• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

Saturday, March 7, 2009

symmetrical cityscapes

I regularly cruise the Internet looking for new ideas to use with my students. On one of my surfing trips, I found a cityscape idea on the Art Projects for Kids blog (link is in the "on the web" list on the right side of this page). It was done on dark paper with oil pastels. The California 2nd Grade Art Standards say that students should create an artwork with bilateral symmetry, so I decided to have my second grade students draw a symmetrical cityscape. And since I didn't have any oil pastels, and since there had recently been a freeze on ordering new materials, I decided to have them use construction paper crayons on black paper. To prepare, I found several pictures of cityscapes, some photographs and some art work by various artists (thank you, Google image search), which I printed out.

First I had students look at the pictures to identify what they saw and how they were all the same. Then I introduced the term "bilateral symmetry" to them. They had already been doing some work with symmetry in math, but I found that they had a hard time describing what it means to have symmetry. Most who responded referred to a "line down the middle" but were unable to go far beyond that in their definitions so I drew a butterfly and talked about it being the same on both sides. Then we looked at the prefix "bi" which they eventually realized meant "two" when I had them compare the number of wheels on tricycles and bicycles. l didn't spend too much time on this introduction, but I wanted them to understand that they were going to start this drawing in the center and then build out symmetrically on both sides of the center, making sure that each subsequent pair of buildings would be exactly alike. I drew a very quick example, stressing the importance of making them the same size, shape, color, etc. I also showed them one that I had done, and explained that they should not color in the windows, as we wanted them to be created using negative space, which I defined as "the parts you don't color" -- leaving a more detailed explanation for another time.

Before I sent them off to begin their drawings, I pointed out the line along the bottom of the groups of buildings in the pictures. Some of these lines were very clear, like sidewalks in the photographs, or a prominent line in some of the art work, while others were more virtual, like the place where grass meets the bottom of the building in a photograph or where the bottom of the building in a painting or collage simply creates a line. Their instructions were to draw the line first, then draw their first building right in the center, on the line. As they began, I wandered around, giving tips on coloring in one direction, suggesting larger windows next time, and reminding them now and then to be using bilateral symmetry.

I made sure students knew that it was ok for their buildings not to extend across the entire length of the paper, and to take their time. During the last ten minutes of class, I had them do a "turn and talk" activity with a partner, in which they told their partner which part of their drawing they especially liked, which part they might change if they were doing it again, and how they knew they had used bilateral symmetry. Finally, I had them tell their partners what they liked about their partners' drawings.

Because I teach several hundred students each week at three different schools, I can't display everyone's art work, but these were so awesome that I created a "strip" of them in each of my three classrooms, using the work of about fifteen or so students. I love the way they create the look of one long, nighttime cityscape.

This activity was very successful on many levels. Every piece of work produced was original and had its own personality, and the students were very engaged with their drawings. And the best thing of all is that when they finished this art work, most of the students were more clear on the concept of symmetry, and that it's not the line, but what's on each side of the line that counts, and could explain the concept to me or to a partner.

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