“How Can I Help?” – A visual art lesson plan from the VSA’s Teacher Resource Guide

A robot made of clay with a red top, square body, and striped legs.

A clay sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

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

MATERIALS
For clay sculpture:
Clay tools – simple tools such as plastic knives and forks
Clay mats
Acrylic paint
Newspaper

For found object sculpture:
Recycled materials (cardboard tubing, plastic bottles, cardboard)
Embellishments
Glue/Glue gun
Scissors

LEARNING OBJECTIVES
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.

PREPARE/DISCUSS
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?

A sculpture made of plastic cups, pom poms, and styrofoam balls.

A found object sculpture inspired by the “How Can I Help?” lesson.

METHODS/CREATE
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.

Clay Construction

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Spread slip over the scored edges.
  5. Press the pieces together and smooth out the seams for a firm bond. Sides can be supported while drying with wads of newspaper.
  6. Once the frame of the machine is built, additional elements can be added using the slip and score process.
  7. Allow the work to dry, then fire in a kiln.
  8. The fired piece can be painted with acrylic paint to add details.

Found Object Construction

  1. Select materials from found objects, such as cardboard, toilet paper or paper towel tubes, or water bottles.
  2. Cut, tear or bend the selected material to match the students’ plans.
  3. Using glue or a glue gun, assemble the objects.
  4. Add embellishments, using glue for details (eyes, feathers, pompoms, etc.)

REFLECT
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?

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Watercolor Fountain Painting: A Visual Art Lesson Plan for Students with Disabilities

Created by Darren Thompson

Creative Arts Specialist Darren Thompson teaches art in a fully inclusive setting, which includes many students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). His goal is to provide a rich environment that supports creative exploration for all students. Many of the art experiences he designs that are especially effective for children with ASD involve motorized devices that he creates or adapts from common objects. Here, Thompson offers a visual art lesson plan utilizing a battery-operated tabletop fountain.

Grade
Preschool, ages 3 – 6 years

Materials

  • Battery-operated tabletop fountain
  • Semi-moist watercolor set (such as Crayola or Prang)
  • Heavy white paper

Goals

  • Become acquainted with watercolor as a medium for self-expression.
  • Demonstrate that the marks a person makes can represent a thought or a feeling.
  • Provide an opportunity for social interaction.

Procedure

  • Fill fountains with water and turn them on.
  • Demonstrate the sequence of first dipping the brush in the water, then in the paint, and then touching it to the paper.
  • Tell the children they can paint whatever they choose.
  • Express interest in and remark upon what you see in a child’s piece and ask him or her to share thoughts or feelings. For example: “I see you’re using red and you’ve made some straight lines and some circles. Tell me about it!”
  • Ask if you can share their painting and words with their friends.
  • If the answer is no, respect the child’s choice. If the answer is yes, then make an impromptu announcement to the group. For example: “Hey everyone, Fatima has painted a picture of her mom and her ” Show the painting to the class. As you hand it back, speak loud enough for the class to hear you say, “Thank you, Fatima!”
  • Make your way around the room, interacting with each child in this manner.

Notes
A tabletop water fountain immediately engages children. They are eager to explore it and are delighted that they are allowed to do so. The sound and feel of water has a regulating effect for everyone, but is especially effective for individuals with sensory processing delays, including those sometimes associated with ASD. Children should be allowed to paint with their fingers if they choose.

I recommend using relatively small-sized paper, as it requires finer movements of the hands, which helps to calm and focus the children. I use 5” x 8” blank index cards.

Children always welcome positive acknowledgment from a caring adult. When they are asked to tell you about their work it sends the message that what they are doing, thinking, and feeling is important. It also gives them practice in reflecting on their actions and recognizing that actions have causes. When you share their work with the class, you are helping each child feel connected to their peer group. You are also demonstrating that every child has something to offer.

 

This lesson plan aligns with the following Early Learning Content Standards in the state of Ohio:

  • Use imagination and creativity to interact with objects and materials.
  • Express individuality, life experiences, and what he/she knows and is able to do through a variety of media,
  • Express interest in and show appreciation for the creative work of others.
  • Demonstrate understanding that symbols carry meaning and use symbols to represent thinking.
  • With modeling and support, explore the properties of objects and materials (e.g., solids and liquids).
  • Use language to communicate in a variety of ways with others, to share observations, ideas and experiences; problem-solve, reason, predict, and seek new information.

 

A headshot photo of Darren Thompson, man with light hair and a beard, wearing glasses.Darren Thompson is a Creative Arts Specialist employed by Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Columbus, Ohio. He teaches art at The Early Childhood Education and Family Center in a fully inclusive setting. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art, a Master’s Degree in Education, and is a licensed Early Childhood Educator and Intervention Specialist. He is a frequent guest speaker at The Ohio State University College of Social Work and College of Arts and Sciences. Thompson presented at the 2016 VSA Ohio Arts and Autism Conference and is on the planning committee for the 2017 convening.