Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Arches and Domes

A trip to the dollar store yielded the next medium with which to build - plastic drinking straws.  Straight for the most part, bendy near the top, and relatively flexible as a building material, straws helped us to take our dome models to the next stage.  How would they work as columns for our domes?  Would they be strong enough?

Using what they had learned from their Wikki Stix designs, 
the students began anew with straws and plasticene:

T. and L. get to work on designing their building with a series of arches

What will keep the roof from falling down?  

N.S.'s design incorporates two arches to create a roof - but is it a dome?

N.B.:  I used a ring on the bottom for support, so that the building won’t fall down.
M:  You might need a buttress if it’s falling over.

E.S. and E.K. put a plasticene roof on their building, but is it a dome? 

They went back to revise their thinking and turned their “fried egg” top into a dome by curving the ends of their roof like a bowl. They then looked inside the “bowl” to make sure it was right.  Later, when they affixed the roof to their structure, they again looked up into the dome to see if it would work.

Above:  E.S. and E.K. worked together on their model. 
E.S. shows how nerve-wracking it can be to keep a dome supported.  

M:  You have to make it so it's not top heavy.
E.S.:  The plasticene is heavy and the straws are light,
so if you put heavy materials on top, it might not last for years and years. 

Are you making an arch or a dome?
The girls noticed that most of the domes they had tried looked more like arches – and then A.L. had an epiphany: 
A.L.:  An arch is in the shape of a rainbow and a dome is a hemisphere!
A.C., who had been working exclusively to make arches took it from there –  “You could combine a  lot of arches to make a dome….you could lay arches on top of each other…you might have to weave them.”

P.  made use of the bendy part of the drinking straw (near the top of the structure)and used it to make the bend of the arch.
L. was inspired to try creating N.B.’s tent-like design, which then generated a discussion about copying.  Was it a copy?  E.S. noted that both buildings had generally the same shape, but different sizes – 
L. made a taller one, and N.B. made a shorter on. 

Is copying a good thing or a bad thing?  
It is said that Picasso once stated that good artists copy; 
great artists steal. ...
N.B.:  Being inspired means you see a good idea, but you copy it in a different style.  Getting an idea from another person and making a similar thing.

L.’s taller structure fell over as we talked.  T. encouraged her to “keep trying!” 
L.:  When it doesn’t work, sometimes you want to give up, and sometimes you want to keep going. 

[above]:  G. and J. working on their pieces, 
while discussing the differences between teepes, arches, and domes
W. and J. look at J's dome - the "columns" are clustered
closely together and taped to add to its structural integrity
I., T., and R.'s plan (as recorded by I.)
Some of our domes stayed up...

...while others collapsed.

[above]:  C. and N.S. working on their dome piece

After the children finished this last round of model making, they talked about their thoughts and observations and revealed new thinking about architectural forms:

What makes a dome different from an arch?

I:   A dome is like a 3 dimensional circle.  It’s a semi-circle

T:  It’s a hemisphere.  It’s cut in half. 

Can this be a dome? 
(we drew on a clear plastic container to think more
about how arches and domes relate)

A.L.:  You have to be like looking inside of the bowl.
T:  You have to be like digging out the stuff that makes it solid [instead of simply putting a lump of plasticene on the top - you need to make it hollow].

J:  It’s like a pot.

M:  It’s hollow.
T:  It’s not solid anymore.
M:  It’s not piled on top of each other.

P:  We didn’t know if we should call it a dome or an arch.  A dome is a lot more like round.  And an arch is like, a rectangle is skinny, and an arch goes skinny.  A dome is wider.

M:  The dome closes in, it’s not like a bridge.  An arch is maybe like a bridge. 

T:  An arch looks like a rainbow bridge.

M:  They are both the same shape but one is more three-dimensional.  A dome is the same shape but fatter.

L:  For some reason it looks like they're twins.  Because they are both round at the top. 

C:  But an arch is usually bigger than a dome.  An arch could be taller.

P:  They are kind of related because they both are curved at the top but a dome is fatter and an arch is skinnier.
What are you noticing about how the arches relate to the dome?
I:  They (the arches) are being all connected to make it more three dimensional every time you add an arch over the other arches.  Yes, I’m making arches, but if I keep making them over and over each other, I get a dome.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Segue: Architecture - first models

As we were delving into the mythological and working away on our rainbow stories, we continued to read Homer’s Odyssey during our read aloud time at the end of each day.  Books about mythology in our classroom library are regularly read and perused by the children during free time, and soon some children began to realize that the Greek gods and goddesses have other names too…Roman names (we have recently started work creating our own concentration-style game to match Greek and Roman deities who differ only in name).   I happen to have a child named Roman in my class and over the past few months, he has been eager to share what he knows about ancient Rome and has brought in books about Rome for us to explore.  Inspired by what he'd been reading, J. built a "coliseum" out of magna tiles on our light table:

J's Roman coliseum - and he wanted our class pet "Paddy" the Platypus get a cameo appearance
Thinking about ancient Rome provided us with a natural seque to begin examining how ideas are shared and synthesized, religiously and aesthetically....which leads us to domes.  As an engineering exercise for the class, we would think about architecture and how to treat roofing design.  What is a dome?  Why would you create a dome?  How could you create - and support - a dome?

Greek architecture: The Parthenon in Athens
Roman architecture: The Pantheon in Rome
Project Notes:  What is Architecture?  

Record of the students' thinking - provocations to thinking about roofing
In our investigative research project launch, the children shared what they knew about architecture - that basically, it's all about "building buildings," and that architecture is intentional.  While a building is essentially shelter (a basic human need), the creation of any structure requires a plan, a design that takes into consideration the materials, tools, and labor to execute it.   Construction ideas were shared - you need to build a floor and walls, you need to think about windows and doors - and then we came to the topic of the roof - why do you need a roof and how might you design it?  Three roof designs were explored - a flat roof, a traditional slanted roof, and then...the dome.  The children thought about the benefits/rationale for each type.  A flat roof would be okay if you didn't have a lot of rain (like an adobe house), a slanted roof would allow precipitation to flow off the structure, and a dome...well, it might do the same.  A number of other students picked up the conversation from there - sharing that domes are like a hemisphere, "like half a globe," and that the inside is empty.   Some children had noted that with a slanted roof, you could have an attic, but with a dome, the space within would have to be open, and it might have a hole at the top, an oculus, like the Pantheon.

T:  Your roof might be a triangle so rain could fall off.
A.L.:  They could design a roof for light (oculus).
C:  They might have had an air hole.
T:  You don’t want an oculus if it snows.
 N.S.:  Lightning could go through the oculus.
L:  I think [the Pantheon] might be a museum.
T:  A giant statue might be in it.

Why would you choose to create a dome? What buildings have domes?  

The children thought about buildings they'd seen that have domes - churches, museums, temples...and interestingly enough, our Roman expert, Roman, offered up a reason why the ancient Romans began to incorporate domes:  empire.  This was an unexpected new word in our architecture conversation.  He shared with the class that the ancient Romans were all about showing their power.  Their physical empire was huge and stretched across the continent, and he seemed to understand that the Romans' buildings would reflect that. He also knew that the Romans were the first to develop concrete, and that this new building material made it possible to build new structures like domes.  

A.C.:  [The Greek Parthenon] looks like Abe Lincoln’s memorial.
M:  Maybe it’s where an empire was (emperor).  Someone who ruled the place.
I:  Like in Star Wars. 
R:  The Romans' mascot is Athena.  Also, Rome rules more than Italy even though it is inside Rome.
N.S.:  I heard empire is an area, but in Star Wars it is Darth Vader.
G:  Empires are greedy.  They just care about themselves.
R:  Actually the Romans gave their slaves breaks.  They are basically an army.  They took what they wanted. 
A.C.:  I think this building shows that somebody loved the empire. They might be proud of it.  Just like Abe Lincoln.  It’s massive.
R:  I think empires are places inside a country that are basically an army.  It’s probably very famous (the building).  There’s probably a dome to make it fancy.

What materials might show that it is?
R:  Usually buildings made out of stone, stone is a good support thing.  They make it super strong to show their power.

With all of this in mind, we were ready to begin making our own models, to see what engineering challenges dome building might present.  Thanks to a gift from one of our parents, we had on hand a large box of Wikki Stix, and the children used this material to create their first models.  For the uninitiated, Wikki Stix are sticks of yarn coated with non-toxic wax; they are easily manipulated into shapes and can be repositioned and reused as necessary.  Before they got to work, Stephanie encouraged them to create a plan, a blueprint.

J:  Builders need a blueprint.  A plan for the workers to follow.

Unfortunately, I was out sick the day that the children got to work on their first wave of creations, but I was astonished by the work that welcomed me when I came back to the classroom:

N.B.: thinking about the dome as a teepee design - the base is very important
T. thinking about building design from the ground up - working on the "drum" to support the dome 
M's domes - with windows and gargoyles
R's structure and W's arches
P. has the arch shape of the dome, but is also thinking about how to support its weight
with other arches (or flying buttresses?)
E.K. tries two different models - one couldn't support the weight of its "dome"
E.K. originally placed a rock at the top of her second attempt at a dome. 
J:  I told her to use the pom pom because it was lighter.
G's arches form a tunnel
J:  Mine fell over because the weight.  I don’t think the legs were very supportive.
Even flat roofs seem to need a little extra support
G:  The little sticks are like columns.
E.S.'s elegant dome design - light and airy, but also in need of supports
L. discovers a way to keep her arch steady
N.S.'s designs capture the arch shape and incorporate "stairs" to get to the base of the dome
Creating a dome was not so easy…
What was challenging about building with the Wikki Stix?

N.S.:  The stairs were the hardest part for me.
J:  I twisted too much up for the legs.  I would have twisted up less and made a floor and a ceiling complete.
A.C.:  Mine kept on falling over.
E.S.:  It was hard for me to make a square, it was bending and I had to pull it back up.
T:  It was hard to support mine too.
G:  Making the shape of it was hard.  It was hard to wrap the sticks around the sides.
L:  It was hard to stand them up.  
A.C.:  Mind kept falling down.  Also it was too detailed.
E.K.:  The sticks kept falling down.
C:  Sometimes it fell down but it went well.
E.S.:  I kept trying different ways.  
R:  I thought it was pretty hard to make the top.  It didn’t work out.
R:  I think it was pretty hard to make the design stable and have supports.
E.S.:  I kept changing materials. 
T:  [There was] too much weight from the dome.  It was too big for support.  I was making the base, then made columns, and then it fell down because the glue was too wet.

What did you learn?

I:  I learned that in architecture, it is hard to design each building.

R:  They (architects) had to plan a lot; they had to figure out how to make [a dome] stand up.  I think it takes a long time to make those plans and to build it. 

E.S.:  There are different ways to make a model.

I:  After you make your plan, you can’t just start building right away, you have to think about the materials you will use.  

R:  It might make you angry, but you shouldn’t give up.

Together, we talked about frustration as part of the process.  Thinking like an architect and thinking like an engineer is all about creative risk - taking an idea and being patient enough to persist.  The engineering goal is to help them understand the object that they’re representing, as well as the affordances of the medium with which they are working; the learning goal is coach them through the trial and error process as they work to build intersubjectivity about what they are creating (and how).  

Rainbow Performances/Process-Based Learning Through Performance - Final Work and Reflections

The girls performing their preliminary work for the class...
and the boys receiving feedback from their performance piece.
After all of the brainstorming, story boarding, decision making, and collaboration within their respective performance groups, it was finally time for each of the performance groups to begin presenting their work and solicit feedback.  They had been editing and refining their work all along, getting feedback from peers within their groups and from the teachers supervising them.  Now they had to actually perform their work "on stage"  - another step in the refinement of their final work product.  While it may have seemed redundant, the "lather-rinse-repeat" nature of perform-discuss-rethink-refine-perform again, the children truly valued their feedback sessions and began to take the constructive criticism to heart, allowing it to inform real revisions to their work.  

What is the purpose of getting feedback?

P:  It will kind of give you an idea.  Since you don’t know how it looks, it is good for people to watch to give you an idea.  You can’t look all around you since you have to stay focused.

So it gives you an idea of how you are doing.

I:  Because you can’t have eyes on a chair.  So it gives you the chair.  [i.e., it gives you an idea of what the audience sees/experiences.]

E.S.: It gives you opportunity to fix problems that you have that you might not know about. 

M:  Maybe somebody was talking too fast.

How did the feedback help you?

M:  You don’t really know what you are seeing because you are doing it.  You can’t have one part of your body doing it and one part watching.  So the feedback helped.

How did you keep that feedback in your head?

M:  I heard the feedback and remembered it.

C:  It can give you very good ideas to do in the play. 

J:  Another problem might be that you forget your lines.  I think it is way better for me to have my script  so I can remember my lines before.  That’s one of my problems.

So you can have your lines nearby.

M:  So like when Hera is talking to Aphrodite, if she’s looking at the script on the board, is she talking to Hera or is she talking to Aphrodite.

It doesn’t make sense if you are speaking towards the wall when it should be either to a character or to your audience.

P:  If you want to see your lines without it being distracting, you could tape them somewhere different.

But memorizing your lines is a really great thing to practice.

Who can tell me a piece of feedback you got that was really helpful?

J:  Be a little louder.

E.K.:  I guess sort of like just look [at the script] for a second and then just lock it in.

I:  The thing that was more better for me (sic) - except this is sort of a problem and sort of not - is that they had to say [my name] when it was my line.  [The helpfulness and distraction of being reminded to say your lines]

M:  Don’t be too silly.  

C:  If you are being silly and it’s your turn, you are probably going to miss your turn.

E.K.  And then it won’t make sense.

And if the play goes on too long, you may lose your audience.  You do need to make sure you move the play along to keep their attention.

To the boys:  On the second time through, you were calmer, you were speaking more clearly.  So if you are putting out the rainbow bridge, if you are delivering lines, you should always make sure your audience can see you.

The children performed their finished work several times.  
First, they performed for their parents:

Then they performed their work for their  Sabot siblings and 
the Rainbow Room preschoolers; next, to the entire fourth grade class; 
and lastly, to their Book Buddies in the sixth grade.  
A live performance was enjoyed by the preschoolers and siblings...  

while our 6th grade Book Buddies watched our videotaped performance.
What did you learn about yourself from this project?
What did you learn/notice about the other people in this classroom?

A.L.:  I got over my stage fright.  Every time I had butterflies in my tummy you guys would encourage me.  I had stage fright even in kindergarten.

A.C.:  That I’m strong and courageous.  That I did it all by myself and I performed it a lot of times.

N.B.:  I learned that I could remember my lines.  I was surprised by that. 

M:  I learned that I could help people write plays.  I never knew that I could do that. 

P:  I learned that I can be a good narrator and even though I had tons of lines and I was really stage frightened, I still did it and afterwards I felt really great.

I:  That everybody has separate ideas and you have to find a way that it works for them all to go together.

R:  I thought that it (acting) looks kind of easy but it’s really not that easy.

C:  It was kind of hard remembering my lines.  And I was trying to remember them and just saying the person's lines before me and that helped me try to remember my lines.  I put a lot of effort into it. 

W:  Well, I learned that at first I couldn’t remember stuff.  But then after [I practiced] with my sister, I didn’t remember at first but then I was able to remember my lines.  I really liked being in it and I liked being liked.  That we could play, that we could act it out. 

What was it like performing for an audience? 

R:  You feel small when you are performing in front of all the adults.
E.S.:  But with the siblings it might only feel like you are a little bit bigger because some are kindergarten but some are in third grade.

Did the performances get better each time?

The children had mixed responses to this.  Some thought they got better with each performance while others admitted that they were getting performance fatigue, which they felt made it harder to remember lines and to slow them down. 

M:  The first performance for the parents was awesome.  The second one was, “eeehhh."  The third one was not so good. 
E.S.:  The parents one was the best and I think it was the best because if you forgot a line, they (the parents) would still say that you are awesome.

Respectful, supportive, and constructive feedback is just 
another way to make our work better.  
When we keep revisiting our project work, 
we are thinking more deeply about what we do, 
how we do it, and why we do it.  
Communicating through performance is a real challenge, 
especially as it is a language that we do not regularly use - 
but the lessons learned from building drama skills extend beyond mere acting:  
  • it is important to communicate clearly and effectively - verbally, physically, emotionally, and artistically
  • going over lines and rehearsing is a form of pre-studying/developing automaticity for young students, a skill that they will build upon as they progress in their studies 
  • intentionality is key - think before you act - but be flexible enough to rethink and retool what you do in a responsive and reflexive way
  • connection is essential, regardless of the context in which you find yourself and your audience
  • putting yourself "out there" is a safe, creative risk - it is an act of bravery not only to express yourself but also to be open to the ideas of others
  • and everything worth doing takes practice...and patience...