Project-based learning pedagogy
Method 1: From one to many
This type of project starts with one element and ends with a bunch of them. Each student’s work can be assembled to those of others, scaling up in the process. From one origami to a decorative curtain; from one house to the model of a neighbourhood; students start working individually and continue planning with their team, until the whole class exposes the final results.
Example 1. The art of paper // Project done with grade 4 students
Origami, or paper folding, has allowed students to make their first 3D project. First, they learned to make two animals, a butterfly and a bird, and in the following week they had to make a flower with their partner, by folding, sticking and assembling petals. Finally, students were able to gather all their productions on garlands to display in the corridor.
Example 2. An art district // Project done with grade 5 students
For three weeks, students became architects and urban planners by designing a neighborhood inspired on 798 Beijing's Art zone. They started to draw models of paper houses, then deciding in teams where to display each of them on a street. At last, they had to add up other elements such as trees, cars, sculptures, pedestrians, among other things, to embellish their street and those of the other teams, thus making possible the model of a new Art district.
Example 3. The 56 cultures of China // Project done with grade 5 students
The Ruixiang primary school is well known in the district as the school of minorities, referring to the 56 ethnic groups that compose China's demography. Students had to draw one or two cultures to then describe and present them in group. The final exhibition took place in the school's corridor.
Example 4. A book of Art // Project done with grade 4 students
At first, students learnt to create a more or less abstract figure using geometric shapes that they had previously cut out, thus being able to constitute an object, a person or an animal. Then, they had to draw colored lines to decorate this figure's background and, in the third week, they were asked to draw a story with their partner in order to make the common thread of an art book that talks about shapes and colours.
Method 2: From plane to volume
Real objects and spaces may be observed, analysed and represented in many ways. They may also inspire new designs to be drawn and shaped, in a process that moves from 2D to 3D, from plane to volume. The project starts with a 3D element, a real object or space, and then students move from 2D, a drawing, to 3D, a model, to 2D again, an explanation of the model's use. Hence, all phases are interconnected all along.
Example 1: My chair // Project done with grade 5 students
Students first learnt how to draw a chair by measuring the one they use in class while analising the different materials that it was made of. This led them to draw a new one to make a 1/6 foamboard model, later embellished with crepe paper. Students had to finish their model and to reflect on different ways of using their new chair.
Example 2. My ideal room // Project done with grade 4 students
In the first week, students learnt how to draw a floor plan of their ideal room by placing walls, doors and windows as well as the furniture imagined within the space. In the second week, they started to make a model of that room by using a cardboard box and foamboard for the structure while starting to make the furniture. In the third week, students had to finish the whole by decorating all of it with other materials such as wood and cloth. They had to describe the different elements composing their space and to reflect on its everyday use.
Example 3. My cardboard box // Project done with grade 6 students
Students learnt how to make a box by reusing pieces of cardboard and following the instructions of a simple box pattern. Once the box was finished, students had to embellish it by putting into practice the technique of collage, which is also an artful way to reuse materials. At last, students had to present their boxes while reflecting on how to use it.
Method 3: From fusion to creation
The combination of two distinct elements may produce an unusual result. These projects encourage students’ inventiveness in drawing differently while learning how to present their ideas to a wider audience. In this creative process, there is an addition of elements, although a subtraction or multiplication of shapes could also be carried out.
Example 1. Astérix in Beijing // Project done with grade 6 students
By discovering the world of French comics, students started to draw in teams the cover of a new Asterix album, imagining the main characters visiting a Beijing monument. They also had to add the title and the authors' names to present the illustration to a competition.
Example 2. The multifunction object // Project done with grade 7 students
Carelman's catalog of unfindable objects (1976) has enabled students to become inventors of complex objects that have multiple functions. They had to illustrate their object and explain its uses by drawing and writing a short text. All objects put together led to create a new catalog and an exhibition in class.
Example 3. Imagine a monster // Project done with grade 7 students
Monsters have always aroused passions and have been a source of literary and artistic creation. Chimeras of ancient mythology, Middle Ages or recent decades have inspired students to metamorphose an animal. Once the monster depicted, they also had to represent the different stages of its transformation. Studying the shape of different animals parts allowed this project to establish a link with the science and French lessons, by aiming to develop a bestiary and to expose the drawings in the school corridor.
Example 4. Bike and nature // Project done with grade 6 students
By studying biomimetics, the discipline that imitates nature to design objects, spaces and systems, students have invented a new bicycle, whose parts are inspired from the natural world, whether it is by form, function or colour. They started drawing their invention from different points of view and then focused on technical details. At last, they had to describe their drawing by explaining their idea as simply as possible.
Method 4: From still to motion
The project starts with one still image and ends with a series of images depicting movement or change. The main element changes step by step and the result reveals the frame by frame process in all its details.
Example 1. The lines of an object // Project done with grade 7 students
Inspired by the bulls of Picasso and the successive stages of abstraction of the animal, students had to choose an object and start drawing all its details, lines and shadows. In the second lesson, they had to simplify their object while showing the different stages of that line deconstruction. In the last lesson, students were asked to debate about whether their drawings could still be more abstract without loosing the shape's meaning.
Example 2. Water Lilies // Project done with grade 6 students
Students observed different opening states of water lilies and they learnt to draw them. They thus discovered Monet's waterlilies paintings in Giverny and they continued their work by drawing a water lily and painting it with watercolors, without dismissing the background.
Method 5: From history to symbol
When one studies ancient cultures, their material and immaterial heritage may bring up topics to reflect in art projects. These topics always have a distinctive element that may portray well the culture and may in turn induce a group research, in which information is simplified, structured and presented.
Example 1. Peking opera // Project done with grade 5 students
While studying Peking opera and its characters, its costumes, its instruments, its theaters, students had to draw and paint a new face on a cardboard mask. From there, they made a research on the opera to arrange a presentation in which the mask took center stage.
Example 2. Hutong of Beijing // Project done with grade 5 students
Students were introduced to the hutong, their characteristic architecture and the social life that reside between their walls, through photographies found in a fantastic book of 1989. Thus students had to draw details that one could find in these narrow streets by using the pencil and then the charcoal. In the second week, they learnt how to draw a street in one point perspective by copying other pictures of hutong. At last, they had to finish their drawings and choose the best one to be exposed in a group presentation. This last part of the project was carried out with the French teacher, allowing students to do their own research by extracting information from texts describing the hutong to then write some words and sentences that could accompany their drawings.
Example 3. The Chinese gate // Project done with grade 4 students
In the first week, students learnt how to draw the Chinese gate of Guozijian 国子监牌楼 by reproducing the principal structure and its decorative patterns while paying attention to the symmetry of this architectural piece of art. Then, in the second week, they were given a big piece of paper representing a piece of the gate and they had to draw Chinese patterns on it with a pencil and a black marker. In the third week, students had to continue their work by coloring the patterns to make the whole composition visually appealing. At last, each piece of paper would be joined together to shape the gate of the class.