What if.... the art project that never was

We were winding down our unit on Light and Sound. Up until the last week it had been a very science heavy unit; experiments, demonstrations, hypothesis', problems, paradoxes, etc. It was a lot of fun, and the kids learned some great thinking skills. I know that the Finding Out stage of our inquiry took far too long, but the tasks that kep coming up were authentically student driven, so it didn't bother me.

For the last week or so, I hoped we would start making connections and put it all together into a final art project.  The situation was this; we watched an inspiring video about a boy who is blind and who lives his life through echolocation.  Stunning story.

Next, I invited the kids to imagine the following scenario; what if you could only experience the world through sound waves?  Of course, the boy in the video had many more senses at his disposal, but this was a thought experiment.  We brainstormed feelings, thoughts, potential observations, etc.  I took the brainstorming and explained how I would use this to create a piece of visual art (my idea was a moving sculpture, like a mobile).

Then, I wanted them to do their own investigation with their own what if question.

We selected partners and met and met and came up with a topic.  There were some really interesting ideas and I was quite excited by the whole project.

And then I went and ruined it.

Not on purpose of course.  

I thought that I would break it down and take it slow, and let students pause at each stage and reflect on how they were creating art.  I set up a series of checkpoints that they had to pass through.  Checkpoint number 1 was to choose a topic.  This one posed no problems.  We got through it.

At checkpoint #2 we hit a snag.  I asked them to brainstorm ideas.  I said feelings, connections, words, scientific terms, personal connections, anything!  I realize now that this was too broad, and they couldn't function.  Given a great breadth of choice, it is human and natural to shut down.  

That was my fault, I shut them down.  I should have asked them to brainstorm feelings, then connections, then words, etc.  By throwing all the ingredients in the pot at the same time, I spoiled the soup.

But it didn't stop there!  I realized my mistake and I didn't do anything about it!  I just plowed on, moving onto checkpoint #3.  We had agreed that we would combine visual arts with poetry for this project.  I asked them to take their brainstorming (which was not very helpful) and write some poetry.  Again, I didn't give any clear instructions other than write some poetry, incorrectly assuming that this would be an easy process.  

I should have given them a clear structure (or two) about the types of poetry.  We should have practiced it a bit.  We should have built up to it.  Instead, I threw snuck up behind them and pushed them down the stairs.

It was about here that I realized the train had fallen of the tracks.  I collected the kids together and explained to them that I had made a mistake, and this project wasn't organized.  I decided that we would continue, but that I would work with each group individually to help them with their vision.  The class became like a studio, with kids all working on different things and me working with all of them at the same time.  

It was missing the collective reflection that we usually do, but we got back on track.  Admittedly it was not the best art project we have done this year, but at least we all felt like we accomplished something.

I realized a lot during this project.  How easily a teacher can take a great idea (and it was a great idea with real potential) and completely de-rail it by not framing it properly.  Brainstorming is so important, and when I messed that up, what followed was messy.  It created a string of dominoes that kept exploding and making the fire bigger.


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