Teaching African American history during the month of February is important to all cultures not just for African Americans. By helping the students be aware of African American history recognition and value is placed on the culture as a race. Dr. Martin Luther King is the most widely recognized hero to all people but there are many more. I have noticed that African American students are much more knowledgeable of a broad spectrum of African American leaders and heroes are than students of other races.
One idea to help emphasize and form better understanding of whatever specific topic is being focused on such the Civil War, civil rights heroes, African American inventors, etc, is to have the students create a mural either on long bulletin board paper or on a large stretched canvas. One year my fifth grade students had been studying the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. In their art class with me, we discussed of how to determine a symbol for each event on the timeline of the Underground Railroad. Then a background was painted on a large canvas and then the students were divided into groups. Each group was assigned a symbol to paint on the mural. Some of the symbols that we chose were a lantern, a slave running during his escape, a plantation owner with a large home, etc. Another way to accomplish this is to research ahead of time and collect pictures from the internet on certain African American history topics or go to a local library and look up the newspapers during the time frame of the civil rights movement on microfish. Have the articles printed out with the dates and pictures and let the students assemble a collage using a painted background and either thinned down glue or acrylic medium.
This should be painted on the surface of the mural, then apply the article or picture and then another coat directly on top. After it dries several more coats of the thinned glue or acrylic medium will seal the collage. the project can become a permanent accessory for the school’s hallway or offices. This project is very interesting for the students and was met with wide acclaim with the administrators and parents alike.
The month of February is African American history month. I observed first hand when I was teaching inner city schools the pride my students experienced when their heritage and history was recognized and honored. I developed several art lesson plans that I would teach during this time frame. One lesson plan that the students enjoyed creating was African masks. I would show them a Power Point with photos of African masks.
The process of creating the masks can offer variations and be changed from year to year by either using colored construction paper and the students draw with markers or craypas or using white paper and the students painting the designs. A pattern for the masks is provided so that the size and placement of the eyes will be correct. After the masks have been cutout and decorated with surface designs, other materials can be added by gluing. Assorted materials can include but are not limited to, cut construction paper in different colors, twine, yarn, moss, etc. The art work was then displayed and many times the students asked when they would be able to take their finished artwork home so they could proudly show their parents. This art project is adaptable for all ages of students. My students never tired of this project from year to year and looked forward to it because each mask was different. They especially enjoyed adding materials for hair which can be yarn or moss, but also can be folded strips of construction paper cut in thin strips or for curly hair show them how to wrap it around a pencil and pull tight.
For detailed information and materials for this project with a list of curriculum standards, please sign up for my mailing list.
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday is celebrated on January 15 and a wonderful classroom project to commemorate the event is to have the students create famous African American collages. When I was teaching art in inner city school, I would always try to start the art projects early enough in January to commemorate Dr. King’s birthday, but to also begin a display that would commemorate African American History month which is recognized each year during the month of February. I found that all children love to learn about any holiday or event that is recognized, but especially if represents their race or heritage. Although I introduced these activities in art class, they would be suitable in any classroom situation. I wrote the lesson plan for African American History collages for elementary school aged students, preferably for third through fifth grade but this could also be used for middle or high school aged students. I came up with the idea after observing that the children were very frustrated when trying to draw portraits of famous people because they rarely resembled or recognized the person. I had an idea about creating collages with printed images that I found on the internet. I would search on Google and then save the images and combine as many images as I could on one page and the print the images in black and white.
The students were instructed to create a background for their collage first. If time is not a factor and there is plenty of time, a background can be painted using watercolor or tempera paints. Time should be allowed for the background to dry if choosing this method. The other method of creating a background can be using scraps of colored paper that the students cut and glue to a heavier piece of paper or tag board. Each student is then given a choice of five printed images of their favorite African-American heroes which have been previously cut loose, but not in detail. Next they should be instructed to cut very carefully around the figure so it will show up well and with good detail on their collage. Markers can be used to add lines of contrast if desired. The students have always been very proud of their creations and also learn to identify African-American heroes.