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!
Students in my 10th grade class are calling themselves published children's book authors, a title that they have earned through their hard work in their Foundations of Design class. The project, which took about a month to complete consisted of writing, illustrating, and publishing a children's book about being brave and starting school for the first time. This project is one of many in our new and innovative 10th grade art curriculum at Mount Everett which emphasizes design thinking and practical problem solving.
To start off the project, students read and analyzed children's books to come up with elements that make a book successful. They decoded the creative process of writing a great story and brainstormed ideas that could work in a group setting. The topic of the book was given to them as a way to make their work multi-functional. Not only would they be creating a book and publishing it, but the school would be able to use the book as part of a welcome kit to incoming youngsters.
Students then took part in a design charette with a mixture of teachers, administrators, and community members. A charette, typically used in architecture refers to a group of people involved in an intense period of planning to solve a problem. The group led a brainstorming session to determine the skeleton of the story and aesthetics of the book. With the information gained from this session, students took off on their journey of challenging, yet satisfying work.
What evolved from their initial problem: " How do you create a story that helps a young child start school for the first time?" was the story of Benny Everett who uses a pin with his favorite animal, the eagle, on it to find his bravery. After losing his pin, and making it through his day anyway, he realizes he had nothing to fear and that he can be brave even without needing a reminder. The book includes a side-story of another student who finds her own courage to make a new friend. All of the details of the book were meticulously chosen or crafted by the students. They researched meanings of names to make sure that each had significance. They were very excited to learn that the name Everett can also mean "Brave" which worked out quite well seeing as how we are Mount Everett eagles! The illustrations were created using an acrylic wash, collaged painted subjects with an outline created on a clear piece of film.
This was a time-consuming and challenging project. A lot goes into writing a children's book and the students definitely felt the enormity of this very professional endeavor. I wouldn't hesitate to repeat this lesson though. The class bonded in a way that I haven't seen in some time and the students learned a variety of design lessons in this one project alone. The most important lesson was that of revising. It can be difficult to explain to the students that work in design is not really their own. The outcome is meant to function successfully and ownership takes a different form. Having to rewrite, redraw, and reconceptualize was often very difficult. After repeating the process multiple times I began to see the students understand the design process a little better. Even though it was hard for them to "let go" of the story, characters, and illustrations, they knew that they wanted to book to be successful and that other voices would offer a way to ensure that success.
As part of an Interactive Design project, students set out to create something that can be manipulated by classmates and teachers in the halls of the school. This class was inspired by old school magnetic poetry and created a large scale poetry wall. This wall has been displayed in the hallway outside of my room for about 2 years and I consistently see new and interesting verses almost on a daily basis.
Make sure you don't include words that can be used too creatively (if you know what I mean)
A great way to integrate ELA into the project is to include a word organizer (not pictured) that teaches kids parts of speech.
I'm coming into my busiest time of the year when all non-teaching projects seem to be needing attention all at once. In sight of this hectic time, I decided to post an older lesson I developed while at RISD.
Landscapes and Cityscapes served as an exercise based on the designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. Every artist has something that inspires her and often this something shows up in her work. Frank Lloyd Wright was inspired by nature, and at certain points in his life, specifically by the Prairie. Growing up in Wisconsin, Frank Lloyd Wright used what surrounded him in his designs of building and objects. Known mostly for his architecture, he succeeded in both furniture and graphic design as well. Wright was able to use his inspiration, nature, in very unique ways. He was known for designs using geometric shapes which he broke down from natural elements. He was able to envision anything in nature and turn it into a series of squares, rectangles and triangles. This process for Wright established a unity among things in nature and his designs. He wished for all things to be living harmoniously with nature. His Library Table was no exception.
Designed in 1915, the Library Table takes on strong characteristics of Wright’s beloved Prairies. The long horizontal line of the table is much like a horizon line on a farm. The cabinet that juts out from the center most resembles a barn or tree in the distance. It is a table designed for a specific purpose and for a specific place.
Since Frank Lloyd Wright drew inspiration from landscapes, the students were asked to do the same with their own projects. The Feinstein class sketched out what they might see if they look out of their bedroom windows. Some drawings were elaborate, others simple. All of the drawings were great examples of how an artist might use his surroundings in his work.
After the drawings were completed, the students then broke down parts of the sketches into geometric shapes. The shapes were chosen at random and reflected the way that Wright might have done it, if it were his own. Some students chose squares and rectangles, while others fit in circles and triangles as well. The students had to focus abstractly on this part of the project and did a great job stretching their imaginations.
For the last part of the lesson, the students designed and created a model of any object they chose. While they were encouraged to be creative with the object, most students chose to stick with Frank Lloyd Wright and design a piece of furniture. They were given a short demonstration on paper folding and the use of a paper hinge.
The Feinstein class was very successful in making their paper models and each amounted to a functional image of a three dimensional object. The final models can be seen here and are examples of using one’s visual lansdcape to create a piece of art.
The first time I walked down the hallway of my school as a teacher, I was shocked. Students were in between classes, and yet the halls were quiet. Sure, there were conversations here and there and the typical hustling sounds, but it was very different than I remember from my own high school and from the school that I student taught at. I teach in a very small school. There are about 50 students per grade. Very different from the loud, 350+ that I graduated with. Beyond this quantity difference, there were two things that I believe contributed to the lack of volume. First, most of this school is carpeted. They use those neat squares of carpeting in case something gross happens to a section. It decreases the noise by a lot and also provides a nice "homey" feel to the school.
The second involves lockers. Each student is given a locker at the beginning of the year. Only about 30% of the students actually use their lockers. Of those that do use them, mostly random supplies are stored there such as an extra pair of socks or a sweatshirt for when it gets cold. They don't use their lockers to store their textbooks, or their lunches, or a bag of quarters to call home after practice with. There is no sound of locker doors closing and no congregating around lockers to socialize. They basically don't even realize they exist...the just blend in with the rest of the wall.
I keep a combination locked cabinet in my room which students have access to. Those that know the combination aren't even able to open it. They have not had the years experience that I and most of my peers have had with the dial combination locks. They just don't get the clockwise, counterclockwise for a full turn, then stopping at the last number rule. Even after teaching them, it doesn't stick. I have to open the locker for almost every student who wants to get in.
I stumbled upon the site (below) a while ago and began working on a locker redesign project. I started with assumptions based on my own history with lockers. I can remember pairing up with a classmate in order to have the "big" locker at the end of the row of smaller ones just so that my sports bag could fit. We stored everything in there. We had one of those nifty magnetic mirrors hanging on the inside which was super helpful and necessary for my teenage self. The week I got my braces off and graduated to a retainer was the week that that same retainer gained access to the top shelf where it stayed for the rest of all time. The lockers back then had many purposes and were completely necessary. These assumptions just didn't hold up to the current uses for lockers at my school. Students would have to re-conceptualize the very idea of a locker for the assignment to hold any meaning to them.
The result was a variety of interesting sketches and models. Some students decided to create sports closets for themselves here at school which could hold larger things like hockey sticks. Others attempted to create technology charging docks. Some students completely molded the space that the lockers take up to create narrow "lounge-type spots" for kids to take a break. While these ideas were inventive and unique, when all was said and done, the students were not too excited by this project. The lesson plans have been resting quietly in my computer, safe from the groans of my students. I will return to it again someday, but will approach it with much less assumption. When I introduce it to the next group of students, maybe I will tell the tale of what lockers were back in the day, and what they could be again. Maybe I will even take out my Letter Jacket and make them watch the Breakfast Club. That'll show 'em.
Perhaps this lesson will work better for your students. Here are the materials to get you started...
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.