The Art of Imagination

Gause Elementary School third-graders learn about vertebrate groups and create unique animals

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Collage making and animal classification may not seem related, but students at Gause Elementary are learning just the opposite.

Combining art, imagination and the new Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum, the third-graders created unique animals from different vertebrate groups.

They were assisted in this process by Peggy Ross, a teaching artist with Young Audiences. Ross has been an artist since she was old enough to hold a crayon, and has been working in schools for the past 20 years. She is trained in visual art, design and textiles, with a degree in studio art.

“One of the things I enjoy the most about working with children is their ability to innovate and approach their art, and the world, with new perspectives,” she said. “I love experiencing, vicariously, the joy of discovery and expression when children try new mediums and ideas with their art-making. There’s nothing more gratifying than a class of my students feeling proud and successful about their creations.”

The Gause Booster Club funded the artist-in-residence project through the annual school sport-a-thon.

“Parents make this program happen and I’m very grateful for this partnership,” said third-grade teacher Heidi Kleser.

This is the first year the students have participated in this specific project.

Using the new curriculum, students spent time learning about the five vertebrate groups and their characteristics. Then, they went through the writing process to create an informational paragraph about one of the groups.

Creativity kicked in when students were asked to make their own imaginary animal that combined the characteristics of two of the vertebrate groups.

Ross worked with each third grade classroom to help students bring their creations to life using collage.

“My residencies include skill building, which leads students to feel success in expressing their ideas,” she said.

They began by drawing and painting abstract compositions, and learning about art elements such as line, shape, texture and value. Then, using those elements, progressed to drawing simple animal shapes.

In the final project, students created imaginary animals with collage.

Kleser enjoys how art allows students to express learning in a creative way.

“My students build confidence with new media, and receive positive feedback from one another and the artist,” she said. “I love watching their excitement as they learn something new.”

Gracie Hack created a “Ficock,” which is part fish and part bird, using scraps of blue and green paper to make a colorful body. She was first required to decide on each attribute of her creature, and then place it in the appropriate kingdom, phylum and class.

“I was inspired by the beauty of peacocks,” she said.

Next, she will write a narrative story or informational text about her animal “discovery.”

Teacher Lisa Kaaihue noted that the project is also introducing students to the career of taxonomy.

“We are asking them to write about their animal as if they were the first to see it,” she said. “This is a long project with many parts including third-grade writing. It feels like this art component is a celebration of learning.”

Students will complete their writing and display their findings and art at a gallery showcase later this month.

According to Ross, students benefit in many ways from incorporating art into larger curriculum projects.

“Not only are students learning about design basics and collage techniques,they are also more deeply exploring their knowledge of vertebrates,” she said. “They are thinking creatively and critically, using kinesthetic as well as visual spatial ‘intelligences,’ and having fun doing it.”