Marsh had some great ideas; very similar to the way I handled the
ceramics unit. I wholeheartedly endorse the use of canvas as a work
surface; newspaper, if it gets too damp, can stick to the clay and then
you've really got a mess trying to pick it out. Use a heavy cotton
duck; lightweight artist's canvas can leave bits of thread in the
clay. Instead of stapling it to boards, I just cut pieces into roughly
12 x 12 pieces (some were bigger to accomodate the ambitious projects)
and duct-taped the edges to keep them from shredding. They were easy
to just hold over the trash can and scrape off, and no board to warp. I
did have masonite boards of various sizes the students could slip under
the canvas to stabilize their slabs and assignments. Some boards were
as small as 6" square, some 12"; the shop teacher cut them for me.
If you buy tools for the students to use (we could not require the
students to buy their own), don't put all of them out; just 6-8 at a
time, and COUNT THEM at the end of each class; no one leaves 'til you
get them all back. If loss or theft is a problem in one class, don't
put out more tools for them. Large bobby pins work pretty well for
various things, as do cheap stainless steel eating utensils.
I always preferred to buy bags of dry clay and mix my own; the moist
clay would turn into a brick over the summer sometimes and was hard to
reconstitute. I mixed it myself after school, using mouth and nose
protection. I usually mixed it a week or so before we needed it so it
would have to time to get completely moistened. Start collecting
5-gallon buckets; make friends with the janitors right away and they
will keep you supplied (just scrub out the buckets really well
first). The students had to wedge their own clay. I made wedging
boards out of plaster of paris poured into soda-can flats. Keep them in
the flats and they're less likely to break. Let them cure completely
before using. I didn't like using plain water for joining. I could find
some really good slip in the waste pots of the wheels, or at the bottom
of the 5-gallon buckets. Keep it in small plastic tubs.
Also, ask the janitor for an old string mop and mop bucket with a
wringer so the students can damp-mop at the end of each class. He will
probably be glad to provide you with one so it saves him the trouble of
mopping. Keep lots of rags and sponges on hand and train the students
to wet-clean everything to keep down the dust. I put a poster of daily
cleaning chores on the wall and wrote the students' names on index cards
that slipped onto paper clips by each job; I posted names alphabetically
each day so all the students had some cleaning chore every few days.
These are high school students, and they can learn to clean up after
themselves. Don't let some slacker get away with doing a bad job
thinking you'll never ask him again; give him the same chore the next
day and coach him if you have to.
Marsh mentioned using supermarket plastic bags but I found that they
weren't as airtight as expected. You can cut up the big plastic
garbage can liners and use that to wrap clay.