Maybe Something Beautiful

Our 3rd grade students learn about the history of their town and take walking field trips every spring to local historical sites.  This year I chose several books and activities that would focus our thinking on community art, ultimately leading them to a classroom project where they create a symbol for the town based on what they learned.  We began with the book Maybe Something Beautiful written by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell and illustrated by Rafael Lopez.

Part 1 - Laying the foundation (reading the book)

After reading I asked students why people create community art.  Overwhelmingly students decided it was to make the community more beautiful and to make people happy, but students had questions.  Was this considered graffiti?  What was the difference between art and graffiti?  We ultimately decided that if someone had permission from an official source, it was not considered graffiti.

Part 2 - Digging deeper (meeting the illustrator)

Next we took a deeper dive into the art and learned a little about Rafael Lopez.  We watched a video where he discusses a mural project.  As a class we examined one piece of art, wrote down what we saw and what we learned about the community through the piece.  Students were then assigned groups and they worked in small groups to do the same thing with a new piece of Rafael Lopez art.  Students shared their findings with the group.

Whole group example

"What we learned about the community" from our modeling
  • They work together all day and into the night
  • They are all part of the community (the fish and the people)
  • Things used to look like the outside of the hand but now look like the inside
  • They are hard workers
Students brainstorming

Student work

 Part 3 - Comparing and Contrasting

We began with the question "What does "curious" mean?"  Students responded
  • Wonder
  • Question
  • When you want to figure something out or understand
  • When you are interested or want to touch
  • When you are not sure
  • It's like Curious George
We then read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

and compared this to Maybe Something Beautiful.

Part 4 - Bringing it home (looking at examples in our community)

Next I shared some local art with students.  I took several pictures around town and a colleague of mine sent me more so I had a small library of community art.  Students excitedly raised their hands when they recognized artwork in their community.

Photo courtesy of Cheryl Fish

I charged them with the job of looking for more when they went on their walking field trip.  In their classrooms when they returned, they would be creating a "new" symbol for the town based on what they learned about the history of their town.  

We wrapped up our day by singing The Curious Garden with Emily Arrow.

My takeaways

The final piece was to take place in the classroom where students created their own "new" symbol for the town.  With my schedule being what it was, I did not get a chance to join the 3rd grade classes.  Next year I will make sure this happens.

Tying our learning into our community - the electrical boxes and public art that we see every day was a wonderfully motivating way to frame our thinking.  It made the learning real for students.  We were able to read, write, think, share, and even sing our way through these weeks.  I feel like there was a little something for everyone in this unit and would do it again in a heartbeat.  I am wondering if we might be able to add our own art to the community as well...


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