Sunday, January 4, 2015

Building a Unit

In my second year at Capitol Hill School, I am still in the process of refining curriculum.
Collaborating and supporting what is already being taught is quite satisfying and efficient. Students enter the project at a higher level of understanding, and thus can be “taken further” in their comprehension. What a win-win situation.

Recently, I have been able to piggy back on an area of student interest. In the educational field, that is called “Constructivist” and is also considered an opportunity to let student curiosity and enthusiasm lead the teaching.

A couple students in the 4th grade have been drawing geometric optical illusions, and making them more complex as time goes on. Their classmates are fascinated and many are learning from the student leaders.
I slowly recognized this as an opportunity to expand their understanding of geometric optical illusions, by teaching the students about Victor Vasarely. But my first step was to learn more about Vasarely myself.

Writing a lesson or unit of study is one of the most fun parts of teaching. I have to gather the information and then think about what would be relevant for the students at their developmental age. I mull over how to craft a series of activities that they can master and would provide the experience and understanding of the concepts.
With Vasarely, I had to study his optical illusions, understand them myself and then figure an easy way to explain them to the students. What a fun puzzle.
Conveniently for me, Vasarely uses all the tricks of color theory and perspective drawing, plus geometry to create his illusions. The color theory and perspective are skills/concepts I already want to teach the students, so devising this lesson fits nicely with my curricular goals.

Vasarely’s story of being an artist also makes sense. We tell our life story and as parents or mentors of children, I want students to take their goals, and opportunities seriously. I value the stories of how choices and opportunities are productive and with learning and perseverance lead one to success. Vasarely is a good example. He took years to find his real niche as an artist, but his work shows the real progression he HAD to take to get there. His optical work is a result of classic skills of painted illusion developed during the Renaissance. Yet he was a member of the Bauhaus modernist movement searching for simplicity of form. He had a strong science background with his studies to become a physician; he was analytical and questioning.This background and curiosity help him devise his Opt-Art style. There are several more timely significant influences that shaped his work, but I am afraid I am getting too tangental here. Ask me if you are interested.

Victor Vasarely’s great and unique work is a direct result of his interest, influences and persistence. He is a good example for our students, whether they absorb all his life details or not. In the meantime, I believe they will enjoy learning to draw and use color to create some classic optical illusions.

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