Art-ering Ram: One Day Workshop

What a day! From the prompt “Mega-Paintbrush” to the final product  -- a print-making machine lovingly dubbed the “Art-ering Ram” -- this project epitomized what we do here at Project Ember. Our prompts serve a specific purpose; push kids out of their comfort zone in terms of scale or complexity. We also carefully choose them to be compatible with the materials and tools we are constrained by, setting the kids up for a fluid problem solving experience, instead of a cascade of frustrating situations that start with “oh man, if only we had a…” From there, the kids' imaginations take us toward a solution. Working together, we accomplish far more than we could alone.

This project marked an exciting collaboration with our friends at RAFT, San Jose (Resource Area for Teachers) who gave our kids run of their warehouse full of hands-on education project materials. However, before the kids even know the project, we always discuss safety.

Tool training focused on the chop saw and drills, which were essential for the challenge at hand. We started with the saw, discussing its power, its real capacity for harm, and how it can be used safely. Everyone dawned safety glasses and headphones, learned about the indispensable “ready” call and then took turns using the saw.

Lev makes a ready call. The rest of the team gives him a silent thumbs up to acknowledge that they've got their safety equipment on, are paying attention, and don't see anything dangerous about the way Lev has set up his cut.

Ada pulls the saw all the way through the wood.

Robert takes tucking his thumb seriously.

From there we moved on to drills and discuss alignment, torque and technique. We practiced driving some screws and drilling some holes.

With a better understanding of the capabilities and limits of the tools, we announced the prompt: Mega-Paintbrush! Around a pad of paper, we imagined what a Mega-Paintbrush might look like, how big it should be, and how we could draw with something so large. Feeding off of each others' ideas, our final design emerged. This won’t just be a paintbrush, it’s going to be a battering ram!

Noe lets us in on her ideas about a rolling brush.

Lev is convinced we can build a truck to haul our brush.

The kids split into teams to make the best use of every bit of time available. Robert and Sophia became the brush/ram Team. Lev, Ada and Noe set to work making a structure to hold the brush.

Even in sub-teams, everyone continued to collaborate. Robert and Sophia mastered the chop saw, so the Structure Team delivered their pre-marked and measured wood and turned their focus to the next task: exploring the nearly limitless supplies of our host, RAFT, to find the ideal material for our brush heads.

Sophia makes her way through a stack of cuts.

Katie shows Robert how to use a speed square to mark his cut.

Josh, Lev, Noe and Ada dig through the bins at RAFT for the most inspiring brush materials.

With cuts made, designs settled and goals clear, the project came together swiftly. Robert and Sophia focused on the handle of the brush, while Ada, Lev and Noe alternated between work on the structure and a set of interchangeable heads for the brush.

Sophia and Robert make progress on the brush.

Ada puts together our first brush head.

As the end of the day approached, we rigged up the brush, prepped the splatter zone, and moved the Art-ering Ram into position. Parents gathered, kids squeezed in close, and we mounted a thick piece of foam to protect the wall from ram-impact. Sophia inked up our first brush-head and worked with Robert to install it. Once ready, everyone moved into a spot to get a good view. We pulled the brush/ram backwards and Robert began the countdown...5...4...3...2...1... Release, and bam! A print popped into existence! It worked!

After a small celebration, we set up each of the alternate brush heads and smashed together more art. Each of them worked in turn, and we ended up with a bit of canvas transformed by our team.

Our beautiful print hanging on our custom made Art-ering Ram.

Our beautiful print hanging on our custom made Art-ering Ram.

Our day ends in a circle, discussing the highlight of the day, who helped who, and - our favorite - hearing the kids observe moments when other kids were excellent to one another.