My end of the year project always seems to get cut short in 6th grade but it is still a project where I can really get a chance to learn some more about each individual student. We take just a few days to do a Heraldry unit…this is a unit that is very basic…sometimes it’s just better to end the year off basic and let go of some of the stress. Students will have just finished a very involved unit of multi-materials and have dozens of techniques and ways to use mediums handy for when they get creative.
First things first, we talk about family shields and coat of arms; about where are family comes from and how important our last names can be. Students remind each other that when they have same last names people always seem to wonder how they could be related. We talk about ancestry and how many of us have seen our family crests, coat of arms, or shields and many of us haven’t. The biggest conversation revolves around symbolism…why the shields use symbols and what symbols can mean. We talk briefly about how coat of arms can be completely readable and that the symbols might mean the obvious and we talk about how some instances, like in secret societies, the symbols are secretive and mean something extremely significant for anyone involved. This always gets the kids excited because I explain we will be making our own family shields.
Students start off with a large sheet of paper; after all, no one should have a small shield. After they draw the basic shape of a shield (we do this together in class), I show them how to make a ribbon look 3-D on their shield. For some, this is easy and for others it can be challenging but it is so rewarding when I see students helping each other perfect the process. The ribbon, on which their last name will go, can be placed anywhere on their shield horizontally. This leaves us with a basic layout.
Next, we talk about division and symmetry. We look at older examples of heraldry and students begin to see a pattern of division on the shield – that most shields are divided equally or in some balanced manner. Before we dive into symbols, students are asked to draw lightly to divide their shield. This helps them place the symbols as well. We review symbols and talk once again about this shield is for the family so things like video game controllers and barbie dolls, while fun, don’t really represent our families. If you talk just enough, not too long, about all the possibilities (from hearts to starts to books, cancer ribbons, hunting, gestures…), students really start to get creative with how and what they decide is important on their shield.
Unfortunately, this project could go on for days because of how long the students want to work on it. Thankfully, it comes right after our Multi-Material project and I have to do very little to remind them the importance of craftsmanship and how they can truly make their shield unique using on the techniques we just learned. I mean just check out that drawing direction – so smooth and neat! As I walk around the room, I try to make time to discuss and conference with each student to learn more about their family. When they ask me to help them with symbols I will walk them through the process…this is a very good chance to push students to draw things on their own, using their problem solving skills to figure out how to do certain symbols. As I get to know more and more about the student, I am able to assess them better. This project, while about craftsmanship and assembly of the project, is also about their understanding of symbolism and using symbolism to portray ideas about their family. Once again, it turns out to be a great vocabulary lesson, whether the students realize it or not. And if students don’t finish with the time we have, I still have some much I can assess on and it’s an inspiring project that nearly every student wants to finish at home.