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Re: Firing coins? How do I respond?

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From: Marvin Bartel (marvinpb_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Fri Sep 10 2004 - 09:43:02 PDT


>Has anyone experience with firing coins? A student of mine wants to
>try pennies, nickels, and quarters on the outside of a bank. I
>usually fire at cone 06 with general utility clay. I'd like to avoid
>a messy melt or popping!
>Thanks,
>Amy R.

A great question. On 8/15/04, I posted a message on Art and Science
Integration. It was about answering questions with questions that
help the student use the scientific method. In this method the
teacher thanks the student for the idea and encourages safe and
reasonable experimentation. The coin in clay is one of those
teaching moments. I love it when a student wants to do something new.
It does not always feel natural, but I try to remind myself to give a
positive response. I want the student to proceed safely as
independently as possible while keeping me informed of her actions.

In this case, what happens if I admit that I do not know the answer
and encourage the the student to propose several safe ways to test
her coin firing idea? Are coins all the same metal? How many tests
at once can be done? How do you propose to keep track of the
results? What can we make to protect the kiln? Would this teach
creative thinking? Is it my job to know answers or to know how to
phrase questions? Often I have used this approach even when I
thought I knew the answers. I felt the student needed to learn to
figure things out - not to learn to depend on me.

When I first started teaching, did all the kiln loading and firing to
keep from damaging any equipment or projects. Nobody else learned
anything. Now I believe any student who can make a clay piece
without breaking it can also learn to fire it without breaking it.
Of course the logistics of large numbers of students can limit this
to a select group of older or most responsible students in a given
school. For legal reasons and out of personal concern, safety must
be carefully and redundantly covered (informative safety posters can
be placed in the kiln area) and the teacher must be in the awareness
loop of every firing. If students break other student's work, apology
notes are written and signed. This too is part of the learning
process.

My worst over-firing ever was because I trusted a custodian to check
the kiln to be sure it was off when the cone melted. I had to go
teach two classes in another building. The kiln fired on the highest
setting for eleven extra hours. I learned to return to check on it
after that. Whenever a kiln is firing, my wrist watch has a small
piece of masking tape in the center of the dial with a K on it until
the kiln is off.

A high school student once asked me if he could hide rifle shells in
his clay. What do you think I told him? What should I have told
him?

Marvin

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