Why is the Hall Blue?

Everyone in school was asking!
Why is the hall blue? Who did it? Why did they do it? It’s so cool!

Well, THIS is what happened when I took my first big leap into inquiry this year. Just as last year, I have the opportunity to work with IU1’s “The Space I’m In” project. “The Space I’m In” is an interdisciplinary collaboration between a visual arts and a core content teacher. My partner and I had a lot more time to plan and a lot more experience to go on this year. We had known that the time frame within which to work was way too crunched last year. In addition, I noticed that the visual art content needed to be “beefed up.” I leapt at the chance to teach installation art in (and out of) my classroom using inquiry strategies! From the beginning I knew I wanted to treat this as a student-lead learning experience with minimal input from me. But, as this year’s question poses… where do I find the balance between what the students do and what I do?

I started off with a Power Point presentation featuring artists who were known for installation art. We looked at examples of installation art and discussed the experience of viewing it through multi-sensory perception. From there, students formed groups to plan out their own installation art project in our school. They loved the idea of “taking art out of the classroom.” I have to say that when I went to my principal for permission, I had a lot of doubt. All I could really tell her was that we would be using materials found in the school in an unconventional way. I promised that we would not disrupt the flow of traffic and would not cause damage to the school in any way.

I’ll come back to the “traffic flow” condition in a moment. Because, you’re going to come to a point as you read where you’ll say to yourself: “Gee, that MIGHT disrupt the flow of traffic.”

Four sections of 7th grade, 2 days, and a chaos circus later, my students pulled off some really cool installations! The first group planned to create a Mario Merz-inspired neon-like school logo. They wrapped LED lights around paper rolled letters forming the BF in Ben Franklin. The second section was very large and they had been broken into two groups. One group wanted to create a Skittles rainbow that hung in the hallway, but had to abandon ship when they realized how labor intensive it would be for the time allotted. The other group in that section planned to create a jungle in the hallway outside of my room. Many students were on task, but I spent a lot of time dealing with the behavior problems of students who weren’t interested. I’d say that the size of that class contributed to the disturbances. The third section’s idea involved another school program – the Olweus Anti-Bullying Campaign. Students in this class created stars to stick to the floor, not unlike the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The stars had words on them that you read as you walked. Each phrase was 5 words and at the end of the “walk,” a poster spelled out the inspirational message. One example was: “Be Bully Free at BF.” The teachers liked the idea so much the posters are still hanging up. The stars didn’t last long as students walked over them constantly. Next time we’ll laminate them!

As for the final section, the last period of the day… these students came up with an idea that was truly inspired from the start. They were so enthralled with the work of James Turrell, Christo, and Jeanne-Claude that they wanted to recreate the experience of being immersed in color. They wanted to mimic the effect of walking through James Turrell’s “The Light Inside.” The students planned to “wrap” the entire hallway with blue paper, just like Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings. And, they wanted to get started right away! They took roll paper downstairs into the basement leading to the music room and began measuring out the floor. The plan was to cover the floor, ceiling, and both walls to surround viewers. I helped students cover the floor that day. They had planned on completing the walls on the next day and then tackle the ceiling on the third.

This is the part where you, smart reader, say: “Wait… isn’t that going to disrupt the flow of traffic?”

Ah, yes. Yes, it did. But, I thought students who traveled that hallway would be much more courteous than they were. By the time the dismissal bell rang at the end of the day, our beautifully laid blue floor looked like this:

And, it was dangerous (slippery) to walk on.

What followed could only be described as a teachable moment. A lot of the students had noticed the floor was demolished when they came in for breakfast the next morning. I told them we’d talk about it in class and maybe alter our plans, a little. When class time came around, I sat them down (eager as they were to continue their massive undertaking), and talked about the temporary nature of this project and how sometimes we have to take a detour from our original idea to accommodate things we may not have expected. The students were disappointed, but decided to continue by just doing the walls. After the walls were covered, the students decided to get more people involved! They wanted to turn the blue walls into a “fishbowl” type experience. They began by drawing fish, seaweed, treasure chests, etc. And, then they invited anyone who was walking in the hall to add to it.



The result was still a great accomplishment and garnered a lot of attention from students who had no idea what it was all about. That was the greatest part about the whole experience. Students who were not in 7th grade saw these things happening around the school and didn’t know why. I allowed the participating students to really explain what it was and why they did it. In that way, they were learning by teaching others, too!

It was a really great opportunity to have students make choices, lead their learning, and discover the process themselves. There was richness to the learning that I had hoped would happen. They still talk about this project when I see them! In fact, other students still talk about this project – – the ones who just viewed it. The teachers still talk about it. And, the students who will be doing this project next semester are already asking about it.