Sunday, August 10, 2014

I Made This! (Look What Happens When Teachers Are Coaches.)

On a trip to Seattle, my daughter and I were looking for something to do on the day we flew out. We had a half day and wanted to do something unique.  I found a studio, Seattle Glassblowing Studio, to visit and then learned that we could take a 30 minute glass blowing class. I was skeptical about what sort of learning would go on in 30 minutes. Certainly I have zero skill and there are serious safety issues to consider. Even so, we booked our class.

We arrived, selected the pieces we were going to make. I was still very skeptical and of course my daughter and I chose what seemed to be impossible creations. We were introduced to our instructor. He gave us goggles and showed us the equipment; metal poles, colored glass, furnaces heated to over 10000 F, and tools for shaping. He then explained the overall process to create the items we had chosen. He was reassuring and said he would get the glass on the pole from the hottest furnace, talk us though adding colors and using the smaller furnace. He made suggestions for how to sit, how to move, and what colors combine well. He explained our jobs with demonstrations. He reiterated that he would be there to help, give verbal instructions and all we had to do was follow instructions. He reassured us that following his lead, we would not get burned and we would be successful.

I started tot think the task we were about to undertake was possible, but I still felt it was very unlikely that we would produce anything like the items we had selected. If we had just chosen to visit and watch the artists, our learning would have already been complete. But, we dared to create something.

Our instructor got the glass on the blow pipe and handed it to me. My job was to keep it turning so it would stay round, add color, and reheat the glass to melt the color into the clear blob. The instructor was kind, clear and patient. I added the colors, heated the glass, twirled the rods and managed to keep the blob round. Once the color was added the blowing could start. He took the rod and positioned it so he could turn it, maintain the shape of the glass, and instruct me on how to blow the bowl. I had to blow based on his instructions and not grab the turning rod as it moved side to side with my hands. (I had been correctly advised this would be a temptation.) This was quite awkward, but really amazing.

As I blew, the glass magically changed into a ball. It was amazing how little air was needed to make any change in the shape of the hot glass. (There’s great science stuff here!) To get the bowl shape, I had to inhale and pull the top of the ball into the bottom of the ball. It actually worked! I had a bowl. The instructor removed it from the rod. I was so pleased with the work. I could hardly believe that a complete novice could actually successfully create anything close to the model. My bowl was blue and swirly, round and evenly shaped. Now it just had to survive the annealing furnace where it would cool slowly and then the shipping home.

The more I thought about this experience, the more I realized how much more my daughter and I learned from actually getting to create our own glass items. Being coached through the experience was much more valuable than watching or listening. We had both done something I could not have imagined doing.
Neither of the things we made is perfect. Plus, we had a lot of help achieving success. I do know a lot more now about glass blowing; how hot the furnaces are on your face, how the rod feels in your hand, what it takes to keep the glass round, how to add color, and tiny breaths make big changes. If it was just a demo or lecture I would know about what I knew before giving this a try. We had a great, patient coach who walked us through a difficult process and we were successful. I blew a blow, my daughter sculpted a flower and we are going back for more lessons!