Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Salmon Bells

A few weeks ago, I visited my daughter's elementary school class to make bells with the kids. The kids are studying salmon and are raising alevin (baby salmon) to later release. 

bells in the kiln after firing

I've done bell projects for two or three years running at another elementary school in town. In that situation, I just show the kids how to make bells. With this class, I had coordinated with the teacher ahead of time and I knew what the kids were studying, so I was able to integrate the lesson with their class a little more carefully.

my example bell and a student bell

It made a big difference that this class had roughly 20 kids, whereas the other group has about 75. I brought 3 students from YVCC to help with the project and they were able to station themselves with a group of students to help the kids with their projects. 

a student's fish

Apparently one of the student-teachers at the elementary school, who is Native American, brought a type of bell with him to class to show the kids how they traditionally shake bells when they are catching salmon (I think I got that right--it came to me second-hand). So the bell project fit in quite well with their class experience.

a student's bell with fish and eggs (or water bubbles, but I'm guessing eggs, based on the conversations)

I also knew the class had been discussing scientific observation, so I started out their lesson by having them handle wet, dry and fired clay and tell me what they noticed about how it felt. I then had them drop the dry clay in a cup of water and observe what happened (the clay released bubbles of air and eventually fell apart--the clay term is "slaking").

another student's take on salmon

After making observations, we made salmon together (the kids and the teacher had to help me get the right amount of fins in place) and then I led them through the process of making a bell with clay balls inside to rattle.

this fish has a lot of character

I took the bells home to fire, then back to school for the kids to paint with watercolor paints. They will shake the bells when they go to release the salmon they've raised.

a couple kids at one table made wiggly handles like this (water plants, I'm guessing)

Though the kids were fairly young, they were all able to build a functioning bell with at least one fish on it. My students helped avoid a few squish-mistakes, but mostly the kids followed along well.

two girls had their fish under their handles. one explained that the salmon was swimming under a rock

It is always fun to see how the kids approach their bells differently. After the flat bottom and pinch pot top, the kids were able to add fish, drawings, handles and other decorations. It is clear sometimes that a few kids saw each others and put on similar decorations, but there is also a lot of variety in approach.

my kid's bell with eggs, fish, tree, water plants, and more

After the lesson, it was also fun to watch the kids clean up. They clearly have a routine and classroom rules. They had no trouble adapting their approach to our tools and the clay mess on their tables.

another side of her bell with the waterfall/tunnel and water plants
After we got home, I let my daughter continue working on her bell (like I had a choice). She had already included eggs and fish on her bell at school, but the end result includes a waterfall, salmon and alevin and an estuary. Alevin and estuary were her words, not mine.

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