In this lesson, students investigate possible solutions for concerns and/or needs in their community. They will design and create a machine to serve their community by addressing this need. The machine sculptures will be made out of clay or from found objects.
NOTE: This is an abridged version of the “How Can I Help?” lesson plan. To view the complete version, including in-depth adaptations and modifications for students with disabilities, example artworks, and a vocabulary list, see pages 9-15 of VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide.
GRADE LEVEL: K – 12
EXPECTED LENGTH: 2 – 3 class periods
For clay sculpture:
Clay tools – simple tools such as plastic knives and forks
For found object sculpture:
Recycled materials (cardboard tubing, plastic bottles, cardboard)
Art Making: Students will create a machine that can solve one of the world’s problems using found objects or clay and exemplifying the artistic principle of unity.
Critical Inquiry: Students will investigate how the title character of Wall-E was designed and created to solve a problem in the fictional society created in the movie.
Art History Inquiry: Students will reflect on the art- making of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and how the artists talked and listened to the individuals they worked with (in other words – did research) in order to create their art.
Aesthetic Inquiry: Students will uncover how art can be an agent for social change through their examination of the stories behind the creations of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. and Michael Rakowitz.
Show a clip of Wall-E that establishes the reason for Wall-E’s existence. Point out the vast and lonely landscape. Ask: Where are the people? Why would Wall-E be alone? Who created Wall-E and why?
Begin to generate ideas of problems we need to solve. What are some of the challenges that you or others must face each day? How could these challenges be made easier? Consider investigating topics being covered in other academic areas (e.g. if science class is addressing climate change). Make a brainstorming list on the board. Be prepared to pepper the list with suggestions to expand ideas. Record (or have a student record) this list for future reference.
Share the work of Michael Rakowitz and Tim Rollins + K.O.S. Highlight the research aspect of their work. Both artists asked questions and honored the voices of community members in their artistic process. In advocacy communities, this approach is embodied by the slogan: “Nothing about us without us,” which implies that people doing services that affect others (for example, policymakers) should do that service with the people it affects, not for them. Have students share times when things have been done “for them” but “without them.” Has someone ever helped you with your chair when you didn’t need it? Or answered a question for you without asking your opinion?
Revisit the brainstormed list created at the beginning. Who do we need to talk to and what do we need to ask in order to find out what is really needed?
Students should begin by identifying the problem they wish to address and thinking about a machine that could solve it. They should focus on how the machine would work, and what this will tell them about its design. For example, if the machine is designed to plant wild flowers on highway medians to support the Monarch butterflies during their migration, it might need something to rough up the soil to prepare for the seeds, something to sprinkle the seeds onto the dirt and something to water the seeds to help them start to germinate.
Choose the studio—clay construction or found object. Base your decision on either your access to the materials (clay construction will require access to a kiln), or the issue being addressed. For example, if investigating the concern for the excess trash that has created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the use of recycled materials for the artwork would be most relevant.
- Construct slabs of clay. Using a rolling pin, roll out clay with even pressure until it is 3/8” thick. Consider making the slabs in advance so the clay begins to dry out, which will make it easier to construct the machine.
- Create a base. Cut out shapes from a slab in the shape students want their machines to be: a square, rectangle or circle. If a square or rectangle is selected, then sides can be cut out using the base as a guide for the width of the pieces (2 for each dimension). If a circle is the base, a slab can simply be cut into a rectangle the length of the circumference of the circle.
- Prepare clay slabs to be connected. Have the students score the slabs by scratching the surfaces of both edges using a plastic fork or knife.
- Spread slip over the scored edges.
- Press the pieces together and smooth out the seams for a firm bond. Sides can be supported while drying with wads of newspaper.
- Once the frame of the machine is built, additional elements can be added using the slip and score process.
- Allow the work to dry, then fire in a kiln.
- The fired piece can be painted with acrylic paint to add details.
Found Object Construction
- Select materials from found objects, such as cardboard, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, or water bottles.
- Cut, tear or bend the selected material to match the students’ plans.
- Using glue or a glue gun, assemble the objects.
- Add embellishments, using glue for details (eyes, feathers, pompoms, etc.)
Have students write artist’s statements about their work. What does the machine do? How does it work? How does it address the identified need?