The Art of Class Culture
Today we built art pieces to express what we want our class culture to look like! What a great maker-based way to review foundations of IB-PYP and to establish collaborative learning practices right from the start of the year!
As we began the school year, we started with conversations about what we want our class to look like. As fifth graders at an IB-PYP school, my students are familiar with the language of attitudes and attributes of learners, as well as general school expectations. As a teacher, I also have three key expectations that I share with students: Be Kind, Participate Constructively, Keep Improving.
As a next step this year, I wanted to establish my commitment to a maker mindset right from the beginning. This time, I asked my students to create something to show what they wanted our classroom to be like.
We talked a little about art, and how it could be a drawing, a sculpture, a song, a video, a play, or a dance. I put out a few materials - a few different colors of paper, a bit of string, some index cards, but nothing too fancy - I didn't want to be the idea starter. When they asked for specific things, I got them out if I had them available. I gave them some time to work in groups, and then we gave our first presentations. We got six posters and one three-dimensional sculpture.
There were some things that were working really well, but overall, the results weren't what I hoped for. I had tried not to prompt them, but their projects looked a lot alike - they were working to please me and check something off a list for the most part, not working to express themselves authentically. However, we did observe and reflect about our collaboration, and we had a chance to do initial shared presentations, so we were off to a good start.
The next day, I taught the Vincent Shadow Play Doh Lesson, about recognizing that your creativity is limitless and you can always try a new idea, without being overly attached to your first try. This is a lesson that embraces revision, so it worked well as a reference.
After that, I asked the class culture art groups to meet together with their first art pieces and make a new plan - how could they adapt their art to show what our class should look like? Could they make changes and add new elements, or would it be better to start over with a new format and concept?
The day after that, they tried again. The growth from the early versions to the next stage was tremendous. I could see a huge improvement in collaboration, and a lot more eagerness to present work. I could also tell that students were trusting me more - it really was okay to do something different from everyone else, and it could still be great. The conversations they were having about class culture were much deeper, too; instead of listing vocabulary, they were prioritizing and conceptualizing a vision for a good place to learn.
Not all of the student groups finished in that session - they still have work they want to do. I think that's okay - it would be strange if they all finished at exactly the same time, wouldn't it? They'll keep working to develop those pieces.
Here are some of the things the students created:
This first piece is a cone filled with spiral ribbon and little bits of "fortunes," as the students called them. On each fortune is a key word, like "respect," "caring," and "creativity." The students shared their art by tossing the confetti, because that's the vision they have for sharing kindness with each other - it will spread all over the place!
The next pieces are boxes. They are like gifts, like going to school is an opportunity, or a gift. Inside, you find learning, but learning can't live in a box. You have to open it for learning to come out. (Isn't that great?) Inside the other box are elements that lead to learning.
The next one is a tree. Their sticky note explanations are terrific!
We decided this was an activity we could probably keep doing over and over, because our understanding of what we want our class to be like will change over time, and so will our toolbox for creativity. It's been a great way to begin our school year!
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I've had the privilege of working with hundreds of students and families in IA, CT, NC, MO, TX, and Canada. I love being a teacher-librarian!