Art and Project Based Learning

I spent some time looking at this video on Project Based Learning and this one on Challenge Based Learning; trying to understand how I could use these in my ES Art program.  As interesting a PBL and CBL are, my biggest concern is time or in my case the lack of consistent time.  I see my students once every 6 day cycle for 60 minutes.  To put that in perspective, if I spend 5 classes on a project; it takes 6 weeks for my students to complete that task.  That is a long time.  I don’t know how effective PBL or CBL on their own would look like in my particular art program.

I went on to Google to see what other art teachers are doing with PBL and CBL.  I read Project-Based Learning and the Arts.  It talked about how curriculum from different disciplines could be used to help complete a project.  The article also gives examples of how art instruction can be integrated with project based learning. For me to do PBL in the art room might be best in a support role to classroom teachers who have taken on a specific project with their students.

A few years ago a colleague of mine Taryn Loveman created a project based on Explorers and Colonial Times in North America for his fifth grade class.  This project was very big and incorporated Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, Music, PE, as well as Art.  When he approached me about it I was intrigued as this was something different than what I usually did in art.  It was nice to have a change.

There were 3 parts to the overall project that I was involved in.  The first part was to help his class create ships that would be used as game pieces for a game that he created about the explorers ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  I was to teach the kids about the types of ships, the different parts of the ships, their basic construction, and finally how to build them.  Our ships were made out of cardboard and tried to follow the basic look of old wooden ships.  Students worked in groups and had to build and problem solve their way through the construction of the ships.  The ships actually looked pretty good when the students were finished.

The next thing I was responsible was the artifacts that were to be recovered as part of a simulated wreck dive which took place in the school pool.  The students researched what types of things had been lost with various shipwrecks and what they looked like.  We then set about recreating gold and silver coins, plates, cups and pots.  All of these items were made out of ceramics that were glazed.  We even made the “treasure chests” that these items may have been lost in.  All of the artifacts were then sunk in the pool and recovered by teams of students who also had to plot and grid on maps where the artifacts were found.

The last thing I helped with was the creation of a colonial village.  Each student was assigned a person and their job that they had to research.  Part of research included finding out what the dwelling they lived in or their place of work looked like and was made of.  Students had to then make a scale replica of that building using whatever tools and materials they could find in the Art room.  A lot of problem solving went into these buildings as there were issues with scale, construction, and finally, on how to best decorate their buildings.

These projects were very different from art projects I had done in the past.  It really allowed for me to integrate Art into the regular classroom on a totally different level than I had ever done before.  It showed me the value of having so many disciplines working together on a common goal.  Now that I think about it, it also showed me that if I can’t do PBL in its pure form in my art program; then being part of a wonderful project in an integrated manner can be just as valuable.

All Photos by Carl Knudsen and Taryn Loveman

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