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ISU Youth Clay Program

Idaho State University Craft Shop

This final report is to reflect on ISU Craft Shop’s Arts Education Annual Project FY2020. Individuals involved were Beth Elledge (primary instructor), Aubri Matkin (principal investigator/grant writer/back-up instructor), Mary Miller (back-up instructor), and Lexi Lloyd (back-up instructor, photographer, and video editor). The goal of this project was to provide students with the fundamental knowledge of clay techniques and to create a dialogue surrounding clays geographical origins, processing, and historical uses while nurturing creative play in K-12 youths. Interestingly, this project attracted more elementary children then those who were in middle or high school, reflecting changes to program parameters in the future. The project took place at Idaho State University’s Craft Shop and the reasoning behind this grant was to engage our K-12 community in an opportunity to explore their creativity through clay. In doing so, many youths from Pocatello and the surrounding area, who had limited access to such services, were able to actively participate in our youth clay program.

The Essential Question that guided our projects’ focus was:

Why is it important to use materials and tools correctly? How does art help us understand history?

Throughout this project, we focused student learning through Creating Visual Arts (anchor standards 1,2,3) and Connecting Visual Arts processes (anchor standard 10 and 11). The essential questions that guided this program are as follows:

1: How do artists and designers care for and maintain materials, tools, and equipment? Why is it important for safety and health to understand and follow correct procedures in handling materials, tools, and equipment?

Anchor Standard 1: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Anchor Standard 2: Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

2. How does art help us understand the lives of people of different times, places, and cultures? How does art preserve aspects of life?

Anchor Standard 3: Refine and complete artistic work
Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.

 

As an outcome, we wanted students to learn basic ceramic skills such as safety, material handling, proper tool use, attaching clay components, slab building, pinch and coil techniques, and be able to make projects using these tools, as well as, discussing their process collaboratively with other students. Other learning outcomes for students that this program strove to achieve were a learner’s ability to understand how ceramics has been an important tool for civilizations throughout history. (anchor standard 1, 2, 3, 10).

 

 

At the conclusion of the project, students responded to questions related to the identified Standards:

Students reacted to tool safety, cleaning, and time management through demonstrating how a clean workspace and tools help to organize their thoughts, ideas, and to keep others and themselves healthy. In fact, several students felt like their creativity flowed easiest when completing tasks and cleaning during their activities, which also aided in time management. In looking back on these moments, learners were proud of their workspace during and after their projects were complete. Through their eyes, I believe, students were happy and had a sense of accomplishment in demonstrating their newly learned knowledge because it allowed them to build upon those skills and continue creating.

Based on the age of students, learners had difficulty in understanding broad cultural relations to their work. Because of this, we had students make connections based on activities and items like ones we still use today. One activity that students used to relate history with their own imagery was creating Greek Amphoras. After learners built their amphoras, they were asked to decorate them based on what they liked or found important. One student named William, who is featured in our video interview, describes how decorating his amphora with landscape imagery reminded him of his cabin in Island Park. William also understood that these vessels were used historically to carry items such as water and food. In this sense, learners were able to use their own experiences in relation to historic ceramic processes to create work that meant something to them.

Impact

A welcome outcome of our project was that a lot of learners began to take the general idea of a project and expand upon it. Rather than copy the instructor, students utilized their own creativity and enhanced or added to their projects.

A rather unique outcome of our project was students overwhelming generosity. We were surprised at how eager and motivated students were to share and gift their creations to friends, family, and instructors. A generosity through creativity effect.

As an instructor, one of our favorite moments happened with our youngest student, Mina. Being 2-3 years younger than other learners in her group, she worked just as hard, if not harder, than her peers. This determination could be seen in the quality of her coil, slab, and combination of these techniques.

As an added outcome of our program, the grant project attracted a few local elementary schools, charter schools, and homeschoolers to schedule fieldtrips to our shop such as, Washington Elementary, Gem Prep Charter School, and Tech Trep Academy.

This project was not only a learning experience for students but for the instructors as well. We found that having a complete model for a project before students came in helped encourage their ideas and creativity. Additionally, interspersed instruction throughout a lesson allowed students to focus on one aspect of a technique at a time.

Lastly, this project also brought to light that while the program was offered to students K-12, most learners who participated fell into K – 5th grades.

Reflection

Something we will consider in the future is picking a theme for each 4-week course to bring lessons together. For example, one course may focus on the theme “under the sea” or “myths and legends.” Having a thematic organization to each course listing will give students the opportunity to pick their desired theme based on different offerings and keep students engaged in their creative process.

As a suggestion to others who have completed a similar project or wish to do so, we recommend patience and flexibility. Understand that many students will not want to do exactly what is proposed but they can learn the skills necessary with a little encouragement and instructor ingenuity. We all learn differently and at our own pace and you might find that your previous Art Anchor Standards will evolve to reflect student skill level and age. Having ice-breaking activities like simple introductions (the sillier, the better) at the beginning of course offerings and allowing students to take breaks during class goes a long way.

And, most importantly, remember that life happens. To many a grant-recipients’ surprise, not to mention the world’s, none of us were ready for the impact of Covid-19. Having no experience with online instruction and being limited through our university protocol, the program and our shop came to a stop March 18th until our soft reopening June 15th. After much deliberation and recognizing/respecting parent and community fears, we were able to organize small classes and finish the use of our funds by sponsoring The Early Learning Center at Idaho State University. And while the latter half of our programming did not go as expected, we made the best out of a fearful situation and continued to inspire creativity and smiles in our youth (masked and socially distanced).

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