During lunch recess elementary students flock to the art room for studio time to work independently or collaboratively on self-chosen art projects. Each month there is a new theme, with new materials to explore for students who want a bit of guidance or direction. This month, October, the theme of course is Halloween and the medium is collage. Children select materials from a supply table and an open set of cubbies, with a tempting variety of papers, stamps, and stencils. They may spend some time getting inspiration from the books and magazines in the art room library, or may come with ideas from home which they want to try out. Some students prefer to work on improving their drawing skills, while others love coloring pages while they relax and chat with friends. A current craze is Origami, and that center is always full of children helping each other create new origami pieces. Young artists also often want to work on art projects begun in class, so for 30 minutes each lunch hour, the room buzzes with up to 25 students voluntarily and happily spending their free time being creative, self-directed artists.
As an end-of-term activity in the Art Studio, 4th and 5th graders took the Marshmallow challenge. Working in collaborative teams of 4 or 5, they had 20 minutes to erect the highest free-standing structure using only one marshmallow, spaghetti sticks, tape and scissors. It was fascinating watching them planning, diving in, leading, discussing, problem solving, making decisions and aiming high. There were a few successes, and many failures, as teams got too ambitious. At the end of the day, one team of 4th graders took the championship, with a structure standing over 55cms high.
The artist of the month in our Art Studio is M.C Escher, as 4th graders are learning about and creating their own Op Art. They showed a great interest in this unit, so I decided to extend it beyond the initial activity of creating an optical illusion collage with colored rhombuses.
I set up an ‘Op Art Lab’ in the studio, where students could chose between activities, and rotate between centers at their own pace. Their choices included a Tessellation Station, Impossible Initials (based on the Penrose Triangle and Frustro font by Martzi Hegedűs), and creating a Magical Mobius Strip. Another option was a read, relax and research station, where they could browse our Art library Op Art books, or conduct research on the classroom Apple desktop. Some students had been inspired by optical illusions displayed on the Art Studio walls, and chose to try to replicate those. Towards the end of the sessions devoted to this inquiry, I introduced an iPad with the Amaziograph app, and encouraged students to try an activity in a Scholastic Optical Illusion activity book in the room.
By the end of this inquiry unit, the students had a broad experience of Op Art, as well as a great interest in the subject. They had collaborated to work on the Mobius Strip, had made connections using the Penrose triangle to write their own impossible initials, and had worked with shape, form, color and space to create tessellating patterns. Additionally, they appreciated the freedom to select their own activities, and to take the inquiry into this field in a direction of their choice.