Let It Snow/NO LIMITS

“Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.” – Dylan Thomas 

This excerpt from A Child’s Christmas in Wales has long been my favorite way to think about snow. I love when the snow falls exactly as Thomas describes, along with the energy, curiosity, and wonder it brings no matter how it falls. I had been noticing while teaching remotely this fall that some my students had become less curious and less apt to go beyond the bare minimum with their artwork, which is something I’m not used to. They seemed to be intent on satisfying criteria and checking off assignments on a list rather than taking the time to wonder, explore, and investigate. I know learning (and teaching) during the pandemic is challenging and my 10-12 year old students were focused on navigating the changes as they shifted between remote and hybrid modes and back again. In the process, education had become for some a perfunctory process with expectations within boundaries and nothing more. Some of my students struggled to keep up in all their classes, not just in art class. Yet they are children. And that’s just sad.

In an effort to meet the diverse learning and scheduling needs of all my students and to lure my classes into an exploratory approach to art making, I changed the projects I assigned by establishing a baseline effort to be turned in (keeping it really simple) yet inviting (almost challenging) the kids to go as far as they want in the direction they choose with the project. The phrase I keep using is “NO LIMITS”.

Teaching remotely and not having consistent contact with students due to the asynchronous periods in their schedules and disrupted weekly schedules to accommodate (at least cerebrally) holidays and vacation, I also sought a way to keep the focus or topic consistent as we went through a few different projects. This is the thematic approach we used in the late 1990’s in education. Because it is winter, because we live in New England, because it is truly fascinating, I chose SNOW.

Mrs. Gentili – I made this snowflake by using my stylus on my iPad in the Sketchbook app. It was fun yet I did a lot of math. I like how it came out and I’m going to make more.

We used the theme of snow to flex our muscles with technology, starting with making symmetrical snowflakes using the Autodesk Sketchbook app on iPads. The base exemplar is above and the tutorial is below:

By inviting students to make and submit as many snowflakes as they desired with the NO LIMITS approach, many students submitted several, many made more than they submitted. Click on one to view this slideshow of just ten of them and you can see the rest on Artsonia:

During synchronous classes, I shared my screen as we took a look at the Snowstorm Padlet I had created for us all to contribute to. Many of them contributed, enjoying showcasing their art alongside the artwork of their classmates.

Here’s a look at the blizzard we created as a standalone image:

Our collaborative snowstorm

I started the SNOW theme on December 21, just before the winter break. Expecting my students wouldn’t be traveling or be over busy as with many winter breaks and would have lots of time at home, I shared this pattern for making snowflakes at home with scissors (no shared supplies at school):

Some of the kids were able to make the paper snowflakes when attending class synchronously from home during studio time when they had finished the other projects:

Students were also invited to visit www.weavesilk.com to create 6 sided snowflakes using the site’s pretty astonishing web platform and the symmetry slider there. Try it out, you’ll be amazed:

For another at home activity, I shared the recipe for growing crystal snowflakes that we used to explore states of matter in my third grade classes twenty years ago: Make Your Own Crystal Snowflake 

During the two weeks on either side of the winter vacation week when I saw my Wednesday “Week A” classes together one week, and my “Week B” the next, we used our synchronous classes to learn about Vermont photographer, Wilson Bentley – better known as Snowflake Bentley. We watched some videos and discussed Bentley’s contribution to science. Here is the Youtube playlist.

Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley

3D Design

Upon returning from the break, the first few days were set aside to continue the SNOW investigation. Then I introduced a 3D design/modeling project continuing on with the theme of SNOW – the base “exemplar” is above and the tutorial is below:

It’s worth noting we used TinkerCad to design these snowflakes. We usually use Morphi app, which has more capabilities and is more intuitive for my 10-12 year old students. It also doesn’t have all the pre-made forms that TinkerCad offers. I like my students to work with basic forms so they experience a more structural thinking. Although I have three 3D printers at school, due to the pandemic and my teaching remotely, we are not able to use them. I always appreciate the power of teaching 3D modeling to my students to introduce them to the concept so when they encounter it later on, they will have familiarity. Plus, teaching kids to think in 3D terms engages those kids who are simply “3D kids” – those who love LEGOs, blocks, and other building tools.

The kids took to the concept readily and generated regular snowflakes as well as “NO LIMITS” combinations of snowflakes. Click on one to view the ten as a slideshow:

Although the base designs are pretty great, some of the kids went well beyond the base in their exploration and creation. You can see the collection on Artsonia.

Corbin D modeled an entire birthday party scene, complete with a pool, snack bar, arcade, entertainment, photo booth and so much more. The birthday child is purple with a purple hat.

Between the amount of time Corbin spent modeling it and my missing socialization and dreaming of parties like this, I was blown away by this piece! I invited Corbin to talk about his artwork as we shared it with his class. They were pretty blown away, too!

As I wrap up this post and prepare to publish it, I realize that despite the challenges to learning and teaching caused by the pandemic, my students have rallied. As an educator I am pleased to be able to foster community between them/us, even though we are never in the same room and are always separated by a screen. Projects like this with many activities centered around a theme offer opportunities for every child to find a niche and create successfully.

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