Friday, December 11, 2015

Antiquated Knowledge? Cutting-Edge Technology!

Students in Costume Design, an elective in the Upper School Performing Arts theater sequence, began their work by developing basic hand sewing and machine sewing techniques and went on to demonstrate their understanding of basting, hemming, tacking and the whip stitch by assembling an old-fashioned handwork sampler. They practiced ironing and pinning techniques as well as machine straight stitching, back stitching and cornering, and applied those skills in the last stages of the sampler construction. Finally, they decorated the samplers with a variety of fasteners: two- and four-eyed buttons, shank buttons, snaps and hooks.

What does this have to do with Penn Charter’s Strategic Vision?

To put this learning in context, technology such as conductive thread used in clothing will still require the manual skill and dexterity necessary to thread a needle, make a knot, and stitch.
Major designers are currently using giant laser cutters for more precision and less fabric waste when laying out and cutting their patterns for ready-to-wear fashion. The Costume Design course helps students bridge a gap between cutting-edge technology and what some may think of as antiquated knowledge. All of the skills enumerated here can be categorized as life skills and are directly connected to the second goal in our Strategic Vision: "Advance our educational program to provide students with the knowledge and skills they will need to thrive in a complex and changing world."

For the final "Project Runway" style assignment, students worked in collaborative groups and chose between Reinventing a Fantasy Icon or a Recycled Super Hero/Heroine. The fantasy icons this fall were: Rapunzel as a hippie in the 1960s; Ursula from The Little Mermaid in a steam punk 1950s prom dress; and Nala from The Lion King in a 1930s African-inspired dress. From the wide variety of materials, to the creative problem-solving and innovation needed as they worked their way through the design, this project required planning, risk taking, grit, flexibility in thinking, and innovation.

The group that chose the Recycled Super Heroine challenge upcycled unusual materials such as orange construction fencing from our recent new stadium building project, corrugated cardboard, netting, scrap fabric, wire and plastic containers. All the groups created inspiration boards and sketches for their designs, giving special attention to the costume design elements of color, texture, pattern, light, line and shape before they acquired materials and fabrics for the construction phase.

It is my hope that some of these students will present their designs at the Arts Portfolio Night, hosted by the Performing and Visual Arts and Design departments on Jan. 21, 2016.

Looking Forward: Toward the end of the first trimester, as they were constructing their final projects for the course, the students moved to the new IdeaLab. This new space provided a unique opportunity to spread out and work at tables the height of an actual cutting table found in a costume or tailor's shop. Next year, I plan to have the class make several removable tabletops that will be padded and covered in muslin for use as pinning and cutting tables.

Eva Kay Noone
Performing Arts, Theater

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Past Wisdom + Future Possibilities

Silhouette.pngAll ninth graders at Penn Charter take a study skills class in the beginning of the year to be able to use their laptop for school, do advanced research, and stay organized -- essential skills for navigating their step-up to meet the increased rigor of high school. I teach technology skills by assigning projects students complete to show me they are able to do the kinds of things teachers will ask them to do with their laptops in 9th-12th grade classes. They learn key skills completing their projects.
We start with the basics. I assign small projects to make sure students can access their school accounts and post assignments online. Since teachers are assigning creative work that requires students to take and edit pictures, I needed a new project to introduce those tools and move students beyond the basics. Some summer work with the school’s new IdeaLab laser cutter sparked an idea.

Experimenting with the equipment, it became clear that most projects would take too long for the whole grade to complete, but each student could laser cut a simple face outline from wood. Before the campfire-like sweet scent of laser’d wood drifted from freshly cut project samples, the outline tests reminded me of something from Quaker history...silhouettes.

While traditional portraits were seen as expressions of vanity emphasizing a person’s looks and social status over their spirit and equality with others, Quakers in the 18th and 19th centuries turned away from paintings towards simple silhouette profile cut-outs as inexpensive ways to regard loved ones. In a way, the use of paper silhouettes hundreds of years ago mirrors online social networking practices of today. Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Library puts it like this...
“[Quaker] Silhouettes were given or exchanged to further cement social relationships, similarly to the action of “friending” someone on Facebook today. Some silhouettes were mounted and framed; others were simply slipped into the family Bible or another favorite book. Interestingly, the majority of silhouette albums produced in Philadelphia were created by Quakers seeking to literally bind their community together.”

When the school year started, students in the Class of 2019 used their laptop cameras to take a profile picture of themselves and do a multi-step process using Pixlr -- a powerful, cloud-based image editing tool -- to turn their profiles into a simple silhouette. 

While silhouettes looked out of the past, they were perfect modern material for the high-tech vector tracing capabilities of a software package called inkscape. The software turned the contours of the faces into the mathematical line descriptions needed to direct the cutting beam of our new Full Spectrum CO2 Laser Cutter.

Students learned some important ways to use their school laptop for class projects, got a look into the future of computer controlled fabrication, and learned a little bit about our Quaker past, all in one project. The wood likenesses are heading home to be shared with loved-ones.

Michael Moulton
edTech Director

What’s that Part? Inquiry in the Classroom

I recently put together resources and stories to share for a presentation on embedding inquiry across the curriculum. When trying to come up with a definition of inquiry, after collecting responses from colleagues, I found it helpful to identify what inquiry is NOT. I kept coming back to the idea that inquiry is not teachers asking students questions teachers already can answer. Instead, it’s providing students with open-ended exploration driven by their curiosities.

So what might this look like in a Lower School classroom?

During first grade technology class, we decided to explore some of the different parts of our Chromebooks and figure out how the parts came together to make a whole. Students first brainstormed some parts that they thought a Chromebook might need in order to work. Then we took one apart to see what the inside looked like. We discovered screens, batteries, screws, wires and lots of other parts, too. 

Our next job was to take a closer look at two "mystery parts." We recorded our observations and made some predictions about what we thought these "parts" could be and how they might work together to make a whole. We were excited to discover that they were LED lights and batteries and that when we put the parts together in a certain way, we were able to make the bulb light up!

Christy Brennan, Lower School Technology Coordinator