SchoolArts Room

The Spore Project

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Aug 8, 2015

In the print version of SchoolArts, we don't always have space to print every lesson we would like to. This article by Ted Edinger is one example. It fit the STEAM theme of the issue so well that I am sharing it here. SchoolArts Editor Nancy Walkup




A year ago I stumbled across the website for The SPORE Project, an awareness program to support creativity and art education by constructing and planting mushrooms made simply from brown paper lunch bags. Developed in 2005 by Doug Rhodehamel, the SPORE Project has expanded into a world wide effort to spread the message of the importance of creativity and art education.
The SPORE Project’s magical little mushrooms caught my attention and I knew I had to do it with my students.  As I explored the site, I loved the heart and soul behind the idea!  As I thought about this, I could see the mushrooms creating conversations and questions.  “WOW, THOSE ARE GREAT!  BUT WHY ARE THEY THERE?”  What a wonderful way to advocate for your art program and the importance of art education in schools!
I asked Mr. Rhodehamel how he imagined teachers using the projects in their school.  He said “I would like to see educators using the project to teach students to look at things in another perspective. Yes, it's just a simple lunch bag, but look what you can do with it. There are so many things that can be turned into other things. It is a wonderful tool to unite a school in creativity.”
This year I felt the project fit best within my kindergarten and 1st grade curriculum.  It provided a great opportunity to talk to my younger students about collaboration and “temporary” art.  After I explained that their work would be part of a beautiful installation that would deteriorate over time, the students were excited about the process.  I feel collaborative art can be challenging for young students as they become very attached to their individual creations.  However, if you explain the process, experience, and end result (and promise to take lots of pictures) even the youngest students will be on board for collaborative projects.
In the project, I wanted to mimic the colors that were in a Kandinsky-inspired sculpture created earlier in the year by our school community (parents, students, teachers, and administration).  I envisioned the mushrooms surrounding the sculpture so that it appeared as if the colors were melting out of it, or as if they were little aliens coming back to the mother ship.  The students created their mushrooms from brown paper lunch bags (the directions are on The SPORE Project website), drew designs/patterns with permanent markers on the caps of the mushrooms, and painted them during a one hour class. 
After completing the mushrooms with all of my kindergarten and 1st grade students, volunteers helped hot glue wood skewers in the stems.  After this step was completed, it was time to “plant” our creations.  Once all the mushrooms were in place, I sprayed them with a clear acrylic seal, hoping it would extend their lives.  I then sprinkled glitter on the caps while the acrylic was still damp. (Who doesn’t like a little sparkle?) 
After two weeks outside, the caps began to lose their shape.  The weather helped as we had been in a dry spell with no rain.  However, morning dew still impacted the paper. With rain was expected, it was time for clean-up day. Both the visual aspect and the advocacy portion have of the project been a success.   Students, parents, and teachers took pictures with and of the installation and so many wonderful conversations have been started with parents because of it.  I’ve had a number of parents approach me about volunteering in the art room next year, and I link it directly to this collaborative project catching their attention about the art program at our school.  
Ted Edinger is an art teacher at Tulip Grove Elementary in Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of the blog, Art with Mr. E.
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