Does your mom know you used her blender?

I have loved teaching Ceramics so far this year. The kids are great, they make really fun stuff, they entertain me with their gossip (do you know which Harry Potter characters are the hottest?!), and it is an all around laid back class. So imagine my delight at this awesome teacher/student moment today:

The students are currently working on what I am calling a “World Culture Pot”. They signed up for a culture from a huge list that I created (different places in the world and different times in history) and are in charge of researching the culture, creating an informative poster, and building a pot that represents the ceramic work of that culture.
Today, one of my 11th graders says, “Can you help me with this? I’m trying to temper shells onto my clay.” My first thought was, he is obviously confusing the word temper with something else….what on earth does he mean?
With a few questions and some Internet research, I figure out that the culture he chose is the Mississippian Native American culture from the US Midwest. Turns out Mississippian ceramics can be identified by the presence of shell particles in the clay body. The Mississippian people tempered their clay with ground shells to prevent shrinking and cracking.
So then I begin to understand. My student has a small tupperware filled with ground shells. He has used his blender at home to grind up shells into tiny pieces and wants advice on how to add them to the piece he is working on.
I’m impressed….and a bit worried about his blender.
I explain that the idea is that the clay should technically have the shells worked into it, instead of pressed onto the surface, but that he should experiment and try it out. So far he has added shells to the surface of the piece he already created and has wedged more shell pieces into a chunk of clay in order to truly experience how the Mississippians created ceramics.
Not a bad way to start a Friday!


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