We were back to school August 17th, the tail end of the Olympics. Assuming that the breathtaking scenes of the Amazon jungle from the Opening Ceremonies would be fresh on everyone's minds, it seemed only natural to start the year off with a unit that correlated in some way. Technically, by the time I actually finished going over procedures and doing a couple of 1st day of school type activities, we didn't actually start making our first big unit until August 29th. The Olymics were a distant memory by then, and no body was thinking about Olympic dreams anymore.
The bad thing, was that I had already spent a significant amount of time preparing my first unit before school had even begun. I had to find a way to make everything tie together in order to make it relevant.
I decided to take the advice of Michael Linsin and basically ignore everything else I had ever done. In the past, I have pasted my walls with visuals and photos and magazine clippings of beautiful artwork to correlate to my lessons and build enthusiasm. And since moving to the middle school, I have found that typically, when students guess what it is we might be doing, I am opening myself up to negativity and criticism from every one of them. I've heard students exclaim, "man, those are ugly, I hope we aren't doing that." Which can really kill my enthusiasm when I'm putting on a show every 47 minutes, six times a day.
SO that is what I did.
I simply googled the term 'sloth story' and read through a few....and came across one that I could memorize pretty easily.
On the first day of the unit, I began each lesson exactly the same way, "Once upon a time, in the Amazon jungle, just outside of Brazil, there lived a sloth, in the deepest, darkest part of the jungle. This was no ordinary sloth, he was very clever. But he was actually very lazy." And the story goes on....as I conclude the story (to applause by some classes), I simply say how sad it is that the poor, slow and lowly sloth would probably never have a chance to earn a gold medal at anything, and how interesting it was that ALL of the fastest, strongest, best humans on earth were recently assembled in Rio a few weeks ago----and just outside the city, across South and Central America, those jungle sloths were hanging in trees and moving achingly slow.
I had a couple copies of a visual packet for each table with drawings of sloths---some kids can draw by looking at 'coloring sheets' while others work best if they can look at photos from books. This idea came from an art teacher at a conference a few years ago. She had images of Statue of Liberty paintings her students had done and I was completely blown away. Since then, I've always tried to make my own visual packets with images for students to use as a reference. It helps provide a ton of variety in their work.
I only found like 3 books about sloths in our library, but that seemed like enough. And I had a bunch of other rainforest or Amazon jungle books to use for other animals and plants.
If someone REALLY did not want to focus on the sloth, I encouraged them to pick another animal like a toucan, parrot, tree frog or something and just put a sloth in the corner, or really small in the distance. In the visual packet, I also had a bunch of visuals of leaves and encouraged them to practice drawing those too.
While they were drawing, I walked around the room with the stuffed sloth I found on amazon, and let them pet him. "What is his name?!" (when I let them name him, most suggested FLASH, like the sloth on Zootopia) "Where did he come from?" To which I replied, The Amazon.com.
At the end of the day, just before lining up, I showed them a short video clip of the trailer for Zootopia. I cut it off right before the joke....because most of my students have seen the movie, they knew the joke anyway.
Once they had finished their thumbnail sketch, they could get a 12X18 black construction paper and black crayon. I explained that they would not be drawing in pencil on the black paper, another reason it was important to practice in their sketchbooks first---the pencil would make their drawings WAY too small. Since we would be coloring with chalk pastels, they really needed everything to be BIG and the black crayon would help them do that.
If they finished early, I did not let them start coloring yet....I didn't even have coloring sheets for them. I just had a can of sketchbook prompts, that they could use to draw in their sketchbooks. I told them that they needed to develop some ideas in their sketchbooks, and that I wanted to give everyone plenty of time to finish their sketches and draw on the black paper before we started using the chalk. I'm glad I took the extra day to draw, most kids needed the entire class period.
Black crayon on black paper doesn't show up great---but it is nice if you make mistakes. In the future, I would use black oil pastel, I just knew I didn't order enough black oil pastel to draw in oil pastel AND outline with black oil pastel, so I had to start with the waxy crayon.
After clean up, I showed students this video by Patty Palmer, her lesson on Amazon Rainforest Animals greatly inspired my unit. It was a good preview of what we would be doing next time.
Here is a link to the smore flyer I used when I was developing this unit. I ended up converting most of the info to the emaze so that it would play on my TV screen, but some of the images I did print out and hang in the room once we started coloring so that students would have a reference for color.
Today, I spent time explaining that students should color anything they might want white FIRST because white chalk is hard to add later--it just gets dirty. So white would be white feathers on a toucan, white eyes, white whatever. I also told them to save black for last. This was really hard for them, but the black chalk smears so bad that I had to end up taking out all of the black just to force them to save that step for last, otherwise they ended up doing double the work as we were going to outline everything with black oil pastel anyway.
Remind me in the future never to combine CHALK dust with ragweed season.
I was SO sick the entire time we were doing chalk, even though I told them NOT to blow it into the air, my room doesn't get a lot of air flow, so it was like a permanent cloud that clogged my throat.
At the end of the lesson, after cleaning up---which is really messy. I showed them this video, which fit PERFECTLY with my theme!!! It even showcases a sloth training for the Olympics.
Man was that a good investment!!! After seeing how to layer colors and blend with one finger, and how to add texture over the top, the quality of work improved 1000%.
Today was the day, I emphasized that they really needed to color the entire paper, with chalk fingerprints and smudges are SUPER hard to cover unless the entire paper is covered with chalk and you have the option to touch up.
Today was also the day they could finally outline with black oil pastel. I demonstrated how to keep a 'wiry' texture with a wiry outline, and how to mimic a smooth texture with a smooth outline, and how to add a black dot back into the middle of the eye of their sloth---and add a highlight of white to keep the lifelike look.
Some students still needed ONE more day to color, but LOTS finished. I'm really proud of the results from this unit and I can't wait to incorporate the blending and texture idea into the next project.
After clean up, I read them the book "Slowly Slowly, Said the Sloth." By Eric Carle.