Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Diatoms: A Study In Radial Symmetry

How do artists use nature as a basis to inspire artistic design?
What are diatoms, where can they be found in local ecosystems, and how are they a useful tool for both artists and ecologists?

For the past few weeks, my 5th graders and I have been on a super interesting journey into the microscopic, yet gorgeous world of diatoms. If you don't know what a diatom is, don't feel discouraged! I had no idea what a diatom was either until I discovered the amazing bio drawings of Ernst Haeckel just last year. In short, diatoms are microscopic, single-celled organisms that live in aquatic environments. Diatoms are encased in beautiful, iridescent cases that grow in elaborate bilateral and radially symmetrical shapes. Plant and animal cells are a major part of the 5th grade curriculum that the students were covering this Fall, so the choice the pair watercolor painting techniques with diatoms ended up being a smash hit!
Objectives: The students will…
·      understand how the invention of the compound lens microscope advanced the field of botanical drawing and allowed artists and scientists to view the microscopic structural details of objects from nature.
·      relate 2-D design principals such as shape, repetition, and symmetry to the naturally occurring organic forms found in microscopic diatoms.

On the first day of our diatom unit, I placed a picture showcasing a variety of diatoms under a microscope on each table. As the students waited in their line outside of my door I told them they would have 2o seconds to examine the photograph, talk with their table mates, and come up with an idea of what they thought was depicted in the photo.  The student guesses ranged from "pillows from Pier1 Imports" to Willy Wonka candy, to bacteria. I gave a brief overview of what diatoms are, that they are found in aquatic environments, that they evolved in the Jurassic Period, and that they are used in several household products such as toothpaste! After the introduction, I explained to students that we were going to do our best to draw very large-scale. (We used 18 X 24 inch paper) We were going to take something microscopic and enlarge its scale by 10,000! I demonstrated how to draw the diatom by looking for familiar shapes like triangles and circles and patterns. I emphasized starting on the inside of the form and working out since most of the diatoms have radial symmetry. I stressed drawing so large that the diatom goes off part of the page. I also encouraged students to spice up their composition by having some of the diatom forms overlap. After the students were satisfied with their drawing they  went over the lines with black acrylic paint.

On day two of the diatom unit, I showed students how to paint using the wet on wet watercolor technique. The classes went crazy over this new skill! They loved how the paints "exploded" when they hit the page and the watery result of this technique worked well conceptually for the diatom's watery environment.

The students got very experimental with the watercolor painting. One student even recalled the splatter technique used in Japanese suminagashi paper making that we used a few projects back and begin to try this method with watercolor paints. He got some really interesting results which inspired other students to give it a try. I like to make a big deal over connections like this that the students make. I told him he was really thinking like an artist -- being innovative within the parameters to create a new result.

It took one additional 45 minute class for the students to finish their diatoms. The students were so excited about this project that they got really into coming up with names for our exhibit. In the end it was a toss-up between a lot of really cool ideas including "Jingle Cells," and "Tie-Diatoms." Ultimately, we decided to go with "Deck the Halls with Diatoms." Did I mention what an extraordinary group of 5th graders I have the pleasure of working with each day? This project was a boat-load of fun.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Alliteration Illustrations

I picked up this lesson from my cooperating teacher when I was doing my student teaching outside of Philadelphia. Nearly four years later I finally have the perfect group of fifth graders to try this with and the results were well worth the wait! This lesson integrates ELA curriculum as it focuses directly in the literary device alliteration which the students were briefly introduced to in fourth grade. It also reinforces library concepts such as author and illustrator and allows the students a chance to take a crack at being both! I used the book "Animalia" by Graeme Base which illustrates the concept of alliterative illustrations perfectly using animals as a muse. Lesson plan, teacher examples, and students creations below. Enjoy!

Lesson Title: Alliteration Illustrations

By Sunnylee Mowery

Grade Level: 5

Subjects: Visual & Language Arts

Time Needed: 2-3 45 minute class periods

Skills addressed:

o Students understand the definition of alliteration and can identify its use

o Students can determine when and how to use alliteration in their writing

o Students understand the job of an illustrator and practice conveying detailed descriptions through imagery


o Students will write a colorful sentence using alliteration

o Students will illustrate their alliteration in a full page composition

o  Students will show a horizon line in their composition and demonstrate an understanding of space by including near and far landscape elements

Materials:          Lined paper, 12X 18 drawing paper, black felt tipped markers, crayons, “Animalia” by Graeme Base

Vocabulary: alliteration, illustration, brain storming, sketch, adjective, verb, adverb

Introduction: Alliterations are sentences or phrases that contain words that repeat the same beginning consonant sounds. For example dogs, destroy, dinosaurs, etc. Writers use this craft to make their writing more interesting and fun.  I will share some of the alliterations from the text “Animalia” and explain that today we will be doing the job of both author and illustrator. I will test students’ understanding of alliteration by asking them to compose a Ms. Mowery alliteration on the spot! (5 minutes)

Demonstration: I will model for the group how to compose an exciting animal inspired alliteration and artist brain storming sketch. I will emphasize the use of colorful adjectives, action verbs, adverbs, locations, and numbers to make their sentence as descriptive as possible. I will then model for the group how to compose an artist brain storming sketch that shows all of details described in their alliteration sentence.

Activity: Students will work at their tables to compose an alliteration sentence and artist brain storming sketch. Students will be allowed to talk quietly in order to bounce ideas off of each other. Students will have access to multiple animal books in order to sketch animals with accuracy.

Closure Questions: What is alliteration? What is the job of an illustrator? Why do authors use alliteration in their work? Why do artists compose brain storming sketches at the beginning of a project? What is an example of a three word alliteration? What is the line that separates sky from land?