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Students connect art and math

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WES artist-in-the-school progam lives on

By The Staff

Besides all those geometric shapes students can find in those prints of famous paintings, what else can they learn from art? In the art classroom of Helen Darling, art teacher at Williston Elementary School, Ocala artist Connie Ferreira recently shared her vast knowledge about polymer clay as she engaged the 3rd, 4th and 5th graders for eight days during an "artist-in-the-school program," jointly funded by the Florida Arts in Education program (using matching funds from the School Board of Levy County), the Linda Green Proctor Memorial Fund and the Williston Art League.

Besides learning more about all types of shapes and forms, students also learned about fractions, symmetry and tessellations - all information tested on the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (or FCAT). "Kids [also] have to think in the abstract," said Ferreira, who spent countless hours along with Darling readying the materials and classroom for her visits.

With a background in nursing, Ferreira and her family traveled and lived abroad for a number of years before settling in Ocala. Ferreira took classes with Jack Thursby at Central Florida Community College, painting in water colors, oils and acrylics. In 2001 her interest in polymer clay mushroomed. She said, with a chuckle, that she found it "addicting. [Polymer clay] fulfilled all the things I wanted to do in art." Ferreira adds that "since it comes in a variety of colors and is cured at 275º F., it makes an ideal substance to use alone or with other media to produce both functional decorative pieces and stand-alone fine art."

WES 3rd graders took two sheets of colored clay, rolled out with a pasta machine, then made a spiral "cane," which Ferreira said is "based on the Murano [Italy] glass millifiori technique in which rods of different colored glass, or in this case clay, are combined in lengths to produce a flowered image that runs the whole length of the cane (tube) so that no matter where the can is slice, the same image is obtained." They cut and quartered the canes to make arcs, then worked this into a triangular prism. They laminated slices from these canes onto a surface of their choice (plastic Easter egg, baby food jar, tiny baking tins, etc.).

The 4th graders worked with three different colored sheets, using the same process as the 3rd graders, only they took their triangular prism and created a trapezoid then a hexagon from two trapezoids. Their designs were determined by the choice of colors and how the symmetrical mirror images were joined together to form their floral or sunburst hexagon.

Black and white sheets with elements woven into the cane and not making spiral designs as the 3rd and 4th graders had done, the 5th graders created fascinating tessellations. They created these tessellated designs into the shape of a hexagon.

The preparation time was phenomenal, according to Darling and Ferreira, with the cost at about $3 per child just for the 2 oz. of clay. In addition, students needed individual large square tiles as their work space and knitting needles with points on each end like rolling pins to thin out the slices of clay. The "Elmo," a modern-day version of the "dinosaur" opaque projector, was purchased with available monies from the Linda Green Proctor Memorial Fund. This technology, said Darling, is fantastic "so artists can demonstrate and children can see as a group."

Though Ferreira was paid for her initial visits, she has since visited the school gratis eight times! She, along with Darling, is overseeing the community service projects two of the grade levels are working on. The 4th graders are creating Easter eggs for the local Meals on Wheels clients; they will laminate plastic Easter eggs with the polymer clay. The 5th graders are learning about the "Bottles of Hope" project for cancer patients, which the North central Florida Polymer Clay Guild supports under the auspices of the National Polymer Clay Guild. Small bottles, which can be filled with "prayers" or "hopes" of the patient, are laminated with polymer clay designs and given as gifts to these patients.

Before they're through, every last student at WES will have made a polymer clay medallion, a "souvenir" of their experience learning about yet another medium through which to express themselves artistically, and perhaps help them remember what a hexagon or a tessellation is when they sit down to take the FCAT Math test next month!