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Jan 24, 2013

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The Clay Conundrum: How to Teach Hundreds of Students While Staying Organized

In the past, we have talked a lot about clay on AOE. From designing a clay curriculum with power standards to using alphabet pasta in a new way, we’ve covered most of the bases.  But today, I’d love to share the nitty gritty of clay project organization:

  • How do you make sure you order the right amount of clay and glaze?
  • How do you keep track of potentially dangerous tools?
  • And how in the world do you keep track of hundreds of projects at a time?

Drawing on a few of my own mistakes, I’ll share my favorite ways to keep clay projects manageable.

 

Organize-for-clay-success

 

How To: Order the right amount of clay and glaze every time. 

 

Clay

The first time I had to make a clay order, I had no idea what I was doing. So, I did what any new teacher might do, and I asked another art teacher for help. My thinking was that he and I both taught the same number of students, and therefore probably needed the same amount of clay. Boy, was I wrong. When I had over 1,000 pounds of clay left at the end of the year, I realized that I needed to budget for my clay usage, not someone else’s.

Organize Clay

My solution? A sticky note. Yep, the humblest of all record keeping devices helped me accurately gauge my own clay use. Every year, I write down the number of bags of clay I start with. Each time I use a bag, I make a tally mark. At the end of the year, I count up how many are left to make sure my numbers match. Since I do similar clay projects with each grade each year, I know exactly how much more clay I need to order for the following year. Easy.

 

Glaze

I once ran out of blue glaze in the middle of a project. Needless to say, quite a few of my kiddos were not happy. Naively, I had ordered the same amount of each color of glaze. I had not taken into account that some colors would be more popular than others. So, like my clay solution, I developed a document that could easily help me track my glaze usage. If you’d like, you can download your own copy right here.  To keep things even neater, I organized my bottles of glaze in rows (in rainbow order, of course) so that I could see what I had at a glance.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 2.14.17 PM

roygbivglaze copy

 

How To: Keep Tools Organized and Safe

Two years ago, at the end of a school day, I noticed that a needle tool had disappeared from the art room. Has this ever happened to you? All I could think about was the perpetrator running wild in the school poking everyone in sight. Days later, I realized that I had shoved the needle tool in my pencil cup on my desk. The perpetrator was me. That fact didn’t make me feel any better though, because I realized that my system for dealing with dangerous tools was not good enough.

Now, I organize my tools (a mix of wooden sticks, silverware, and more traditional clay tools) in nesting baskets which students share at tables. While one basket may have one more fork or stick than another, all tables have the exact same number of needle tools, which must be accounted for before a table is allowed to line up at the end of class.

claytools copy

I organize slip in similar stackable cups. I keep the slip cups on a tray during projects, but then let them dry out for storage.

slipcups copy

 

How To: Easily organize hundreds of clay projects at a time

I realize that there are many options for storing clay projects, but for me, using individual bags never seemed practical. In my room, I use what I have dubbed the “tray method.” It works like this. The projects for each class are stored on old lunch trays, which are labeled with the class code, for example “3S” for Ms. Smith’s 3rd grade class. Trays of projects in progress get put into large garbage bags to keep them workable. Projects waiting to be glazed or sent home simply sit out on the trays, ready for me to grab before the class enters the room.

I find that this system makes clay projects much more manageable. Instead of having twenty-five individual bags to keep track of for each class, I only have two to four trays, depending on the size of the projects. These trays sit on rolling shelves in my office, making everything even neater. Below is an example of second grade coil pots in various stages stored on the trays.

trays copy

 

Putting it all together.

I keep all the parts of my clay organization system in one area of my room. The glazes, tools, slip cups and other clay related supplies all sit on one shelf, while the clay is stored below. This makes it very easy to keep track of everything I have. My post-it note system and glaze sheet are taped to the inside of the supply cupboard for easy access.

alltogether copy

Tell us, what pitfalls do you have when it comes to the logistics of teaching clay?

What are your favorite ways to organize during clay projects?

 

PS. Looking for more great clay lessons? See a lesson to make “Clay Cupcakes” on our Lessons Page! Download a free copy today!

 

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  • Alice Gentili

    Much ado about clay, for sure! This recent blog post about clay for the masses may be helpful as an additional resource to your great post: http://monalisaliveshere.wordpress.com/2013/01/21/clay-clay-clay/

    • http://www.artbke.blogspot.com/ Amanda Heyn

      Thanks for the great link, Alice. I’ll be sharing how I do glazing with large groups of students in a video soon!

  • HipWaldorf

    If your school does not use lunch trays, then the large, stacking bread trays are great! These are the trays the baker would place the bread on to carry to your cafeteria. I use them for every step of clay production. They are also great for 3D projects and paper mache. If I need to store wet clay then I place the plastic bags on the bread trays. I love that the handles make the trays easy to move and stack.

    • http://www.artbke.blogspot.com/ Amanda Heyn

      Great tip! Thanks for sharing :)

    • Marsha

      I sometimes check goodwill for plastic tubs that are not tall, but are wide or long. Each child does the damp paper towel wrap (with their name written on the paper towel in sharpie prior to wetting) then I put trash bags on the top. No lids necessary and they can stack if you do them in opposite directions with each layer. I don’t have many shelves so I need to stack!

  • Patty

    Great tips. Love the tray idea!

  • Jody

    I have a form on a clipboard that I keep in the kiln room with 3 large circles on it (or whatever number of shelves you use). I write the teachers name and draw a line in the middle if I have a few leftover pieces to fire from different teachers. I used to think, Oh I’ll remember what I have in the kiln on what shelf, but of course I would forget. I also have a date at the top and the name of the project. Takes the guess work out of organizing fired pieces.

    • http://www.artbke.blogspot.com/ Amanda Heyn

      Great reminder, Jody. I too make a small sketch of which pieces are where. I find it really helps when there are “leftovers” like you mentioned!

    • Marsha

      I make kiln maps too, very helpful.

  • Alicia

    It took one spill of a pint of expensive glaze to force me to restructure my glaze distribution for 6-8th graders. I label the lids to plastic containers, fill multiples of each color based on popularity, and let students take 1 color at a time. Students have to color & specifically label their clay sketch before they select a color and in case their preference is already out, I can then suggest a quick substitution from the spectrum. The glazes do dry out from 1 quarter to the next, but a little water & stirring refreshes them in a snap.

  • Art on my hands

    I have a poster on my blog Art on my hands that pictures the method my students use to package their clay pieces. They are responsible for bagging their own pieces and a clothes pin is used to label their piece while in progress. The pin stays with the piece until the name is applied on the bottom using black or white underglaze, depending on the color of the clay. This works well for me and tend to keep the projects moist until completed. With adsentees, snow days, etc, we have been working on clay for 6 weeks. That is a long time to hold a project. Individual bags allow projects to be wrapped in a damp paper towel between classtimes to keep them moist if needed.

  • NK

    I only have ONE sink with very cold water – no hot water. What do you suggest to aid in cleaning up kiddos’ hands?

    • http://www.artbke.blogspot.com/ Amanda Heyn

      Hmm… that is tough! You could hand out damp rags to each table at the end of class so each student only needed a super quick rinse at the sink, or perhaps send more responsible students to wash in a nearby bathroom. I’ve also heard of teachers also having a large bucket of water for each table to use for hand/table washing. Let us know if you find a good solution!

  • C Mae

    I was wondering if you knew what I can do to keep my glazes from going bad? I’m not sure they are bad, but I noticed that if I’m not continually using them, they lose their fluidness and seem to chunk up in the jar. I wasn’t sure if I could add water to them? would that make them worse? We use the Ducan Envision series of glazes (Not sure if brand matters?)

    • http://www.artbke.blogspot.com/ Amanda Heyn

      I’ve definitely added water to thick glazes, and they came out just fine! I don’t have experience with your mentioned brand however. There may be a representative of the company that you could call to double check. Good luck!

      In regards to keeping them from going bad in the first place, I would just suggest trying to keep them tightly closed at all times. Although, no matter how hard I try to do this, mine inevitable end up drying out somewhat too.

      • Alexandra

        If you add too much water the glazes turn opaque, when they are not supposed to. Add a little bit of water at a time, stir-not shake, let the glaze absorb it, then add more if needed.

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