Monday, January 14, 2013

Let's stay artists

Pablo Picasso supposedly said "Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up." 

As I was writing the final exams for my high school agriculture classes, I was struck by just how little creativity I was expecting from my students. What are the three macronutrients for plants? What are the three sizes of soil particles? What are the definitions of supply and demand? These were among the questions that simply required them to recall the information from a study guide.

Here's a second-semester goal: Incorporate higher expectations for creativity and assignments that allow students to create quality projects to determine a portion of their grade. They're gonna hate it.

I believe that by the time students hit high school, some of those creative doors in their minds have closed, just as Picasso suggested. 

When I started teaching at my current high school five years ago, I was a little nervous to teach welding class. Something about being the person in charge while a student is holding an oxy-acetylene torch with a blue flame made me a bit uneasy. But over time, it's become one of my favorite classes to teach and it allows students to show their creativity. Unfortunately it's also the most expensive.

With a such a tight budget, I worked with another teacher to develop a project that would test the students' creativity. They were required to work in groups to use scrap metal to create a Christmas themed project using a variety of skills, including torch cutting, arc welding, grinding and painting. Here's a photo of one of the projects that showed the most creativity and attention to quality and detail:

The students used scrap rebar to construct the frame and runners and a piece of diamond plate for the top. The diamond plate had to be torch cut and grinded (ground?) to fit. It wasn't easy. The two identical rebar runners were heated with a torch and bent using an anvil. Again, not easy.

The group had a slight disagreement about the painting on top of the diamond plate design. But ultimately everyone chipped in and the product was this adorable design.

With the new semester comes the need for a new project.  I am assigning students to build this fire pit:

I have encouraged them to use creativity to adjust the design to their needs, keeping in mind that creating a huge fire pit will make it really heavy!  So imagine my delight when a student came to me and said he really didn't want a fire pit, but he wanted to use the same kind of metal to build a gate. I told him to run with it. I love that creativity.

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