Saturday, February 29, 2020

Vincent Van Gogh, Constellations & Coordinate Graphs

Sometimes, our students give us the best ideas. We were mucking through our solar system unit in science, reading about how the night sky is charted, when Charlie said, "This kind of reminds me of how we graph points."

I love moments like this. It's like everything kind of slows down, and our brains begin to connect the dots (no pun intended). Charlie's response was the catalyst for this project. To this day, he likes to say that he added the spice to our fifth grade coordinate graphing unit. And he would be right. 

I went home that night and began to pull resources together for a multi-disciplinary project. There was one Common Core State Standard that had been causing grief...

5.G.A.2 Graph points on the coordinate plane to solve real-world and mathematical problems. 

It was the "real world" part that perplexed me. The next week, we got down to business. We began by reading about Vincent Van Gogh. I chose this artist because "Starry Night" is a painting that most students recognize, and I wanted to bring our study of constellations into the math class. I found two children's books that did a nice job.
In Katie and the Starry Night, a young girls visits famous paintings. When she view's Van Gogh's "Starry Night," the stars come tumbling out of the painting. She experiences the painting as she attempts to round up the rogue stars.

In Vincent Can't Sleep, readers experience the night sky through Vincent's sleepless eyes. This book explores how Vincent's lifelong insomnia provided inspiration for one of his greatest works. 

In addition, we read a straight biographical sketch that I wrote about Van Gogh. 
After reading the books, biography and a quotation biography that I created for my students, students responded to the readings by using the Step Inside thinking routine. You can read more about that here.

We also spent some time observing "Starry Night" up close and personal using our SMART board, so it would be projected big enough for us to notice small details. 

Later on in the week, we researched different constellations. We extended our science learning a bit and read about some of the myths associated with the constellations. I created constellation cards for my students to use. I also curated a list of websites about constellations and uploaded them in our Google Classroom site. 

Finally, we were ready to begin reviewing our coordinate graphing concepts. We practice graphing X and Y coordinate data and applying increase and decrease rules to that data. Students accepted a commission from a wealthy patron who wanted a night sky with one constellation picture created for her home. It must be inspired by Vincent Van Gogh's "Starry Night."  My kids chose a favorite constellation and graphed it on a small coordinate grid. They recorded the coordinates for their constellations. 

Then, real life came traipsing in all over their artistic dreams. The wealthy patron wrote them a letter explaining that she wanted the picture to be double the size. It had to be larger. At this point in the project, students demonstrated that they could write a mathematical rule for their X and Y coordinates, apply it, and graph them to create an art piece double the size of the original. 

After doing this, they used oil pastels to create their art piece inspired by Vincent Van Gogh. Then, they cut out an horizon scape that I had printed on 11"X 17" paper. They traced these on black construction paper and glued them to the bottom part of their night skies. This made their art look similar to Van Gogh's. Instead of painting a village scape, they used black construction paper cities, forests, lighthouses, etc. for a silhouetted effect. 

The last step of this project was a student learning statement in which I required my students to reflect on what they learned about coordinate graphing, rules, constellations and Vincent Van Gogh.  

What I absolutely love about this project is that I could combine some really rigorous literacy goals with science concepts and equally challenging math goals. And my students were ON FIRE with enthusiasm and engagement. Charlie actually said, "This has something for everyone, Ms. Willis!" And again, he would be right. 

You can find the Starry Night project by clicking on the picture below!

And if you like multi-disciplinary projects like this one, you have to check out the ones below! They will rock your classroom world!

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