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Integrated Curriculum and Applied Learning: a Story of a Blanket Chest
blanket chest

Integrated Curriculum and Applied Learning: a Story of a Blanket Chest
By Arina Pittman

Integrated curriculum: what does it mean? How is it implemented and what are the benefits of having your child participating in a school or a program that is using this teaching approach? Here, Lee Lewin, the founder of the Santa Fe Girls’ School, talks about the school’s own integrated curriculum, its process and merits.

The goals and purpose of offering an integrated curriculum:

All students benefit from the ability to link abstract concepts (such as those presented by math and geometry) to ideas from other disciplines. Lessons in history take on new meaning when the events of the past can be tied to the realities of the present. The ability to fit various disciplines together is an important part of making learning exciting and powerful.

Merging Disciplines, Being Creative:

Miguel NataliaWe offer an opportunity to our 6th grade students to experience a cross-disciplinary, hands-on program that connects History, Art and Mathematics. Their academic studies culminate in an apprenticeship under the expert tutelage of master woodworkers Miguel Chavez and Matt Surprise. An amazing piece of hand-carved furniture is produced at the end of this integrated applied study process.

History and Geography:

The 6th grade girls study Islamic culture and design, its roots in Spain and its continuing presence in Northern New Mexico.  Students follow this study of culture and History by creating their own artistic interpretations of Islamic-inspired, traditional New Mexican design elements which are the basis for the carved designs found in traditional New Mexican furniture.

carving panel

Math and Geometry:

The girls learn and practice complex calculations with fractions and use their new math expertise to design and create symmetrical, geometric designs. At first they draw these designs on paper, using rulers, compasses and protractors to establish the precise measurements which lay the foundation for the symmetry so fundamental to the success of the artistic effort. Once they have internalized their measurement and fractions skills and can create their designs on paper, the girls move on to wood blocks, where they repeat this process of measurement, fraction calculation and symmetrical geometric design, which is called “creating the lay-out”.

Once their layouts are finished they are ready to learn to carve their designs.

Carving: Internalizing the Knowledge

With one chisel and one mallet in hand each girl is guided to hold her chisel correctly, to set the blade at the appropriate angle, to strike with the mallet and to apply the right amount of pressure as she practices carving single design elements while following the lines of her lay-out.

Once confident and expert in managing their chisels to carve perfectly symmetrical design elements, the girls learn to sequence these parts into patterns. When viewed as a whole, the arrangements of the parts merge into the whole, an impressively intricate and elaborate design.

tools web

Bringing Parts into a Whole: a Functional Art Piece

The girls are now ready for the final stage of the project: carving their whole designs into panels of pine which will be incorporated into the body of a fine piece of traditional native pine furniture, which is crafted, milled and assembled by Miguel and Matt.

 The results:

chest webAt the end of this interdisciplinary curriculum  is a fabulous piece of furniture. It is imbued with the expert skill levels of computation, measurement, and carving. It is informed by a deep understanding of the history of Northern New Mexico, and of the world around us, linking the past to the present. Over the 4½ months of skill building and practice the girls build confidence and acquire a terrific sense of pride, as they see results of their efforts. Students have the opportunity to develop a sense of respect for craftsmanship, and for the steady commitment necessary to be successful in so many other aspects of life.

This Blanket Chest is built of native pine and is crafted with expert mortise and tennon joinery, custom hand-forged iron hardware and has a fine, hand-rubbed oil finish. The piece contains two separate parts: the chest itself and the stand it sits on. This masterpiece is annually raffled to raise funds for the carving program.