Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Celluclay Animal Finger Puppets

I have another guest blogger that I'm excited to introduce to you. Ashley McKee is a fellow Visual Arts blogger, author of Ashcan Works. She also posts on Instagram as @ashcanworks. Ashley teaches at an Elementary School in rural North Central Pennsylvania. I fell in love with one of her Instagram posts earlier this year and invited Ashley to contribute to MiniMatisse. She was happy to share her amazing project with us here.

When I asked Ms. McKee where her inspiration came from for this lesson she explained, "A 6th-grade teacher and I applied for a small grant for a collaborative project and we got it! Students are researching a person of interest and writing about them in her class, then we’re applying what they know about their person to create something that visually communicates what they’ve learned. There’s a lot of choice involved with this project. Some students prefer to work with 2D materials while others prefer 3D, and there are so many materials to work with! I developed a few examples, one based on Cassie Stephens Celluclay zombie planters. I chatted with Cassie to credit her in my post, and transformed decorative zombie planters into educational busts. These Celluclay animal finger puppets were developed as a mini-lesson to introduce students to the idea and to Celluclay (which is brand new to us this year!)."

As students began researching their person of interest in their classrooms, we began developing ideas for the art portion of the collaborative project in the art room. Before setting students loose with supplies I organized mini-lessons to introduce them to new materials and techniques that might be helpful to them as they brainstormed. This was one of those mini-lessons.

I ordered several 5lb bags of Celluclay, knowing I would need enough for this mini-lesson and for students who chose to use this material for their research project. We used approximately ⅓ of a bag of Celluclay for roughly 20 students to make their finger puppets. (I was able to use the leftover prepared Celluclay with 10 2nd graders who came to me for AR reading reward art time!) I taught 3 sections of 6th graders, each with roughly 20 students. 2 bags was more than enough.

Students watched me prepare the Celluclay in a bucket at the sink. I talked them through the process, cautioning them not to breathe in the dust, describing the dryer lint texture of the dry Celluclay that I broke up with my fingers before adding water, comparing it to tuna fish while mixing the water and working it into the Celluclay with my hands. They laughed and agreed it really DOES look like tuna fish! This lesson was completed in 3 40 minute classes, with a bit time left in each class to brainstorm their research project: 1 to sculpt, 1 to paint, 1 to embellish with sharpies.

DAY 1 Each student needed:
  • A messy mat to work on (cover your tables however you choose, this stuff is sticky)
  • They shared a dish of water with their elbow partner
  • A small plastic cup (communion cups would work well, mine were slightly larger than that, more like a medicine cup, and were donated to me by the school nurse, and yogurt cups might work nicely too)
  • A sharpie to write names and class sections inside the cups
  • An allotted amount of prepared Celluclay (that I passed out to them, scooping with my hand and plopping onto the edge of their messy mats, telling them I felt like a lunch lady- ha!)
During the demo students saw how to use a bit of water to smooth out the lumpy surface a bit. I told them it’ll never be completely smooth, but that’s ok. This material isn’t meant to be completely smooth, and they’re handmade so they’ll have loads of character! One of my demo animals was a bear, and students said it reminded them of the bears from the cartoon We Bare Bears. We called it Art Bear.

Once I showed students how to use Celluclay to cover their cups and add animal features, they were given the freedom to choose which animals to make on their own. Students problem solved by forming parts that looked like the animal they intended to make. A pig shouldn’t look like a horse! A few students made animals that typically have tails, such as a fox or pig, so they added tails to the back of the puppet heads to help viewers identify the type of animal they were making. Some students chose not to make an animal, flipping their cups to make mini planters for seedlings or neato pineapples. That’s ok too.
Once students finished sculpting we collected them in a copy paper box lined with wax paper (so the sculptures didn’t stick to the cardboard of the box). Messy mats were put away, water dishes are taken care of, and hands washed. I see my classes once every 3 days, which was plenty of time for the finger puppets to dry! The next time students came to class, we were ready to paint!

DAY 2 students needed:
  • Messy mats
  • Acrylic paints
  • Water dishes
  • Paintbrushes
  • Their finger puppets (of COURSE!)
For my demo, I chose to go funky Lisa Frank rainbow on this bear, and the kids loved it. I told them that it didn’t have to look real, that was a choice. Some mixed up some crazy colors, others were more traditional, and that’s ok too. As students wrapped up their painting, they cleaned up and went back to work brainstorming their project a bit more. We stored the drying painted finger puppets the same way we did before.

DAY 3 students needed:
  • Their finger puppets
  • Black sharpie (silver/gold optional)
To finish these up students embellished them, adding details with sharpies. Some used regular ol’ fine point, others used extra or ultra fine point, and some mixed the two for added texture. Everyone was pleased with their final products and the whole school asked when they could make them too!

This was a process based mini lesson meant to introduce and familiarize students with Celluclay and one of many ways of incorporating it into their choice research project. The larger concept for the research project focuses on visually conveying what students know about the significant contributions a person of interest has made to mankind, with examples such as former presidents, women in science and medicine, inventors, scholars, and entrepreneurs. Once students were familiar with the Celluclay we could talk about other applications for it.

I love that Ashley created such a simple and engaging lesson for her students to understand the material, Celluclay. I know this is a lesson that I can't wait to bring into my classroom. I know there are readers of this blog that will want to give it a try too.  This might be a perfect end of the year lesson as well. Thanks, Ashely for sharing the process with us. Read from some of our other guest bloggers in previous posts

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