Clay & Integration


Integrating Clay into Non-Arts Curriculum

by Linda W. Kieling
Rosemont Ridge Middle School
West Linn, Oregon

“What would you like to do in art this year?” A resounding answer echoes the room: "CLAY!" they answer in unison. It never fails, every year. Different students, different grade levels, different cities - the answer is always the same.

But this year it needed to be different. This year I was asked to not teach art, but rather an integrated approach that supported Social Studies. I won’t go off on a tangent about that, but I will say I was up for the challenge. Art subject-matter has been so student driven for me: how do I now guarantee that they have the much desired clay experience within the new structure?

6th grade students explore ancient civilizations and had finished a unit of African drumming as communication with the music teacher. In an effort to provide some cohesiveness with these other subjects, we embarked on an investigation of masks. While I do not believe it is best practice to replicate artifacts of other cultures, like Picasso and Durain, student artists could also be influenced by the African masks.

To help students make connections, they developed personal symbols around how they see themselves as well as how others perceive them. These symbols were included either while constructing the mask in clay and/or when glazing. In a step saving measure, underglazes were used on the clay when leatherhard. The results were stunning matte finishes perfect for the detailed masks.

Now I need to think about 8th grade students who, on the other hand, study America History. They could investigate the history of Colonial Pottery, make personal connections and then create their own pieces using the traditional pinch, coil and slab methods. They could handbuild and glaze clay figures representing important contributors or collaboratively work on ceramic vignettes about events. Additionally, the influence of retablo traditions being brought into New Mexico and southern Colorado by the Franciscan monks inspires a ceramics lesson that would be personal and engaging.

While considering all of the possibilities, I generated a quick list of cross curricular ideas. These are basic starting points and stem more from themes, but do include a ceramics component:

  • Artists – explore the cultural, social and political events that inform the artist (Social Studies), read a biography of the artist (Language Arts), create a portrait, tribute or style of the artist work in clay (Visual Art).
  • Cultural Pottery (i.e. majolica, Pueblo, Greek, Majiayao ) write about process philosophy (Language Arts), gather samples from surrounding areas, add water and make observations (Science) and record and calculate the data (Math); create a report on the history (Social Studies), create a personal ceramic vessel (Visual Art).
  • Seasons – explore how ancient cultures explained the seasons (Social Studies), investigate the scientific explanations (Science), create a series by glazing 4 bisque tiles illustrating the seasons (Visual Art), study how others have expressed their feelings around this, write an original myth (Language Arts).
  • Architecture – (i.e. local, ancient civilizations, specific architect) explore the importance of architecture (Social Studies), report on math concepts (geometry, fractals, Golden Mean, symmetry, proportion) used in that particular region/time (Math); use slab construction to create a unique and original building (Visual Art), write a descriptive essay about the invented inhabitants of the building (Language Arts).
  • Site Installations – explore impact and value of installations (Social Studies), examine and evaluate sites (Science), determine size and structure needs (Math), write proposal for installation (Language Arts), build clay maquette (Visual Art).
  • Environments/Habitats- (i.e. rainforest, desert, ocean) - read identified books related to the topic (Language Arts), acquire specific details about the needs of the subject (Science), individually create animal or identified subject in clay (Visual Art), as a group create a tile mural illustrating the topic (Visual Art), determine measurements for installation (Math).

Overall, I see it is possible to include a ceramics component to any unit plan while making connections to multiple disciplines. Needless to say the students were thrilled.

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