elementary students construct a reef exhibit

Judith C. Lang jlang at uts.cc.utexas.edu
Fri May 30 15:51:13 EDT 1997

With apologies to anyone who has already seen this mesage on another list:

By Susan Wolter (Kocurek Elementary School) and Judith Lang (Texas Memorial
Museum, University of Texas at Austin)

In the spirit of following up on Bob Ginsburg's suggestion that successful
approaches to IYOR be shared, here's a brief description of an activity
suitable for elementary school-aged children:

During February, 1997, first graders at Kocurek Elementary School in
Austin, Texas, used brightly-painted scrap materials to construct an
exhibit which portrays the beauty and diversity of a coral reef. The
students' individual thoughts, captured in their writings and drawings,
have been bound into a small booklet that travels with the exhibit. Their
understanding of reef conservation issues is illustrated with additional
narrated sketches that are displayed nearby and reduced to form an
inexpensive, black-on-blue handout.

In March, 14 of the first graders, along with their parents, S. Wolter, and
two school administrators, showed several hundred other children how to
make paper coral polyps (many of which were temporarily added to the
exhibit) at two local children's festivals ("Austin Science Fun Day" and
"University ChildFest"), while J. Lang offered each set of adult visitors
copies of the children's conservation handout and the International Year of
the Reef pamphlet (which had been inexpensively reproduced with black ink
on blue paper). The exhibit was on unattended display throughout April in
the Austin Independent School District's 1997 Student Art Show.

Note that, beginning in January, the students had many opportunities to
examine skeletons of reef animals and coral reef videos, books, posters and
photographs. Hence, the children already were quite knowledgeable, and had
become excited at their chance to "help save the corals of the world", when
they began to construct the reef exhibit.  Some of the specific
construction techniques were contributed by their art teacher, or by older
students and parents visiting their classroom.

A brief description of the coral polyp and reef construction methods are
given below.  Details about our integrated thematic teaching methods, the
resulting conceptual and academic development of the students, useful
resource materials, etc., will be available by July.  To learn more at that
time, contact:
 jlang at uts.cc.utexas.edu (Judith C. Lang)
 Texas Memorial Museum
 (512) 471-4954 (Voice)
 (512) 471-4794 (Fax)
 Susan Wolter <swolter at tenet.edu>
 Kocurek Elementary School
 (512) 414-2547 (Voice)
 (512) 282-7824 (Fax)

CONSTRUCTING A CORAL POLYP.  Contributed by D.K. Hagman
Students who have already learned how to do this activity can help teach it
to other children.
MATERIALS:  Colored multi-purpose paper cut into small rectangles ranging
in sizes from 6 x 1O cm to 7 x 21 cm (2 x  4 in. to 3 x 8 in.), scissors,
transparent tape.
Optional - marking pens, colored pencils, colored tissue cut in similar
sized rectangles.
Place the short side of a rectangle next to an index finger and roll paper
loosely around the finger.
Tape to secure the cylinder and remove from finger.
Make numerous incisions into the cylinder 1/2 to 1 cm (1/8 to 1/4 in.)
apart. The depth of the incision can vary from 2 to 5 cm (1/2 in. to 1 1/2
in.) as desired.
Separate, bend and curl the individual strips to form  tentacles.
On the opposite end of the cylinder make 4 or 5 additional incisions.
Fold back the cut edges toward the cylinder to form the base of the polyp
so that the polyp can stand on its own or be secured to some other
structure with tape or glue.
OR (An Alternate Method Devised by the Students)
Hold rectangle or place it on a flat surface.
Make incisions (as above) close together on one of the long sides of the
rectangle to form the tentacles.
Make 2 or 3 incisions far apart on the opposite side to form the base.
Starting with the short side of the rectangle, roll the paper into a
cylinder and secure with a piece of tape.
Bend the strips to form the tentacles and the base as described above.

A.   Use the marking pens or colored pencils to decorate the polyps with
drawings of their algal symbiants or nematocysts.
B.  Make a similar polyp with a smaller diameter using tissue paper of
either coordinating or contrasting colours. Stuff the tissue paper polyp
inside the tube of the original polyp to create a polyp with a more
complicated morphology.

Algae, sponges, soft corals and stony corals, etc, can be made of diverse
paper and styrofoam scrap materials: toilet paper and paper towel tubes,
cupcake holders, egg cartons, meat or produce trays, etc.  Each is cut,
broken or torn to create the desired shape, given several coats of a
water-solube paint, then attached to the reef base (see below).

The models can be made to look more realistic with a little imagination,
and glue or a glue gun (adult use only!).  For example, a coloured pipe
cleaner bent into folds makes the ridges of a brain coral or the tentacle
of a large-polyped coral; cheesecloth, irregularly splashed with dabs of
paint approximates the surfaces of agariciid corals; paper polyps (see
above) can be attached to the surfaces of the stony and soft corals, or
bunched together on the bottom to make a colonial sea anemone; Fruit Loops
(a children's cereal that looks like coloured Cheerios) can become sponge
oscules; a small ball of coloured yarn to which five short "arms" are
attached is a brittle star that can then be wrapped around a sponge; two
adjoining sections of an egg carton form the valves of a clam, etc. We
suggest no use of candies or other sweets, however, regardless of their
potentially-useful shapes.

Bubble algae, turf algae, starfish, brittle stars, sea urchins, octopus,
sting rays, other bottom-dwelling fish, etc., can be made of soft coloured
sticks of clay or cellu-clay (which is similar to paper mache but easier to
mold). (Coloured tooth picks can be used for the urchin spines.)  Once the
clay or cellu-clay has dried, the organisms can be painted with tempra
Coloured pipe cleaners can also be bent in diverse ways to fashion
roundworms, starfish, tubeworms, and other mobile animals.

Draw duplicate outlines of interesting fishes on plain white paper.
Decorate the "outer" side of each outline with coloured pencils or marking pens.
Staple the two halves together (do not allow young children to use a
stapler by themselves), leaving a space to stuff the fish with paper
tissues. Staple the opening shut, then glue a piece of plastic fishing line
or heavy thread to the back of the fish for later suspension from a dowel
extending above the reef.

Wooden ice-cream sample spoons or the round ends of tongue depressors can
be painted, and then further decorated with dots or stripes in a
contrasting color with a permanent marking pen. An adult can use a glue gun
to connect several fishes to a length of fishing line or heavy thread,
which is then attached to one of the dowels.

Irregularly-shaped pieces of brightly-painted, styrofoam packing material
can be glued to pieces of stout, painted cardboard to approximate the
cracks, crevices and uneven topography at the base of a reef. Larger pieces
placed towards the rear and center of the model help create a natural mound
effect, and increase the visibility of each student's contribution.  The
cellu-clay (see above) can also be applied over the styrofoam to modify its
shape or add texture.  After the sedentary organisms (see above) have been
attached to the cardboard or styrofoam creations, pale green and white
styrofoam "peanuts" can be glued onto any remaining unused spaces to create
an algal pavement.

A frame that is about 6 ft. high and of appropriate horizontal dimensions
to fit under and behind the table on which the exhibit rests can be
constructed of 5/8 in. diameter PVC pipe (or equivalent material). A
backdrop of blue construction paper, on which a simple reef scene is either
painted or glued, can be taped to the frame. The large reef fishes and the
small schooling fishes can be suspended from dowels that extend
horizontally above the reef at right angles to the frame: "anchors" for the
dowels being holes drilled in the top horizontal support of the frame. If
the table is located near a door or fan, the fish move in response to
gentle breezes. Blue cellophane can be draped over the dowels, adding to
the underwater atmosphere.

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