger than the flower they observed, and all but one extended their flowers beyond the page. And, perhaps best of all, it was so easy for them!!!!

 GO collage5

They were incredibly engaged in every step of the process – choosing a flower, observing it, drawing it with the black sharpie, coloring with sidewalk chalk, smudging the chalk and turning the chalk into watercolor. I wish I could share photos of their faces with you. They were girls – 5 and 6 years old – transformed into intent, focused artists – easily mistaken for students well beyond their years.

GO collage3

As always I was impressed (and humbled) to be there for the “magic” that took place in that art class. Together, somehow, my students and I found that synergistic space where we were able to become more than … or perhaps just exactly … who we are.

….

Two nice Georgia O’Keeffee resources:

http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/about-georgia-okeeffe.html

http://www.nga.gov/kids/scoop-okeeffe.pdf