Weekly Feature



2016-01-13 / Education

Students create social justice action figures


“Grow Your Own Housewife” is an example of the social justice action figures created by Kenmore Middle School art students. “Grow Your Own Housewife” is an example of the social justice action figures created by Kenmore Middle School art students. As part of an art project at Kenmore Middle School, students explored a variety of social issues while playing the role of toy makers marketing their own creative “action figures.”

Each student selected an issue such as climate change, bullying and homelessness. They not only created a toy related to that concept but they also created the packaging it would come in, like a typical action figure sold at a toy store. They used both the toy and the packaging to convey their intended message.

One student played on stereotypes and expectations regarding the role of women in 1950s-era America with a “Grow Your Own Housewife” figurine. Another student drew attention to world hunger with a miniature toy sandwich and a package decorated like a can of condensed soup. A third student marketed an action figure-sized mirror called “Choose,” which beckoned the buyer to “choose” whether or not he or she would be a bully, a bystander or someone who makes a difference.

The project, which art teacher Rich Tomasello calls “Message in a Bubble,” combines many different skills such as higher-level thinking and English language arts concepts such as metaphor and irony. It also challenges students to harness their creativity while fully developing their concept, creating their toy, designing the packaging, and writing enthusiastic and compelling catch phrases and descriptions to market their product and convey the intended message.

Many students used Adobe Photoshop as part of their project. This not only helps them develop their graphic design skills, which they can further in the media arts career pathway in high school, but it also exposes them to different career options and 21st-century workplace skills, according to Tomasello.

“Toys have a powerful impact on children,” Tomasello said. “This project allows students to shift roles. They are now the toy makers and package designers, creating ‘social justice action figures’ that are designed to pack a powerful message to an audience of their choice.”

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