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Clay Connections: Innovative Ceramics: Lessons that Make Connections to the Elementary School Curriculum and Seasonal Calendar.

Clay Connections: Innovative Ceramics: Lessons that Make Connections to the Elementary School Curriculum and Seasonal Calendar

ISBN 13: 978-0-615-17394-9

Published by Poodle Press, 2008

Available at



HIS RECENTLY SELF-PUBLISHED book connects ceramics to kids, seasons and elementary curricula. As one would expect from the title, there are interdisciplinary and 'time of the year' projects--26 of them and 10 venerable ceramic mural ideas that are described in detail. This cheerfully covered 'how to' paperback is filled with dozens of black and white photographs of kids' projects and unambiguous procedures for making them; all are accompanied by a materials list.

Certainly qualified for writing this publication, Craig Hinshaw, author of Clay Connections, has been teaching elementary art in Michigan for over 20 years, writing dozens of articles on curriculum, clay and interdisciplinary connections, presenting at state and national art education conferences and making his ceramic artwork in his basement studio.

The best part of the publication is the connection made to historic ceramic cultural objects. Though these are few, they are accompanied by a photograph and a bit of information on the artefact. There are two first-rate projects like this; a Pre-Columbian swinging figure from Vera Cruz, Mexico, and an Ocarina (clay whistle) from Costa Rica. There are other salient interdisciplinary projects, such as ceramic pie birds (and early American culture), sundials, Day of the Dead projects and mummy boxes with cat mummies (though this would have more import if the key object for the lesson was not a kitschy Mummy, hotdog box coffin; perhaps a field trip to a museum, then centre the projects on a 3000 year old ushabti).

For parents and teachers who are greenhorns to greenware, there are two other commendable features of the book near the back of the 100 pages. The 10 ceramic mural ideas and procedures are perfectly on track for anyone considering their first group mural with kids or someone looking for a substantive idea for their next mural. Following the murals, there are 10 pages of photographs of children who illustrate basic handbuilding techniques, followed by fundamental vocabulary, clay and firing information. Even though the book is black and white, the last eight pages are in colour featuring one student example of each project.

Most of the interdisciplinary-based projects are delightful and provide tangible connections to other school disciplines, world events or hobbies, such as Mission to Mars, Earth Day Shakers, and Dove of Peace. Some of the interdisciplinary projects, however, teeter on the edge of making responsible connections to curriculum, such as Aquarium Castles, Nesting Chickens, Cars and Trucks and Spring Clothes. Regrettably, the seasonal/holiday projects will probably enthuse the parents and non-art teachers but will not particularly satisfy current curriculum or art standards.

A few of the project ideas are like a step back in time rather than moving ceramics education forward. Late 1950s editions of Ceramics Monthly featured a column by Canton Ball usually titled "Strictly Stoneware." For their time these articles were appropriate. But times have changed. In the 1960s, Jerome Bruner, a leading cognitive learning theorist, strongly influenced pedagogy for classrooms when he remarked about how a discipline is practiced professionally compared to school disciplines, "the difference is in degree, not kind." Since that time, state and national K-12 standards have taken Bruner's theory to heart requiring context and/or content as part of the art lesson, albeit at the appropriate age level. Consequently, even elementary art should be a site for kids to work with their minds and think with their hands.

The mural information and procedures are excellent and will definitely assist enthusiasts to avoid snags that are inherent to mural making. The mural ideas provide substantive connections to current ceramics education pedagogy. They provide particularly helpful information for a successful foray into this genre, a common sense approach for involving a lot of children, as well as making charming connections to kids and community. One project features leaves collected on a field trip through a local nature centre, then leaf impressions are pressed into tiles, and a natural colour pallet of tiles welcomes guests to the nature trail. The Face Place mural is made of 2-3/4 x 3-3/4 in. tiles of 320 smiling self-portraits of every student and staff of an elementary school. The people represented wrote about themselves, and these are bound in a book in the school library for posterity.

Clay Connections is a good starting place for teachers who are ready for a basic venture into connecting clay with curriculum, and a superb resource for those daring enough to take on elementary school-based mural projects.

A Review by Billie Sessions, PhD

Dr. Billie Sessions is an art educator and ceramics historian at California State University, San Bernardino, California US.
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Author:Sessions, Billie
Publication:Ceramics Technical
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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