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Right now my sixth graders are so deeply engaged in a collaborative art project that many of them are begging to skip recess to work on their assignment. The surprising thing is that it is an art history project! So, why are they so excited?
Let me take you back to the beginning. This summer, my husband and I embarked on a rejuvenating midwestern road trip. Our adventures took us to Minneapolis, Minnesota where we took in the sculpture gardens of the Walker Art Center. We were there to see Claes Oldenberg’s Spoon Bridge and Cherry in person, but we got more than we bargained for.
Within the sculpture garden was the Walker’s annual summer “Artist Designed Mini-Golf” event. This interactive masterpiece is simultaneously a series of artworks and a functional mini-golf course. Each hole within the 18-piece course was designed by an artist or team of artists. Some holes were reflective of that artists’ work, and some were a nod to art history. My husband and I were enchanted, and I knew I had to bring this idea back to my students.
When school started, I spent a lot of time sharing this idea and advocating for resources. Now, almost six months later, this passion project is just weeks away from coming to fruition. Along the way, our mini-golf course has promoted cross-cultural connections with teachers with whom I would have never expected to partner. It has also injected problem-based learning and STEAM into my art room in dynamic ways. The best part is that it has inspired some reluctant artists.
A project of this size is easier to manage when multiple people are involved in the research, design, and funding process. The characteristics of this project can lead to some unusual and fun pairings.
Consider inviting the following types of colleagues:
As you approach each of these potential stakeholders, be sure to point out the exciting benefits of an “art history mini-golf collaboration,” from their professional perspective. Once they see the potential benefits for their own programs, they can’t help but want to be a part of this project.
While some students already have a favorite artist, many need encouragement to pick an interest area. I like to present 20-30 artists, doing a brief “commercial” for each. I share an image via PowerPoint and take 60 seconds to share the most interesting tidbits I know about that artist and their work. This process is similar to a “book talk.”
To keep my students engaged during these commercials, I provide them with a graphic organizer. This worksheet is divided into categories. The students are responsible for fitting each artist into one or more of the groups. This process helps students unpack their thinking and begin to form opinions about who they might like to study further. If you’d like to try this strategy, check out the download below.
If you’re looking for even more innovative ways to bring art history into the classroom, don’t miss these two PRO Learning Packs!
The ILT (Information Literacy and Technology) teacher in my building was eager to join this project because it offers a rare opportunity for students to do something “hands-on” with their completed research.
Whether you oversee the research process yourself or collaborate with another teacher, keep the following three things in mind:
I was fortunate to have my PTO purchase actual putting greens for this project, but you could use particle board or set up in a carpeted room!
Once the greens arrived, I laid one out in the classroom and let the students putt around for a bit, to fully understand the unique constraints of their project.
After playing, I laid down some necessary parameters:
This year, students were grouped according to the artists they had researched. In some cases, friends intentionally chose the same artist as other friends, but it still seemed to work out well. Choose the format that will work best within your classroom’s dynamics.
Sometimes, collaborative projects can be tricky to manage. With multiple students participating and wide-ranging parameters, it becomes important to inject a clear planning process.
Here is what worked in my room:
You can download the planning sheet I used with my students below!
As they plan, help facilitate the transition from research to a three-dimensional interpretation of the artist’s work. Don’t limit the options or media; your students will think of applications you’d never imagine. Their creativity will astound you!
Here are a few of my favorites so far:
Finally, experience has taught me one of the key factors for success with this project is time. Whether they decide to recreate da Vinci’s inventions in cardboard or explore Seurat’s pointillism in puffballs, students are going to need a substantial amount of time!
Besides time, here are six other helpful “hacks” we have discovered:
After all of your students’ hard work, you will want to share the course with the community! Mini-golf is an ideal fit within several spring events that are common at the public school: spring carnival, field days, or your art show. Choose one and begin to publicize the course! Don’t forget to invite your administration or even the school board. Who doesn’t want to play a round of golf?!
At first, building an art history mini-golf course can seem to be an impossibly expensive undertaking. But, as with all art projects, it just takes some creative problem solving to make it a reality for your school. Your efforts will be rewarded tenfold, as you see students who were never invested in art class clamoring to put in extra work on their mini-golf hole!
What tips do you have for efficiently organizing group projects?
What is your favorite way to teach art history?