The Durham District School Board has partnered with ArtsSmarts and the Ontario Arts Council to create unique learning experiences for their students. Working with a local artist in the classroom, young people have the opportunity to learn core curriculum in new and creative ways. The goals are to increase student engagement and achievement, as well as to provide alternate avenues for learning.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in this program as an Artist in Residence at Cartwright High School in Blackstock, Ontario. Our project involved using quilting and the textile arts to communicate concepts from the Grade 9 English and Math curriculum. During these two class periods over the course of five days, the students would learn how to design and construct their own quilt block using my Sewflakes: Papercut Appliqué technique.
It wasn’t difficult to see the many connections between quilting and Math. The first lesson associated with papercut appliqué is folding a square piece of paper into different sizes. I have always described the resulting folded shape as a wedge, but of course it is also a triangle.
The students used the paper folding lesson to investigate various types of triangles and their properties. They learned about internal and external angles, the relationships between angles, and my all time favourite, the Pythagorean Theorem! (Didn’t you ever wonder why we multiply the short side of a half-square triangle by 1.414 to find the length of the long side? a² + b² = c²! If a and b are equal to 1, then c is the square root of 2, or 1.414. Isn’t that great?)
There were many activities with a distinct focus on English. During the introductory presentation about quilting, students were asked to complete a listening guide handout. A hands-on activity with a selection of my quilts encouraged them to analyze, interpret, and articulate what each piece was trying to say. They began to see how quilts, and art, can be used to communicate.
The students were assigned to write a short story, and to begin by completing an outline document. Part of the report asked them to consider what image or images might best depict a central idea in their creative writing. This image then became integrated into their papercut appliqué design.
On the final day, each student delivered an oral presentation to the class. They shared a brief synopsis of their short story and displayed their completed quilt block. It was required that they be able to explain why they chose their particular image as well as how that image significantly related to their story.
This was, for me, fascinating. How incredibly fulfilling it was to see the students come full circle: from analyzing and interpreting my quilts to analyzing and interpreting their own designs. I’d like to share four of my favorite quilt blocks with you and tell you a little bit about their stories. This project truly was a unique learning experience, and not only for the students – for me, too!
This is a snowflake of maple leaves, and in the center of each leaf is a tear drop. In the story, a troubled young girl copes with her distress by kicking at a pile of fall leaves and lying in them crying.
This snowflake features money bags as the key element in an action-packed tale about a bank robbery.
Here we have dollar signs once again, this time on fire. This is a story of greed and its power to destroy everyone around it.
A boy gets caught up in a gang and seeks to escape a destructive lifestyle. The snowflake tells the moral of the story: stay away from guns and knives, booze and drugs.