by Randy Silver, Northwest School Ceramics teacher
When I realized that the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines were extending into the rest of the school year, I had to act quickly and figure out a way to teach some of what clay has to offer, without actually using clay, kilns, glazes, a studio, or any opportunity for hands-on learning.
I surveyed the class with a variety of ideas and adapted the curriculum based on the knowledge and authentic interest of my students. As I revised my curriculum, I integrated games, the vast resources of the Internet, a bit of trivia, and my own ceramic art into my daily teaching.
Some students began the term by throwing virtual vases with a pottery game/app before they began their first research project. Next, they perused Google Art and Culture and explored virtual collections of art in nearly 2000 museums. Then they learned at least one of two 3D modeling and sculpting programs and sculpted imaginary mythological creatures and monsters after looking at mythological beasts from cultures all over the world.
Why sculpt beasts, monsters, and mythological creatures?
My upper school students have been working with clay all year and have focused on form, realism, precision, and seeking aesthetic beauty. 3D sculpting and modeling is new for them—a new and unfamiliar medium. When people work in a new medium, often the first thing they make can be somewhat hideous. That can either be a bit discouraging or it can be a lot of fun, if you intentionally embrace the ugliness and accentuate it. With this fledgling 3D modeling project, everyone wins!
Students were required to create something that is more than just a head, use both additive and subtractive sculpting, glaze/paint their creation with three colors or more, include a background habitat, and then share an artist statement that revealed their sculpture’s name, strengths, weaknesses, and habitat. Students shared their work in a virtual gallery and thoughtful comments on each other’s creations.
Next, students played an online game called QuickDraw, and (while sharpening their doodling capabilities) helped educate a baby-like neural network (AI) so that computers learn to understand how humans communicate with simplified artistic representations of meaning.
By playing games, having fun, taking risks, being creative, boldly exploring art, being thoughtful and intentional with our learning and mindfulness, we’re paralleling what we might have done with clay in the studio. We’re making the most of this learning opportunity and are definitely getting our hands dirty, without getting our hands dirty!