Stephanie's flower

Elementary School Students

Aiden's Golden Gate Bridge

Aiden’s Golden Gate Bridge

Kathy's cave

Kathy’s cave

Title of Project:

Sculptural and/or Functional Clay Project (2nd & 3rd grade)

Learning Objective: Students will solve complex, open-ended problems as they experiment with methods making and joining pieces of clay together to make sculptural and/or functional objects of their choice.
21st CENTURY SKILLS: Students will use various types of reasoning to think and reflect critically and solve problems in both conventional and innovative ways.

Brief Description:

This is the third and culminating lesson in a series of three lessons that introduce students to the kinesthetic experience of natural clay. In the first lesson, students experiment with clay (pinching and pulling), and discover for themselves what they can do with it. As they gain experience in making clay change its shape, the second lesson introduces them to construction and decoration methods (rolling slabs, making joins, reinforcing with coils, stamping textures, etc.). In the third lesson, students create objects from their imaginations/experimentation using their choice of the techniques they have learned so far as well as innovative approaches.
Before they get started, I ask students what sorts of things they have already made out of clay. I then write on the board, without telling students why, three lists from their contributions: one for functional objects, one for sculptural objects, and one for objects (if any) that are both. I then ask students to ponder what an item in a list has in common with its list mates. This leads them to discover the relationships of functionality verses sculptural qualities of the pieces. We discuss functional vs. sculptural possibilities for clay. Can an object be both?

Students then share ideas they have for making an object. (If students do not have an idea, this is very helpful.) I suggest that if students have already made a functional piece, they might try a sculptural one, and vice versa. We review methods learned so far: pinch/pull, stamping, coil, slab roll. All methods are options as well as combinations and new approaches. What they make is of their own choosing.

Teaching Artist Response:

One student proclaimed that he wanted to make the Golden Gate Bridge. ”Wow buddy, that’s pretty ambitious!” I said, and caught myself about to dissuade him from such an arduous project. He had just returned from San Francisco with his family and was clearly taken by the famous bridge.

As Teaching Artists we strive to facilitate positive experiences for our students. There was a time when I would have ensured this would happen by instructing the student in a process I felt would direct him to create a “successful” bridge. But true learning, as we know, is in discovering the process for yourself – your own process.

This time, I just said: “You know, I’d like to see that!” And off he went with his chunk of clay. Later in the class period, I checked in with him to see how the bridge was coming. He was well on his way and all that was needed was a reminder to reinforce his connections with coils.

After drying the clay pieces for a couple weeks and then firing them in the kiln, the pieces were painted with tempera paint. I set out lots of colors, but had substituted magenta for red (I did this on purpose for a couple of reasons: the first was because magenta, in tempera paint, is a better mixer. Red makes muddy, dull mixes. The second reason was because I have lots of magenta.) Our bridge builder came up to me a few minutes later and insisted that magenta would not do. He needed red. After rifling the classroom teacher’s cupboards, I came up with a bottle for him.

Never underestimate the power of intention!