Following the success of our foray into installation art this year, I continued the project with the second 9 weeks students. The students saw the same artist examples and were introduced to installation art concepts via the same power point presentation. But, these groups had already seen what the first 9 weeks groups did. This time, I wanted to really focus on the “interactive” nature of installation art. I stressed this by continually asking student groups how their viewers would potentially interact with the space / piece. I viewed my role as “facilitator.” I tried to guide students towards an answer without giving it to them. At times I provided suggestions. But, mostly, they were self-reliant. This is what I really wanted to study this year. How much freedom do I give them to learn and create in an inquiry environment while getting to a solid conclusion (meeting standards, objectives, and / or goals)?

Now that I’ve taught this lesson multiple times multiple ways, I can say that there is a comfortable (and, of course, I refer to just what’s comfortable to me) balance. I want students to have as much freedom within the lesson as possible to be creative, but it has to provide some critical initial content, structure, and / or restrictions. There also may need to be a point at which the facilitator steps in and kind of “pulls it back together.” The students may need to be reminded of the time constraints, limitation of materials, or (in this example) group management. Are all members of the group participating fully? Has anyone finished their task and are they free to help in other areas? Is the group leader role being fulfilled? When dealing with individual inquiry, it may look like this: “Is the student on task?” “Do they need direction / motivation?” or “Are they reaching the goals?”

2nd period stood out among the rest of the installation art groups because of their approach. They chose to mimic Yayoi Kusama’s style, but put their own twist on it. This group worked well as a team. They covered the walls and floor of a small nook in a high traffic area with white paper. Then, they traced and cut out hundreds of circles in varying sizes and colors. One person was delegated to paint “m” or “s” on the circles. One person painted faces on them. One person created a vote tallying poster for students to interact with. Others covered the walls and floor with the paper cut-out skittles and m&ms. The installation begged to be interacted with. In fact, this group invited that interaction. Everyone who walked through that hallway noticed. Most students voted (Skittles won if you were wondering). And, it lasted the longest out of all the installations due to its location – and maybe its popularity.

         

    

    

Other group ideas included: a space-y mural with hanging stars, a sea curtain – – installed in the same hallway as the “why is the hallway blue?” installation, and a stained glass piece I was also rather fond of.

    

    

Some of the key factors for success in this lesson were due to the way it was structured. Students experienced an introduction. Then, they planned their installation by way of a loosely guided worksheet (ex. where will you place your installation, what materials will you need, etc.). And, finally, they learned through inquiry. They were making choices as they went: “Will this work? No? Then we have to find another way to make it work. Do we have this available? Yes? Good. Let’s use that.” They were dependent on the group’s success, but also had a great deal of individual creativity and freedom. Frequently, I noticed students going to the leader and asking for his opinion on things to add, change, or remove. In fact, the leader would often get the group’s attention so they could decide as a team. It definitely had a real-world feel. How would the boss of a company accept ideas from his team? How can you make all members feel valued? And, how can you welcome that input while deciding not all ideas are the best ones?

The 7th grade students who participated in the installation art lesson in my classroom recently went on a tour of the Mattress Factory museum as a part of “The Space I’m In” experience. And, this is really the best part: I have clear evidence of their learning! I heard, first hand, the responses they were giving to the tour guides. I read written responses they provided in sketchbooks they carried around with them. And, I know that what they experienced made an impact on them based on their bus-ride-home conversations.

Last year, I didn’t plan to teach installation art in my classroom as a part of “The Space I’m In.” And, yes, the students had a great time using the materials from the mattress factory. But, I didn’t see that they “got it” like this year’s group of students did. I mean, it was all over their faces!
I want students to EXPERIENCE learning art this way. I want to see how many lessons I can adapt to a similar format. I think that inquiry is possible, relevant, and even crucial to student success. I just need to find my own balance within it. Where’d that tightrope go?

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