STEAM education drives McCluer High School’s CommuniTea project

Posted by Elaine Cha on
Brendon Wade, a McCluer senior, measures and cuts slabs.
Elaine Cha

Daija, Makayla, Jayla, and Kenyah are graduating seniors at McCluer High School.

They comprise one of four teams in McCluer’s ceramics class that has spent the spring term working on CommuniTEA, a collaborative, multi-step project led by  Craft Alliance Clay Artist-in-Residence Norleen Nosri and McCluer Art Department chair Michele Motil.

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This semester’s been different, even for relative veterans like these students. That’s because what they’ve been doing the past five months involved a surprise--numbers.

“In the first ceramics class, we were making just simple pots and vases and hand-building … We just kind of went off our mind and did it from our eye,” Makayla Abernathy said. 

“This is way more complex,” Kenyah Smith said. “You have to know the measurements – like everything we put on a piece has been measured.”

Jayla Robinson-Murphy and Daija Jackson agree: “Yeah, you have to think more… ”

The CommuniTEA project at McCluer High School culminated this week with a schoolwide ceremony bringing McCluer’s student body together before the 2014-2015 school year closes.

A good chunk of the student’s time has been spent on design and blueprints, which means math.

“This size circle can hold 90 cups, and you have to design stages of base that can hold 200 cups. How many of the base do you need?” Nosri asks. “So students do the most simple counting: ‘This size holds 30, this size holds 60. 60 plus 30 is 90 … 90 and 90, 180 … OK, we need 20 more.’”

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Although CommuniTEA might not have been conceived with STEAM in mind, its participants have seen first-hand just how critical math, engineering, science and technology principles can be, even in a ceramics class, especially with the project’s focus on process.

To complete the bases, each student took on at least one role.

Makayla, the mathematician of her group, said the process was intimidating at first.

“I was scared about the steps,” she said. “I thought it wasn’t going to work.”

In fact, some of their plans – and those of other groups – didn’t turn out the way they intended.

“One of them was supposed to hold 90 cups,” the team said. “But now that we’re done, it’s probably not going to hold much.”

The whole experience has given students important skills they’ll take beyond their final semester at McCluer.

For example, Kenyah has aspirations to enter the United States Air Force. She feels what she’s done in this particular arts class will serve her in the future.

“Being an engineer, you have to make lots of blueprints, which we had to make at first before we even started [building]. It’s prepared me to learn how to measure, and where things go in [one] piece.”

For photos and descriptions of the project’s components and process at both McCluer and McCluer South-Berkeley, visit The CommuniTea in St. Louis 2015 Facebook page.  

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