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TeachNet NYC  |  Lesson Plans  |  Teachnet

Totem Transformations

Project URL: Totem Transformations

How it works:
The unit is introduced in the Humanities class, as students learn about the origins of Totems in Native American folklore. In the computer lab, students read Totem stories and explore the meaning and symbolism behind the myths using various Web sites. Students write their own myth and poems describing how each of them found their own totem anima. While writing and editing their stories and poetry in Humanities, the students are using their time in art class learning how to draw representational self-portraits using guidelines and proportion. The students transform their drawings into digital images and manipulate them using ImageReady software. They continue using layers to make an image that is part human, part totem. The results, along with their writing, are presented on Web pages.

Standards addressed:  

Visual Arts:

  • Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts
  • Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts
  • Understands the visual arts in relation to history and cultures

World History Standards:

  • Understands the biological and cultural processes that shaped the earliest human communities
  • Knows how to view the past in terms of the norms and values of the time

Language Arts:

  • Uses content, style, and structure (e.g. formal or informal language, genre, organization) appropriate for specific audiences and purposes (to entertain, to influence, to inform)

Materials used:
Pencils, writing paper, blank drawing paper, networked Macintosh computers with Internet connection, Photoshop, Imageready, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Word

The students:
This program was created for sixth grade students enrolled in Humanities and Digital Art classes the Institute for Collaborative Education, a small, diverse, New York City public school for grades six through twelve.

Overall value:
Totem Transformations made each student feel successful. Native American folklore motivated each student to write his or her own folklore and poetry. Using proportion and guidelines, each student saw portraiture drawing skills improve tremendously. They joyfully animated their self-portraits into their individual totems, bringing their stories and poems to life.
At first, most kids (most people) are terrified at the thought of drawing people. “I can’t” becomes “I will try” as you go through the step-by-step method using guidelines. If a kid becomes “stuck” while drawing or animating, let them switch back and forth with formatting the text and layout of their writing. Let the more experienced animators help their classmates; the enthusiasm is catching.
At I.C.E., we find it effective to integrate learning by teachers collaborating on projects. The students use multiple perspectives and tackle problems with a variety of means, methods and mediums.

About the teachers:
Meryl Meisler and Grace Raffaele are colleagues working with the middle school students at the Institute for Collaborative Education in NYC. Meryl teaches Digital Art and Grace teaches Humanities. They like to collaborate on units that involve both curricula.

merylart@earthlink.net and graceatice@yahoo.com

Subject Areas: 
Visual Arts, Humanities, History, Creative Writing                       

Grade Levels: 6-12


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