A Community of 9th Graders

Sometimes accidents can work to an Art teacher’s advantage!
Back in February I started my 9th graders on a clay house project. My goal was for each of them to create a house out of modeling clay and paint it using acrylics. This worked out perfectly because all the art teachers had just been asked to create a giant display in April to celebrate the 70 year anniversary of our school. I thought it would be fun to create a school community with a house from each of my 9th graders.
Then I got sick…
Remember that week when I was out of school for the kidney stone issue? As many teachers can attest, sometimes coming back is worse than being sick in the first place. My room was a disaster and lo and behold, in the cabinet where the clay was stored I had gone from 100 packages to 5.
I grilled the kids, asking who used clay instead of following the drawing sub plans, and found out that nearly half of my classes had gone ahead with working on their houses instead of following the plans I left. I still don’t really understand how this made 95 packages of clay disappear, but I was informed that one class got in lots of trouble for throwing it around the room. Maybe that is why I didn’t leave plans for them to use it without me!!
Frustrated and upset, I went to administration and informed them that we would not be able to complete our part of the 70 years display. While in general Art is not highly funded in our school, the prospect of not looking good during the 70 years celebration got them worried and after some begging from the principal I was allowed to purchase 80 more packages of clay!
I was excited to get back on track with my students, but was a bit concerned about losing their attention as I learned that many of their original houses were destroyed or had gone missing. You see another reason why I wanted to make sure I was present while they worked with clay is that they haven’t really figured out how to keep it from drying out in between classes. Each student had been given a plastic bag, but the number that came to me complaining about dry clay was astonishing…until I figured out that most of them were not bothering to actually close the bag.
What to do?! Does every student who’s house got messed up have to start over from scratch? Would I have enough clay for that? And would I completely lose some of them in the process?
As I was trying to figure out what to do about this dilemma, one of my 9th grade girls asked if she could make trees for our community. Then another asked if she could make a swing set. Soon a group of boys wanted to create a soccer stadium.
Rather than force the kids to remake a broken house, I decided to go completely against my anal-retentive, over-organized, control-freak personality…I told them to make whatever they wanted.
We brainstormed a list of things a community might have and put it up on the board. I then gave them free-reign to whatever supplies they wanted in my room and offered to help anyone who was struggling.
We agreed that rather than get graded on their individual projects, it would be more fair for me to grade them on their participation to our classroom community.
I have to admit, it was a bit stressful for me personally, but it was exciting at the same time. I enjoyed seeing the kids come up with creative items to include in our community and I have to admit, the final product turned out way cooler than a whole bunch of houses.


A park, complete with benches and a fountain.

We didn’t have a grocery store, but we did have a fruit and veggie market!

Those are motocross jumps heading into the lake…

A house with trees near it! So glad my students suggested more than just houses!

Our community soccer stadium had tiny advertisements all around the feel thanks to the boys thinking to cut the brands off of several recycled food boxes.

An airport, a train station, a hospital, a lagoon, and a huuuuge tree!

The primary kids came to check out the display.

The overall effect of having all the art teachers work together on a giant display was amazing. This is the assembly area near the cafeteria of our school with work from preschool, primary, and all of secondary.
I have suggested that this be an annual activity so we’ll see what happens next year!

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