Cosmic Art- a Crafty Lesson About Space!

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About: Science Oxford creates the very best in live science events for families and adults, designs and delivers inspiring science learning activities for schools and gives training and support to teachers in the p...

One of the things I enjoy doing the most in the clubs I lead is creating activities that are interdisciplinary. Because that's life, right? Science is never just science: it is storytelling, it is the history of how ideas have grown and it is, in the case of this club, inspiration for art! In this Instructable, you will see how I used the aesthetics of space to help kids produce their very own cosmic art.

This workshop was originally produced as a Maker Club run by Science Oxford for children aged 9-12 and their families. As the name suggests, these clubs have a focus on making a range of things! When planning these clubs, I like to put an emphasis on the acquisition of skills and exposure to new materials and technologies. In this club, kids learn about the constellations whilst practising their fine motor skills by sewing, learn about the properties of planets by creating their own celestial jewellery and ponder the night's sky through the medium of distress inks.

Whilst this club was more science-inspired than pure science, I have included several adaptations throughout this Instructable that you could make should you want to seize the potential for scientific learning. In this way, these activities would be no more out of place in a science classroom than in an art or technology classroom. The grade level of this workshop is a rough guide only; as you will see from the adaptations I've included throughout this Instructable, there are many ways in which you could use the same activities with older students in such a way that challenge them to think scientifically.

One of the resources I made in advance of this workshop was created using my Cricut Explore Air 2 and designed in Cricut design space. Instructions on how to make these are included in this Instructable. I have also included a low-tech alternative for those Instructables users who do not have a Cricut machine.

Please let us know what you think and do share how you've used these activities in your own classroom!

Supplies:

The following supplies were used in this workshop, broken down by activity:

Mathematical Art

Paper or Card

Protractor

Compass (for drawing circles)

Ruler

Pens/ Pencils

Constellation Cards

Card blanks

Lace up cards (Cricut tutorial included with this Instructable)

Embroidery floss/ yarn
Needles

Needle threaders (optional- may be useful for kids)

Double sided tape

Celestial Jewellery

Laminated information on the planets (attached to this Instructable)

Dishes of beads

Thin elastic

Scissors

Blutack

Cosmic Art

Watercolour paper

Distress inks in a range of colours (you can buy these from any large craft store or on Amazon. You could also opt for Distress Oxide Inks which are more opaque and leave a beautiful chalky finish)

Sponges

Masking tape

Spray bottle

Water

Shimmer powder

Teacher Notes

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Step 1: Activity 1: Mathematical Art

To begin, I posed the following question to my group: 'how can you draw a mathematically perfect 5-pointed star'?

Equipped with a range of materials including a protractor, compass, ruler and pens and pencils, the kids can then be let loose to test out their ideas. Why not chuck in a few materials that you know they won't need in order to challenge their decision making?

The answer to this puzzle lies in geometry! Firstly, use your compass to draw a circle with a smaller circle directly in the centre. Then use your protractor to measure 72 degree intervals around the circumference of the circle. Each of these points will become one of the outer points of your star. Measure 36 degrees from one of your outer points and mark it on your inner circle. Then, mark every 72 degrees of your inner circle, these will be the points where your points of your star meet.

Adaptations:

1. Once your students have got the hang of this, why not challenge them to experiment with using different sized circles? They can then reflect upon the process and note what they change about their method and what they keep the same. Have them measure the angles of different stars they draw and see which angles change with size and which don't- are there any surprises?

2. Kids can also have fun decorating their stars with geometric patterns. A beautiful addition to any maths classroom display board! I also think this would make an awesome end of term activity for your pre-Christmas maths class. Curriculum-based enough for real learning to happen, seasonal enough for kids to have fun!

3. You could use this task to help improve your students' mathematical literacy. Key words such as circumference, diameter, radius and arc can be made easier to remember when applied in a practical project. Here is another way of answering this challenge, provided by BBC Bitesize.

4. When I see art and mathematics collide, all I can think about is the genius of Leonardo Da Vinci. A task like this would be a good springboard into a unit of study into one of the greatest artists and polymaths of all time.

Step 2: Activity 2: Constellation Cards

This activity makes use of free phone apps that map out the night's sky. A few of my favourites are Sky Map and Star Walk. Start off by using your app to view the constellations around you OR, better still, get outside and stargaze!

The following prompt questions may start off interesting discussions:

How many of the constellations have you heard of?

Can you figure out why they're named as they are?

What might someone using the app in the Southern Hemisphere see?

Then, use your app/map to help you complete a constellation lace up card! These cards give you the name of the constellation and map out where the stars are within it. Your job is to sew the card so that it correctly shows the constellation.

These cards were made using a Cricut machine and Design Space software. Please see the attached tutorial for detailed instructions on how to make these.

The cards can then be mounted onto card blanks with double sided tape and would make a wonderful gift!

No Cricut? No problem! I've attached a document with the constellations I made for you to use as a template. Simply use a needle or an awl to poke holes where the lines join and then stitch your card in whichever colour thread you wish. There are 11 constellations for you to choose from, leaving you with 70-something to design yourself ;)

Adaptations:

1. I can see this working really well with a scout group. Imagine camping under the stars and being able to take a look at the constellations for real! In central Oxford, light pollution can be a problem, plus, our clubs take place in the day time. No real stargazing for us! Please do try this out on a camping trip and let us know how it goes.

2. Whilst in our club this was more of a science-inspired craft activity, there is a lot of potential to bring out some real science in this task. Why not try one of the following:

- Provide the constellation without the name and see if your students can figure out which constellation the formation of stars is showing

- See how many stars within the constellations students can name. This could spark a lovely discussion into how stars are named (some names are really boring!) and when individual stars were first discovered and by whom

- A lovely class project could be to map the constellations in the night's sky. Instead of looking at individual constellations, why not use different colours of thread to distinguish between the different constellations in a class-made map of the sky?

3. When put together into greetings cards, these constellation cards are quick and (relatively) easy to make (if you have a reference photo to guide your stitching, this is a very easy task!). Making cards like these would be a great way to introduce some enterprise amongst your students. Why not make a bunch of cards and sell them to raise money for a class trip or project? As far as kid-made projects go, these cards are easy to resource, don't take too long to put together (perfect for varying attention spans!) and look really unique.

Step 3: Activity 3: Celestial Jewellery

One of the best things about making is creating something beautiful which you can actually use! The celestial jewellery created in this activity is great because it a) reinforces knowledge of the planets, b) is a quick make, taking less than 15 minutes, and c) looks awesome!

We started by discussing the properties of the planets. Each pair had one of the cards in the attached document and had to decide amongst themselves which they thought they had. Then, they had to arrange themselves, with their cards, into the order of the planets. We included Pluto, for old time's sakes ;)

Once we established the order of the planets and had discussed their similarities and differences, we mounted them to a wall with blutack for reference. Then, we set about making our jewellery!

Each kid had a selection of beads from which to choose their planets. There was no particular right or wrong, and the beads they were given left them with several choices when representing their planets. They simply threaded them onto thin elastic and there they had it-- their very own space bracelet-- or, if you prefer-- spacelet!

Adaptations:

1. One thing you could do with your spacelet is attach it to the front of a card, as I have in the attached image. I felt the sentiment made it a perfect card to use as a pick me up for someone who is in a bad place or needs a bit of friendship. To attach the bracelet, I poked a few holes into the card with a needle, threaded clear elastic through and tied the bracelet, securing with small knots on the inside of the card.

2. In many ways, this task is a wearable alternative to a more traditional solar system diorama. Creating a traditional diorama would allow for the introduction of even more science. Why not see if you can plot out the distance between planets to scale? Tasks like this are also a great way of helping children to visualise the solar system. So many books have the planets equally spaced, in a neat little line. This is a perfect opportunity to address these misconceptions.

Step 4: Activity 4: Cosmic Art

There's a lot of science that goes into art, particularly where distress inks are concerned! Distress inks are a unique combination of dye and pigment inks which react with water to create beautiful effects. In my experience, they look most effective on white or light-coloured cardstock because they are naturally translucent in appearance. The scrapbook layout in the attached image was made using distress oxide inks. These inks are more opaque in appearance and have a chalky finish when they react with water.

I love this task for helping reluctant artists to see their potential. It is very difficult to mess up this project and it's a real confidence boost to see something beautiful form from what starts out looking like a very questionable piece of artwork!

Creating a galaxy using distress inks is surprisingly easy; the trick is to be bold and lay down your colours without worrying too much! It will, inevitably, start out looking like a mess... as will your hands by the time you've finished!

1. I use masking tape to adhere a piece of thick watercolour paper to a table. This helps to keep your fingers clean and keeps your paper in place whilst you're blending the inks. You'll be left with a border which you can trim down at the end (if you like).

2. Simply layer your distress inks onto watercolour paper, starting with the lightest colours. Don't be afraid of leaving the white paper showing through in patches or not fully blending the inks. You want to see lots of different colours coming through.

3. Then, with all your colours layered, spritz it with water to unleash the inks' potential! You could even put a small amount of shimmer powder into the water in your spray bottle (or a cheaper alternative- white glitter eye shadow!) to make your galaxy sparkle.

4. You could use a clean piece of paper towel to lift some of the ink away once the water has been applied. How much you do this is up to you; I did it less so in the scrapbook layout and more in the video. You can see that by lifting away the ink with paper towel, you're left with an effect that almost looks like it has been bleached. You could also use a heat tool or hairdryer to speed up the process, although those of you who have patience as a virtue may just want to wait for it to air dry. Go and grab a cup of tea to help the time fly!

Have a look at the attached video for a step by step guide on how to create a distress ink galaxy. The big decision then is to decide what you want to do with your galaxy! Here are some of my suggestions:

Adaptations:

1. Use your galaxy in a scrapbook layout

2. Use it as the base of a card

3. Stitch a constellation on to it

4. Turn it into a classroom display

5. Turn the project into an experiment to see whether distress inks or distress oxides react in a similar or different way to other types of inks

6. You could use this activity as a springboard into studying the galaxy and why it looks the way it does. Where does the light come from? Where do all the different colours come from? How much darkness would there really be? How can we best observe our galaxy so that we see a picture similar to that we've created?

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    2 Discussions

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    goldenskyhook

    7 weeks ago

    Awesome project! Being a former home-schooler with an artist wife with mad watercolor skills, I've done similar projects before. I'd like to add, however, that you suggest latex or nitrile gloves on your "needed" list. All too many pigments and inks contain potential toxins, but even if not it just seems better to me to not spend the next few days looking like a paint rag as the ink on your hands oh-so-slowly fades.

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    ScienceOxfordgoldenskyhook

    Reply 7 weeks ago

    Great idea! As far as I know, distress inks are non-toxic but they can be stubborn to remove from skin!