*Ring Ring….Ring Ring*

“Thank you for calling Bracker’s Good Earth Clays, this is Cindy, how can I help you?”      

    

“Oh hi Cindy, I’m a teacher in [small town in the middle of America] and I’m new to teaching Ceramics. I don’t know where to start.  Can you help me?”

Does this sound like you?  Then you are in the right place. This post will jump start your semester. We’ve included extensive information on clay selection, the administrative information you need to navigate getting your materials and a lesson plan to get you started!

Please note: This series is designed with our local/area school teachers in mind.  We primarily serve schools throughout Kansas, Nebraska, Southwest Iowa, Western Missouri, Northwestern Arkansas and pockets of Oklahoma & Illinois.    Brand names that are specific to Bracker’s Good Earth Clays will be used.   The information we are providing here is free and available for all schools. (If you use, copy or reprint this information, we only ask that you cite us as your source.)  We strongly recommend finding your closest local supplier and building a relationship with that company.

Now, back to your classroom.  First question….Do you have clay?  That’s definitely the first thing you need to get for your classroom.  So read on if you need help picking the right clay for your setting.  If the last person in your position took care of this for you, then jump on down to the next section, Classroom checklist  or use the menu below to go to whichever section you want!

Clay Selection

In general, there are three temperature ranges for ceramic objects: low-fire (generally range of cone 06-03), mid-fire (generally in the cone range of 4-6) and high-fire (generally in the cone range of 8-12).  It is important to know what the maxium temperature of your kiln is as this MAY limit your choice.  Beyond that, different clays have different benefits and challenges, depending on a variety of factors.  Check out the carousel of videos below for a visual demonstration of many of our clay bodies as well as some comparisons, read the details below, or both!

Low Fire –

Most elementary schools will use low-fire clay for the primary reason of cost….not the cost of the clay, but the cost of firing and the wear and tear on the kiln elements.  If all of your firings fall in the temperature range of 01 and lower, your kiln elements will decay at a MUCH slower rate.  It wouldn’t be unusal to see 200 firings (or possibly more) in a strictly low-fire kiln before needing to replace elements.    Historically, only low fire glazes could provide the bright and brilliant colors that tend to appeal to young artists, so that was often a factor.  However, there are now plenty of brightly colored glazes at mid-fire temperatures.  if you decide on low-fire clay, you will then need to decide betwen white and red clay
White clay –
In just the last 2 years, low-fire white clay has changed DRAMATICALLY due to the closing of the talc mine to the outside world.  Talc in clay would serve as a moisture barrier, which prevented crazing in the glazes on the clay.  Its absence now means that some additional (or different) steps are necessary to prevent that glaze defect.  This can mean adding underglazes or engobes to the clay when leather hard, or it might mean bisque firing hotter (though still cool enough for the ware to accept glazes – we found 01 to work well).  Chalk Rock is our most economically friendly white clay, or its close “cousin” Birch Bark, which contains a bit of grog and sand for strength and stability; it’s particularly good for handbuilding.  Terra Blanc is a VERY white clay when fired to 04, but it can be also be fired up to cone 6 with excellent results.  It’s a few cents more per pound than the chalk rock and birch bark.
Red clay –
smooth and buttery, many teachers like to have their students work in our Earthenware Red clay.  It is also available in a version with some sand and a bit of grog called Earthenware Red Plus or a heavily grogged (and ideal for tile projects or large sculptures) body called Terra Cotta.  All of our red clay bodies can be fired as hot as Cone 5 or possibly hotter (testing recommended).  Fired color will be darker and richer as temperature increases.
There are also quite a few middle schools and even plenty of high schools that use low-fire clay.   Please do not feel that because you are teaching older kids, that you have to use higher firing clay.  There is no correlation to what your students can learn about cermics and the temperature to which the clay fires.

Mid Fire –

Many upper level programs choose mid-fire clays for a variety of reasons.  if you DON’T have a compelling reason, low fire might be your best choice.  Many new potters find a stoneware clay easier and more forgiving for wheel-thrown work than the old talc-based low fire clays (but again, now that talc is gone, your young throwers may be just as successful with Chalk Rock or Terra Blanc). That said, Kansas Clay’s 5-10 Buff is our top selling clay for good reason.  It’s also made in a recipe with just 9% grog called Buff Plus, which gives it additional strength and reduce shrinkage without significantly impacting throwing comfort.  For mid-fire red clays, our top seller is the Red Brick Road.  Rounding out our color options are Kansas Wheat, Smoky Hills and Bison for blonde, toasty brown and dark brown bodies, respectively.  if you want something a little special for your top students, who may be applying for scholarships, you might consider the speckled bodies, Peppered Wheat, Red Cobblestone, or Coffee Grind.  Students craving porcelain will appreciate our Winter Wind.  We also sell an awful lot of Cone 5 BMix, and of course, as mentioned earlier, the Terra Blanc can be fired to Cone 6 as well.  If you want a nice white clay with some speckling, you might like our Pyrate Freckle, or we have Laguna’s Speckled Bmix.  Please do note, most schools are using buff or buff plus due to budgets.  The other clays mentioned here are quite a bit more expensive and therefore less ideal/popular in schools.

High Fire –

If you find yourself teaching in a high school with a gas kiln, you may be encouarged to present a high fire curriculum to your students.  If you don’t have previous experience firing gas kilns, you probably should consider sticking to electric kiln firing and some low-fire projects until you learn how to properly fire your school’s gas kiln.  Reach out to a nearby teacher with gas kiln experience to help you, or contact us for some one on one training (remote options available).  If you just happen to be new to the area and want to know the options available to you around here, most high schools are using either our Buff (mentioned above in mid fire section – it fires up to cone 10-12), the slightly darker firing stoneware, or Cone 10 B-Mix.

Lesson Plan – Rotating Masks

This is our favorite quick start lesson plan for clay works with any age. Check out the 2 minute video below the set up instructions

You will need a large table with 4 to 5 workspaces  – one for each student.  Include 2-3# of clay, a sponge and some basic wooden handtools for each station, plus some shared tools in center of the table.

Instruction to your students is simply to use the clay to make a mask.   You may decide whether to tell students in advance that they will be passing their masks or not.

After XX minutes, have your students all rotate down one mask.  Now they each add something to the mask in front of them.  Repeat the rotation until the students are back at their original mask.

 

Bonus ideas –

use this lesson to connect to geography/history/social studies by sharing masks from different regions/countries/time periods and include a discussion of the significance of the mask within different societies

Administrative Stuff you need to know

Typically this is how things work:
Teacher obtains prices on materials and fills out a REQUISITION
The requisition gets turned in to the office and the office creates a PURCHASE ORDER
The purchase order is sent to the vendor who then fills the order and creates an INVOICE for it
The INVOICE is sent in to the school and/or district office showing the purchase order number on it.
 The district office matches up the INVOICE from the VENDOR with the approved PURCHASE order and confirms product has been received.  Then with most districts it’s included in a giant packet of bills that have to be approved at a board meeting and then the checks are sent.  Check with your school’s bookkeeper for specific information about how your district works.

 

We ask that you please use our website to find pricing to fill out your requisition. If your district requires that you turn in a quote to get a purchase order, you can create an order here to use as a quote and we will hold that order until we receive your school PO.  Please follow these simple instructions.  If you have problems, check out this video walk through we created 

  • First log in or create an account with your school email address.
  • Send us a quick email from this same email address to request tax exempt status
  • Browse through the items in our webstore and add them to your cart.  Multi-box clay discounts are automatically calculated
  • On the cart page, enter your shipping details to get a quote for delivery, freight or small package (UPS or FedEx) shipment
  • Edit your order to meet your budgetary needs if necessary
  • Print your shopping cart page to turn in to your office OR, if you would like to give us a heads up about what you will be needing, go ahead and submit your order to us with “pay by purchase order” as the payment method.  We’ll match it up with your district or school purchase order when it arrives.
  • You can also leave us any notes in the comments section of checkout.   🙂

Hopefully this will help to speed up your process for getting prices on supplies.  Currently, we have quite a backlog of orders that we are managing, and therefore have quite a delay in typing up quotes for regular supplies and materials.

If you need a quote for kilns, wheels, or other ceramic equipment for a bid, please contact us here to start that process