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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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.