Lift and Drag
The conundrum for aviation engineers is creating enough lift to get in the air while minimizing the drag this feature (which is to say the wing) carries into flight. Old biplanes were wonderful at getting into the air, especially at a time when lengthy airstrips were not the rule and a lot of lift was needed quickly. But once in the air you had two big features scraping along through the ocean of air, keeping airspeeds for most biplanes well under 200 mph.
I have this great, big biplane of a lesson plan in place for my 6th grade artists: Op Art. I’ve got plenty of lift with this attractive imagery but simply splashing paint around and hoping to cover the topic was really, uh, a drag.
My 6th graders have already painted a Florida Landscape inspired by Florida Highwaymen of the 1950s. This project was completely studio-based with yours truly acting as a surrogate Bob Ross, leading the way step by step. Students were given plenty of choices in the process and the results showed a wide range of solutions. But it was teacher-driven. The students really liked the product, but they deserved more.
To take them and yours truly out of this comfort zone, I challenged them to forge their own vision and design and the Op Art project offered a good vehicle for this process. The plan was simple: take away the ‘wings’ of the project which for the time being meant the paint and brushes, and get them into the rarified air quickly and efficiently. This might require a rocket! And they needed to embrace the basic ideas of Op Art without some pestering influence (Who? Me?) dragging their ideas back to earth. For a veteran discipline-based art educator, this meant that someone other than my students needed to drop the heavy fabric wings and strap on a rocket pack. Yikes!
Canvas provided the launch pad for this game-changer. It allowed students to explore Op Art on their own, googling the topic, learning some of the well-known practitioners of the style, and appreciating the complementary color schemes and the ‘hard-edged’ painting style. They were able to choose what they liked about the style, decide what design ideas captivated them, and explore designs on their own, using online paintboxes. (I like sumopaint for a basic program and youidraw for a more sophisticated platform, but other programs are in play and are being investigated.)
The old aviator liked what he saw. In fact, the process took my breath away. Words like WOW and questions like HOW DID YOU DO THAT? bubbled up in the atmosphere of the computer lab. Clearly, I needed to get online and explore right alongside my students.
The Op Art project is in process. Students are currently translating their online creations to a studio version of Op Art, using real paint and real brushes, though it must be said that in a perfect cyber world the online galleries might justifiably be the final product. The project will include a student reflection through Canvas at its conclusion.
Student enthusiasm prompted me to offer these 6th graders an opportunity to create something special. Op Art Chairs. Prior to this, the chair project, introduced earlier as a fundraiser, was limited to my 7th and 8th graders at Dennis Intermediate. For these 6th graders, being able to decorate their own chairs is like landing on Mars. They voted to do this project over several other options which included a personal painting or a class mural.
Canvas has shown me that blended learning offers incredible growth for student and teacher alike. True, we must often bring our prior knowledge to gain momentum, but once students have gotten aloft, it is time to jettison the baggage.