Students like to design chairs. More so, they like to redesign the chairs they sit on at school. If you ever want to see a high school class come together to problem solve, ask them to rip apart (figuratively, not literally...’cause they can do that too) their classroom chairs.
Designing a chair is one of the most common projects for beginning designers. The popularity is justified because everyone uses chairs. Being a common object, many people have unique ideas about their design elements. Most people can agree that they have sat on an uncomfortable chair at some point in their lives. Comfort is one of the more undervalued luxuries in society. We consider comfort to be something that comes in addition to the function of an object when in reality it should not be separate from the function.
Feel free to download this lesson which focuses on using only cardboard to create a chair that can hold a specific weight. It's a great cross-curricular project!
I had looked forward to choosing an instrument for many years before it was time. Third grade was the year that the long awaited Instrument Night was held. This was the night where all of the kids gathered in the cafeteria to try out as many instruments as they could before choosing. I picked up the trumpet, but couldn't make a sound. My mom tried to get me to play the flute, but all of the girls who wore a lot of pink were choosing that, so I stayed clear. I really wanted to play the violin, but mom said no (too much screeching noise). Ultimately I decided on the oboe, not because I was interested in it, but because no one else was choosing it.
I played the oboe from 4th grade through college and even picked up the bassoon somewhere along the way in high school. I loved playing in the school bands and loved learning about music. As an adult, I still carry that appreciation for music with me and it is safe to say that it has positively impacted my life.
I studied music for all those years using the same instrument and the same set of instructional strategies. I learned the fingerings and how to control my breath enough to slowly pick up on reading music (although I kind of faked my way through that). I remember the process of learning music was pretty similar each year. We were given sheet music, would learn about the person who composed it and the situation or story of the piece and then we would attempt to play it. Weeks later we would be somewhat fluent in playing the song and would have picked up some key vocabulary words along the way. Perhaps the piece we were playing included the word Adagio. We didn't have Little Einsteins back then, so we would have learned to slow down at that part when we arrived there. I assume that my teachers chose pieces that purposefully progressed and included different music skills that built on the last, but this was transparent to me. At the end of my formal music education I was left with the ability to play 2 instruments fairly well; but more so I learned to appreciate music and make it a part of my life.
I find there to be a notable difference between the way our students are taught music and the way we teach art.
In art education it is expected that we expose the students to a variety of mediums, styles, artists, and concepts before they leave our classrooms. The assumption is that students will find a portion of the art world that they can appreciate deeply and make it a part of their lives somehow. Foundations classes are typically set up in this way, allowing the students to move forward with more specialized classes such as painting, drawing, photography, etc., later on.
I wonder what would change if art departments scheduled their classes to be more like our counterparts in the music wing?
How might our students benefit from thoroughly experiencing and learning through one medium and not several?
What role does depth over breadth play in art education?
What problems would arise if our students learned aspects of art through the single medium of drawing or painting from 3rd all the way to 12th?
When I envision what it would be like to teach an art medium in the same way that students learn an instrument it seems absurd to me. Yet, I can't imagine teaching a student a new instrument each quarter. So, what's the difference? I know how difficult it is to learn an instrument, but I think it is equally challenging to learn how to see and draw well. This huge difference in pedagogy has been practiced and accepted for ages and while I believe in art education as it is, I can't help but wonder....
Please share your thoughts!
I was recently at a party to celebrate a high school teenager's birthday with my husband. The gathering was pretty well split, with the adults congregating in one area and the teenagers peacefully keeping their own space in another. At one point I noticed a puzzled expression on my husband's face as he watched the teens chatting away. As he soaked in the adolescence, he remarked how rarely he is around this age group and how quickly one can forget what it is like to be a teenager. I snickered as I often do when I want him to know how hard my job is; and I thought how opposite a high school teacher's world is to other adults.
Those of us that work in high schools can't escape the sights, sounds, and smells of teenage years. It has become the norm to witness all of their quirky behaviors and we forget sometimes how the rest of the world deals with daily experiences. I truly enjoy teaching this age group. I love that my students can simultaneously LOVE and HATE everything, and that making a mountain out of a mole hill is as common as getting out of bed in the morning. Most of the time I have patience for the stubbornness they throw at me, however, over the years I have been consistently disappointed when students fail to show gratitude.
I hold the door open for them; they walk through. I hand out paper with really useful, well-thought-out information for their little brains to soak in; they groan. I bring in a box of donuts to celebrate the end of a big project; they scarf them down without ensuring that everyone received one.
My knowledge of this age group armors me with understanding, however I find that saying "thank you" is the least of my concerns. I fear that students in this age group are having a difficult time feeling gratitude enough to understand that they can show it.
This concern prompted one of the lessons in my Life Skills unit. Depending on the materials available, the end product is either a terrarium or a sculptural card. The lesson requires discussion, or it may become a superficial exercise in merely saying thank you. My goal is to give the students the opportunity to think about the things in their lives that they feel grateful for in a deeper way than the common thanksgiving day project. I often ask my students what are some of the things in their lives that they feel they can't live without. I encourage them to reflect on the reason they would be affected by this absence. More often than not, it comes down to a handful of people that the students feel strongly grateful for. They observe that there are little and big things that they can show gratitude for and find that if they do it more, it may come back to them as well.
This project can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. The result might be a slightly more polite group of teenagers with really cool sculptural cards or you may help a few kids get through their teenage years feeling really grateful for their mountains and molehills.
Here's the lesson.
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.