GA is a PreK-12, coed, nonsectarian day school in Fort Washington, PA

What makes us unique?

Find out here »

Teaching in a Pandemic: Middle School Art

Written by Liz Buckman
Middle School Art Teacher

Every year, sixth graders enjoy a sculpture unit in their visual arts classes. But this year’s classroom experience is a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each project taught is now completed in a much shorter time frame. We never know how long we will be learning in-person, and we would hate for students to start a project and then not be able to finish it if we transition to Virtual GA.

For instance, in the past, the ceramics unit was roughly five weeks long. This year, it’s approximately two weeks long. I’m also not able to have students share materials and I want them to remain distanced. Additionally, I am teaching students both in-person and virtually, at the same time. I want students who are participating in GA@Home to feel like they are a part of the class and to be able to complete work similarly to their peers.

But these new teaching challenges have allowed me to get creative and pivot with curriculum strategies.

My main goals as an art teacher this year are to teach art while utilizing GA’s outdoor spaces, allow for safe collaboration, and to help students find joy in the creative process. That’s why I introduced a new project this fall to my sixth graders called “Environmental Sculpture.” Students studied environmental sculpture artists Andy Goldsworthy, Richard Shilling, Patrick Dougherty, and Nils-Udo and looked at their artwork for inspiration before creating their own sculptures in groups of two or three students.

I never taught this project before, but I decided to offer it now because fall is the optimal season to take advantage of nature. The natural color palette is stunning and so many leaves and other materials are already on the ground, so you do not have to disturb nature to utilize it. I am also trying to get students outside as much as possible due to the current circumstances. Students are able to distance easily outside.

While looking at the works created by the environmental artists, students considered what type of materials the artists used, how they carefully selected the space in which they planned to create their sculpture, and how the naturally existing environment would affect their work. No human-made materials were allowed in the sculptures. Students used leaves of all colors, shapes and sizes, rocks, water, sticks, acorns, berrie, and more––all found on the GA campus.

Students learned to problem-solve during this project––many students found themselves wanting to use human-made materials, like string or scissors––but they found ways to use what was available to them.

Between The Preserve, the Wissahickon Creek and the Blue Ribbon Trail running through campus, students had many spots to choose from when selecting a location for their sculptures. Environmental artists allow their work to become a part of nature, even if only for a brief time. The idea is that nature will naturally change and eventually destroy the work, and that is a welcome outcome.

Students also had to collaborate with their classmates and share ideas. Learning to work together and sharing ideas is such an important skill to develop at this age. Additionally, students learned to be critical of their own work. They had to make a lot of aesthetic choices while creating their sculpture and be flexible when their ideas didn’t work out.

Overall, the project was a huge success for sixth graders and the hope is to modify the project for seventh grade students in the future.