CalCreate

Sculpture Unit

Introduction 
Not all of our lessons have to be two-dimensional. Found object sculpture gets your students to “tinker” with discarded small objects until visual ideas arise. You play the role of facilitator and cutting expert.

Printable Version Sculpture Unit

CA Artist Connection
Local artists Mildred Howard and Jerry R Barrish have each made a career out of creating sculpture with found objects.

Social Justice Concept
Empower students to interrupt and alter oppressive, systemic patterns by introducing contemporary artists who are doing that through their art.

Children’s Literature Connection
Something Beautiful by Black author Sharon Dennis Wyeth is about a girl who wakes up to find a written threat on her front door, but also about the universal human desire to find beauty in everyday life and our connection to others.

Photo of an adult holding a 24" long sculpture

This sculpture was made entirely with taped parts, proving cutting tools are not necessary.

Adult, Teen and Child Objectives
Complete a recognizable sculpture with found objects.

General Preparation
Prototype: The success of sculpture with found objects depends on how much you help your students see the possibilities of the medium. In addition to several prototypes, you should bring books and images of sculptures done by the age group you are teaching.

For the lesson itself: Pliers, glue guns, masking or painter’s tape, small pieces of plastic (broken toys are ideal), pieces of EVA foam, twigs, florist wire, cardboard, foam board, small plastic and paper boxes, easter eggs, ping pong balls, small cylindrical containers, small pieces of wood, string, rubber bands, metal nuts, buttons, pom-poms, toilet paper rolls and tongue depressors.

To finish the sculptures you can use spray paint or papier-maché and tempera paint.

Materials Prep
Cover all tables and ensure that you have enough outlets for the glue guns (if you are using them). Use various cardboard boxes to make the sculpture pieces available at several stations, and plastic containers for the smaller parts. Instead of grouping materials by type, make sure you have enough of every kind at each station. Students cutting wire must use googles.

Children under fourth grade attach their pieces with tape, while older children and adults may use a hot glue gun to attach parts. To prevent conflicts, each child must have their own roll of tape. Kindergarteners can attach tape but have a hard time cutting it directly off the roll. Either precut all pieces of tape, use the tadpole tape dispenser, or make sure another adult can be around to help with this.

Photo of a 5th grader at a table with her sculpture.

A student shows her alebrije at the local library.

Cut large parts into smaller parts, so that the need to cut is eliminated or at least minimized for all age groups. Not only is it difficult to supervise multiple teens cutting, it is expensive (and wrong) to provide each one with a box cutter. Young students who wish to cut something can come to you for assistance. Carry your cutting tools with you, so that children are never alone near them.

Procedure for Children
Show your prototypes and pass them around, but also spend as much time as you can spare talking with the kids about the prototypes, showing images of sculptures, and if possible, showing books that include images of “sculptures with found objects.” This is very important, because most of your students will not imagine what’s possible until they are visually stimulated.

At this age, students don’t plan much and in fact, for this sculpture lesson, the more they are able to tinker the better. Allotting time to manipulate 3D objects into a sculpture is the best thing you can do for a young student. After they have made their first sculpture, you may give them some paper and ask them to plan the next one. The experience they had will guide their drawings and this context will make planning easier.

Divide the room into stations:

  • Choosing Station, where students can take the time hunting for and picking parts for their sculpture
  • Fastening Station, where students can tie, rubber band or tape parts together
  • Gluing Station, where students can use a glue gun to permanently attach a part
  • Finishing Station, where students choose small parts for the details in their sculptures
  • You may ask, “Why not a Painting Station?” Paint peels off most plastics. For paint to stay you’d need to paper maché the sculpture or spray-paint it.

If you have more than ten students you can have more than one of these stations. Lay down a few simple ground rules for your stations:

  1. Walk everywhere
  2. Use an inside voice
  3. Ask before you borrow
  4. No more than five students at the gluing station
  5. Share your tools
Photo of a few sculptures are on display behind a glass.

These sculptures were painted with tempera.

Finishing a sculpture might be difficult for some kids because they will be totally absorbed in the creative process, so you will need to agree on a signal that will let them know you are going to make a coupe of announcements, the announcements being the amount of time that’s left.

Procedure for Teens and Adults
Here too, it’s all about how much effort you place in introducing the concept of sculpture with discarded materials. The more you sound like you have a passion for it, the more intrigued they will be. The more images they see, the safer they will feel in trying it out. And the more prototypes you pass around, the more they will understand that this is not about creating a “pretty” product.

Teens and adults also benefit from stations because most enjoy being able to work at their own pace, creating their own design. Even though this is a loosely structured lesson and your students are older, placing a big cardboard box full of materials in the middle of the room can lead to friction or chaos. Take the time to find appropriate containers for each table (big boxes that stack) and bring them with you since the site won’t have them. For this lesson, the key to peace is to decentralize everything. Place a variety of materials at each table, along with tools, fasteners and a couple of glue guns (if there are outlets nearby).

At each middle school program, find out the rules about cutting tools at the site where you have been assigned. Can teenaged students use wire cutters? How about pliers? Dollar stores sell a mini-saw that is the perfect tool to cut balsa wood and foam board, but some sites do not allow them.

It will be hard to stop them so give them plenty of warning before their time is up.

Discussion for Children
Visual Thinking Strategies is an inquiry-based teaching method created by cognitive psychologist Abigail House and museum educator Philip Yenawine.  It is the leading method used to discuss art in museums across this country and it is also used in many private schools. After giving the students a chance to look at the art, a teacher will train the children in this protocol by showing a large image and asking questions. A good summary of the method can be found here. 

The reason I bring up VTS is that very often, when we do manage to save some time for a discussion of the children’s work, we are aware that the conversation could be deeper but we lack the skills to conduct a child-centered discussion that goes beyond the “so what.” From VTS, I have learned to

  • Ask three basic questions: What’s going on in this picture; what do you see that makes you say that; what more can we find?
  • Ask various types of follow-up questions to help the children find evidence for what they see
  • Prepare students to write about their art experiences
  • Help students switch to a hypothesis-claim-evidence mode
  • Summarize what my students have said

For this lesson, save a few more minutes so you can comfortably try using the three basic questions from VTS to help your young students discuss the sculptures made by their peers.

Photo of buildings made with styrofoam, tape and cardboard

Students used discarded materials to build this city

Discussion For Teens
Please read about Visual Thinking Strategies, the inquiry-based teaching method in the section above. While you can use this exact same approach with teens, I would suggest a variation, which is to have teens individually write what they notice about each sculpture, and then write one question they have for the maker. They have to write their names on their card. You read each post-it or card and ask follow-up questions to those observations, then the student who made the sculpture answers the question, for as long as the question is not evaluative (i.e. “what made you turn its head in that funny way?”)

Discussion With Adults
Discussions such as the ones generated by the VTS method might give some adults the impression they are on the “hot seat,”  but you could teach them valuable Visual Thinking Strategies by introducing work made by others (for example, an artist off the web) after they have had the experience of creating a sculpture. In this way their observations will be richer because they have some context to guide their thoughts.

Working With Young Children

What is the best way to introduce social justice to kindergarteners?
Do it through reading well-chosen children’s literature. Hold short discussions where your students are free to voice all of their thoughts. Move on to the art activity and continue informally discussing the topic while you create awesome art!

Should they shout out or raise hands?
Raise hands. Ignore those who do not raise their hands and praise those who do.

My shy students are not speaking out.
Give them time. Allow them to feel safe. Keep the more dominant personalities at bay by having an outlandishly decorated “talking stick.” Whomever has it gets to talk and others must listen.

How can I facilitate discussions with young children?
Use the methods outlined in my lessons. Keep concepts simple and few (1-2) in each lesson. Ask just a few questions and plan enough time for students to respond.

What are some strategies to use with Kindergarteners or 1st graders? How can I prep to keep them engaged for 45 minutes?
Keep things simple! Rehearse the simplified verbs and nouns that you will need to use. Use a low voice and a focusing tool to gain their attention. Don’t lecture or talk for more than 2-3 minutes at a time or you’ll lose them. Use visuals to designate areas. This helps them navigate the room during art class.

Kinder and 1st grade teachers prep to keep things orderly during the lesson itself, and to focus time use on your lesson objective. For example, cutting something with scissors for a collage is going to take them forever. Ask them to rip pieces of paper with their hands instead. If you know that giving them a whole magazine could mesmerize them, give them a bag with 10-12 images to choose from. If you suspect your kindergarteners will spread glue all over their hands, give them glue in tiny cups.

How Do I Plan For Art Stations?
Stations serve to give students choices and freedom in the pace at which they choose to complete different projects or part of a project. Think about the maximum number of students at each station. Organize the lesson into 3-5 stations, one where you will sit doing direct instruction, another where your partner will sit also doing direct instruction, and other, independent stations. There could be a different art activity at each station or there can be parts of a common project in each station. For example, a papier-maché lesson could involve a paper ripping station, three pasting stations, and a drying station (with one or two blow-dryers).

Stations keep young students focused while taking advantage of the fact that elementary aged students move a lot. Instead of having to spend time having to keep them still, they get to circulate around the room and move at their own speed. One thing you will have to think through is a simple way to keep track of who has gone to what station. Also, how will students be able to tell that they have completed the task at each station. Some teachers stamp an “art passport,” others give a token.

This video made by a public school art teacher explains how art stations would work in middle school. One of the ideas I like is her use of an assessment sheet to teach students to keep track of their progress, and to think of the criteria by which they will be evaluated. In your case, your students might use such a slip to help them tell when they have done everything that is expected of them. Another valuable idea is all the ways in which she has helped students navigate the room during the busy time that is art.

Classroom Management

How should teaching partners share the class without being unbalanced?
This could be done any number of ways, but the most clear way for the sake of your students would be to alternate the week in which each of you leads a lesson. Even for adults, it is really confusing to be listening to two people during the same lesson. The supporting partner can take notes and go over them later on so you can improve the lesson, but they should not interrupt the leading partner.

How do I manage a class where students drop in and out, and leave early? 
It can be really disconcerting to plan carefully only to see the student numbers fluctuate throughout your lesson. If students come in late, have a short activity to give the ones who appear on time until most of the students are there, then carry out the regular lesson at the time when most are present. Transition to another short activity in the latter part when they begin to get picked up.

My kids do not see me as an authority figure.
Start by conducting yourself as one. This does not mean using a loud voice of scary behavior. It starts by having every minute of your session planned, having a “plan B” ready, and having a plan for discipline. Most of all, it means not making threats or issuing empty promises. Establish consequences and follow up on them. Don’t allow misbehavior and stick to your plan. It is not too late to get stricter on what you allow and don’t allow in your art class.

How do you establish respect with adults? I don’t want to be seen as condescending or pedantic.
Most mature adults will understand that you might look young, but you have something to bring to the table. Most of them by now have done some wellness or physical therapy class, so you are not the first young person to teach them something.This excellent, short video explains what older adults need from you. Even if you yourself don’t feel like an expert, respect from adults comes when they see you are honest, on time, and well-prepared.  When you establish a track record of trying to meet their needs and of being approachable and friendly, they will tolerate an occasional mistake.

As for coming off as condescending or pedantic, the only way this could happen is if you talk your head off without listening to what they need. Give them an exit slip in which to ask questions or make comments. This will help you plan your time effectively and avoid the temptation to fill it with nervous talk. Finally, at your age, being honest about your own limits is really important. There will be things they might request that you won’t be able to deliver, and it is okay to let them know as soon as you realize this.

My students were *forced* to take my class. They seem very uninterested in art. Now what?
Art is only one of several other mandatory classes. If they complain about this, it is because they’re testing you and acting like it is *uncool* to take your class because of peer pressure. Most of this fades away once they start getting more familiar with you as a teacher. Try redirecting that type of energy. How can you do that? Start by ignoring the complaints. Focus on preparing an open lesson with plenty to do that leaves them creative choices. Organize it in small groups and pairs so that their non-compliance affects the group’s outcomes. If ignoring loud complaints only makes them louder, try a private one-on-one chat with the group’s influencer. Do not alienate them. Simply state how you are doing the best you can, and ask them how your class can be improved. If they don’t respond, don’t give them ultimatums. In private, give them the choice of doing what the class is doing or sitting there quietly. Don’t reward this behavior with alternate activities.

I am worried about handling students that get out of control. 
To answer this question I would need more specifics, but know that this is something that happens to all teachers at some time or another because of different reasons, and that most of it can be prevented through good planning. Maybe the lesson is too loosely structured and relies on routines that haven’t yet been established. Maybe there was some “down time,” i.e. time when students didn’t not know what to do next. Or maybe your students were doing something very loud and physical before your class and need time to transition. Students also get out of control when they sense that their teacher feels powerless and insecure. If this is you, I cannot stress how important it is make sure you have a solid, age appropriate lesson plan and to rehearse in front of a friend.

What should I do if lose control of my class because my kids lose interest?
Use a focusing tool to gain the group’s attention, then issue a simple directive (“I want everyone to come back to the rug/their tables”), followed by a short warm-up to change the energy in the room. For example,I begin a drawing and play a visual  “guess what” on dry erase board. I only accept answers from students who raise their hand and reward whomever guesses first. I do not spend time lecturing anyone on their behavior. Instead, I issue consequences because actions speak way louder than words. For example, I will go and talk to their next teacher to make sure that students who break, dirty or vandalize something have to return and fix it. Once you do that once and they miss football practice, they know you mean business.

Troublemakers. How do you get their attention and get them to stop troublemaking???
There are as many types of troublemakers as there are students, so your approach cannot be the same for everyone. Find out what they are getting out of pushing the boundaries. Is the class comedian developing a captive audience of approving peers? Send her out of your class for a few minutes. Is your insecure fourth grader causing a distraction to avoid having to draw? Take a deep breath and get him to open up, in private. Does your gifted student ignore the no cell phone policy? Immediately pull him aside give him one (and only one) warning. Once you’ve interrupted these troublemaking behaviors, address the issues in a more long-term way.

My kids don’t clean up after themselves.
I would first ask if you have clearly established your expectations. Did you spend five minutes discussing the sign that explain what “clean” is for this lesson? Did you do a role play to show students how to get the members of your small group to do complete their cleaning tasks? Have you assigned cleaning roles? Did you recognize (verbally and tangibly) those who have been cleaning? Does cleaning up on time carry some perks in your art class? Here are some cleanup ideas for elementary level students.

Planning

How should I budget for these classes?
Choose lessons that rely on disposable or recyclable materials and save your $ for what you cannot avoid obtaining by any other means. I will also buy materials, if it will save me a considerable amount of time or if it will keep kids from fighting. Some materials can be shared, and others should not. I go to the dollar store in Berkeley and SCRAP in San Francisco. I visit the garage sales I see on Nextdoor, and I use social media to ask my friends for donations. I plan most lessons around natural, freely available materials such as sea glass and eucalyptus seeds.

I want to reuse art supplies to make multiple projects and avoid waste. 
This noble goal is beyond the scope of this Q and A, but if you have already chosen the type of lesson you want to do I might be able to help you individually. In general, it is best to plan a lesson around a material that is plentiful, disposable and free, such as cardboard, plastic pieces, donated yarn, old books, etc.

How do you you plan meaningful lessons they can take something away from?
A lot of this is covered in Five Great Principles. But you can also involve the students’ cultures, if you feel confident and knowledgeable in them. Or, you can ask them for input on topics they care about (“What if we made a sculpture of Sonic the Hedgehog?” “What’s the deal with this neighborhood? How can we represent it?”). The use of exit slips is also tied to better planning because you learn more about your students and that info helps you make adjustments. The elements above, and giving them enough time to work on something, will ensure they will care more about what they make. If your students put it on display or take it home, you will have achieved your goal.

How much activity is realistic for one day?
Not as much as you think. You can get ahead of it by observing your students, because your first teaching experiences with that group will show you what your students can do. To give yourself breathing room, choose activities that can be completed by different types of individuals, in flexible amounts of time. For example, a mosaic-making activity is an open activity because it is very adjustable. It may be done freeform or made to fit increasingly intricate patterns or shapes.

Some of my students had to leave early. What now?
Even if you’ve been told you have 45 minutes, your lesson will have to be shorter, say 30 min. Even adults leave early for one reason or another, so plan a shorter lesson and some supplemental activities for those who are left.

My students finished early and I didn’t have anything planned for them!
Teens who finish early can get an art extension activity. Here are some tips for elementary level students who finish early. For middle school students, I like to bring different art-making books that I let them browse or use. Themed drawing instruction books (“Learn To Draw Manga”) are very popular. Or you can have a simple, ongoing project that they pick up if they finish early, for example, weavings or mosaics. For very young students, I try to avoid this as much as possible by organizing the lesson in stations. Scroll down for resources on how to do this. Adults who finished early can be asked to help clean up.

I feel awful I planned a lesson that was too demanding.
Everyone plans lessons like that sometimes. Don’t panic. The key is to acknowledge the feelings this might generate. If working with adults or teens, be honest right away. Don’t let anyone struggle for longer than necessary. Lay out your plan B: “Uh folks, We have fifteen minutes left and I just realized I should have explained how to connect the wires to the armature. I am so sorry. Let’s take the rest of our time to go over this, and we’ll finish next time.”

If working with kids, stop the presses. If several are struggling because the activity is too hard, use a focusing tool to get their attention then redirect them to a different area. Then take the responsibility for how things are going, so that they don’t think the reason they can’t do it is that there is something wrong with them. Tell them you made a mistake, and that you are going to change things around so that they can finish what they are doing. Then give them their new instructions.

Cal Create Q and A

Young Children

What is the best way to introduce social justice to kindergarteners?
Do it through reading well-chosen children’s literature. Hold short discussions where your students are free to voice all of their thoughts. Move on to the art activity and continue informally discussing the topic while you create awesome art!

What are some strategies to use with Kindergarteners or 1st graders? How can I prep to keep them engaged for 45 minutes?
Keep things simple! Rehearse the simplified verbs and nouns that you will need to use. Use a low voice and a focusing tool to gain their attention. Don’t lecture or talk for more than 2-3 minutes at a time or you’ll lose them. Use visuals to designate areas. This helps them navigate the room during art class.

Kinder and 1st grade teachers prep to keep things orderly during the lesson itself, and to focus time use on your lesson objective. For example, cutting something with scissors for a collage is going to take them forever. Ask them to rip pieces of paper with their hands instead. If you know that giving them a whole magazine could mesmerize them, give them a bag with 10-12 images to choose from. If you suspect your kindergarteners will spread glue all over their hands, give them glue in tiny cups.

How Do I Plan For Art Stations?

Stations serve to give students choices and freedom in the pace at which they choose to complete different projects or part of a project. Think about the maximum number of students at each station. Organize the lesson into 3-5 stations, one where you will sit doing direct instruction, another where your partner will sit also doing direct instruction, and other, independent stations. There could be a different art activity at each station or there can be parts of a common project in each station. For example, a papier-maché lesson could involve a paper ripping station, three pasting stations, and a drying station (with one or two blow-dryers).

Stations keep young students focused while taking advantage of the fact that elementary aged students move a lot. Instead of having to spend time having to keep them still, they get to circulate around the room and move at their own speed. One thing you will have to think through is a simple way to keep track of who has gone to what station. Also, how will students be able to tell that they have completed the task at each station. Some teachers stamp an “art passport,” others give a token.

This video made by a public school art teacher explains how art stations would work in middle school. One of the ideas I like is her use of an assessment sheet to teach students to keep track of their progress, and to think of the criteria by which they will be evaluated. In your case, your students might use such a slip to help them tell when they have done everything that is expected of them. Another valuable idea is all the ways in which she has helped students navigate the room during the busy time that is art.

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