Saturday, July 26, 2014

Loving Lumpy Pots

I almost didn't share my 3rd grader's clay projects this year, because I've been using basically the same lesson based on the book "The Pot That Juan Built" every year. When I went to delete the pictures, I just couldn't do it! I was struck by the lumpy pots, the pots that reminded me of my first experience with real clay. 
In my hometown, there's only one art teacher and the students don't get a real art class until high school. But when I was in second grade, we had a special project! We were each given a ball of red clay with which we made bowls. I remember forming the clay and thinking how smooth I had made it. I was so proud! We even got to glaze the pots and the high school art teacher fired them in the kiln.  I chose a pinky-mauve color. I kept the bowl until it fell in the sink and broke a couple years after I got married. I was a little sad that my lumpy pot, thought to be perfect by my 2nd grade self, was broken. I glued it back together and it broke again, as broken ceramics tend to do.
So the point here, friends, is to cherish those lumpy pots (and the smooth ones). Are my students' projects perfectly constructed? Nope. But they're elementary students who only get to use clay once a year. And the students are so genuinely excited about and proud of their projects that it makes me excited and proud, too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Fibers is a common studio choice in TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior). I didn't have a ton of fibers options last year, but I did make lots of yarn available. Weaving was the most obvious choice for using yarn, but students made use of it in other ways, too.
An old shoe organizer worked pretty well for holding skeins of yarn.
I started 4th graders off weaving in the fall and introduced it to one grade at a time since it was so popular that every loom was used. I introduced it to my 3rd graders in the spring and ran out of time to introduce it to 2nd grade.
I made almost all of my looms, most out of mat board or cardboard scraps. I started off measuring but eventually started eyeballing and just going for the same number of slits cut on each side. The mat board looms worked pretty well, but the easiest for the students to use were looms made of foam trays. I saved (and thoroughly washed) foam meat trays from home and used them at school. The students have an easier time going under the yarn when there's some space below to move. The trays hold up really well, unless the students pull to hard when warping and break a tab.
A 3rd grader asked if she could glue yarn down to make a picture. I let her use scraps and I think she would have kept working on this even longer if it hadn't been so close to the end of the year!
Speaking of scraps.... Sometimes ^THIS happens. My intermediate kids were pretty careless when it came to the scrap yarn, often just throwing it on top, and cutting way too much yarn to begin with. Many ignored the "wingspan at a time" rule. I will have to work on a better monitoring system for that this year. 
One of my 6th graders used a longer loom and ended up turning her weaving project into a hat. I thought it was pretty clever.
My 3rd graders used a larger loom and scrap yarn to make this group project which was donated to the PTO auction. I hoped to have each student weave one scrap of yarn but had to let some go back and add multiple strips to fill it in. I think we'll try it again next year on the even bigger classroom loom I ordered with Artsonia money.
I ordered a box of yarn at one school where we started to run out of some colors, but I think we're already set for the coming school year. I've scored some good deals at garage sales- like a trash bag full of assorted yarns for a dollar- and had another trash bag full donated by my husband's aunt, a retired school teacher. I'm glad that yarn is one supply that can be found so cheap!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

2nd Grade Clay Sculptures

I recently posted about some second grade "Mud Pony" sculpture projects. Some of the students chose to sculpt things other than horses. There are a few examples below:
 I didn't encourage snakes since I thought just making a coil was a little simple for 2nd grade, but this pink and orange snake was pretty cute. Students who did make snakes had to at least make them more interesting than a straight coil.
 Other sculpture choices were landforms such as islands or volcanoes, a table with a meal on top, a guitar, and a flower.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Raising Butterflies

Black Swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on fennel.
One of my favorite things about summer is butterflies! The first summer we were in our house, my landscaping priority was to create a butterfly garden. It's pretty simple to do- pick a few species you'd like to attract and provide nectar plants for the adults and host plants for the caterpillars. Most caterpillars can only survive on certain plants. The two species I decided to focus on because I think they are the easiest to attract, are Black Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies.
This post is mainly about black swallowtails because it's too early for peak monarch season, but let me talk briefly about monarch butterflies anyway. Monarch butterflies need our help! Monarch populations have been declining in recent years for many reasons, most notably loss of habitat. Monarch caterpillars depend on milkweeds for survival as they are the only host plant. Milkweed has a bad rap, I grew up with my grandpas telling me not to spread the seeds because it was just a weed. Now we know how important milkweed is for monarchs and other pollinators. If you have a garden, consider adding some milkweed. You'd be helping to support monarchs and their awesome migration (they fly south to Mexico every fall) which is at risk. If you want to learn more about it, check out Monarch Watch, a great educational site that even has information about free milkweed for schools and organizations. 
Click here for a Monarch lesson from a few years back.
Rethink weeds: Butterfly weed is a milkweed with beautiful flowers that will also host monarch caterpillars.
I've already had a bunch of black swallowtails. Host plants for black swallowtail butterflies include fennel, parsley, dill, and carrots. I started with parsley and dill but now that I have fennel, it seems to be the favorite. Some good choices for easy to grow nectar plants are coneflowers, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, cosmos, and zinnias.
Several stages of the Black Swallowtail caterpillar starting with an egg on the left and ending with a chrysalis on the right.
Black swallowtail caterpillars are really fun to watch because they go through so many changes. Black swallowtail caterpillars have 5 instars, or stages they go through when they shed skin they have outgrown and take on a new appearance. I've been trying to get a photo with a caterpillar at each instar and always seem to be missing one. Above is a sample of all the different stages I had a couple days ago. The two in the middle are in the same instar but the one on the right is a day or two older. On the far right is a chrysalis hanging on a twig. Black swallowtail can pupate into a bright green or a brown chrysalis. Some say it depends on their setting, they may turn the color most likely to camouflage them, but I've had both colors in the exact same setting.
Black Swallowtail caterpillar eggs
I started paying attention to my fennel and found my first caterpillar egg this year! Since then I've seen females laying eggs (see first photo) and have found several more to bring inside. I found 9 eggs alone this morning just perched on the edge of the fennel. Whenever I try to get a photo of eggs on the fennel outside, it ends up being too windy, so here is a picture taken in my small enclosure inside.
Black Swallowtail caterpillar stretching to enjoy some fennel.
I've brought a few caterpillars inside each year, but never as many as this year! My oldest son is old enough now, 3 1/2, to really appreciate what's going on. He checks on the caterpillars and talks to them all the time. This is a GREAT early science experience. He's been able to see every stage of the butterfly life cycle and can even tell you about the "chrysalis".
Let me tell you something REALLY cool about black swallowtail caterpillars. See that orange blob in the picture? It's called an osmeterium and the caterpillars push it out when they feel threatened. It also releases a scent. I don't think it smells bad, it's just noticeable. You can also see that the caterpillar above has just shed it's skin from the 4th instar (on the stick behind it) and is in the last stage before pupation.
Close up of Black Swallowtail Butterfly wing.
I've always just rigged something up to keep a couple caterpillars in, but this year I wanted to find something larger so I could raise more caterpillars. My grandpa had an old fish tank in his barn so my kind mother cleaned it up for me and it's currently housing my larger caterpillars, including one getting ready to pupate. It will be nice so that the butterflies have a bit more room to move around if I don't happen to be home to release them as soon as they emerge. Did you know that when a butterfly comes out of his/her chrysalis it has "eclosed"? I just learned that word. :)
After some time has passed (usually around 2 weeks) the chrysalis will turn black and you know that the butterfly will eclose soon. When the butterflies emerge, they hang around for a while, pumping fluid into their wings and letting them dry out. Once the wings are totally dry, it is safe to release the butterfly. I let this one go after my kids went to bed because I was afraid of waiting until morning, not having my larger enclosure yet. If a butterfly starts getting agitated and trying to fly away but it's not a good time- bad weather, etc., you can keep them in the dark and they usually chill out.
A Black Swallowtail butterfly at the top of a twig that also holds a chrysalis 
To finish off this post, I'd like to share my Top 5 Reasons to Raise Caterpillars, followed by a plea.
Top 5 Reasons to Raise Caterpillars
  1. Get your kids excited about science.
  2. Observe a miracle of nature.
  3. Photo Opps!
  4. Support pollinators. (butterfly gardens will also support bees and other pollinators)
  5. "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." -Bradley Miller
And now the plea. If you do find a caterpillar and decide to raise it, PLEASE identify it and make sure that you have the correct host plant. You can't get away with just throwing some random leaves in a jar with it and hoping it will make it. Your kids would be really disappointed to wake up to a dead caterpillar. Don't know what kind of caterpillar you have? Check out this FREE Caterpillar Identification Tool from Discover Life!