The Leonardo Project

Eli Whitney Museum

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The Eli Whitney Museum

The Eli Whitney Museum was established in 1979 on the site of Whitney's 1798 armory - the first modern American Factory. The Museum preserves the site and its legacy... the learning through experience and experiment, the self guided discovery that is called Yankee ingenuity.

In 1990, the Museum established the Whitney Workshop, a learning laboratory that studies and supports gifted and inventive students who are impatient with the reading and writing tasks of conventional classrooms. Though often frustrated in school, Workshop students have taken World Medals in the Odyssey of the Mind design competition.
These students help construct the Museum's exhibitions, and teach its classes.

The Proposal

The Leonardo Projects will design and test 15 Design Problem statements for students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Each of these will formulate a Design Problem that appears in Leonardo's notebooks to challenge contemporary children. The topics will introduce the divisions of design: architecture, stage design, graphic design, engineering of structures and machines. Each problem will guide teacher presentation and prepare students to create solutions in school or at home.

The Leonardo Project will test the computer's ability to inform design with feedback. Children in 20 classrooms will test the problem statements. Photographs of their work will be digitized to allow teachers and students to sort images by theme: gender, age, dimensions of creativity, etc. The digital index will both teach and evaluate the project.

Why Leonardo?

Leonardo's vision conveys a way of thinking. Trust experience... not the promises of words, he cautions his detractors. Modelo! Test this with a model, he reminds himself. His vision is practical and passionate. His notebooks capture all that captures the imagination of a child: costumes, catapults, cars. His name embraces learning without boundaries.
His name embraces the very origins of modern thinking.

Too often elementary classrooms isolate art as a diversion independent of the real thinking of school. In Leonardo, there is no such distinction: art is the essence of thinking. His name elevates the tinkering of experimental building to a high cultural activity.

The Target Population: Young Leonardos

Wm Brown taught his first Leonardo class at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven in 1982. The class set out to link the passion for making things in 10 to 12 year - olds to a distinct cultural legacy. The class drew enormously talented students and an unanticipated discovery. The students showed a remarkable gift for decoding Leonardo's drawings. Their creations impressed even themselves. One student puzzled: This is confusing. You know, in my school, I'm one of the dumb kids. Others acknowledged that they too were receiving special help with spelling or writing or reading. Something in Leonardo had drawn to a class of fourteen, eight students who were dyslexic: very bright, frustrated in school.

A close look at Leonardo's life revealed a kindred spirit. He apologized that his writing lacked the eloquence of a scholar, he struggled to learn Latin, his elegant mathematics was riddled with elementary arithmetic errors. Yet do we begin to describe Leonardo as disabled?

The Leonardo Hypothesis: there may be inherent in the gifts of powerful visual thinking a style of thinking that is difficult to express in the reading and writing exercises of the early classroom years. In the past twelve years, workshop students have built 5,000 rubber band powered cars, after Leonardo 75% of the highest performing
students (longest travel in class) were students with contradictory classroom records. Students drawn from this population have formed the Museum's design teams in the Odyssey of the Mind Competition. Those teams have won more medals at the Worlds Competition level than all other Connecticut teams combined. Leonardo speaks to and
through these children.

The Need: A Way of Learning

What if you waited through the first five years of your schooling with an answer, for which no one ever asked the question? In Leonardo, children discover deep and rich questions for which they have lively answers. Leonardo says: Design! Think and express with all your senses. Design engages ways of thinking rarely tested in most classrooms. When there is no flexibility in the modes of expression in a classroom, some students are made disabled.

Art and design are not ancillary to classroom experience: they are essential ways of thinking. In 4th grade, most children have ideas and understanding much broader than their vocabulary of written language. In the press of encouraging written language, teachers too often, too soon, move students away from the tools of visual thinking. The bias is powerful: grown up students write.

This project will introduce design tools powerful enough to work even with teachers of uncertain confidence. It will introduce projects of such grown-up content that the playful nature of their solutions will not seem inappropriate.

Visual thinkers, young Leonardos, will benefit most from this opportunity for creative expression. All students will discover in the exercises engaging challenges and something about the many ways of thinking that co-exist in their classroom.

The Strategy: Mobilizing New Resources

The irony is painful: we cut time and resources for art teaching only to discover that students are unprepared to advance in math and science for want of hands-on learning. A curriculum can segment reaching: but can a child segment thinking?

The demands on classroom teachers an enormous. This proposal offers tools to support, not to complicate, classroom work. Few teachers without a special commitment to art have the material resources in their classrooms to engage three-dimensional expression. The Leonardo Projects support classrom introductions of work that might be done in a
classroom or might be done at home. The projects will mobilize as recources, materials, and support, and time for work at home.

The projects are designed to be linked to an array of lessons. The Costume Project might support a book report, a geography project, a social studies lesson, a lesson on the mathematics of measurement. These are not projects for art's sake, they're projects for the sake of thinking.

Introduction

Leonardo daVinci left 6000 pages of drawings and notes. Most of his ideas were never constructed. But his designs for theatres and costumes were commissioned for real festivals. These designs were used. It is still true that we create effects for theatre that we can not yet use in everyday life.

To make inexpensive and relatively easy costumer, Leonardo suggests an important idea: use common materials to look
like expensive materials: grain becomes embroidery.

The Problem

Let's explore this idea. Lets make a clothespin represent a person or character. Your task is to create a costume. But you don't have to sew little pants and shoes. Make the look of a costume by using ordinary materials.

For example:
what are five ways you could give your clothespin hair? (Draw from group) pencil, marker, yarn, string, steel wool, wire, sawdust, cotton, flour, grass, herbs... or your own hair.

So. Why make wooden people?

  • They make real your images of heroes or characters from books, or people from other lands... any subject.
  • They cause you to organize your thinking about the details of a life.
  • They challenge your cleverness at adapting materials.
  • They make telling the story of your character a purzle... a puzzle without words.
  • They are a tool for thinking in scale. Here, one-half inch = one foot.

Practice a warm-up exercise. Choose a character from a fairy tale or any familiar story. Here are some common materials. (straws, toothpicks, string, paper clips, paper, hairpin, tape, coffee stirrers.) Think of some characters that might work. What features make them recognizable? Choosing wisely is an important part of the creative process.

Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, the Big, Bad Wolf, Little Boy Blue, Red Riding Hood, Snow White, the Black Knight, Kermit the Frog, (it's not easy being green,) the Pink Panther, (you see, color is one feature that might make your character recognizable. Are there other features that might make it recognizable?)

Or think of characters with recognizable features or accessories. Ichabod Crane with pumpkin head, Long John Silver with parrot on his shoulder and his peg leg, the Tin Man with axe, the Straw Man, Dorothy and Toto, Paul Bunyon and Babe, Pinocchio, Mary Poppins and her umbrella, the Pied Piper and his flute, Abe Lincoln with his stove hat, the Old Woman and her shoe.

Choose a character that will work for you. Choose a character that you like. it's always wise to start design with something you really enjoy.

Assignment:

Make a clothespin figure that describes a character from history. Create clothes and props to make the character recognizable.

How?

  • Use stuff that you can find at home: tape, string, food that won't spoil(rice, spices, etc.) paper clips, unwanted beads, etc.
  • Be bold. Try unusual materials and unusual uses.
  • Choose your character wisely.
  • choose someone you can relate to... someone interesting for you.
  • choose someone unusual, or an unusual way to tell the story.
  • Where to look? Consider inventors, explorers. leaders (political, military), artists, athletes.
  • Props: short for property. Something which helps an actor play a role. Think of props that fit. Examples: George Washington - axe, cherry tree, Eli Whitney - cotton gin, Cleopatra - barge, Galileo - telescope.
  • Detail, detail, detail. Make your presentation as complete as possible.
  • Put your creativity to work. Choose materials cleverly. Make unusual connections.
  • Research. It means look at carefully. Look up the life of your character. Look for clear ways of telling the story.

Introduction

Leonardo da Vinci was commissioned or hired to design important buildings. He began with bold sketches. He rarely completed his plans. He found details so interesting that he could not return to the main plan.

Details define design. To work as an architect, we will concentrate on a very important detail: the main doorway. You will see this detail has details.

The Problem

Let's explore this idea. Design a doorway. Actually, an entrance or a threshold. What makes an entrance more than a door?

Remember the house you used to draw in first grade? no detail here. So no real design. Let's make a list of all the details that make this cartoon doorway into a real entrance. (Draw from group:)

door
knocker
steps
mail box
railings
flowers
lights

door mat
fence
storm door
decorations
door bell
newspaper holder

numbers
pillars
alarm
color/no color
windows
religious insignia

Start with an image of a door you can picture in your mind. Now construct an entrance in quarter-inch scale. Will your entrance be purely practical? What style will you choose? Where do styles come from?

Assignment:

Make a doorway or threshold in quarter-inch scale Use as much detail as possible using any materials available.

How?

  • Use stuff that you can find at home or in school: tape, string, food that won't spoil (rice, spices, etc.)
  • Be bold. Try unusual materials and unusual uses.
  • Picture your fantasy doorway.
  • draw on all the doorways you have ever seen.
  • start with your doorway at home and go beyond that.
  • Where to look? Think about your friend's thresholds. Picture doorways you've seen when driving through different neighborhoods. What mikes them different?
  • Detail, detail, detail. Make your presentation as complete as possible.
  • Put your creativity to work. Choose materials cleverly. Make unusual connections.
  • Research. It means look at carefully. Picture yourself walking up to and into this entranceway you are designing.
  • See everything along the way.

Assignment:

Engineering: Make 5 pulleys move by the power of one crank. Make it reliable. Make your combination of movements unique. (Change direction, speed etc.)

Art: Decorate your machine. Make it unique. Make the parts work together.

Background:

Leonardo sketched dozens of ways to connect pulleys. His noteboods described unusual movements. By Eli Whitney's time, the study of mechanical movements of machines began to become a science. In 1868, Henry T. Brown had published a book of 507 mechanical movements.
To complete this project you will need the very first two movements that Brown illustrates. The pictures do not have names. Brown explains
movement number 1: the transmission of power by simple pulleys and
an open belt... The picture is the most useful name.

Notation

Notation means a system for writing down. Notation can include words and symbols. Notation is an important tool. It gives experimenters a language for describing their work. 1. draw lines to record the paths of your rubber bands. 2. Mark the direction the pulleys move (if you crank clockwise) Use there symbols:

clockwise
counterclockwise
faster than the crank pulley
slower than the crank pulley

Now you have a drawing that summarizes your Pulley Project. Compare it to other drawings from your class. Hold yours over other drawings. You should discover many different combinations.

Assignment:

Design a stage set with two different scenes. Create props, characters and scenery which make your story recognizable.

How?

  • Use stuff that you can find at home: tape, string, food that won't spoil (rice, spices, etc.) paper clips, unwanted beads, etc.
  • Be bold. Try unusual materials and unusual uses.
  • Choose your favority fairy tale, fable, or story.
  • choose a story you can like... something with meaning for you.
  • choose something unusual, or an unusual way to tell the story.
  • Where to look? Into your own memory, bedtime stories, family stories, school assignments, library reading lists.
  • Scenery: think of two scenes or locations from your story. Inside / outside, day / night, upstairs / downstairs, back / front. Each side of the stage will represent a different time.
  • Props: short for property. Something which helps an actor play a role or helps set a different scene. Think of props that fit. Examples: inside - furniture / outside - trees; day - sun, clouds, sky / night - stars, moon; downstairs - stairway leading up / upstairs - a window high up; Cinderella - a pumpkin carriage outside the ball, Mice footmen / the hearth inside her house, the wicked stepsisters.
  • Detail, detail, detail. Make your presentation as complete as possible.
  • Put your creativity to work. Choose materials cleverly. Make unusual connections.
  • Research. It means look at carefully. Reread your story if necessary. Look for clues to tell your story and design your set.

Background:

Leonardo suggests... study a stain on a wall. Your imagination can discover many shapes - a landscape with mountains, ruins, woods, battles, figures in action, expressions and faces. Leonardo spent a great deal of time just looking and imagining. He could see more than most
people. Finding patterns and meaning is a dimension of design.

Program (work guidelines):

Assignment 1:

Look at the drawing by Leonardo below. What do you see? How many different things can you see? Compare your list with your classmates.

Assignment 2:

Put your initials in a sheet of paper. Let your imagination and pencil connect them in a drawing. Let yourself move beyond the obvious... M's can be more than mountains.

Materials:

paper, pencil, charcoal, crayon, etc.

Suggenstions:

Try squinting your eyes when you look at the marks. Let your mind wander over the shapes. What do they make you think of? Stare at the marks. Close your eyes and look at what you see in your mind's eye.

Background:

Leonardo dreamt the idea of the helicopter 450 years before there was an engine powerful enough to lift itself high into the air. His was never built and thus never tested. Look at Leonardo's drawing. Do you see any problems with the design?

Program (work guidelines):

Assignment 1:

Cut and fold paper to create a helicopter that will drop in a slow spiral. Test designs to find the slowest descent.

Assignment 2:

Look for nature's designs which work in the same way. How many can you think of or find?

Materials:

paper, scissors, paper clip.

Suggenstions:

Cut out two strips of paper 1" x 8.5" and twist them together for 3 or 4 inches. Fold back the unfolded ends to form blades and bend in different directions. Test by dropping. Adjust blade angles to cause the helicopter to spin. Cut a small piece off the bottom to slow down the descent. Make several. Test one against the other to find the slowest.

Background:

Leonardo tried to discover a division of a circle that would equal its area...an effort that is impossible. This problem fascinated him for years and years - in the end he made it into a game in which he created hundreds of complex and pleasing derigns. Leonardo saw the entire universe in relation to these mathematical musings.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

With a compass, draw a circle. With the same radius, draw another circle whose center is on the arc of the circle and crosses the first circle twice. Repeat from each crossing line. How many parts can you find?

Materials:

paper, pencil, compass.

Suggenstions:

Try drawing inside the shapes you have created. Play with them. What forms from nature can you recognize?

Background:

As a painter Leonardo had studied proportion. When he met Luca Pacioli, a mathemetician who wrote a book called The Devine Proportion, Leonardo developed an overriding passion for mathematics. Leonardo drew the illurtrations for The Devine Proportion, complex geometric figures which Pacioii called "extraordinary and most beautiful figures."

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

With straws and wire, construct three geometric figures.

Materials:

straws, (drinking straws cut exactly in half) soft wire or pipe cleaners, scissors

Suggenstions:

Begin by making the simplest figure that you can, that is one with the fewest number of sides. Then, copy one of Leonardo's classic Platonic figures illustrated below. Third, invent a figure of your own.

Background:

Leonardo is a master of spirals. In one of his earliest technical studies, he draws a turbine to turn meat roasting over a flame. An ingenious advantage: the hotter the flame, the faster the meat turns. This was the first known use of a true air-rcrew.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

Cut a paper spiral. Hold it over a light bulb with a thread. Test chimneys, tubes to collect hot air moved by a heat source (the light bulb.)

Materials:

paper, thread, scissors, light bulb

Suggenstions:

Does your spiral need to look like the illustration? Of course not. Sample different materials, different shapes, different scales. Make several. Test one against the other.

Background:

Leonardo drew flowers all his life. He moved from artist to scientific Often we can see the influence of intertwined branches in his more complicated designs in paintings or on costumes. Leonardo's mind was as intricate as the designs he drew. Occasionally he made rubbings to copy leaves directly and test different marking materials. Rubbings are a technique and a tool. It's an ancient way to collect and record detail or texture.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

With the side of a crayon, rub a leaf's detail through thin paper. Test marking materials, papers, and strokes. Test different kinds of leaves.

Materials:

papers, crayons, charcoal sticks, rubbing wax, soot, etc.

Suggenstions:

Look for hard leaves, soft leaves, fuzzy leaves, smooth leaves, live leaves, dead leaves, complicated leaves, simple leaves. How many differences can you discover? Which are the
most interesting to look at?

Background:

An emblem builds an idea in words and images. Emblems from Leonardo's time usually were made of three parts: the motto, which states the idea of the emblem, the image or picture which represents the motto, and the epigram, or explanation of the picture, often in the form of a short poem. In our time, tee shirts have taken over the place of emblems. Tee shirts combine words and images to express ideas.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

Choose one of the sayings below and create an emblem to explain it. Make up a saying of your own and create an emblem.

Materials:

paper, drawing materials

Suggenstions:

  • good things come to those who wait
  • winning isn't everything, but wanting to win is
  • a rolling stone gathers no moss
  • doodling is the brooding of the hand (Saut Sleinberg)
  • every path has its puddle
  • when the mouse laughs at the cat there's a hole nearby (Nigerian proverb)
  • you can draw images or you can copy or cut images from magazines.

Background:

Leonardo notices the extraordinary variety in the shape and purpose of hats. He draws some hats for theatrical purposes. He draws some hats as cartoons... The style of the hat matches the character of the face. He draws some hats just because they're interesting. Consider the many purposes hats might serve:

protects from sun
protects from cold
protects from injury

they may help in work (doctor's cap)
they may show rank
they may show off

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

Design a hat for yourself - one with at least one purpose from above. Design it as a mock-up... a model you can wear. It doesn't have to be finished or durable as some hats must be. You might start with an existing hat or with a brown paper bag.

Materials:

Newspaper, crepepaper, tissue, feathers, beads, pasta (uncooked,) cloth, rope, yarn, flowers, paperbags, etc.

Suggenstions:

What kind of hat would fit your personality? How would you describe yourself? Serious? Comic? Determined? Lazy? Trustworthy? Shy? Outgoing? Happy? Sad? Could you have more than one hat? Could it be a hat that changes with your mood? What materials would help it define your personality?

Background:

Leonardo liked to play with words. He enjoyed entertaining his patrons and friends with word and picture jokes and riddles. A rebus is a combination of word and picture which creates a sentence or phrase. He used these riddles to call special attention to ideas. He used these designs to expose how people understand ideas.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

Pick out a saying that you like from the list below. (Or make up your own.) Make a rebus using words and pictures to round out the saying. Look at the example below.

Materials:

Paper, pencil.

Illustration:

The rebus below deals with Leonardo's idea about the nature of love. The figure after the clef is a fishhook - ama in Italian - and then the notes re, sol, la, mi, fa, re, mi, followed by the word rare. In Italian this reads Amore sol la mi fa remirare... (love only makes me remember...)

Suggenstions:

Draw pictures or copy or cut out pictures.

List of sayings:

  • A rolling stone gathers no moss.
  • Penny wisp, pound foolish.
  • Hunger is the best sauce.
  • Great men are not always wise.
  • Measure twice, cut once.
  • When elephants fight the grass suffers.
  • Beauty is only skin deep.
  • Today is yesterday's pupil.

Background:

Leonardo thought about the shape powered boats would take long before sources of power (other than humans or wind) were available. He sensed that the shape of paddles would be very imponant...and engineers today still struggle to form the perfect oar.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

Make a paddle-wheel boat propelled by rubber bands. Build the boat to travel far.

Materials:

An empty one pint milk carton, pencil, tongue depressor, rubber bands, hole punch, thread, large paper clip

Directions:

  • Cut the milk carton in half longways so that you have 2 pieces that look like this. Use the half which hasn't been opened to pour out the milk.
  • Put a hole in each ride of the carton (at the spots marked X) with a hole punch. Make them opposite each other.
  • Carefully put a pencil through the holes (try not to tear them.)
  • Put a rubber band under the middle of the pencil and loop one end of it through the other end of itself.
  • Lash the tongue depressors to the pencil ends with rubber bands or thread. Make it look like this.
  • Punch another hole in the milk carton at the 'bow' (at the spot marked Z.)
  • Put the rubber band through the hole at 'Z' and secure it with a large paper clip so that the rubber band doesn't pull back through the hole.

Suggenstions:

Wind up the 'motor'. Test your boat.
Which direction should you wind it? How many turns?
How far will it travel?
Would another rubber band work better? How thick, How long?
Try other shape paddles (dixie cup spoons for example.)
Are they better?

Background:

Leonardo's architectural designs were very imaginative. He could see inside of buildings. He could see how building parts fit together, consider his interest in stairs. He designed separate flights of stairs to reach different partsof a building to avoid traffic jams on the staircase. Like a modern escalator system, they could be divided - one going up and one going down. Stairs on the outside of a house are seen now in our modern fire escape. The influence of Leonardo's double spiral stairway design for two way traffic can be seen today in the Statue of Liberty.

Program(work guidelines):

Assignment:

Construct a marble down staircase to test your eye for complicated relationships. Try to make one with 2 tracks going in opposite directions.

Materials:

An empty quart milk carton, straws, straight pins, scissors,marble.

Directions:

Wash out the milk carton. Stand the milk carton up on end.

Cut the straws as you go along to make them the right length track each side of the marble down.

Push straight pins through 2 straws at a time into one side of the milk carton (at the X's). Make the straws just far apart enough so that a marble won't fall through the space between them. (so it will roll down.) They must be parallel and level to keep the marble from falling off.

keep going around and around the milk carton, testing your marble as you go and adjusting the straws so it travels down and around to the bottom. Test your marble down as you build. Adjust the tracks as you go along. Be patient. Make an ending place for your marble.
Once you have mastered one track, try a second one which goes in the opposite direction, making an x-shaped pattern on the ride of the carton.


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