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posted: Wed, Oct 15th, 2014


Self Portraits: the original selfies

Fifth-graders at CMS are wrapping up self-portraits. The pieces are really exercises to learn about color theory and how to make intermediate colors (yellow-orange, orange-red, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green). The project, however, includes other skills such as observational drawing and an understanding of facial proportions. Students used a mix of colored pencils, Sharpies, and collage to complete their self portraits.

First, each student used a mirror to draw the contours and features of his or her face. Then using the chosen intermediate color and the colors that create the intermediate color (primary color + secondary color), each student finished the drawing portion of the self portrait. Art teacher Denise Palmisano encouraged students to use shading and a variety of tonal values within their works to create interest. The backgrounds were made from cut pieces of tissue paper in coordinating intermediate colors and Mod-Podge, an all-in-one decoupage glue and finish that gave the backgrounds a distinct luster and depth.

To further personalize their artwork, students also included text ­– words and phrases that were important to them or represented their individual personalities, likes, and interests. Using letters from magazine headlines, the students set their descriptive keywords in the backgrounds of their works.

Before beginning the six-week project, Ms. Palmisano showed students self-portraits of master artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh as an introduction to the art form. It also gave students insight into the history of self-portraits, an art form that has been used for thousands of years.

Top, Elly Carabaca; above, Mehki Nunn; below, Daniel Franz; middle, Marcy Bauman; bottom, Sal Matteis

The project’s not just about studying a life cycle. It’s about conservation, it’s about ecology and the importance of protecting natural habitats, it’s about geography and climate, and the traditions of another culture.

Dona Scheidecker’s fourth-graders recently raised and released 32 monarch butterflies. Over the course of about a month, the students learned about the butterfly life cycle (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly) and witnessed the transformation firsthand in the classroom. 

But the lessons learned go much further. The students learned just how fragile a species the monarch really is. Monarchs have been decreasing in numbers over the years due to weather changes, loss of habitat from deforestation, and the use of pesticides. These causes have lead to a drastic reduction in the milkweed plant – the only food source for these majestic creatures and the only place where the monarchs lay their eggs. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the monarch population has decreased by 90% in the last 20 years and may have lost 165 million acres of habitat — an area about the size of Texas.

Ms. Scheidecker has been raising monarchs with her classes for 11 years.

“It’s my passion,” said the veteran educator, who harvested monarch eggs and caterpillars over the summer from Turkey Brook Park in preparation for the project. “The students learn so much and it’s something they never forget. I’ll see kids from the high school or who have graduated and the first thing they ask me is if I’m still doing it. It stays with them.”

Ms. Scheidecker’s students also learned about the long journey of the monarchs and the butterfly’s place in Mexican culture. The butterflies raised by the class, as well as all the millions of others born in late summer east of the Rockies, make the long trip southward to the highlands of central Mexico for the winter.

The arrival of the monarchs coincides with the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead. According to traditional belief, the monarchs are the souls of ancestors who are returning to Earth for their annual visit.

The monarchs raised by the class were released as they matured. On the day when the final pair were set free to embark on their long trek, the class held a monarch emergence ceremony. Using props and posters, the students explained everything that they had learned to the gathered guests, presenting information about the monarch’s life cycle, habitat, migration, and conservation.

 (In August, several organizations petitioned the Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to request that the monarch butterfly be granted threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.)

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Chester M. Stephens Elementary School
99 Sunset Drive Budd Lake, NJ 07828
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