For a couple of weeks in September, students in Mrs. Kathleen Maltese’s art classes at Proviso Math and Science Academy had a task: build a machine that could make art.
The results were contraptions that, with the pull of a string or the drop of a paint-covered object, fall on to a piece of paper.
"It really was about creativity and working with other people," said June Gianan, a PMSA senior who with her team built a device that by pulling a string with a cork attached to it, dabbed paint on to a piece of paper.
The project was the concept of Ms. Elizabeth Orbán, a student from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago who was completing her student teaching at PMSA. Ms. Orbán said that the PMSA art students had studied Rube Goldberg, an artist who was noted for his drawings of conceptual machines such as the Self-Operating Napkin, and designed machines, then built them. The main rule was that it had to be "a machine that makes art."
"A lot of them make abstract art," Ms. Orbán said. "A lot of it is problem solving and how to construct the machines."
Ms. Maltese said that teachers in all subject areas have been working to boost higher order thinking. She said that a project such as building a machine that can make art helped to boost thinking more than simple memorization.
"I don’t think that a lot of people understand that learning in the arts is as sophisticated as it is in other areas," she said. "This project is designed to develop students’ abilities in these different areas."
The finished machines had their own creative touches. One, for example, rolled an object across blocks placed like piano keys to push paint on to paper. Another relied on four people pulling strings to move a paint-filled funnel across paper.
Cristian Cabrales’ team’s machine relied on a mouse trap-like device where a paint-covered ball was sent down a chute with often obstacles in its way before landing on the paper. Decorated with a crown on top of it, it followed the theme of "a royal ball," a concept developed within the team.
"What we learned the most was how to put stuff together and working with other people," said Cristian, who wore a crown and royal cape for his team’s presentation. "We collaborated."
Dr. Bessie Karvelas, principal at PMSA, said that the project worked well in promoting critical thinking skills.
"One of the most important aspects in education in the 21st century is developing how to think critically and creatively," she said. "Projects such as this one help do that and help develop the creative visionaries who will become leaders in whatever they do."