The project provides middle school students with autism the opportunity to contribute to the community by designing and creating four 20 gallon garden planters which will be installed in a New York Restoration Project Garden (NYRP) on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Students are "driving" the project with the teacher, a local artist, related service providers (e.g. OT, PT, Speech) and staff acting as “guides on the side.” Students will be given autonomy and freedom to plan and implement a multi-component project using a wide range of skills and materials. They are using academic concepts and multi-sensory modalities (e.g. visual, kinesthetic) across several disciplines, including art (e.g. colors, textures, various materials), math (e.g. shapes, geometry, patterns), ELA (e.g. sequencing, writing an art opening invitation/flyer), and social responsibility (e.g. taking care of public spaces, leaving it better, solving problems). The overarching idea is to empower students with disabilities to make a difference through functional public art.
Through a step-by-step differentiated and scaffolded process, students will learn how they can design and create art as a way to give back to our community. The project will foster a high-level of independent student engagement across academics (e.g. ELA - sequencing; informational flyers), social and pre-vocational skills (e.g. cooperation), and activities of daily living. Our FUNctional Garden Art project involves a series of classroom activities and instructional trips:
- Plan and gather materials
- Brainstorm designs and make drawings
- Create four, 20 gallon planters using paint, paper cut-outs, and mixed media (at a working community garden)
- Complete designs and add glow in the dark paint
- Go to a local New York Restoration Project Garden (NYRP), a smaller symmetrical formal garden where the planters will be installed, to layout where and how we will place them
- Go to a car restoration shop to learn about industrial processes and enamel the planters, to make them weather-proof
- Create hand-made flyers and invitations to publicize our art installation opening and NYRP garden party
- Take a walking trip to distribute/hang our flyers at all of the community places we have been to throughout the year (e.g. laundromat, grocery); send to a local blog
- Have an Art Installation Opening Garden Party at the NYRP Garden to give back and celebrate
Students are working in various group configurations. For instance, as there are 8 students and 4 planters, students work in pairs and then switch partners and planters for the additional creation sessions. This allows them to build upon each other’s ideas while maintaining the motif already initiated. Students are also working in small groups to set-up and clean-up for each session as well as for making hand-made invitations and flyers. As a whole group, students will enamel the planters, plan the layout/placement of the planters at the NYRP garden, distribute flyers to the numerous community places we have been to throughout the year (e.g. Laundromat, grocery, post office), and celebrate together at our art installation opening garden party. Throughout the project students will develop social skills by helping each other, respectfully re-directing their classmates, and taking responsibility for their own choices and actions.
Students are justifying the decisions they make in relation to their design plan and the materials they choose. Questioning is occurring on a variety of levels, such as, why is it important to contribute to the community by beautifying a public garden (?), how to protect the planters from weather and make them more durable (e.g. enameling)(?), what do we need to publicize our art installation opening (e.g. invitation/flyer)? Our class is currently growing herbs and flowers as part of our related gardening project at a local working community garden. Students will need to synthesize our gardening project and the planter art project by using the herbs and flowers to fill the planters. During the art installation opening at a NYRP public garden students will be asked to describe and self-critique their process and product. In terms of evaluation, students have checklists for each component of the project. The teacher will evaluate the students using a teacher-created Group Work Rubric, work-sample analysis, and a cross-disciplinary Developmental Continuum.