The theme for this unit emerged on a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Roaming through the museum looking at artwork related to cold and ice (as part of our learning is delicious ice cream unit), learners were most interested in Joseph Albers’ colorful Homage to the Square paintings, a series of canvasses, each painted one bold color. Reflecting, and watching students carefully during play for the next week, Portfolio educators recognized how often children were discussing color choice, color shades, and rainbows. When educators asked children if they wanted to study color for their next unit, they answered, “well of course we do.”
Embarking on this expansive topic, learners explored the ancient human fascination with color, manifested by pigments humans created to draw cave paintings as much as 30,000 years ago; the ways leaves change color; the symbolism of color not only in visual art, but also in literature; the mythology and science of rainbows; and the visible light spectrum and electromagnetic waves. Children heard Snow White stories from around the world and wrote their own version of Snow White, set in 2016 NYC, making the lead characters Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Justin Trudeau, thus finding their own way to share their reactions to the election. They did experiments with the pigments in leaves, created their own pigments, explored light, read rainbow myths from around the world, and wrote their own rainbow myths. They transformed an area of our school into a cave. They took on the challenge to create a light box projector, which they designed - laser cutting the wood projector box and 3D printing a device to attach the projector securely to a tripod. They then designed large wood rings, figuring out how to make wood bendable. Within these rings they created three background scenes, and laser cut images for the foreground, which illustrated the rainbow myths they had written and demonstrated their understanding of character and setting. Children were able to project these scenes as shadow stories onto the wall using light, demonstrating their understanding of light and shadow. Learners programmed an LED bonfire, designed masks of the main characters of their myths, and at our public exhibition, brought our guests through an immersive storytelling experience about rainbows.
Where does paint come from? How is it made? These were some of the questions children had about color. During the pigments module children learned about the first pigments humans created and the caves where we can see our first paintings. Then they replicated the creation of those pigments, learning about heterogenous and homogenous mixtures. Our children explored how to measure volumen and weight while creating the pigments. They also learned about the pigments that objects naturally have and did a chromatography activity (separating pigments) with different plant leaves.
Our children created their own wooden boxes using the laser cutter and Corel Draw. They assembled their boxes, painted them, added LEDs of different colors and lego holders. When the boxes were finished they drill two holes on the top the their boxes, through those holes they could watch how the light from the LEDs reflected into the pigment from the box and created shades from different colors.
Color in Literature
How is color used not only in visual art, but also in literature? Portfolio students heard various versions of the Snow White story told in different time periods and different countries. Students focused on the symbolism of color in the stories, but also on characters, setting, plot, and most significantly, writers' message.
Why is the sky blue? Can we touch a rainbow? What's light? During this module children explored light and its properties. They discovered that materials can be opaque, translucent or transparent. They found that when light interacts with other materials, interesting phenomena happen. They learned about reflection, refraction and absorption. They played with lenses, LEDs, lamps, uv light and many different materials.
For the final project of this unit, children transformed our school's reading nook into a storytelling cave, inspired by the ancient cave drawings we learned about earlier in the unit. Children learned rainbow myths from around the world, and wrote their own rainbow myths, which they edited and refined over the course of several weeks. To help their story telling performance they designed a light box projector and a mechanism to project scenes of their rainbow myths onto the walls.
Children went to a diversity gathering where colorful flags from many different countries form a single huge flag. During this event in Prospect Park children collected different color leaves from different trees. To continue collecting fresh leaves for their experiments children visited Central Park. They paid attention to the colors in nature including the trees, the sky, and the ground, and collected many more leaves.
During a visit to the Native American Museum children noted how color was used in narrative art. They took pictures of their favorite art pictures and thought about the stories that inspired them. Finally, children went to the New Museum to an exhibition of light, video and color. They experienced how technology makes it possible to change color using light, rather than pigment.
Artist in Residence
With our artist in residence Nicole Skibola children learned about perspective and drawing. They used those skills to design scenes from their rainbow myths. Later Nicole show them videos and pictures of different caves and the children talked about what human experience can be like in those spaces. Based on this activity children decided to create stalagmites and stalactites for their cave in the reading nook, Nicole help them doing so with cardboard and paper mache. Finally, children created masks inspired by the main character of their rainbow myth with plaster guided by Nicole. These masks were used during exhibition night, and most children chose to wear their mask while telling their myth.