The lesson was a double win for children fascinated by dinosaurs and who enjoy getting their hands covered with goopy clay.
The Fox Chapel Middle School sixth-graders recently got to help reproduce a half-size (about 21/2-feet) Tyrannosaurus rex skull and mandible.
About 70 students in Philip Fader's art classes had a go at it. After Fader fashioned the framework out of wire and screen, the students took turns slapping on the celluclay, a kind of papier-mache product that is mixed with water to resemble recycled wet newsprint, Fader explained.
There is a reason Fader decided to blend a science lesson with art. "This year the school is incorporating science into all subjects," he said.
Fader had been a science teacher for seven years before transferring to art. The two subjects go together well, he said.
He didn't construct the skull immediately. He began by discussing dinosaurs and reasons why early people seemed so interested in dragons. He had the students draw the T. rex, along with the Velociraptor.
The next step was to show students a T. rex picture and discuss shading and shadowing.
"Then when we got the actual skull built, they could see where the shadows went," Fader said.
The teeth were a different challenge. They are made of wood and covered with the clay. They had to dry and be sanded and stained. The skull will be stained as well, but with a lighter color.
While the art classes have been working on it, Fader said, students have stopped by to take a look and see how it was coming along.
"They love it," Fader said. "Students from all over the school come in."
He said he is considering putting it on a stand and giving it some time in the library. Ultimately, it will probably be suspended from the art room's ceiling, hovering over the puny humans.