This year Ann's project was driven by a personal interest in mandalas and how easily their form is found in nature. Early in the week, to facilitate discussion, she had her classes watch a Power Point presentation which explored the history and purpose of these mandalas from India. Ann says that her students quickly caught on to naturally appearing mandalas when she showed them a flower. Soon, she said, they were able to name other mandala forms: snowflakes, spider webs, sliced fruits and vegetables, inner tree rings, etc. and was quite amused when they pointed out anything that was circular, had spokes and/or a pattern radiating out, whenever walking to lunch or back to the classroom (the fan! a manhole cover! bicycle tires!)
Vocabulary is an important part of our curriculum and Ann was very surprised to find that all the children, with the exception of one student, thought that "sacred" meant ancient. Other vocabulary words that she used were also reinforced in other classes: symmetry; balance; design; and pattern.
Because of the methodical and almost fool-proof method of creating this art form, Ann says that her projects were successfully completed and highly satisfying for the student. While they easily learned to use a grid to lay out their mandala patterns, necessary tools such as rulers and compasses were challenging for all. After students understood the pattern repetition, Ann says that they "went to town" and soon all were able to draw a successful mandala. Most chose powerful colors and did a good job incorporating them into the form.
Using clay for the base of this project presented a challenge for Ann and her students. While all were successful rolling out slabs of clay and making an actual plate, for many the difficult part was drawing out their pattern on the plate with wax resist. Ann says that this took much practice and control. Some children were discouraged with the unwieldy wax, but when she showed them samples of fired plates (that were often imperfect) they were encouraged. Even the mistakes looked good! (The colors were put on top of a shiny black glaze that became black lines under the wax resist.)
The students were not only thrilled with their plates, they loved the idea that they could actually eat from them. (Ann taught her students the word ‘functional’). She says that she was asked over and over, "Can I really eat off this?" In July, Ann reported that many of her students were already making plans to have theirs be their special Thanksgiving or birthday plate.
Ann says that she believes the children love the process of working with clay, but they are especially happy with a good result. In her quest, Ann has demonstrated that year after year she is able to choose "always successful' projects that balance learning new techniques, with a great end-result.