About this Site and Me

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Flower Mound, TX, United States
Hi, I am an artist, wife, mom, gamer and the Elementary Art Educator at Donald Elementary, a sweet and wonderful school in Flower Mound, TX (outside of Dallas). This is a great place to see how we are integrating studio habits with technology and interdisciplinary connections. I also love to share my "wisdom" (Re: Experiences. From mistakes.) about teaching Elementary Art. I love what I do, and I've been doing it for a long time. Creating and teaching Art is what I live for. Enjoy.

Monday, February 1, 2016

way cool lesson: Chore Robots using Simple Machines

*From the sounds of my last post, I hope you don't think student art making has suffered. Not at all. This post however? Has taken me months to write. 

First off, I love integrating with other subjects. LOVE IT! I love making connections. Dig that "aha" look on the kids’ faces. I feel it adds a rich layer to my teaching, making my lessons more robust. I don't do it all the time, but when I do it, I DO IT. I research our district's curriculum. I align with the standards, use a variety of vocab, check for understanding, and make sure the art lesson is a great balance between Art and ...Language Arts, Science, Social Studies, Math, Music, Etc... And if all the planets are aligned and the tides are low and the breeze is balmy, I can even collaborate with the Gen. Ed teacher (Never happens, btw. We try. Never. Happens.).

"Create a Robot that Does a Chore around the House"

This lesson is actually from my *ahem* college days:  a cool lesson on Form and Function, and over the years, it just made sense to add Simple Machines- you've got your Science connection, STEAM connection, engineering connection. This is a great way to teach low relief sculpture (a favorite of mine as I have space issues and cannot house eighty five sculptures in my room). I save cardboard boxes and chop them up, but if you don't have that option, this can be a great collage project.

Love the spray bottle lever!

This particular school year I have dubbed "CLEAN OUT THE CLOSET!" I have been at Donald for fifteen years. I have been gifted with a lot of awesome, expensive-y craft supplies over the years, and I have not been able to use them as quickly as I thought. Such as? Googly eyes. Pom poms. Feathers. Beads. Wooden beads. Sequins. Seed beads. Ribbon. Pony beads. And nine miniature hats. 

Just a sampling of some of our found objects.The doll hair kinda freaks me out, but the kids loved it.

All great stuff, and trust me, when I worked at a school with no budget, would have given my eye teeth for (well, maybe not my teeth. I need those. Who gives away eye teeth these days? And where are the eye teeth even located?). But I admit, these supplies have been sitting around doing nothing for some time. So this project turned into "Found Object Chore Robots Using Simple Machines". A little clunky. But you understand. I just had to pull out the beads and pom poms.

AND THEN, an art teacher friend mentioned Rube Goldberg and I was all like DUH! That's the missing piece! His work connected everything together. Brilliant.

I did this project with third grade, and it took about five-six rotations, from introducing concepts to assessment. 

The kids viewed this video about Rube and we toured his website (lots of great resources for teachers). I created a presentation about Simple Machines, their definitions and then we compared them to a Rube Goldberg cartoon:
Where are the levers? The pulleys? Incline plane, anyone?

After the video, they were so excited to get started. Like, I mean, really excited. I actually crushed their dreams a little when they realized we wouldn't be building a full on Rube Goldberg Machine (my line: That's for when you're in HS or college...)

Step one: Research, Planning and Sketching

Form and Function are related. Students had to select a specific chore, and design a robot to do that function.  I selected some actual Rube Goldberg Contest Tasks: make a hamburger, put toothpaste on a toothbrush, water a plant...plus some of my own...pick up toys, walk the dog, clean a toilet, wash dishes...

They had to use simple machines where appropriate, so we had a lot of questioning: if the robot dispenses toothpaste, where does it live? On the counter? On the floor? How does it know how hard to squeeze? How does it stay clean and sanitary? What kind of simple machines does it need?

Step two: Building the Base

Plan your work and work your plan!

Once they had a working plan, students began to build the base of their robot using scrap cardboard (pre-cut to manageable sizes.). Please note, I use cardboard students can safely cut themselves. If it is too thick for them, I chop it up into smallish shapes.

Those little boxes hold small wooden blocks, brass fasteners and thick, long nails (not a handy woman here) for punching through the cardboard. 

Attaching the cardboard was fun: we used brass brads. I have small wooden blocks, nails and a bunch of brass fasteners. This acts as the screw. Students used the nail to gently push through the cardboard into the wooden block, allowing for a hole and not allowing for punched finger tips. Monitor and make sure they are safe and all your nails are accounted for! Using the brass brads creates levers, so do not skip this. Non moving pieces are glued down.

Step three: Painting and the Importance of Craftsmanship

Who doesn't like a sleek, cool robot? It's all about the paint job. We used tempera and metallic paints. The big conservation was about craftsmanship, and it went something like this:
    "Pretend you are the President of Target (or, Ikea, or Best Buy, or insert-your- robot-purchasing-store-here) and you want to buy a robot that makes lives better. Would you buy it if the paint job was weak? Things were falling off? Sloppy work? No. No you wouldn't. Make this for the President of Target."

Step four: Building the 3D Elements and adding the details

This is where the creativity and imagination really popped, and out came the Found Objects: wire for pulleys, pompoms for controls, beads for power supply, google eyes for, uh, personality. Sharpies for text. We talked about them first: "Yeah, these feathers are super cool. Are they going to help make your robot do its job?" But ultimately, I let them loose and have fun.

Fun use of feathers!

Conscious use of beads here.

Some kids opted for no add-ons, and preferred to draw the details.
Step five: Assessment

Since these are relief sculptures, I had the kids display them on a background paper with their Artist Statement (self-reflection piece). This was purely selfish on my part: it made it easier to display in the hallway. Their name, teacher, and objectives are clearly listed, easy peasy. Looks awesome. Done.

Great 3D elements!

Basic Self Reflection sheet

But then I started thinking...huh...these kids have been so excited about these creations, I bet they would like to talk about them. Duh.

We reviewed the criteria:

  • The robot had to perform a specific function
  • The robot had to utilize simple machines
  • The robot had to exhibit strong craftsmanship
  • The robot has to demonstrate 3D elements
  • And then...someone said, "The robot has to be bought by the President of Best Buy!"
Which made me laugh and immediately led to:

Buyers and Sellers Assessment:

Students took turns pretending to be "Buyers and "Sellers". This assessment activity took about 20 minutes, and I was able to introduce our new project the same class period. They were super excited and on board.

One group of students were "Buyers for *insert store name here*". They had to act the part of a powerful professional, seeking to purchase a robot that will make their store a lot of money and make the world a better place (haha). They had to ask relevant questions based on the above criteria, and then they started asking questions about materials, power supply and cost, which had real world application. It was so fun.

The other students were the "Sellers": the inventors of a robot that took them a long time to make, a creation they believe will change the world, that they have invested time, passion and energy into building. They had to be able to answer the "Buyers" hard questions and make the "sell".

After about 10 minutes, they switched groups. I was able to visit every child and ask questions as well, which was helped with my depth of understanding. Because before I talked to kids, to be honest, I had no idea why some of them built what they did.

The kids loved this assessment and wondered if we could do this for every project. 

These robots are a fun, easy way to integrate Art and Science, teach low relief sculpture, 3D form, STEAM, imagination and creativity, careers, and has real world applications. Plus, it cleans out the closet.

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