Category Archives: Concrete

Ode to Concrete

Note this post is for the National Day of Writing. It is being submitted to Bud Hunt’s gallery in the National Gallery of Writing.   It has nothing to do with education or technology or does it ….
my school sidewalk

Ode to Concrete

To most people concrete is grey, cold, sterile, and under their feet.
It is hard, rough, practical, taken for granted, and ugly.
To me concrete is the greatest material in the world.
It is the ultimate in tensions.
from Andrew Carr

Concrete is natural.

It is aggregate(sand and stone), cement, and water. It is earth. It was invented by the Romans and it is the only thing left from the ancient world not built of stone.

Concrete is technology.

It is man-made and full of chemicals: fly ash, water reducers, superplasticizers, accelerators, and retarders. There are complicated mix designs for innumerable applications. It is chemistry and science at its finest. There is even translucent concrete now.

Concrete is hard.

It is sidewalk that scratches knees.

Concrete is soft.

It is like pancake batter or chunky soup when mixed. It changes form. It is fluid and then very solid. It is a shape-shifter that adapts to any container. It can be formed, molded, carved, or engraved.

Concrete is strong.

It is walls that hold back earth, foundations that hold up massive skyscrapers, and bridges that hold thousands of cars.

Concrete is weak.

It shifts in cold climates and always cracks. It requires steel inside for tensile strength. When designed and placed improperly it crumbles under earthquakes and kills thousands.

Concrete is ugly.

It stands for industrialism and urban landscapes that are bleak with no life: the concrete jungle.

Concrete is beautiful.

It can be formed, molded, carved, engraved, ground, polished, and stained. It can be personalized with embedded objects. It is my art and I love it for its flaws and imperfections.

Concrete is a lot like me.

I’m still alive….

It’s been awhile since I wrote here. I am not intentionally leaving this space, but in summer I work concrete construction which keeps me very busy. I am so busy with work and trying to keep up with things around my home that I have little time to write and not even as much time to reflect as I would like. Here are some pics of some jobs we have done:

Insulated concrete forms (ICF’s) for walls for a Family Dollar Store
Large house with all exterior walls ICF’s
Pour day
Large cotttage that is lifted and we poured an ICF basement underneath
All of these jobs except the house in the second picture have been out of town. I have been working long days in the heat, staying in hotels, and missing my family. I mention all of this to remind us as educators why the public thinks our job is easy. For many blue-collar workers who work hard every day just to get by, having “three months off” is inconceivable. 
Now I realize that most of you are doing many school related things all summer such as working other jobs, planning, taking classes, and attending conferences. I would never say that teaching is anything but hard, stressful work (but also rewarding) and that we work many unpaid hours. But it is important to remember the perspective of others especially in down economic times that we are in and not take for granted or flaunt the “perks” of teaching.
So enjoy your summer, learn as much as you can, give back as much as you can, and re-charge your batteries for a great school year.

Landscape class

We are wrapping up our landscape class. Come check out the slide show of our pour on our class blog and give the students some more dots on our clustrmap.

Reflections on our Landscaping Class

Our art teacher, Kim, and I combined our art and technology classes for the final quarter of this year and team-taught a landscaping class. This post is a reflection on the class, good and bad, looking towards another version of it next year. It was challenging, frustrating, and rewarding at the same time. We had a general idea of what we wanted to do and accomplish, but we really wanted the students to have as much a voice as possible in the class. Therefore it was difficult to “plan” because we really wanted to leave that to the students.

We started the class knowing that we would use my background in concrete construction to have the students build some kind of decorative pavers in a garden space that we would create outside of our rooms. We tried to spend time in research with books and the Internet. Kim taught them about Georgia O’Keeffe and Frank Lloyd Wright. The students drew the space from a two-point perspective and as a blueprint on graph paper. The students really struggled with the abstractness and ambiguity of the project.

We realized the students could not focus on the big picture of the project, so we switched approaches and had the students draw life size versions of their personal tiles. We made some guidelines for them that the tiles had to be based on nature. The students really took off with great ideas.

While they worked on drawings in Kim’s room, I brought small groups to my room and the students built their forms. They choose the shapes, measured, cut, drilled, and screwed the forms together. For many of them it was a first time using any of these basic tools. It was great to see some of the students who had some skills in this area jump in and take charge.

Next we began pouring the pavers. Concrete is a challenging material because of the time constraints. You can not just pack up at the end of the hour and finish the next day. So we were able to pour 2-3 each day taking over ten pour days to finish. The students mixed the concrete with a drill, poured it in the forms and finished the concrete. A few days later we stripped the forms.

The process of figuring out the layout design of the tiles was one of my favorite parts of the project. Now that they had the tiles they could “see” the problem of layout. We cut out life-size cardboard shapes of each tile and they wrote their names on them. Then we went out side and told them to lay them out. Then we talked about how it looked and they edited by moving them until they “found” their design. This concrete, no pun intended, process of design was much easier for middle school students than trying to create something on a blueprint before they even really understood what they were making. We took pictures of the cardboard placement so we could remember when we bought out the real pavers.

The absolute best part of this project was seeing the skills of some of our hands-on kids validated at school. They may struggle in traditional classes, but they were the leaders of our class and you could see their self-esteem rise. They worked hard and were proud of their results. Another great part of the project was our blog at http://vwoodgarden.blogspot.com/ Students wrote about their individual tiles and we posted it next to a picture of their tile. The students were so impressed by all the dots on the clustrmap on the first day (thanks to my PLN on twitter!)

As I move to a paperless classroom, I am reminded the most important part is students. I have always emphasized project-based learning that is based on collaboration and problem-solving. Next year we plan to have the students design and build benches and some sculpture stands. We are also going to have students collect food scraps from the cafeteria and start a compost pile.Of course as has been said many times before, learning is messy, but so worth it. The students are proud to leave behind this contribution to their school.

Ok readers, how will you be creative and challenge students in real world ways next year??? Kim and I asked ourselves what are we doing sometimes and this was by far the class that took the most energy and planning. It was hard work, but oh so worth it!