"Staying true" would be a great theme for Justin's recent project for his eighth-grade students. Their assignment was to create African-style masks, an involved process that included more than a simple cut-and-paste approach. "Masks are difficult with any age group, because you have to be careful how you word each step. You want the kids to be attached to their masks, to really be in love with them. We started by having each student identify a personal character trait they either wanted to change or to celebrate. For example, a student is shy. Deep down, he wishes he was louder, a little bit more assertive. That high-energy assertiveness, then, is what he wants in his mask. Reidentifying themselves hooked the class—thinking about themselves made this a very personal project." "We started with a line so kids learned what emotions lines can communicate. We looked for examples in nature. A heart monitor, for example, has a zigzag line, which has a lot of energy to it. So we would look at masks that had a lot of zigzags, and we could clearly see how the pattern influenced how we judged the masks. Then we went to color—warm colors, cool colors, and how they interact with each other. They had to select colors that matched the emotions they were trying to express." Justin's students seemed to get it, and will eagerly explain their choices and discuss how those decisions helped in creating their masks. His students also got into the project because of the sense of trust and respect that exists in his classroom. "There were risks here. For example, the kids had to work with X-Acto knives. A lot of teachers would say, 'Hey, urban kids, it's dangerous. You can't use X-Acto knives.' Well, we did not have one single problem, not even a Band-Aid. Before working with them I tried to make it clear. 'You are young adults. This is not a child's tool, and I know you can handle it.' We went over some of the behavioral expectations, did some safety training, and they understood that I trusted them. They had more ownership of the idea that they were young adults and young artists."
Justin and Britany with her mask
For more information, please contact Education: School & Teacher Programs by phone at (215) 684-7580, by fax at (215) 236-4063, or by e-mail at .