Arts in Education

The 2019 Pre-K Alphabet

C-alphabet-2019
C-alphabet-2019

Yay! For the third year in a row I’ve been able to lure 5 year-olds and their teachers into a room with the outlines of letters, and then cajole them into filling them up with natural materials as well as objects from around their classrooms.

KLUV Alphabet letters 2019
KLUV Alphabet letters 2019

There are so many things going on with this project. Kids have to work their spatial relationship muscles. They use fine motor skills. They make decisions. They bond with the letters that they create. If you have more time and talent than I have with this sort of thing, you get to use these letters to get kids to talk about shapes, curves, angles, enclosed areas, diagonals and more. OH, I just read a post that I recommend, modelling ways of getting kids to talk about shapes and relationships: https://jennalaib.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/mathematical-connections-in-a-kindergarten-science-unit/

IJK
ILK

This is a remarkably beautiful project.  Still, it helps to keep certain things in mind.

If you’d like to try out doing this, here are my main tips:

  • Don’t use fill items that are white or that are black
  • If you are going to try to remove the backgrounds in Photoshop use a solid color background around the letters. I use a white background. Don’t use things with feathery edges (like feathers) as part of the fill material
  • Usually, the more stuff that the kids pile on within the outlines, the better the final letter looks. Nudge them into remembering to mind the outlines.
  • Pre-K can do this independently, but it’s great to have a number of adults around
  • Have students sort materials into appropriate piles when done.
Using a tripod shooting raw files
Using a tripod shooting raw files

The picture above show how I do the photography: I use camera that can shoot raw files, with a table top tripod. Kids have to stand back so that the table doesn’t shake as I shoot with something like an f-stop of 18 and long exposure. Of course you can use a phone camera, but I am crazy and I want the end product to be awesome as possible. The very first time I brought this expensive camera into a classroom I cracked the screen in the back. Oh well. It works, has character and now I am more careful.

J
J

I like having the children work in pairs, though there’s generally someone who wants to do this activity solo. That’s okay too. Seems to me that these young people can fill in two letters before they start to lose interest. They love the natural materials. We absolutely spend time just talking about, touching, smelling and hearing something about the items we’re using before we start. This year I walked around the yard with my husband collecting little frozen pine cones, taking cutting from spruce trees, and harvesting wild cucumber and milkweed pods, I also snipped away at our indoor mint plant and picked some geranium flowers. Then I went to the grocery store and bought about $20.00 worth of flowers.

N
N

After all the letters have been photographed I go home and spend way too much time fussing with the images so they will print out well. At this particular school I work closely with the librarian, who has a great color copier on her desk. She helps with printing out and collating pages which is really great because I’m always pressed for time by now, not to mention somewhat brain-impaired from having had too much screen time fussing with photos and layout.

Rubber band bound alphabet books
Rubber band bound alphabet books

Everybody gets to take home a book! Teachers get full-page copies of each letter. From what I’ve heard, in the past they’ve even shared the letters with the French teacher for when she’s teaching letters to her students.

Now, finally, just for the record, I’ve made a video of how I isolate the letters from the background in Photoshop. This is not one of those slick Photoshop tutorial videos that people in the know know how to do. Honestly, it’s just to remind me of what I’ve figured out works best so that, when I do this next year, I won’t have to, once again, start from scratch figuring what buttons to press.

 

Arts in Education · Math and Book Arts

Books, Symmetry, and Students

Pamphlets made by seventh graders
Sewn Pamphlets made by seventh graders

I’m in the busy part of my art-in-ed, itinerant artist season. The challenge is to keep what I do relevant to the students, to the curriculum, to the teachers, and to myself. Most of the work that I do in schools is done with teachers I’ve worked with in previous years. Usually I repeat a project each year with the teachers’ new classes, though there are always tweaks that are made. Then, sometimes, it’s time to retire a project that’s been working well for years.

I’ve just finished up quite a few projects in classrooms, many of which were new this year. I’m going to attempt to write a number of posts about these projects before the next set of classes that I teach start up.

This is a detail on one of my own drawings
This is a detail on one of my own drawings that starts with the graph of functions.

There’s been a shift in my approach to what I offer to the schools. Whereas I used to think of my work as a way to motivate and celebrate literacy, now I am more focused on using our bookmaking projects in a way that supporting the teachers’ math goals. I’ve been realizing that the math part of the curriculum is where many teachers most appreciate support. There is so much in the paper and book arts that can support the math that students need to learn that making this shift has been thoroughly enjoyable to me.

Symmetry is a theme that kept emerging in the projects that I presented these last few weeks. This is partly to do with the nature of making books, but I also deliberately focussed on it more than it other years. I’ve realized, just recently, that the symmetry of shapes is the visual equivalent of mathematical expressions. I probably won’t express this well, but here goes. Think about doing any sort of math problem that has an equal sign in it. 5+3 = 8. It’s balanced. If you add a 3 to one side you have to add a 3 to the other side to keep the expression true. Math calculations are all about symmetry and balance. It is, therefore, completely appropriate and desirable, to help kids develop their natural affinity to symmetry.

Starting with a pile of cards
Starting with a pile of cards

One of the projects that I did with kindergarten students had to do with these piles of square cards. Students worked in teams. The first student puts down a card, then the partner puts down a card that is a symmetrical reflection of color and shape. They take turns putting down a card and then reflecting it.

Making Symmetry
Making Symmetry

It tool a bit of doing for these 6 year olds to get the hang of what we were doing, but, still, quickly, patterns emerged.

Reflection symmetry
Reflection symmetry

These cards, by the way, are an element within a larger math activity book that we made.

 Since these pieces are made from paper, I suggested to the teacher, as this becomes easy for the kids, to cut out one of the smaller squares from some of the cards so that mirroring the shape transformations becomes a bit more challenging.


Another symmetry project I tried out for the first time was with the Pre-K crowd. My friend Joan, who has worked with this age group, showed me this activity that she had developed with kids she had worked with. I’ve been excited to try it out.

Popsicle Stick symmetry
Popsicle Stick symmetry

What I did here was define a line of reflection. Then these five-year olds did the same kind of reflection symmetry that I described above, each taking turns putting down a stick, then the partner reflects it with one of their sticks.

Popsicle Stick symmetry
Popsicle Stick symmetry

Again, it was a struggle to get these students started, but it didn’t take long for them to catch on.

Four student symmetries
Four student symmetries

After a short while I combined groups so, instead of working in pairs, there were four people in a group, which led to different kinds of designs. The pattern above was made near the end of the activity. From start (first handing out the sticks) to finish, this activity took a mere twenty-two minutes, which was how long it took them to began to lose interest. At this point I suggested that they just used the sticks to make whatever arrangements that they wanted to make. Surprisingly, many started trying to use them to spell out their names. I heard their teacher remark something about the fact that they struggle to write their names but they seem to be able to construct them just fine. Which gave me an idea, which I will show in my next post. Now, though I want to jump back to the photo at the top of the post, which is the books made by seventh graders.

Folding and tearing  large paper
Folding and tearing large paper

I’ve been doing this project with the seventh grade for many years. I give them a large piece of paper (23″ x 35″), which they fold and tear to make a pamphlet.

Pamphlets in progress
Pamphlets in progress

I don’t explicitly talk about the symmetry of the folding we do, but I will talk about it in the future. The fact that the sequence of fold and tears results in a scaled down version of the original sheet is something I want them to be aware of.

Glueing out the spine piece of the pamphlet
Glueing out the spine piece of the pamphlet

In fact, every aspect of making this book is symmetrical, even the pattern of the thread that sews the pages together is totally symmetrical.
When building just about anything, even a book, symmetry rules.

Some finished books
Some finished books

These kids are so proud of their books.

Ok, enough for now. More tomorrow…..

summer art/math

Little hands, Little Books, Folds & Math

Week one, making paper bags, writing names, counting and threading beads
Week one, making paper bags, writing names, counting and threading beads

I’ve been on a quest to explicitly tease out the connections between bookarts and math, This is the third summer I’m with groups of children who will be entering kindergarten in the fall so it was fortuitous that I saw this article https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/early-math-equals-future-success/ about things to think about when doing projects with the very young. The fact that Graham Fletcher gave it a thumbs up encouraged me to read this article carefully.

The first thing about the article that caught my attention was that “math gets an average of only 58 seconds per day.” in the average pre-school and kindergarten classes. So, even though I get only an hour a week with each of the groups, this time may actually be meaningful to these kids.

Here are a few ideas from the article that I am working on addressing:

“,,,kids who learned shapes and spatial skills also showed pronounced benefits in math and writing readiness.”

Shapes and spatial skills: this makes me think of paper-folding and books. (Yes, everything makes me think of paper-folding and books. So be it)

No glue paper bag
No glue paper bag Here’s the video that I learned it from https://www.youtube.com/watch/?v=-LJoPDHKM74

I had just come across a great way to make a paper bag, a way that seemed just right for the very young. During my first session with the kids we made these bags out of newspaper. You can see them in the first photo of this post. We’ll  makes more of these bags the next time I see these kids, but next time I will use prettier papers.

Paper Bag from a rectangle

The key things I want kids to actually SEE is:

  • the alignment of the middle fold lines when folding up the flap (fourth drawing above), so that the flap folds up evenly all the way across, and
  • how to judge folding an edge the paper so that the doubled over side is about the same size as the not-doubled over sides (as in the sixth drawing above). This folds the paper in thirds, but of course I didn’t attempt to talk about thirds to four- and five-year olds. They don’t grasp the IDEA of thirds, but they have no trouble seeing it.
  • I also want them to experience how they can, by themselves, transform a piece of paper into a bag. Making these bags was a delight for these kids.
The numbers of them
The numbers of them

We did talk about numbers, and did some counting, but we didn’t do rote counting. Instead, all the counting we did was related to counting ourselves. There were 10 children and three more. First we counted the children, then I asked them to guess what number we’d get if we included everyone in the room. It was fun to hear all their answers. Some children were “right” but I made sure to tell all the kids who weren’t “right” that all answers with are important because they are all on the path to the truth.

Rearranging ourselves into a number line
Rearranging ourselves into a number line

I have a thing about number lines. When I can figure out a way for the kids themselves to arrange themselves into a number line, well that’s the best. For this first time I let them arrange themselves by whatever means worked for them. They don’t all know the numbers, or understand this arrangement but, I found out that most of these kids know their numbers. The next time we do this I will intervene by asking them to use words only, rather than words that rely on gestures, to arrange themselves. Doing this aligns with the article I mentioned above: “ Clements urges parents and teachers to teach kids what he calls the “Language of space” – words like front, back, behind, top, bottom, over, under, last, first, next, backward, in, on, deep, shallow, triangle, square, corner, edge, etc.”

Four page book
Four page book

I never know how much we can do in a session, but I’m hoping to make this little four-page counting book with the kids: more spatial practice, more practice with the ability to “… identify the number of items in a small group”, a way to have a conversation about shapes, and, yeah, I just like making books with kids.

There are more things I am thinking about, will be thinking about with these summer projects, but now I have to get back to work prepping for tomorrow’s class.