Thursday, March 7, 2013

Shadow Screen

Our shadow screen project just popped into my head out of the blue. I’ve been trying to cook up an idea for a shadow screen so that the kids can trace shadows without having the shadow of their own hand interfere with the outline of the image they are tracing. I also wanted something upright and small enough so that the children could work on the project independently. The idea for the shadow screen has been flittering around in the peripheral of my imagination for at least a year now but something else always comes along and snatches my attention away before I can piece the thing together.

This morning while we were at breakfast Sam and I were talking about how he wanted to draw a dinosaur. He’s become quite obsessed with drawing over the last few days, all the other kids have been inspired by his work. As Sam works he sometimes asks me to draw pictures for him. I remind him that if I draw the picture it’s my picture but if he draws it it’s his. We’ve worked out a system in which I ask Sam questions about the object he is drawing to help him think about it as he works. For instance he wanted me to draw him a shark so I asked him “What do you know about sharks?” “Where are their eyes?” “How do they get around in the water?” “What do sharks eat?”
Our little drawing project drew quite a crowd, the other children wanted to see what Sam was drawing and they wanted share ideas they had about sharks. 

Sam came up with this image.

Both boys had a difficult time figuring out how to draw the oval for the shark's body. Jackson is just learning to put cuves and lines together to make picture so I demonstrated the process by tracing shapes slowly with my finger as he watched. Jackson replicated the motions on his paper to make the sky, waves and shark body.

Once he was done with his shark scene, Jackson wanted to draw one too. He asked me how to draw a shark and I encouraged him to look at Sam’s picture for ideas. We had a discussion about what Jackson knows about sharks and what he saw Sam do when he was drawing his picture. Everyone watched as Jackson showed us his ideas and he was pretty proud of his picture. 

After our experience I was trying to conjure up some way to help the kids get a more detailed outline of their pictures so we decided on using dinosaur models since Sam wanted to know how to draw them. I had three or four ideas rumbling around in my head but then all of a sudden all of the bits of the shadow screen had finally come together.

I immediately put down my breakfast ran out into the snow and frozen mud to get the Ikea chair frame we used from our summer painting projects.
The rest of our screen was made from the following materials: a diffusing light panel (made from an old storm window), the Ikea chair legs, packing tape and a spotlight.

(Believe it or not that old Ikea chair leg has been a fantastic find, we’ve used it for at least five different things, and to think someone was going to toss it in a landfill!)

I taped the light diffusing panel onto the Ikea leg frame with packing tape positioned a spotlight behind the panel and voila! A shadow screen was born. 

Working with the shadow screen had the added benefit of helping the children further their understanding of light and shadow. Our previous light / shadow projects involved simply projecting light onto a wall so as the children moved closer to the wall, shadows the shadows changed size and shape. Working with our new screen the shadows only changed on one side of the screen, regardless of how close they were to it.

It was a lot of work for the children to figure out how to position the dinosaurs properly in the ring of light. Everyone had ALOT of ideas. They set their dinosaurs on the floor and were perplexed as to why we couldn’t see a shadow on the other side so they tried different dinosaurs, lots of dinosaurs and less dinosaurs. Some of the children became bored so they experimented with the light by putting their hands behind the screen. Through their finger play they realized the object needed to be in the ring of light to cast a shadow, not just on the same side of the screen as the light. 

They realized the dinosaur needed to be higher. 

As they worked they tried several things to get the dinosaur to the proper height. Bins were too tippy and books were not stable enough either. Finally they tried cardboard blocks. They worked together to stack the blocks up so that the dinosaur would be in the ring of light. They also discovered different dinosaurs were better than others for casting a dinosaur shaped shadow. They also learned that the dinosaurs positioned so that they were facing the screen head on did not yield an outline that looked like a dinosaur; it just looked like a bumpy blob so they positioned the dinosaurs in a side profile.

Yoli decided to draw an outline of her doll :)

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