Sunday, January 23, 2005

Racine class designed around Wright's work

Teacher Susan Anderson Ford knew it was the Wright time for a lesson on architecture.

Anderson Ford, who teaches fifth grade at Roosevelt Elementary School, was among more than three dozen Racine Unified School District teachers who adopted a series of lessons on Frank Lloyd Wright -- considered by many to be America's greatest architect -- and his contributions to Racine.

Jane Barbian, Racine Unified's elementary reading/language arts coordinator, wrote the curriculum. Anderson Ford said her students connected with the material and Wright's presence in community. One girl brought in a copy of "This Old House" and spoke excitedly about the cover story on restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

"This little girl's going home talking about it with her family," Anderson Ford said. "Creativity and thinking outside the box is important to me. And also making this connection with the community, because Frank Lloyd Wright is such a landmark and he's so local and there are so many people who aren't aware of the many things he's done here."

Wright's works include several houses, including the Hardy House on Main Street and the SC Johnson administration building, which opened in 1939.

Students didn't just sit through lectures on Wright. One day, Anderson Ford's students tried their hand at designing chairs. Wright designed furniture for some of his buildings, including a failed attempt at a three-legged chair for the SC Johnson administration building. After employees complained the chairs easily tipped over, Wright redesigned the chairs and added a fourth leg.

The student ideas for chairs were creative, featuring built-in television screens, speakers and aquariums. Later in the week, students moved into creating art glass windows after a brief study of Wright's works, which feature triangles, squares and rectangles. Students first sketched designs on paper and then used colored markers and transparency paper for their finished "art glass," which was hung on the classroom windows. Micaela Kelley, 11, created a design with a colorful lily. "I picked it because I like flowers," she said. She also picked the design to emulate some of Wright's work. "I think he would have picked some of these because he liked nature and the outdoors and he liked to bring them indoors," she said.

The following week, Anderson Ford's students took part in the culminating activity of the Wright lesson: a trip to SC Johnson for a short video about Wright in Racine and a tour of the Great Workroom. The lessons from the classroom took on different meaning when they appeared on a big screen and then in person. "It was all pretty cool," said 10-year-old Jake Bissen. "I like the glass tubes." The administration building uses 43 miles of glass tubing for both natural and artificial light.

Near the end of the tour, all of the students crowded around a red tile upon which Wright had left his initials on the SC Johnson building. Earlier in the week, parent-helper Sue Bolter reminded Anderson Ford's class to sign their chair drawings.

"Who knows? They might put it in an archive," Bolter said. "I would like to think there's a budding architect in the room."

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