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Bomb unit and teachers use exploding clay project to promote creative learning

by Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Communications and Public Relations Coordinator Teresa Harris

Placing small sticks of dynamite into a ball of clay seems like an extreme way to create a plant pot. But, the activity was meant to stimulate creative and collaborative thinking for Colonial Middle School eighth grade students.

“We are part of an organization within our school district that is tasked with trying to promote STEAM,” technology teacher Thomas Periantozzi said. “We have been asked to go beyond our curriculum; to collaborate with teachers in other subject areas, to create more outside-of- the-box lessons for our students.”

The STEAM teaching method represents a shift from traditional education philosophy based on standardized test scores to a modern ideal which focuses on valuing the learning process as much as the results. In essence, STEAM instructors dare their students to be wrong, to try multiple ideas, to listen to alternate opinions and to create a knowledge base that is applicable to real life as opposed to simply an exam.

After students learned about the properties of minerals, rock cycle, the formation of soil and the components of soil, they were challenged by their teachers to use STEAM principles to create a unique clay pot design. The design was inspired by watching a video of sculptor Steve Tobin, whose mission it is to create “visual science.” By sticking firecrackers into a ball of clay, he created exploded clay vessels or, “bang pots.”

Art teacher Traci Rovinsky and science teacher Kelly Wistreich guided the students through making 82 texturized clay spheres, which were be used for the project. Once glazed and infused with glass, students will fill the pots with soil, and then add seeds to grow plants.

The project sounded like a great idea at first, but the teachers encountered a problem along the way. They found out that they were not allowed to blast the pots on school district or township property. So, the teachers reached out to FBI Special Agent Bomb Technician Jerry Kleber, who referred them to Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Unit Commander Lt. Allen Stewart. His unit frequently uses the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Campus in Conshohocken to do their hazardous device training and offered to help with the project.

Stewart said he could relate to the students’ project because his unit is faced with coming up with creative methods and viewpoints in solving problems, which helps to keep their training fresh.

At the training campus, MCSO Bomb Unit Deputies Timothy Metz and Jon Cagliola placed the firecrackers into the balls of clay that had been etched with various designs by the students. After lighting the firecrackers, balls of clay blew open leaving wisps of smoke and splattered clay blobs on the floor and walls.

Metz and Cagliola said they enjoyed helping the students and using their skills in a fun way.

Bomb unit and teachers use exploding clay project to promote creative  learningBomb unit and teachers use exploding clay project to promote creative  learningBomb unit and teachers use exploding clay project to promote creative  learning