Metamorphosis in Clay
One of the focuses in the Seven Grade Life Science Curriculum in my district is for students to increase their understanding of the world including the cycles, changes, and relationships that are abundant in our ecosystems. Though there are many art lessons that can be correlated with this curriculum, the lesson my students jump at starts with a tadpole and slowly metamorphoses into a full-grown clay frog.
This lesson is published in the October 2016 SchoolArts magazine by Naomi Swyers.
The Big Idea or theme of this lesson concentrates on the Chesapeake Bay, since we are located in its watershed. A very active discussion revolves around the environment and the amphibians that live in areas where there is run off from factories and cities. Ideas are listed as to what we can do to reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff to keep the amphibian life alive.
Through discussion and visuals, we look at a frog’s structure and its growth cycle, a process called metamorphosis, in which a tadpole turns into a frog. I try to do this project after students have studied the frog in science class, as they are so proud to teach me their newly learned information.
Before we begin working in clay, students brainstorm ideas to help them design their own personal frogs, and draw their ideas in their art journals. I have had muscle men, queens, cheerleaders, you name it; just about anything a middle school student can imagine.
Working in Clay
My demonstrations are divided into sections; first is the tadpole turning into a frog without the legs. I show how to form a ball of clay and roll the end to a point to create the tail bud shape. I take another piece and roll a small ball of clay and show how to form a pinch pot. I gently tap the tail bud on the table to flatten the face area. On the flat area I score, slip, seal and smooth the pinch pot. The pinch pot mouth is sliced open using a wire clay cutter. The tail is cut off like a real tadpole when it loses its tail.
Students then begin their own clay frogs and I walk around to help. Next we discuss eye sockets and look at where frog eyes are located. I press where I want the eyes; I roll a ball and cut it in half, one for each eye. They are then scored and slipped into the socket. Then I roll out a tiny pancake and cut it in half. I place half on one eye, the flat side of the half pancake is the front, and then slide my finger back on it to stick it onto the head; the front of the lid needs to look moveable. It looks so realistic the students are amazed.
My last demonstration shows how to create the legs and details. Creating the legs is really an individual’s choice: some roll out clay and bend it for the leg. I tell students if they try to bend the clay without adding water, it can crack. (I bend down, my knees crack, and they never forget that.)
Some students like to form the larger thigh and add the calf by scoring and slipping: it is up the student. The frog’s feet and toe pads can be created with triangles or made separately. If the frogs are large enough students can scoop out the stomach and put a clay bar across it so they can hang; then they could be displayed like they are walking up a wall.
As students complete the frogs, they have two choices for an accompanying art statement. They may explain how they made the frog step-by-step or they may write a story about their frog. These are done on our Edmodo class site. Some of the stories are hysterical and they really make the frogs come to life. We have a critique as a class and share some of the stories.
This lesson is a favorite of my 7th graders so it is a standard. You can use this same structure to create many different animals and leave it even more open-ended.
Last year we donated the frogs to Noah’s Coalition, a hospice program, for their fundraiser auction. At this point the frogs are leaping all over Virginia and further, and I hope our watershed is a safe environment for them all.
Naomi Swyers is an art teacher at Elizabeth Davis Middle School in Chester, Virginia.