Bronx Museum Spring Partnership

May marked a whirlwind Spring partnership with the Bronx Museum of the Arts which ended last week with a final performance and celebration!

I saw three classes from PS 73: a 1st & 2nd grade class, and two 3rd & 4th grade classes. I work specifically with the classes of students who have IEPs, each of these classes was a 12:1:1.

The partnerships starts with a museum visit, wherein I guide the classes (one at a time) through the recent exhibit and prepare activities for them in response to the art.

This season's exhibit is "Useless: Machines for Dreaming, Thinking, and Seeing" It's an amazing study of machines and devices built for aesthetics rather than practicality. 

As the Bronx Museum website describes:

As a reaction to our current times focused on utilitarianism and profit, Useless: Machines for Dreaming, Thinking and Seeing presents a selection of curious machines created by artists with the goal of stirring dreams, feelings, critical thinking, and ironies; for seeing what microscopes, telescopes and cartographies cannot show; for flying without taking-off; in short, for doing the impossible. Such are some of the uses of art.

Contemporary art installation on a hardwood floor. The art work looks like a 1970’s space capsule, but covered in sheet metal, plants, and bricks. Extension cables can be seen running out of the piece as well. In the background are other photos and statues.

Contemporary art installation on a hardwood floor. The art work looks like a 1970’s space capsule, but covered in sheet metal, plants, and bricks. Extension cables can be seen running out of the piece as well. In the background are other photos and statues.

While the intention and theme is quite intellectually stimulating, my students were all immediately taken by the visual spectacle of the art itself and it was an incredibly fun curation to teach.

My program was an co activity that built on itself every session around the idea of story-making.  I was inspired especially by Stefana McClure’s film and visual poem in the exhibit that she made in response to the George Perec’s Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books. Perec famously had a “story-making-machine” with which he wrote the novel, or “novels” as the book opens, Life a User Manual. I wanted the PS 73 students to be their own Story-Making-Machines, creating and then sharing/typing their stories.

On a flatscreen TV gloved hands can be seen with metallic tips on the ends of each fingers. The hands seem to be typing with small, black residue visible underneath the fingers.

On a flatscreen TV gloved hands can be seen with metallic tips on the ends of each fingers. The hands seem to be typing with small, black residue visible underneath the fingers.

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To start, I had the students come up with robots for the closing museum trip activity. They could think back to some of the machines from the exhibit or also use the book Clink by Kelly DiPucchio, which we had read before going down to the galleries, as a kind of mentor text. 

Once the robot was drawn I asked them to come up with a name, then write what their robot was made out of, and finally what their robot could do. By making each description an individual step, I was scaffolding the idea of character development, helping them make robust and well rounded robots (say that 10x fast) for their stories. 

In the first school trip we did a quick warm up, read Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, then got to work on our stories. First students hand wrote a story involving the robot characters they made at the museum. Once the stories were finished, they "typed" them up to create a visual poem similar to the Stefana McClure piece on display.

On an art room table, covered in old paint marks, print outs of computer keyboards are taped down.

On an art room table, covered in old paint marks, print outs of computer keyboards are taped down.

Close up of the art room table, the keyboard print outs are now covered by a piece of tracing paper so that the keys themselves are still visible.

Close up of the art room table, the keyboard print outs are now covered by a piece of tracing paper so that the keys themselves are still visible.

To achieve this typing effect, I taped print outs of keyboards to the table and placed tracing paper over them. Giving each student a pair of gloves, I then gave out a dollups of black paint to rub between their gloved hands, telling the students to focus especially on their finger tips. Once everyone was painted up the students typed the stories they just hand wrote as if they were typing them into a computer. It was a pretty exciting activity, so took the groups a couple sheets of tracing paper to get right!

On the art room tables students hands can be seen covered in gloves and black paint “typing” on the tracing paper.

On the art room tables students hands can be seen covered in gloves and black paint “typing” on the tracing paper.

When the story was finished, we peeled off the tracing paper and there was their visual story. Some of them came out so much like the McClure piece it’s uncanny!

Pieces of tracing paper with individual black dots made with paint.

Pieces of tracing paper with individual black dots made with paint.

For my final school visit I brought an old typewriter. I wanted the final draft of these robot stories to be typed up and in keeping with the “Useless” exhibit themes, thought it would be fun to have students explore the now outdated typewriter as a mode of typing.

I have an old, portable Royal typewriter. It was given to me by my uncle during the clean out of my grandmother’s house. I actually thought it was broken at first, but it turned out the keys that were getting stuck were meant to get stuck! (Just had to actually read the manual…which thankfully was still with it)

In prepping for this session, it was a fun exploration to work and tinker on the old machine. I had to buy new ink and learn how to put that in, do a little light cleaning and maintenance on it, and learn how to set and reset all the margins.

Since I only had the one typewriter, for the third and final session I had students use large alphabet stamps to stamp out their story letter by letter onto mural paper while they waited their turn. I did this because I wanted them using their fine motor systems to mimic the typewriter’s mechanics and keep on that idea of them being “story-making-machines.”

The students had a blast with the typewriter! Some of them asking, “ is this what old people use?” or calling out to their friends, “Hey, look! I’m old now!” as they typed. They were also curious about all the little knobs and levers and often, after their turn, they’d linger to watch the mechanisms of the machine as their classmate wrote. The teachers also had funny, nostalgic memories of the typewriter  which they shared with me and the classes.

Black and White photo of a 1970s typewriter. A paper with some typing is loaded into the scroll.

Black and White photo of a 1970s typewriter. A paper with some typing is loaded into the scroll.

At the projects close there was a lot of art to be shared and sorted": the original robots, the handwritten stories, the McClure like visual stories, and the class’ typewriter made story. For the final, assembly for I bound the stories, the typewritten text and visual poems, together with a bit of colorful twine, embracing the DIY aesthetic in the exhibit.

Two books handmade books side-by-side on a table. Both are tied together by a bit of twine, the front of them have typewritten words that are indistinguishable at the photo’s distance. Behind these front pages are pieces of tracing paper with blotches and dots of black paint.

Two books handmade books side-by-side on a table. Both are tied together by a bit of twine, the front of them have typewritten words that are indistinguishable at the photo’s distance. Behind these front pages are pieces of tracing paper with blotches and dots of black paint.

To close, the classes did a little Be-Bop Beat, as described to me, while I sang the story out loud. It was a lot of fun, and cool to see how proud the poets were of their work!

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Mural Poem

I’m finishing up my Fall partnership with PS 73 through the Bronx Museum and wanted to reflect on one of the final projects I did with a class there. The idea sprung from a conversation with a fellow Teaching Artist at the museum who had done a negative space project. They covered paper with tape to form various letters and shapes then after the paint dried had students remove the tape to reveal what was left in the white space covered by the tape.

I thought this could be a great project to display the final, collaborative praise poem that one of the classes made. In this way it would allow the letters to be the student’s own work without any writing or re-writing from the adults to help with clarity.

I started by tracing some letters on thick construction paper and cutting these letters out to be arranged into words on a piece of mural paper. Once the words were formed I taped them down securely so that they’d stay in place while getting painted over.

Three letter “E” “S” “E”on blue construction paper. One of the letters is an outline in sharpie, the other two are yellow stencils. The sharpie is seen in the top left corner of the paper.

Three letter “E” “S” “E”on blue construction paper. One of the letters is an outline in sharpie, the other two are yellow stencils. The sharpie is seen in the top left corner of the paper.

Gray work table with stencils, scissors, construction paper, sharpie. The stencils are organized alphabetically at the top of the table, the other supplies at the bottom.

Gray work table with stencils, scissors, construction paper, sharpie. The stencils are organized alphabetically at the top of the table, the other supplies at the bottom.

Eventually, I smartened up a bit and realized that I could arrange the letters in a way that would both save paper and time by using the very edges of construction paper.

Sharpie outlines of letters on blue construction paper. The letters come to the edges of the paper.

Sharpie outlines of letters on blue construction paper. The letters come to the edges of the paper.

Even this didn’t save me that much time though! This was an incredibly time intensive project! If I didn’t have the resources of the Bronx Museum at my disposal, I’m not sure I would have accomplished the vision. Not only was the abundance of high quality supplies important, but I had to recruit the help of the museum’s Education Intern to help finish the prep work.

If a parent or teacher reading wants to try something like this, I’d recommend doing it on a smaller scale! For example: maybe only doing four or five words or (if you want to get form specific) doing a haiku. The time needed for the prep on a large scale mural like this is unrealistic for what teachers are provided and for the time I imagine most parents have on top of their responsibilities.

Another thought would to get the poets involved in the tracing and cutting of the letters rather than have it be prepped. The way the timing worked out in my partnership didn’t really allow for it this season, but the more the poets are involved in the structuring and refining of their own work the better. Plus all the tracing and cutting is amazing fine motor work!

Large white mural paper. “These Are'“ spelled out at the top in blue letters cut from the construction paper. Below there are more pieces of paper with tracings and a pile of letters cut out not yet organized into words.

Large white mural paper. “These Are'“ spelled out at the top in blue letters cut from the construction paper. Below there are more pieces of paper with tracings and a pile of letters cut out not yet organized into words.

The next step was bringing it from the museum workspace into the museum classroom at the school. This involved me walking through a busy and blustery Grand Concourse, with the paper folded, hopping none of the letters slipped off and blew away to get crunched under morning rush hour traffic!

Fortunately, Patrick, the Bronx Museum Education Director, let me use some of the special mural paper the museum has on hand for their teen programs. This paper is made to withstand both a lot of media and material son it and some weathering. It’s composed of paper and cotton pulp and it feels soft to the touch, but is nearly impossible to tear. Part of the fun of this project was taking sensory, tactile, time at the start of the session to simply introduce and explain the material to the poets after they had all felt the paper and taken guesses about what gave it that texture.

White mural paper with the poem in blue construction paper letters laid out on tables covered in plastic. The poem reads “These are / our favorite / things in / class 303 / Singing / Dancing / Drawing / Math / And running / playing Minecraft / call of duty / PS4 / and Fun”

White mural paper with the poem in blue construction paper letters laid out on tables covered in plastic. The poem reads “These are / our favorite / things in / class 303 / Singing / Dancing / Drawing / Math / And running / playing Minecraft / call of duty / PS4 / and Fun”

The painting got a little (maybe lotta) bit messy. I should have come prepared with some smocks, but in all the excitement over the scale of the project it had totally slipped my mind! Rookie mistake! The poets weren’t particularly bothered by it, but their teacher’s were a little concerned over how some of the parents might react to paint covered clothes.

One of the teachers suggested rather than using brushes and giving every poet a spot of the poster, to have them take turns with paint rollers which I thought was a really wonderful idea and something I’ll implement when doing this project again. While there’s something fun about the unevenness of the paint, having a more linear structure from the pattern of the roller could be a cool effect and the class management side of turn taking with only 2 or 3 rollers is also appealing. The trick would be keeping poets not painting equally engaged and a part of the group activity. Perhaps a challenge for the Spring!

Poem laid out on the tables, but now the white mural paper is covered in various layers of paints: black, green, blue, pink, brown, red, and yellow. The blue construction paper letters have been removed so that now the letters come through from the empty space, white gaps on the mural paper. The poem reads The poem reads “These are / our favorite / things in / class 303 / Singing / Dancing / Drawing / Math / And running / playing Minecraft / call of duty / PS4 / and Fun”

Poem laid out on the tables, but now the white mural paper is covered in various layers of paints: black, green, blue, pink, brown, red, and yellow. The blue construction paper letters have been removed so that now the letters come through from the empty space, white gaps on the mural paper. The poem reads The poem reads “These are / our favorite / things in / class 303 / Singing / Dancing / Drawing / Math / And running / playing Minecraft / call of duty / PS4 / and Fun”

After drying, the mural was hung in the museum class space and recited as part of a performance for the entire grade. The poets also have an opportunity to read it at the museum as part of a closing ceremony for the exhibit we visited.

If you’re interested in trying this with your own poets I’ve supplied the list of materials below. As I mentioned, I was making use of some higher end museum supplies, so the list has the basic materials with no prices attached. Be aware that when using poster paper or butcher paper paint might bleed through and cause tears so make sure your poets don’t go as thick as some of mine! Also, keep in mind that different paints will have different results. I was using specific mural paints purchased by the museum, what’s available to you might apply and dry differently.

Materials:

  • Reference poem (what you’ll be painting)

  • Traceable Letters / Stencils

  • Construction Paper

  • Scissors

  • Tape

  • Paint

  • Poster Paper

  • Large table and/or work space

The poem hanging up on a brick school wall. Other pieces of art from other projects surround it: individual drawings and crafted ladders. The paint colors (red, blue, brown, black, yellow, green) have dried. The poem reads “These are / our favorite / things in / class 303 / Singing / Dancing / Drawing / Math / And running / playing Minecraft / call of duty / PS4 / and Fun”

The poem hanging up on a brick school wall. Other pieces of art from other projects surround it: individual drawings and crafted ladders. The paint colors (red, blue, brown, black, yellow, green) have dried. The poem reads “These are / our favorite / things in / class 303 / Singing / Dancing / Drawing / Math / And running / playing Minecraft / call of duty / PS4 / and Fun”

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