Block 3 – How We Express Ourselves- Communicating Through The Arts

For this block, our class started with the following statement:

When we express ourselves, we communicate thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

We needed to learn what the words “express” and “communicate” mean. As we talked about what we thought they meant, we came a little closer to the actual definitions that Mrs. Baldwin read to us. Then we made a list of all the different ways we could think of to express our thoughts, ideas, and feelings:

  • talking
  • facial expressions
  • body language
  • writing/telling stories
  • drawing
  • playing
  • dancing
  • singing
  • acting
  • painting
  • sculpting
  • building/making

As we discussed our list, we noticed a lot of the forms of expression can be found in the Arts! From that list, we made three categories: Performing Arts (singing, dancing, acting), Visual Arts (drawing, painting, sculpting, building/making), and Composing (writing/telling stories, composing songs/music, writing a play).

We all were interested in artists and how they create different types of art. We studied some painters first. We like that some painters create a painting with objects we recognize, but we noticed some painters seem like they aren’t really painting anything at all. There are a lot of colors and sometimes shapes or lines, but nothing we can really look at and describe as something we recognize. We did some research and learned that this type of art is called “abstract.” We decided we wanted to create some of our own abstract art.

We thought about how different colors and shapes can be combined to express and idea or feeling, even if we didn’t actually draw things that make us happy, sad, confused, or peaceful.

As we moved closer to the holidays, we started looking at how people express themselves differently in winter holidays. We watched videos about Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Diwali. As we learned about holiday celebrations, we noticed there were a lot of common themes: family time, gifts, and food.

One of us asked, “how can we express ourselves with food?” NK said that people can express themselves through food choices. When we thought about how food is made, some of us thought that chefs can be artists with how they serve food. We learned that it’s called “plating.” We also saw some pictures of coffee art – when baristas pour cream into a coffee cup, they can make hearts, leaves, and other objects. When we thought about why they do art in coffee, some of us said that it’s a way to show creativity. Others thought that maybe baristas make coffee art to get customers to smile and be happy.

For the rest of block 3, we thought like artists. We like to be artists ALL the time, not only during certain blocks, but we focused a lot on different styles of art. We toured a local studio called Hot Pots. We didn’t get to sculpt our own pots, but we chose some cups that we were able to paint any way we wanted. We painted, we drew, we wrote stories and songs… so many different ways to express ourselves!

Cultures and STORY

For Block 3, we learned a lot about how we express ourselves through STORY.

When we first began our inquiry unit, we talked about the different ways people can tell stories. Our class came up with the following:

  • people can write books
  • storytelling
  • paintings/drawings
  • sign-language
  • clothes – what we wear can tell a story about who we are
  • movement/dance
  • music

Class observations:

We looked at several works from many artists. We listened to a lot of stories. We listened to many different types of music. We watched the Nutcracker Ballet. We even made our own stories through music, dance, and drawings.

After a while, we explored our inquiry statement: Cultures express themselves through story.

We thought about how we could learn about different cultures through their art, music, dance, etc.

Mrs. Baldwin showed us some art work by a man named John Nieto. We loved all the bright colors in his paintings and noticed that much of his work was of animals. After reading about the artist, we learned that John Nieto was born in Denver (!) and raised in New Mexico. His Native American and Hispanic heritage inspires his work. As we studied his paintings, we thought about the stories they told. We created some of our own Nieto-inspired art work.

Inspired by John Nieto

Inspired by John Nieto

We started asking a lot of questions about the history of Native Americans and wanted to learn more. We asked questions about the importance of animals – many of the works of art we saw from different Native American artists included animals. A lot of the stories we read also included animals.

At the Denver Art Museum

At the Denver Art Museum

We know that asking questions and investigating those questions leads us to even more questions!  Sometimes, we take learning trips to help us investigate more. We toured the Denver Art Museum to visit the American Indian Art Collection. We loved looking at the decorations on clothing and drawings on tipis, and our tour guide, Ruth, helped explain the stories in all the art work.

While we were at the museum, we learned that some of the exhibit came from Plains Indian tribes. We started to look at videos of ceremonial dances from Plains and Southwest tribes. Then we found photos and videos of longhouses and learned a little about the Iroquois tribes.

As we continued learning more and more, we stopped to think about the differences in these cultures. Also, we knew that we don’t see people living in tipis and longhouses now. What we had been learning was the historical culture of these tribes.

One of the things we learned was that the Native peoples lived in North America long before the Europeans came to this land. We were very sad when we learned how their land was taken from them, and we tried to understand what it would be like if strangers came and just took our homes away. It’s difficult to understand something that has never happened to us, and we wanted to be able to meet someone who could share more about Native American culture.

We were very fortunate to have a visit from Rose Red Elk, also known as Red Feather Woman. During her visit, she shared stories with us, talked to us about her regalia, taught us a song that she wrote, and helped us learn a round dance. Rose Red Elk answered a lot of questions, and we loved having her visit. She helped us to understand a lot about how STORY plays a part in her life. Rose Red Elk shares her stories to honor her culture and heritage.

With Red Feather Woman

With Red Feather Woman

Some of the stories we read or heard through storytelling were called legends. As we thought through these stories, we noticed that most of them either taught lessons or explained how something began. We loved the story that Red Feather Woman told us about Wind Eagle! We also heard a story called “The Little Boy And Girl In The Clouds.” It was a great story, and the hero is an inchworm. We noticed that it had a similar lesson to some other stories we know: “The Lion and the Mouse” and “David and Goliath.”

We love music, so Mrs. Baldwin brought out some instruments and taught us a song called “Ho Ho Watanay.” We practiced keeping a steady beat with the drums, and used rattles to emphasize the rhythm of “wa-ta-nay.” After we finished learning and performing the song, Mrs. B asked us if it sounded like a song that would be sung at a war ceremony. We didn’t think so! BC said it sounded like a song that helps you go to sleep and then remembered that those songs are called “lullabies.” That’s exactly what the song is! It’s an Iroquois lullaby.

This is a video of us practicing the song:

This was a really great block of learning for us! We made so many connections to things we already know and have experienced. We also really loved learning about Native cultures, and we are grateful to those who helped teach us this block!

Grade 1 student blog posts*:

Bodie’s Blog of Wonder

Zach’s Blog of Wonder

Nathan’s Blog of Wonder

Ryan’s Blog of Wonder


*Note from Mrs. Baldwin: I do not edit the students’ blogs for content or conventions. This helps us see students’ writing progress through the rest of the school year. Any notes from me will be included in [brackets].