A PBL Focused K-5 Elementary Art Trimester Curriculum Outline

Introduction

In the winter of 2015 I considered teaching art education at the elementary level within a project based learning school. I am trained to teach at all levels of primary and secondary art education. As I’ve mentioned before, my mother has been teaching elementary art for 33+ years

and without her influence I would not be the artist and educator I am today. When the idea of teaching elementary came I knew just who to call. Several of hours and notes later I had a better idea of what to expect, as well as a reminder of what I already knew. Then I hit the books, specifically the quintessential text for early childhood education: “Creative And Mental Growth” by Viktor Lowenfeld (1964) – which, amazingly, is available free, online, and in  multiple formats care of the Internet Archive.

The book breaks the development of children into stages that form a road map that ends right when the child becomes a teen. Reading about these early childhood developmental stages filled in a lot of gaps regarding the “whys” and “hows” of my 9th grade (13-14 year old) students had arrived to me when I was teaching at that level years prior.

I used to teach, as part of my job requirements, the entirety of the ninth grade at High Tech High Chula Vista. I was often left with questions about where the students had come up with their odd notions of art. “I’m not good at it!” or “I’ve never done art” were things I heard in every class I taught, and from too many students to count. How did these students live for 14 years on this planet and not have a positive experience with art? The answer to that question is not simple, and honestly I’m not sure there really is an answer that is simple as to how human beings end up with these negative impressions of art when they get to any age.

Delving into early childhood development did lead me to some very interesting ideas about how an art curriculum could play a key role in positively or negatively impacting a person’s relationship to art.  (I covered much of the fundamental pedagogical constructs of which in my entry titled “The Importance Of Acceptance In Art Curriculum At The Elementary Level”)

In the end I did not take the job. But, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to teach elementary school. In fact, after re-examining some early ed theory I became immensely excited at the possibilities of working with younger students. The school ended up moving forward without an art teacher for the coming year and I ended up with some amazing thoughts about teaching youngsters. (Live and let live.)

I would like to mention, at this time, that these are my opinions on how I would approach this curriculum. This is in no-way an empirical assessment of the “correct” or “right” way to teach art at the elementary level. I wouldn’t actually know what that is as I haven’t taught elementary school. What you are about to see are the plans of a veteran high school art educator who is deemed by both the states of California and New Hampshire to be highly qualified to teach at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.*

*Whether that is true or not is yet-to-be-determined.)

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Design Constraints

In the sections below I will breakdown a proposed approach to an art curriculum designed for a kindergarten (5-6 years of age) to 5th grade (10 years old) in a project based learning environment. The school I was applying to had a trimester breakdown where, over the course of the year, the art teacher would switch students at the trimester, ending up seeing all students by the end of the year. The schedule looks a little like this:

schedule

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K-2 Developmental Expectations

Students at the K-2 level will have an emphasis on observation and representation that they can identify verbally. Drawings and representations may seem arbitrary or abstract to an outside audience, even their peers, at this level. It is because of this that there will be a higher emphasis on students being able to assess and connect to a greater world around them through multiple senses. Students will not be pushed to communicate art representationally, but rather the emphasis will be on students doing and enjoying art while being able to reflect it verbally.

“Although color can be looked upon as more a mechanical selection at that level, during these first representational attempts a child will often select a color because of its particular appeal. There are surely deeper psychological meanings in the choice of color, but these meanings tend to be highly individualized. It is not strange to think of a child’s liking red, and it seems to make sense that when a child is drawing or painting his mother, he will want to select his favorite color for drawing her.” Lowenfeld, 1947, p. 120

Another element worth noting is that it is acceptable, at this level, for students to be highly individualized in their relationships to peers and their work. This means that behaviors that display egocentricity by the students are to be expected.

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K-2 Projects Breakdown

Self Portraits Project

In this project students will focus on looking closely at their lives and creating a representation of their individual lives that captures who they are. Each portrait will include 5-10 objects/symbols that show their multi-faceted existence. Beginning stages of this project will include mini day lessons that culminate in final project.

Duration: 2 weeks

  • Week 1: Develop vocabulary around feelings, start to gather “self artifacts”
  • Week 2: Construct final self portrait to display (physical & digital portfolio)

Public Art Project

Students will work together, in groups, to help create a public art piece that will permanently installed somewhere in the school. Each trimester this project will shift depending on a space that needs curation. This project will most likely involve paint and predetermined sized panels. The group portion of the project will include the piece being a combination of all the students within the group working together to create a unified design element. (Which could be as simple as a line connecting all of the individual sections into one). It is also possible that this public piece will be installed off school site in a public space within San Diego. Project will be broken into sections.

Duration: Four weeks

  • Week 1: Students are introduced to public art space through books, conversations and possibly a field trip or possible guest speaker.
  • Week 2: Students make visual diary reflections on what they experience of the world around them as individuals.
  • Week 3: Students are introduced to groups and are tasked with working together to complete a worksheet version of their design.
  • Week 4: Students transplant their work onto pieces intended for public display
  • Week 5: Students finalize work and ready it for exhibition.

Family Masks Project

Masks are object that allow us to transform who we are as individuals into something great. Students will bring in artifacts from home that represent the different members of their individuals and combine them into a mask that will serve as a spiritual representation of their heritage. This will culminate in a spoken presentation on what all the symbols in the mask mean. Final masks are constructed to be displayed as family symbols.

Duration: Four weeks

  • Week 1: Students gather artifacts from home to bring in. Reflect on them through mixed media.
  • Week 2: Students identify all the pieces the masks will include. Start mask making.
  • Week 3: Mask making.
  • Week 4: Final mask presentation.

Final Portfolio Prep For
Presentation Of Learning

Students work to prepare final portfolio for class. This will include some kind of photography, reflection and the bringing home of loose items from class.

Duration: One week

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3-4 Developmental Expectations

Students at the third and fourth grade levels are in the early stages of entering into a more schematic approach to their artwork. Students emphasis will be on lightly prodding them to notice details about the surrounding world and use the canvas to record their findings. (How many fingers do you have? How many ears? What is the color of grass? What is the shape of grass? etc.)

In prior development (k-3) in was normal to see students display egocentric relationships with the world they were a part of. At this level it is expected to see the start of a more cooperative relationship with the world. Students can be expected, and encouraged, through the development of activities to work more collaboratively – providing feedback, working together, and having empathetic vernacular.

Assessable outcomes of this developmental level are the beginnings, and desire, of a more “accurate” representation of the world in final work. This includes the ability to integrate feedback into work.

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3-4 Projects Breakdown

Self Portraits Project

[Baseline concept for this project is the same as the description in the k-3 project description – see above.]

In this version of the self portrait project students will focus on looking closely at their lives and creating a representation of their individual lives that captures who they are. Students will be held accountable, in their assessment of the project, for being able to identify which portions of their lives they chose to focus on and how it is literally represented in the picture.

Duration: Two weeks

  • Week 1: Develop vocabulary around feelings, start to gather “self artifacts”
  • Week 2: Construct final self portrait to display (physical & digital portfolio)

Public Art Project

[Baseline concept for this project is the same as the description in the k-3 project description – see above.]

Unique in this iteration of the project students will look more closely at individual artists work as well as have an emphasis of form concepts in their finished work.

Duration: Four weeks

  • Week 1: Students are introduced to public art space through books, conversations and possibly a field trip or guest speaker.
  • Week 2: Students make visual diary reflections on what they experience of the world around them as individuals.
  • Week 3: Students are introduced to groups and are tasked with working together to complete a worksheet version of their design.
  • Week 4: Students transplant their work onto pieces intended for public display
  • Week 5: Students finalize work and ready it for exhibition.

Family Masks Project

[Baseline concept for this project is the same as the description in the k-3 project description – see above.]

In this iteration of the mask project students will be looking at having a much more detailed representation of their family lineage. Students will work with clay or plaster to form representations of artifacts, as opposed to merely drawing (or gluing them) onto the final form.

Duration: Four weeks

  • Week 1: Students gather artifacts from home to bring in. Reflect on them through mixed media.
  • Week 2: Students identify all the pieces the masks will include. Start mask making.
  • Week 3: Mask making.
  • Week 4: Final mask presentation.

Final Portfolio Prep For
Presentation Of Learning

Students work to prepare final portfolio for class. This will include some kind of photography, reflection and the bringing home of loose items from class.
Duration: One week

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5th Grade Developmental Expectations

Unique at this level of learning is the development of a higher curiosity of the world around the student. The student will form groups, and learn best with groups. Students will start pondering “why” about objects, meanings, and behaviors of the world around them. Metaphors are concepts the students will be in the beginning process of learning and grasping. The instructor’s role is much more of a subordinate in the learning experience, one of acting as a “catalyst” to creative inquiry and exploration.

Students at this level are fascinated with tactile experiences where they pick up things and integrate their qualities into themselves and their artworks. It is the instructor’s role to begin facilitating the exploration of these behaviors, to push the students thinking around those behaviors.

“Man” as a universal symbol is worth exploring at this level. This is a higher level construct because it allows the student to understand that she/he is part of a greater tapestry within human existence. This construct should be encouraged and emphasized within the student’s work.

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5th Grade Projects Breakdown

Self Portraits Project

[Baseline concept for this project is the same as the description in the k-3 project description – see above.]

In this version of the project students will be encouraged to list and connect the real world into their portraits. Portraits will also include some connections to their existence and belief structures as a whole through the abstract representation of color, shape, line, and form.
Duration: Two weeks

  • Week 1: Develop vocabulary & list around potential items to include within portrait. Student also drafts a rough of final project.
  • Week 2: Construct final self portrait to display (physical & digital portfolio)

Public Art

[Baseline concept for this project is the same as the description in the k-3 project description – see above.]
In this version of the project students will be given a leadership role for facilitating the larger project that is appropriate to their developmental level and place as the older students within the school community. It is for that reason that this project will be extended, with this group, for an extra length of a week so project management can be a focus for the age group.

Duration: Six Weeks

  • Week 1: Students are introduced to their roles of project coordinators and given individual, draft assignments.
  • Week 2: Students are introduced to public art space through books, conversations and possibly a field trip or guest speaker.
  • Week 3: Students make visual diary reflections on what they experience of the world around them as individuals.
  • Week 4: Students are introduced to groups and are tasked with working together to complete a worksheet version of their design.
  • Week 5: Students transplant their work onto pieces intended for public display as well as assist in the installation of the other grade level work.
  • Week 6: Students finalize work and ready it for exhibition.

The Comic Project

During the comic project students will work in groups of four to develop a comic story that is a reflection of a, prior selected, current event within society. Within their group they will decide how to talk about what they believe, as a whole, about the current event and work to complete the final comic for publication.

Duration: Three weeks

  • Week 1: Students research and draft script for comic.
  • Week 2: Construct individual sections of comic
  • Week 3: Finalize comic for publication

Final Portfolio Prep For
Presentation Of Learning

Students work to prepare final portfolio for class. This will include some kind of photography, reflection and the bringing home of loose items from class.

Duration: One week

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Public Art Project Note

Each trimester I see the “Public Art” as a school wide chunk of a greater whole to be constructed that year. I am thinking that this may be a mural installation, sculpture, or hallway renovation within the school. The emphasis, during the scope of this project, is to complete an entire massive installation that everyone within the school participates in from within their developmental/grade group.

This project is one that I am excited to conduct because it will mean that each year students will be able to show their growth within the school through a collection of permanent art installations throughout the school and community. This is an excellent way for the student to build a life narrative around their meaning and place in the world.

Right now I cannot pinpoint exact designs due to the fact that I have not seen the new school space where the art will likely be implemented. It is also worth noting that this year long project can be designed for a space outside of the school.

My own personal emphasis within this project is for all the students to be represented in the tapestry of something that builds a greater, beautiful, whole structure.

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