Project Overview

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.  They also learned about the pigments that objects naturally have and did a chromatography activity (separating pigments) with different plant leaves. They learned why trees changes color, how we can measure their different pigments, what trees need to survive, and what humans get from them. Demonstrating her understanding of chromatography, Tiana separated the pigment of two types of leaves and measured with decimal points the different colors from the two leaves, identifying the chlorophyll.    


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. They were then invited to write their own versions of Snow White, set in 2016 New York City. Children took on this learning activity in the days following the 2016 Presidential election and transformed it into an opportunity to share their own writer's messages about the election. Choosing Clinton, Trump, Obama, and even Justin Trudeau as the main characters of their stories, students demonstrated their understanding of Snow White, whose mother was a Queen, as essentially a tale about the dreams, jealousies, strengths, and weaknesses of those who govern. They brought the essence of the Snow White story to life, while reflecting on their own ideas about important messages to be learned from the election.


 CC licensed photo by flickr user: Cassandra Santori

CC licensed photo by flickr user: Cassandra Santori

Tiana's Snow White Story:

Aki White: A Modern Snow White Story


Once upon a time, there was a leader of a great nation, and she was named Queen Clinton.

She found a star that had fallen from the sky. When she looked at it she could see her reflection, like in a mirror . Every day she went to the mirror star and she asked: “mirror star, mirror star in the sky who is the bravest one of all?” The mirror star answered: “you, my queen, are the bravest of all.”  

The queen gave birth to a baby and named her Aki White. As Aki White grew she became braver and braver.

Queen Clinton still asked the mirror star every day, “mirror star, mirror star in the sky who is the bravest one of all?” One day the mirror star surprised her and answered, “But you my queen were the bravest before. Now Princess Aki is the bravest.”

Queen Clinton raged with anger. She was jealous of Aki White. She went to get a policeman. “Go bring Aki White to me,” Queen Clinton demanded. The policeman got the princess and walked almost to the queen, but then thought that the queen might do something harmful to Aki White so he told Aki White to run away.

Aki White ran away. She ran and ran, all the way to New York City. There, she found an apartment building where there lived a little child named Tiana and her parents.

Aki White asked Tiana if she could hide in her apartment. Tiana said, “yes”. Tiana hid her so the queen couldn’t find her.  

The queen saw the policeman without Aki White and she got really, really mad. The queen yelled at the policeman and sent him away. She went to her mirror star and asked, “where is the bravest one of all?” The mirror star told her that the bravest was living with a girl named Tiana.  

The queen traveled to New York City. When she got to Tiana’s apartment, she knocked on the door. Aki White was very frightened that the queen would hurt her. But, instead, the queen asked her if she wanted to run for President. Aki said, “yes!”  So the queen said, “come now, I will help you to run for president.’

Aki White ran for president and won the election. She went to the White House and both she and Queen Hillary lived happily ever after.




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. Tiana researched why there is day and night, and learned about rotation, angles, and the sun.   


Geometry and Computational thinking

Children learned about triangles and took on the task of creating a function that can draw a triangle using Turtle Art (a block-based micro world in which the sequence of blocks are a program that draws an image). Tiana learned about the different types of triangles and which ones were easier to create a function for. She then draw an image she liked using her triangle function in TurtleArt and she transferred that image to CorelDraw (a vector graphic software). In CorelDraw she manipulated the image so she could laser cut it. After she laser cut it she painted it using pigments she created. Later she decided to engrave her designs on laser cut boxes that she gave as Christmas presents to her relatives


Recyclable Abstract Sculpture

Children created their own sculptures using recycled objects. They picked a color pallet, looked for objects that matched it, and they put together their sculpture using glue. Children created graphs based on the color, material and measurements of the longest dimension of the objects they used. They learned about color pallets, data collection, spreadsheets,  measurements, dimensions, sorting and bar and pie graphs. 



Final Project

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.


Tiana's Rainbow Myth

How I Came To Life: A Story About Love and Rainbows

When I was a baby, I was in mom’s stomach. “Your baby is coming soon!” said the doctor excitedly. My mom was so thrilled! When the doctor took me out, my mom didn't notice I was out already, but my dad noticed. I could tell he loved me already! I loved how my mom and dad looked. 

As I got older I started to notice and love my surroundings. I loved my world.  It was a beautiful world. My favorite colors are red,  orange,  yellow,  green,  blue, and violet.  Everywhere I see all the colors.  I love seeing red and orange trees.  A yellow sun.  Green grass and green trees. Blue sky and wild blueberries. Violet flowers.  

I took a little of each beautiful, colorful part of nature, put a little love in each, and gave them to my mom.   My mom took all of my ingredients, climbed up a long ladder, and put them in the sky to form a rainbow.  Now every time I see a rainbow,  I remember the beauty of the world and the family I love.  

Love makes beautiful new creations.

Rainbow Myths

Simultaneously exploring the mythology and the science of rainbows, children heard rainbow myths from different times, cultures, and countries around the world. Reflecting on the messages shared in these myths, and differences between mythology and science, they set out to write their own rainbow myths.

Initially struggling with her myth, Tiana tried to model it after the Chinese rainbow myth. However, her efforts were not resonating with her and she was disappointed with her results. Then, on one snow day, Tiana decided to write her own story about love of her family and her world. She shared it with her teacher and was very enthusiastic about the feedback that she could transform the story into a rainbow myth. The result was a rainbow myth with a style and message that was uniquely Tiana.


Lightbox and Projection Rings

During the teacher guided initial activity, children used the laser cutter to create a long piece of paper on which they could attach different shapes. When light was cast over the piece of paper it projected a shadow on the wall or floor. By moving the light to other places on the paper, the shadow projection changed. Children then invented stories to go along with their paper designs and told the stories to other children. The next challenge for the children was to take that experience as an inspiration to create something that would help them tell their rainbow myths.

With some direction children decided to solve their challenge by making a light box projector. Children worked in two teams to construct the projector.  1) One team had the task of building the projector box, the focus mechanism, and a way to attach the projector to the tripod. 2) A second team had the task of designing a mechanism that would help display the rainbow myth scenes. Tiana choose group two. Children went through several cycles of design, manipulated the materials in different ways, had reactions and collaborated between groups. After both designs were finished children created their scenes using the laser cutter and drawing by hand. Then they helped each other to attach those scenes into the rotation rings. The goal was for each child to have his or her own rotation ring with her/his rainbow myth scenes. In the last part of the project children practiced their performance in pairs. While one of the children was talking the other child operated the projector focus and the rotation ring.

Documentation on how to make the Projection Ring by Tiana

We were building a projector to show the people who came to our exhibition the shadow stories we laser cut and illustrated. I needed to create the bendywood because we needed a support for the three scenes. We wanted the three scenes to go around the projector box.

First I went on corel draw and I made the rectangle to put the  bendywood around. The dimensions were: 10 cm by 20”. The big rectangle is the hole, where we put our scenes.

This is how I created the ring:

We glued the four frames together.

First we glued the wood teeth together on the semi circle.   

Second we glued the frame to the circle.

Third we had to carefully flip it over on the other circle.  

Fourth we had to glue the other side of  the frame to the circle.  


Field trips

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.