Monday, April 28, 2014

Project Based Learning through Media Center Mural Creation

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to redesign a high school media center space to better meet the needs of modern learners.  Equipment and furniture were ordered to accommodate the need for the creation and movement of spaces to reflect individual and group needs.  Existing media was reorganized.  Apple TVs with both projectors and large screen televisions were added to some of the wall space, allowing several groups at a time to display their devices for a larger crowd.  Though the space looked new, it was still being defined by section titles mounted above the book shelves.

The section titles were crafted from wood block lettering and described the print sections of the space.  These signs were large and reflected a very solid, strict and static space.

Our goal was to incorporate the idea of movement into the space, an important characteristic of media in the 21st Century media.  Knowledge and news are always changing from day to day, minute to minute.  We wanted the media center to reflect the changes occurring in a modern world yet be grounded with a solid foundation.  We wanted visitors to feel connected to the space by relating to images from the past, regardless of section.

I approached Deb Brewster, the high school art teacher at Manitou Springs High School, to see if she might have a student in mind to tackle an independent study mural project for the media center.  She smiled and a week later introduced me to Camille, a senior at MSHS.

Camille was set to graduate in December but delayed her graduation date to take on this project.  We met, I explained my needs and goals and Camille set to work.  What was to happen over the course of next few months was magical, the essence of project based learning because it gave Camille an authentic learning experience that produced meaningful work that would reach out to audiences long after the project was complete. 

Below are Camille's murals and excerpts from an interview with Camille summarizing her project work:

Describe your project
The project consisted of three murals encompassing the three sections of the Manitou Springs High School library.  The murals are visual collages to touch on every facet of the section and to bring alive the section titles.  The goal was to visually define the words reference, non-fiction, and fiction through painting.  The medium used was acrylic paint on board.
The color continuity on the murals was something I worked hard to balance.  I wanted all three pieces to be cohesive yet I wanted the color scheme in each piece to emphasize the purpose of the word.  You'll notice the sky starts out dark and gets lighter as it moves through each of the murals.  The tan was a fundamental color as well and was used on all three pieces.  I incorporated a black and white theme in all three murals to reflect the passage of time. The goal was to make all three pieces compliment one space.
What is something you did during this project that you think you will remember for the rest of your life?   
Learning how to not let my past knowledge hold me back, to allow myself to grow even when I didn't believe in myself.  I worked through this via a great deal of conversation with my advisors, Deb Brewster and Paul Bonner.  This conversation involved around the fact that she was an artist, an artist understands art, and that all artists are free to try other arts.
Picking up a paint brush and feeling confident about what I was doing.  Believing I could do this and if I messed up I could fix what I messed up.  I had to give myself permission to fail and believe there would always be a way to get back on my feet.
What was the most challenging part of this project for you?
I had never painted prior to this project.  I considered herself a photographer, not a painter.  I had one beginning art class at MSHS.
When you started this project, you thought it would be an solo project.  That ended up not being the case.  Would you please elaborate on how you collaborated with others?
I realized I would need teaching and help and had to put pride aside if I was to accomplish my goal.  I realized this was a project for the community and that the project would need a community involved in the painting.  I tapped into the resource of the painting teaching assistants in the class to help with the painting but it ended up being so much more.  The additional painters brought in alternative points of view.  I was able to learn from their viewpoints and experiences in painting just as much as I was able to learn from my advisors. 
What is something that was hard for you at the start of the project, but is easier now?
It's easier to get excited about projects.  I used to be terrified about this project so much that it was hard to come to school to work on it.   I worked through this and eventually made a turning point.  I began to look forward to what I was going to do new each day. 
I learned this was part of the creative process, the ability to build on the hard work that comes together in something beautiful.  This leads you on to creating new art within the project.  I learned ideas spur ideas.
In what area do you feel you made your biggest improvements?
Painting, and having my hands in a commissioned project.  Being a photographer I've always paid attention to color but I've never had to manipulate color other than by manipulating the light in which I photograph.  In photography you don't have to mix colors.  My whole color theory changed when I realized it wasn't that easy to mix colors.  I learned how colors work in the world and how to recreate them in paint. 
What has made the biggest impact on your learning during this project? Why?
Letting myself do it.  I built my confidence throughout the entire project, especially completing the project.
If you could turn back time and do this project again, what would you do differently?
I would not be so prideful and I would ask more questions.  I didn't want to ask because I thought asking made me seem stupid.  I had to have a bit of a breakdown to work through this.  When I realized I couldn't do this all by myself.  When Brewster told me my drawings weren't to scale and that I had to change them it devastated me because I would have to rely on my sense of composition to fit the boards.  That meant I had to learn how to design to make my ideas fit the boards I had.
What did you learn?
I learned so very much.   I learned about brush strokes when painting, I learned how to paint highlights and lowlights, I learned about gridding and scaling.
I got academic with Camille and asked her about Art Standards and which ones she had met.  She pondered, and wondered which ones she hadn't met.
Specifically we talked about the following Visual Arts Standards:

Overall, the project was a huge success.  Camille will present her project to the staff sometime in May.  Her presentation is available via Dropbox.