Students in two Coile Middle School art classes are learning a little about design and building this week, with help from University of Georgia students and Chris McDowell, the materials reuse coordinator for the UGA College of Environment and Design.

Five basic wooden structures were arrayed on the school’s back lawn Tuesday morning, each one alike yet different — one would be a composting station, another a giant loom, while another would house a kind of giant game board.

It was the job of the gloved students to add the final touches, which the students got to design themselves in small teams.

Their projects include painting a garden scene on one of the structures, making wooden boxes to grow herbs, building a rough table for another and fashioning a huge wind chime of bamboo sticks hung beneath a plastic lead — all of it made with recycled building materials.

First, McDowell gave the students a brief safety lesson.

 

“What I want you guys to do is to be aware of what’s around you,” he told the sixth-graders, some wielding hammers, others driving home long wood screws with a power drill fitted with a screwdriver bit. Any sawing was done beforehand by adults.

Putting together something out of wood was a new experience for some students, like sixth-grader Derek Webb.

Besides McDowell, the students could get help from UGA undergraduates Abigail West or Janie Day Whitworth, art education graduate student Kira Hegeman or Ravisha Wijeweera, who was volunteering his time.

Classmate Navy Curry was more experienced. He’d built a tree house before this, he said.

If all goes as planned, the students will finish up their projects in a second round Thursday, said art teacher Samantha Barnum.

Barnum thought the project, funded by a grant from UGA’s Office of Sustainability, would let the students learn about the connections between science, technology, engineering, math and art — the so-called STEAM disciplines.

“You don’t get much more authentic than building something,” she said.

McDowell hoped the students would get a sense that they could design something and follow through on it.

“I don’t want them to think that they can’t learn to become designers,” said McDowell, who’s worked with area students, seniors and other folks on more than 100 projects, many of them school or community gardens.

 
 Written by: Lee Shearer