Bulb Archived: Davis Collaboration Laboratory 2016-2017: Gonzalez & Little

2016-2017 Collaboration Laboratory

Please respond to the prompts below with your partner. You can upload images, videos and weblinks to enhance your responses to the prompts.

Students working on collaborative brainstorms

1) Big Idea:

What does a utopian city look like?

2) Inquiry:

What can we do on a local level to change our local environment for the better?

Students brainstorming ideas about the big idea thinking about how they could build a utopian home, a utopian school and build utopia in the community.

3) Academic Content:

Making connections with social studies and the social, emotional wellbeing curriculum.

4) Artistic Discipline(s):

Research and development of conceptual ideas, creating a public art project for the school, community or class, exploring 3-dimensional processes and color theory.

Students mixing colors and using complimentary colors to paint their sculptures.

Here you see students at Nathan Davis Elementary in grade 6 learning how to mix colors. Students shared a palette with six primary colors learning about the hot and cold colors on the primary wheel. The one rule in painting their sculptures was to experiment with mixing your colors.

5) Standards Addressed: (Common Core, Next Generation    



Two students discussing color theory

6) What is the context of your school, school neighborhood, or classroom that led you to do this project? (100 words or less)

Nathan Davis is located in the neighborhood of Brighton Park. We worked with the students to develop public art projects for their community that explored the concept of “What does a utopian city look like?” Each group chose a different direction and we adapted each project from the initial conversations we had with each class. 

Nathan Davis Elementary School

7) How many years have you worked together as partners?

One year.

Javier Gonzalez talking to a group of students

8) What surprised you during the project?

The students willingness to share personal stories and their ability to listen to each other and converse. I enjoyed watching Javier integrate conversation in groups into the class structure as part of the development of ideas. It was great to be in a classroom where it was truly a collaborative process.

First Class working on the creating sculptures that spell the word Love in the front playground.

9) What worked in this project and why?

I think the teacher/artist collaboration. Early on at one of the CAPE training sessions we decided to engage the students in a conversation about the big idea and let the students define each project we did. We dedicated the first two conversations to exploring and investigating what Utopia means and then once the students researched and discovered what it meant they then came up with four ideas each. In discussing the ideas each class then decided on the content of the public art project they wanted to create. One class decided to construct flower shaped sculptures that created the word “LOVE” on the school lawn. 


The second class decided to research how many deaths there had been in the neighborhood due to violence and have created a documentary with the artist coming up with solutions to the problem of violence in their neighborhood and discussing how the violence affects them. With the teacher they have created commemorative boards on each person and created a map pinpointing where the violence is happening. In doing the research the students have been asked to analyze the data that they have collated and we have had class conversations about the causes and then come up with solutions. They have expanded on this research in their pair interviews for the documentary. 

Third Class working on Fruit and Vegetable Sculptures

The third class collectively decided to create fruit and vegetable to line the sidewalk entrance to the school. In addition to the first class they have learnt the sculptural process using cardboard, newspaper and masking tape to construct a three dimensional form. They’ve learnt the formal elements and then we’ve spent three classes exploring color theory. They’ve learnt how there are six primary colors exploring the hot and cold colors of red, blue and yellow. They’ve learnt about complimentary colors and you can see how a student is using that here with the pink and green. 

First Class working on a Flower Sculpture

10) What didn’t work and why?

I wasn’t aware of the fact that I only had a budget for one class and was doing three classes. So the budget ran out super fast and we ended up not having enough money to cover all the materials so we had to substitute the sculptmold with plaster of paris which broke and wasn’t a stable material. But we experimented and the fruit and veg sculptures that the third class made are all made from the sculptmold and they worked really well. It has created alot of mess and I probably won’t be doing that again as I think papier mache is alot less messy and can do the same job although it takes longer. 

A student sharing her work and using artistic language to describe what colors she used.

11) What was your approach to assessment?

We did evaluations that I call exhibitions at the end of each class. These evaluation sessions  allow us to gage what the students have learnt in class and what we needed to reiterate in the next session.  In the third class related to color theory instead of picking the students who answered all the questions I asked everyone to put their hands down and randomly selected people in the room just to make sure everyone was learning. This was super helpful to gage the level of understanding.  

Preliminary Ideas for Public Art Projects 

                                                                 Here you see examples of students four preliminary ideas at the beginning of the project. They brainstormed four ideas each creating two for the school and two ideas for the community. From here we had a discussion with the whole class deciding what that wanted to create and then Javier and myself brainstormed ideas and decided to focus on the most collective concept each class created. In the initial conversations with the second class the students were talking about gun violence. So we decided that this was an important line of inquiry for that class.

12) Think back to what you each hoped to learn from this collaboration. What did you learn and how? Discuss how you supported each other’s goals.

I’ve learnt new teaching strategies in terms of developing conversations with the students and I’ve learnt so much from the students about how their lives are impacted by violence in the city. Living in Chicago we are aware of the situation but to listen to the individual stories of these young people has been incredibly moving. In smaller groups the boys in the class openly talked about how much pressure they are under to join gangs once they go to high school and how certain schools are recruitment centers for the gangs. 

Second Class Student sharing his research. He chose to analyze the violence in terms of age.

It’s really been amazing to work with Javier and his flexibility in terms of giving agency to the students to decide on what we would actually do. It was a big risk and took a leap of faith to be willing to go into the project without a definite plan and let the students define the project. 

In terms of the collaboration we’ve really co-taught and shared the teaching role in the classroom. Javier has continued to work with the students on the project when I am not there and that has been super helpful in terms of moving the projects forward so we can finish on time. We’ve also been flexible adapting the projects as we went along, creatively brainstorming what to do when we ran out of money and coming up with other solutions. 

13) How did the collaboration challenge your understanding of teaching, learning, and art-making?

I enjoy co-teaching and I’ve been in alot of solo teaching situations since moving to Chicago. Having two people in the room is definitely more energizing because you can rely on the other person to step in. We both bring different cultural perspectives to the projects too and have been sharing our stories and viewpoints openly which is healthy for the students to observe. We’ve both tried to stress that there is no right and wrong and that it’s really about exploring, investigating and discovering. I’ve learnt so much about another neighborhood in Chicago being in the classroom and listening to the stories from Javier and the students. 

An end of class exhibition of fruit and vegetable sculptures by the third class.