Saturday, 25 February 2012 17:45

Constellation Paintings (Part 1) (4th in an Occasional Series Featuring Engaging Classroom Projects) (Teaching Tip #61)

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As I mentioned two weeks ago in Teaching Tip #59, I like to integrate art and science during our astronomy unit to address the third grade California Earth science standard: “Objects in the sky move in regular and predictable patterns.” In Teaching Tip #59, I described how my students painted the planets and the Sun in the style of Impressionist Claude Monet. Last week I shared photos of several of these projects. This week I describe the project we do the following week, Constellation Paintings.


The project begins when I present my students with an introduction sheet that contains the following scenario: “Congratulations! The director of the local art museum and the director of the local science museum are teaming up for a special project. They have asked you to create a painting of your favorite constellation in the unique style of Vincent van Gogh to display on the walls of their museums.”

The bottom of this sheet is divided into two columns. On the left side, the “What I Know” column, students are given about ten minutes to write, in pencil, a series of bullet points showing what they already know and understand about the project. For example, they may write sentences, such as “I know I am painting my favorite constellation.” On the right side, the “What I Need to Know” column, the kids write down any questions they have, anything that confuses them, or anything they need to learn before they can begin the project. Sample sentences include, “Who is Vincent van Gogh?” and “What is a constellation?”

This problem-based learning task gives students a chance to process the various aspects of the project and demonstrate valuable reading comprehension skills. After their independent completion of the sheet, each child joins a partner, and the pairs discuss the sheet. At this time, the kids use pen to add any ideas their partners might suggest. Working on the sheet independently in pencil and then cooperatively in pen allows us to see how much we were able to do on our own and how much we did with our partners. This type of feedback can help students who do not produce very much on their own do a better job next time.

All this takes place on the first day of this week-long project. On this day we also read, as a whole group, a sheet explaining what constellations are. On Day 2 I read aloud to the class two short books, Zoo in the Sky and Once Upon a Starry Night, that bring many constellations to life by associating them with different animals and mythological creatures. Each book comes with a star map, and we locate the featured constellations on the maps so the kids get a better idea of their shapes.

On Day 3 we turn the room into a small art gallery and display 10-12 of van Gogh’s paintings so everyone can walk around and take notes about his unique style. We then come together to create a list of van Gogh’s features to which we can refer the next day. I also read aloud a book about his life and painting style.

On the fourth day we paint. We take the entire afternoon, and the kids mix their own colors and combine what they have learned about constellations with what they have learned about Vincent van Gogh’s style to create their projects. I emphasize to my class that this is a high-level problem-solving challenge, and enthusiasm for this project is incredibly high. Students enjoy combining two topics that tend not to be mentioned together very often.

Next week I will share with you photographs of some of the projects my students have created.



New Teaching Tips appear every Sunday of the school year.