This post is part of my Autumn Maker School project. The idea is to make ten useful things.  As Stacey has figured out, my definition of ‘useful’ is pretty broad-based, because I have my work cut out for me in so many different ways.  The more people who become makers, the happier I’ll be.

Khonsu disassembled//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsI’m currently teaching my unit on graphic design to my sixth grade students, and they’re having a lot of trouble with the pen tool. The pen tool incorporates both straight lines and Bezier curves in the same system — click to put down a point, click again to make a straight line, click again and again to make more straight lines and eventually a closed shape that can be filled with color, and then click and drag to change straight lines into curves. I am not particularly skilled at this.  I don’t think anyone will ever pay me to be a digital artist. But I wanted my students to understand that if you want to create a complex image, you have to create the individual parts.  In this case, the individual parts were a shirt, and a kilt (in gray), four arms, bicep and wrist bands, anklets, an ankh, pieces of a collar, pieces of a nemyss (the headdress of ancient Egypt, and of the druids), the Moon, and the moon sphere —and the parts of Khonsu’s face. Once I was done assembling it, they said, “Wow, that’s really good!”  But I have to admit, I don’t think the lesson was made clear enough. It was too complex an image for them to grasp — too hard for them to see how a line-drawing of Khonsu transformed into a series of components, each of which had to be drawn separately.  Admittedly, it’s a difficult lesson to understand. But it’s also a difficult lesson for us as teachers to understand.  We’ve all heard the old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  But it takes a special kind of educator to understand that a quality picture, even one that looks as disassembled as the one on the top, takes as much time to create as a 1000-word essay.  And all I did was try to copy, digitally, an image in a century-old book about the Egyptian gods. Khonshu//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

We live in a society that, at least for the moment, runs on imagery and symbolism nearly as much as it runs on words and mathematics.  And we like to pretend that you have to learn everything about words and mathematics in order to be successful in this world. And that if you’re not good at math or reading/writing, then you’re terrible and your life will be awful.

But.

But I’d like to suggest that there’s an important lesson here.  The students in my sixth grade classes today saw these two images. They saw the complete image, and then they saw it dismembered and pulled apart, and then they saw it re-assembled.  And then they went right back to trying to use the pen tool to draw airplanes with differently-colored parts, and faces with eyebrows and hair and noses, without bothering to try to break those images down into components.   The students SAW the components, saw that this picture was made up of a number of components, SAW that each component was individually drawn, and then chose to use their pen tools as if they were using an actual pen or pencil in a paper notebook.

We have so divorced our children from their drawing skills, from their visual representational skills, that they don’t know how to disassemble their visual cues of the world into their component parts.