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Showcasing Elaine Kaskela and "Create a Design Box"

"I organized a Create a Design box so students who finished their assignments early would still use class time constructively," recalled Elaine Kaskela, a family and consumer science teacher from Darby, Pennsylvania. "Previously, students might rush through their work and then want to talk to their classmates. Additional 'work' assignments would go unfinished -- and maybe extra work in itself really is unfair. 'Why should I get punished just because I got done early?' was a frequent complaint. Now, students know that when they complete their work, they go to 'The Box.'"

Kaskela's box -- which contains a few dozen folders, each with a different computer-generated design -- is more than a tool for classroom management, however. It also helps her seventh through ninth graders at Penn Wood West Junior High School explore principles of design, color, symmetry, and relationships of shapes.

"I originally bought a book of shapes and then created my own on the computer," Kaskela explained. "The box also contains folders of pages with T-shirts, a sneaker, a man's suit, and an evening gown. Art supplies are in there too -- pencils, colored pencils, crayons, and markers. Sometimes, students only have to use a pencil and shade in different areas to make a design. Other times they use colors for a different effect."

Kaskela's students love "The Box." Even when the same design sheet is used as a "starter," all completed designs are different. The intensity of shading, color choice, and the spaces that are filled in or left blank are expressions of the students' creativity. The finished artwork is hung in and around the classroom.

"I try to create designs that can be completed in five to ten minutes," said Kaskela. "Most kids won't go back and finish a design they started last week. Standard size paper may be cut in quarters to accomplish that, or I make large spaces in the design. Because this is an independent activity, I make sure the kids return the art supplies to the box. Most of all, I let the kids have fun. Sometimes on a Friday, we'll all do the same design and put a new border around the room. A creative activity is very relaxing."

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Article by Cara Bafile
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