Monday, January 25, 2016

Chinese New Year: Fourth Grade Cut-Paper Monkeys

This is my eleventh year at Rashi, and I have been feeling inspired to refresh the curriculum and try new things.  This year's fourth grade is an energetic and creative class, and they are happy to be my "guinea pigs" as I try some new and awesome projects.

Fourth graders are currently learning about China in Social Studies, so I thought a unit on Chinese New Year would be great for them.  I researched different traditional Chinese art forms, and I was mesmerized by the beautiful and intricate tradition of cut paper. I was also happy to learn that it is the year of the monkey, an animal which I thought would really appeal to a bunch of funny and energetic kids.

First, I introduced the concept of the Chinese Zodiac, or Shengxiao, which translates to "birth likeness." This scheme relates each year to an animal, and those born in that year are reputed to have certain attributes. Then, I showed them traditional cut paper examples. Next, they sketched their monkeys. I xeroxed their sketches onto red paper, and they cut out their shapes. Finally, they glued them onto white paper.

Click here to see which Chinese Zodiac animal you are!

As I mentioned, this is the first time I've done this project.  Though I advised the kids to keep it simple, it was not easy! However, one thing I love about being an art teacher is how differentiated the projects can be.  When they are starting a project, I always remind kids to know themselves and to choose a design that is within their range of ability, but still challenging.  This was a project with a margin for error, and an emphasis on creative problem-solving, which is how I like all the projects to be.

Here are some examples. Personally, I think they're some of the most striking work I've seen this year in the art room!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

African Art Month at Rashi

I am so excited for African Art month at Rashi. In January, students will be learning about woven baskets from Ethiopia, Ghanaian Kente cloth, masks, recycled metal sculptures, and more.  I'll be blogging frequently about this wonderful K-6 unit as it progresss.

During my first year at Rashi, I experienced Tamchui, a wonderful program on social justice and philanthropy. Each year, students learn about five different charitable organizations and collaborate to decide how to allocate funds donated by the school community.  I noticed that many of the organizations focused on what people in Africa lacked- water, money, food, education. I created the African art unit to enhance their learning by educating the students about what the rich cultural and artistic traditions that exist in Africa, alongside the ongoing and significant socioeconomic issues.

I became interested in African art as an undergrad. I wrote my senior thesis on the influence of African art on artists such as Picasso. Interestingly, he did not acknowledge the profound effect of African masks and sculptures on his work until 1935, well into his prolific career. Even when he did acknowledge African art, and even as he appropriated its qualities into his work, he referred to it in disparaging terms such as "primitive." This upset me, and I made it my goal to learn and educate others about African art.

In Kindergarten, we start by learning about the popularity of animal subjects in African art.  I present the idea that there are both cities and villages in Africa. In the villages in particular, daily life is very connected to the plants and animals that are all around them. The kindergarteners will observe and discuss examples of how artists in Africa often include animal characteristics in sculptures as symbols to communicate traits such as protection and aggression.

First, we discussed lions and created multi-media drawing-painting-collages. They had a wonderful time making the manes from paint and cut yarn. I am looking forward to lots of great projects during this unit!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Snow Angel Self Portraits

The days leading up to winter vacation are not easy... Kids and teachers alike are a funny mixture of tired and excited, and it's important to me to find fun and fulfilling activities to make that last week fun and engaging. I discovered this project on one of the many art teachers' blogs that I follow, and I loved it right away. I'm always looking for fun alternatives to the traditional self-portrait, and I also love finding activities which are seasonal for winter, but not holiday-focused. 

Third graders used colored pencils and glitter watercolors to create these snow-angel self-portraits.  They also looked at wooden manikin models to help them depict the proportions with more accuracy. 

They were able to complete them in one class, though much to their amusement I used a hair dryer on some of them to get the paint dry enough to glue on the portraits. Enjoy!