Extreme Sidewalk Chalk: a STEAMmaker Challenge

8 07 2014

I know that in my last post, I said the torsion drum challenge would be my next post, but I don’t want to write about that tonite. So…here we are!

STEAMmaker Camp is more than just a makerspace. As I promised in the “Starting Your Own MaskerSpace” post, I’m going to get transparent with the additional challenges we used at STEAMmaker to get the kids moving & shaking. And of course, there were lessons learned in each. The first installment was the Amazing Rubberband Car.  And like just about everything I do, STEAMmaker Camp is a little different.

The Backstory:
I love a makerspace. I love how people can enter the space, think, design, build, revise, and tinker-out as much as they want to. And I think some kids are ready to do that from the start. But I think some of our kids come to us with some “institutional damage,” meaning that they don’t know how to self-start. Or they don’t know how to do that intelligently and with intention. And it’s the same with STEAMmaker, only here, they also came in teams from different schools. These teams may not even have ever worked together before this camp because even being from the same school, all the teams were multi-aged.

Knowing this ahead of time, I decided that I would create challenges that would not only allow them to do some team-building within their own school-based teams, but also try to get them to mix up between schools.

Additionally, I designed the challenges to allow the coordinators (Carianne, Tammy, and me) to see who the teams were as learners, how their sponsoring teachers interacted with the kids, and how they managed their time, materials, and space. We learned a LOT each time.

I highly recommend these challenges for anyone who wants to create an environment where students have to take charge of managing their time, task, and problem-solving.

Challenge 2: Extreme Sidewalk Chalk!

We’ve all seen them — those crazy, dizzying sidewalk chalk drawings that have floated around on Facebook for years. If you haven’t seen them, check out this video and you’ll get a nice reminder:

In Extreme Sidewalk Chalk, students were challenged to create extreme sidewalk chalk drawings themselves! We watched the above video. Many kids were familiar with this type of art. Some had never seen it. Once they saw the video, the kids were very quiet. Some had art skills. Most felt they didn’t. We told them they were going to create drawings like the ones seen in the video.

They began to get truly worried. And that was absolutely intentional. You see, on a regular basis, I want students to feel panic and self-doubt, and then find that with a little time, a lot of effort, and some help from good resources, they can do more than they ever imagined. And that’s precisely what happened during this challenge.

Once the campers’ panic and self-doubt had sufficiently set in, it was time to help them move forward. I gave them a link to this playlist, that shows many artists doing 3D drawings in time-lapse.

We asked students to work in smaller groups (2-4) and decide which of the previous they’d like to try to recreate. They got 10″ x 17″ white paper, pencils, and big pink erasers. And the kids dug in.

Extreme Sidewalk Chalk 3D STEAMmakerWe supported them by talking with them about tone and value…about making the darks truly ebony-dark and so then it’s easier to shade back out light. My apologies to any true art teachers–I’m certainly not one, but we still were able to do some exciting things!

Once they had sketched, shaded, and planned to where their sketches looked like they were picking up a definite 3D quality, we let them go outside and begin drawing in chalk.

It took about 30 minutes of sketching with pencil/paper for most teams. Then they dove outside! It took another 30-ish minutes out there and we had some wonderful success!

BIG TIP: Plain, Walmart-purchased chalk is NOT what the professionals in the YouTube videos use, but I didn’t want to spend huge money on this challenge that might not turn out well. I wasn’t sure. I’d never done this with kids, but had strong faith they could do it … you see, they had time, effort, and some good resources! So I bought some Crayola and some other brand “bright” sidewalk chalk.

Some groups did better than others, of course. Some have more experience than others. But all did very well, surprising themselves with their own hidden abilities. This boy says it all:

The Clincher:
As the makers were finishing up their work outside, marveling about how darned close they were to the original 3D images and excited about how they never thought they’d be able to do that well, I was very explicit in my conversation with the group.

I made it clear to them that it’s important we push ourselves to do things we’re pretty sure we could “never” do because what if we’re wrong?

And if they weren’t as successful as they wanted to be, consider what might happen if they were able to devote more than 2 hours to practice? Also, I tried to make it explicitly clear that the exercise was about making things appear that had never existed in that space before. That if we looked at things from a very different way or from a very specific perspective, we might be able to create three-dimensional things in only two dimensional space.

And that being an inventor or a maker or an innovator is about trying to see things in different ways and about making things that had never existed in our space before.

Of course, this challenge doesn’t have technology all over it. After all, this is sidewalk chalk, for goodness sake. It’s about the experience and the mentoring though to success which is what makes it valuable for all learners.

Holler at me if you’d like to bring this sort of experience, or any of the STEAMmaker Camp experience to your community. I’d love to help create a sustainable MakerSpace for your schools!



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