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I have been very fortunate to work with some amazing theatre teachers who have advocated strongly for us in my district over the last few years. As a result, our district offered a mini-grant for STEAM projects. The grant offered the opportunity for arts and math/science teachers to work together to create truly integrated projects. While it has been a little hit and miss these first few years, I am extremely proud of my latest STEAM grant project: The Zombie Prom Set.
I worked with our geometry teachers to create a project in which the set for our spring musical was built and my students learned a lot of math in the process.
We started with a design concept that I had already developed – let me tell you, this was my most ambitious set design in the twelve years I have been teaching theatre! Two stories, inner walls that open and close to change the setting, doors everywhere, and a locker that opens. It looks simple enough, but believe me, it was a labor of love.
There were two sides to this STEAM based project: the theatre side and the math side. My focus was on the theatre side and I tried to incorporate students doing math at every possible turn. Today I will focus on the first part of the project, creating scale drawings and later in the week I will have other posts about determining how much paint to buy and producing a materials list. If you would like to try a similar project in your own class, the lessons are available for download and include the dimensions for my set.
One of the primary ways math is used in scenic design is the use of scale drawings. It reinforces the concept of ratios as well as some basic arithmetic. My students did two scale drawings: 1) a top view and 2) a front view. I gave them a choice to use 1/2″ scale or 1/4″ scale and let them figure out which would be the more appropriate choice. (For a regular 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, they would need to use 1/4″ scale for it to fit on the paper.) In 1/4″ scale, 1/4″ on paper = 1′ in real life, or 1″ = 4′.
I already had the floor plan taped out on our stage, but you could tape an example out on your classroom floor or in a large area outside. If your school has a stage, see if you could use it for this project as the students are often fascinated with just being on stage and seeing the backstage area, the lights and everything that goes with it.
Students take tape measures or yard sticks and measure the actual ground plan of the set. As they do so, they should sketch it out and label their sketch with the actual measurements.
Students then sit down with their measurements and calculate the measurements for a 1/2″ scale drawing and a 1/4″ scale drawing. This will take a little bit of talking through. “If one half inch is equal to one foot in real life, how much would one inch be?” “What is the actual length of the stage right wall? If it is twelve feet, how many inches would that be in 1/4″ scale.” It may take a little bit of practice for the concept to click, but once they realize they are just multiplying by the fraction or dividing by the bottom number, they catch on pretty quickly. Once the students have done the calculations of the ratios, the then determine which scale would be the most appropriate to use on a regular sheet of paper.
Show students a picture of the completed set. Since we had not built it at the time of the assignment, I just used a computer generated version of it. Have them sketch the design and give them the vertical measurements.
Again with a ruler, have them create a 1/4″ scale drawing for the front view of the set. This is tricky and tripped up most of my high school students because of the perspective. The side walls are at an angle and when you look straight on, you have to adjust for perspective.
Color the front view.
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