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Using research, creativity to bring clay animals to life

Kenowa Hills — Maci Cole recently shared an interesting fact she learned while researching Komodo dragons.

“Some people native to Indonesia believe the Komodo dragon holds the spirits of their dead relatives,” the second-grader said. “I don’t really know why, but that’s what they believe.”

Similarly, second-grader Lillian Slykhouse learned something about her favorite “beautiful” dog breed.

“German shepherds are really energetic and they want to have a really energetic family too,” she said. “You need to brush them every day because they’re so fluffy.” 

Lillian, Maci and their classmates at Alpine Elementary discovered a lot of new information about different animals for their end-of-year research project. The students presented their findings to fellow classmates and their teachers in the gym before school let out for the summer. 

Second-grade teacher Julie Mortimore said the students researched physical characteristics of their chosen animals and about their habitats. Their final slideshow presentation had to feature photos of their animals and six paragraphs of text over multiple slides, she said.

“The students had to learn to take research notes and structure complete sentences, including capital letters and punctuation,” teacher Shannon Henshaw said. “They created an intro and conclusion statement and put that all together into paragraphs.” 

The three second-grade classes also took a field trip to John Ball Zoo to see their animals live and up close. 

Connecting Art with Language Arts  

To bring their research to life, each student molded their animal out of clay and constructed a diorama inspired by their animal’s habitat. 

Inside Lillian’s diorama, the German shepherd’s ancestor, a wolf, sat in a decorated forest scene. 

Second-grader Ember Fry crafted two otters so they could swim together in their aquatic diorama.

“I learned that otters have waterproof fur and that … their enemies are great white sharks and killer whales and another one is bobcats,” Ember said. “They swim away from their predators fast because they have webbed feet.”

Ember said her class visited the art room once a week to work on their clay critters.

“When we had art, we made (the animals) and when the clay was dry, we painted them,” she said. 

Alpine’s art teacher Mikie McVey said making animals out of clay fit into their unit on “form,” one of the seven elements of art.

“(The students) painted their 3D sculpted animals and I had them blend black and white to make gray paint, so they used their color theory,” she said. “They also had to know what color their animal was and follow the rules of putting clay together in class.”

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Where art and engineering collide
Students celebrate the beauty of multiple languages

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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