Friday, June 24, 2016

Genius Hour & Global Day of Design

School has been out for awhile, giving me time to reflect and relax. I have been wanting to write about the end of the year units I did with fourth grade (Global Day of Design) and fifth grade (Genius Hour) as they were highly successful, very integrative, and gave students a lot of voice/choice! You can see examples and a few informative videos at my school art website:

Both units were co-designed with our school media specialist, an innovative and technology-savvy person (she even created a MakerSpace and Club in our Media Center). Theoretically, any content area collaboration could work (e.g. Math/Art, Social Studies/Art, etc.). We started with the limitation of end-of-year activities really interfering with the Specials schedule in our upper elementary building. In fourth grade, the "Global Day of Design" project would be implemented in both Media and Art, and we shuttled projects back-and-forth between the two classroom areas (finally getting smart and having students do it after about a week). By having the projects go on in both content areas, students were able to really take their time. The fifth grade "Genius Hour" was comprised of two separate projects, created in Media and Art. In Media, students could work in teams; in Art, they completed individual projects (but a lot of peer-coaching ensued--a delightful development). Although the fifth grade projects were different for Art and Media, having the same concept allowed students to deeply explore what a "Genius Hour" really is, plus I was able to discuss the unit progression with the Media Specialist (and vice-versa).

The breakdown of "Global Day of Design" was:

  1. Introduce class project--design either a mini-golf course hole, a board game, or a roller coaster for a marble. Each class chose a theme for their project after learning the design parameters (size limitation, hole must be play-able for a marble, coaster must work for a marble, game must have instructions that make sense).
  2. Students created GoogleDocs for game instructions or task management after selecting their teams.
  3. Lots of time was planned for the design (about 4 weeks).
  4. One week for testing/redesign.
  5. Final week was presentation and critique. Students also graded themselves using the Art rubric.
The breakdown of "Genius Hour-Art":

  1. Introduce and discuss what a "Genius Hour" is, including how Google utilizes it. Give students their choice : an art-based “Big Question” to explore, such as “How do I draw a realistic dragon?” or “How can I construct a chair?” Alternatively, students could chose an “anchor artist” based on a Thrively strength they identified using an online questionnaire in Media . Finally, students could visually answer a “Wonderwall” question (created in Media) via an accordion book. Sample “wonder” questions include “I wonder why tree branches are brown?” and “I wonder how Steph Curry got so good at basketball?”
  2. Students were given a planning sheet, which included a list of Thrively strengths and suggested artists. This sheet also ended up working for students who wanted to choose their own project without getting on a computer for research. The Art room had ten computers available for research, and two class periods were allotted for research, planning, and 1:1 teacher conference on project.
  3. I created a class-by-class list of who was doing what, and used colored markers to put checks on the progress (orange=needs work, blue=solid progress, green=ready to present).
  4. Students spent three class periods on their projects. These were as varied as stop-motion animations, accordion books, papier mache, origami---the list was impressive! I had Snap-Guides for tech-based projects, Art Room books for drawing-based projects, plus prepared instructional resources for accordion books, weaving, and papier mache.
  5. The last week, students presented, although a few presented the prior week near the end of class. I had most students who did stop-motion animation (on their own devices, we are a BYOD district) send me their files ahead of time so I could project them on my Smartboard. The presentations were simple: tell us what you made, what you liked, and what you learned. Then, students could ask for at least two comments/questions.
As an instructor, I was blown away by the creativity and work ethic students exhibited in both "Genius Hour" and "Global Day of Design" units! I think that having students do a smaller choice-based project earlier in the year scaffolded several skill sets they needed including time management and grit. We lost some time in fifth grade for their end-of-year activities, so I would start a little earlier next year and also start laying the groundwork for the "Genius Hour" project during the first semester by letting them start researching as soon as they want to.
I also learned that you can never have enough cardboard, paper towel tubes, and packing tape! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Going All-In On A Choice-based Project

   The last project of the semester for my fifth graders was an entirely choice-based sculpture project. I approached this idea with a lot of trepidation; it was the end of the semester and right before our winter break. Additionally, students were missing classes for Choir practice, Band practice, and Orchestra practice (tis' the season for concerts!). We also had a magazine drive reward on a Friday, where up to 75% of the class was on a field trip to a water park. Yet, I had really sold this project way ahead of time and felt like I could not back out (and the prep I had done had been daunting).
   Students needed to sketch ideas for their sculpture ahead of time, with some focus on an art element or principle (I was not too strict on that, though). Also, if they went outside of the usual supply list (yarn, cardboard, paper, paint [acrylic], markers, colored pencils, papier mache, paper towel tubes that I had saved all year, various recycled plastic containers that had been squirreled-away), then it was the student's responsibility to bring it in. I had big worries that the students who chose to do things like animations and dioramas would show up empty handed, but that only happened a few times. I did have some students with glorious, highly creative ideas just hit the wall and decide to do either weavings or "totem poles" (the default project because of my abundance of supplies in those categories). With nearly 640 students school-wide, and nearly 220 in this grade level, I was also worried about storage and media management. I cleared out my kiln room and hoped for the best...
   So, how did it go? Pretty amazing! Students begged to come in at recesses to work, they did research at home, brought in their own devices to photograph animation made with play-doh, Legos, or a combination. They edited their videos and did soundtracks! I had a few videos that came in the day of presentations, which made me scramble to upload them to my Vimeo account, and I had to find and download an app just to get the one video from a student's YouTube account (why does YouTube make it so hard?). We had puppet shows with scripts peer-edited in GoogleDocs, weavings in the round and incorporating unusual things like zippers and shredded leather. There were robots, stabiles, mobiles, and incredibly detailed dioramas. I was astounded by the variety of ideas!
   Was I exhausted? Yes! I also was sick for a few days in the middle of the messiest stage, and I worried about my sub, but all the prep and EXTREMELY detailed lesson plan paid off. I also decided to let some students, who just were not working in class, take their art home, which I never do. 75% of the projects came back! The most important thing was that I stuck with the presentation schedule, which had been outlined at the beginning, when students completed a timeline for their project. So, finished or not, each student or group (because they also had choice there), presented that last week. They wrote a reflection first (handed-in), that scaffolded the presentation points: what you made, one great thing, and one area that you could improve on. After the presentation, students could call on peers for feedback and questions. That presentation piece was key---it underscored the thinking process and supported rich discussions that I could not of anticipated.
   What was a great thing? The students were really invested in their projects! Also, having a Sculpture Contract that students could follow. What could I improve on? Well, I think I need a few more 3D "default" options, as the weavers needed more support than I anticipated. I might pre-make more looms, too. I also think that some projects got too big, leading to frantic papier mache sessions. I might make a box like the airlines do for carry-ons, and the project cannot exceed that size. Lastly, I learned that you absolutely cannot have enough scrap cardboard around (my favorite for ease of student cutting is empty cereal boxes).
   Next up: planning a collaborative "Genius Hour Twitter" with our Media Specialist.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer School

Like a lot of teachers, I have been taking a class this summer. This one is three credit hours, all online, about teaching strategies in the art room. Lately, I have been trying to re-focus my "work" energy and attention strictly on art, art making, art teaching. I still joined a technology committee this summer, but the workload was highly manageable with just a few meetings.

I like learning new things, then sharing them with my students. Some of the nuggets I got out of this class:

  • A great visual guide-making site called "Snapguide". I have already made several guides for my students, plus they have a fairly impressive library of created guides.
  • Padlet--a place where you can create "walls" of whatever, videos, pictures, links, and collaborate on them.
  • Using a 2D and 3D matrix to organize your media lessons. I found this to be a valuable tool to see where there might be holes in my current curriculum map. They are below...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


     Everyone in our district got a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. I had ample time to read it at home due to the snow days we had (what a winter, lots of records were broken). Here's the link to her TedTalk--  (I shortened it on bitly). As an art teacher, I think we use "growth mindset" language in the classroom pretty regularly. You know what I am talking about: "You are not there yet, but with some more effort…"; "It takes practice to get good at ______, but you will get there…"; "You know, I had to work hard to get this good at drawing." In the ARTS, students often believe they need "the gift" before they can be an artist or a musician or a dancer, etc. If you just "Google" growth vs. fixed mindset, a bunch of cool charts come up, and lots of good inspirational images are also readily available. I put one such graphic at the bottom of this post.
     Of course, Aristotle had it pegged ages ago with one of my most favorite quotes ever,  "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."
     I have to say, I enjoyed the book. It is a quick read, with ample examples that could be shared with students. I think the sports analogies would particularly resonate with certain classes. It is good to be reminded that explaining the malleability of the mind is important, because students just naturally assume that they are either "smart" or "not smart" (or "artistic" or not). Dweck outlines case after case where students and adults can change how they approach learning after being taught growth mindset strategies.
     So now, I have some good information to share with parents and even fellow teachers when they say something like, "I could never draw a straight line, even with a ruler!" Or (and this is one of the worst), "The art gene does not run in our family." I would guess that no one ever says to their child, "You know, the reading gene does not run in our family."
     I put a whole slew of quotes I like on my interest page---things I think would start deep thinking and interesting discussions. It is on my board "Art Openers".

Visit Lois's profile on Pinterest. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

So Far This Year...

  • When I took my "Creativity in Crisis" course, we were encouraged to do "Morning Pages". The concept is from Julie Cameron's book, The Artist's Way, which I readily admit I have not read. You are supposed to write 3 pages (longhand) every day, whatever comes to your mind. There are websites to encourage the practice, including this one- You write to free your mind, then get on with your day. The words can be lists, sentences, random, non-linear. I loved the practice, then got busy with school and stopped. Then, just recently, I started to get more active in Google+, even joining a poetry group. Writing that one poem to a prompt released a lot of good vibes for the rest of my day. 
  • So, my first point I want to share about this year is that nurturing your own creativity has to happen if you want to nurture your students. Most of us do not have the time to make art (although I did co-create alongside my students a lot this past quarter because they were used to classroom routines and working very nicely), but a little poem or doodle each day or just when you are low on creativity can serve as a real boost.
  • I still love Pinterest. I am up to a ridiculous amount of pins, all curriculum or idea related. No recipes or favorite make-up tips for me---straight school stuff. I find it relaxing to pin a few things during a boring television show or right before I fall asleep. As we all know, some units run faster than anticipated, or you just pull the plug on them sooner than planned. Having really solid options to grab without further research time is AWESOME. Some people like to park resources on StumbleUpon, Google+, Edmodo, etc. Being visual, I like Pinterest, though I have used the aforementioned. I do due diligence, though, hitting those links to make sure they are good. Often, the "pin" is of a pin, and there is nothing but the image. If that is enough, fine, but often, you need more directions. Plus, if something seems too unwieldy, I don't pin it. I also love to integrate with my classroom teachers, so I can grab resources very quickly. You know how it is---the social studies teacher has a neat idea for an integration and it starts in a week. Pinterest solves that problem nicely.
  • Being flexible with scheduling clay units is key! I started clay early, jumping in the deep end of the pool with third graders. They were so creative. Then, I thought it would be cool to knock the fourth grade clay unit out, but noticed a lot of absences right before Thanksgiving, so I held off. Next thing I know, there are a lot of kiddos out, and I am not feeling so hot myself. Thank goodness I was not in the middle of a clay unit, or it would have been a disaster. Instead, wait for it, I went on my Pinterest boards and whipped up a suitable, aligned unit without too much trouble. Whew!
  • Running clubs is exhausting, but so rewarding. I think I mentioned earlier that I am the proud advisor of three clubs: Art Club, Newspaper Club, and Broadcast Studio. This year, I kept the numbers manageable (no more 30+ groups without help), and put more responsibility on the students. So far, it is working out fine. I learn a lot about my students in these smaller settings, and get great insights into what they are thinking about school. Plus, I would never have learned so much about Wordpress if I had not been running the Newspaper Club. 
  • Streamlining my grading hints: I like to grade a project/unit when all the students are done, allowing about a week for absent students to catch up. Then, I pile all of the projects on a cart, and hole up in my art closet to grade early in the morning, while my mind is fresh. I used to sprawl out on a table in my room, but got interrupted a lot. Plus, if I did not finish a class's work before duties or meetings or teaching started, I had to pile up everything and put it someplace else. Lots of wasted time there. I get through things so much faster this way---really! As I grade, I pull out the art I want to display, putting full names and homerooms on the art while it is right in front of me in my Gradebook. So, find a quiet hideaway to store art and grade it when you are well rested and relaxed. Grading is actually a pleasure this way, even with 640 students.
  • Updating a classroom website the easy way: Put the app for your website on your phone, shoot the pictures you want to upload with your phone, and dictate the words into your phone (with your app). It took me less than fifteen minutes instead of the usual hour or so. I even figured out that you just have to say the punctuation you want to insert; the same goes for a new paragraph, just say, "new paragraph". 

Sunday, October 19, 2014


   The school year started off strong in LES Art. Third graders did cartooning, flip books, and clay pinch pots already. Fourth and fifth graders played the collaborative drawing game, "Exquisite Corpse" (except I called it "360 Degree Doodles"). Some people call it "Picture Consequences". Really, it is basically a cooperative drawing, which makes for a great opening week activity. Fourth graders made radial prints from collograph plates (mainly because the linoleum blocks were not in yet, but I also had an abundance of cardboard and glue), did negative space tree drawings, and are starting an abstract art painting unit. I found a lot of people pulling collograph plates as if they were intaglio (i.e. using a printing press), but we just inked and printed. This website is pretty good about the simpler method:  Fifth grade has done radial art with colored pencil, done computer rotations for digital mandalas using Adobe Illustrator, and are now starting a huge graphic design unit. All grades completed their sketchbook SLO's (Student Learning Objectives). I have nearly 300 pieces of artwork on our digital gallery, Artsonia. I admit, I have been working some long days!
   I used to like to ease into the schedule, but experience has taught me that holidays, testing schedules, concert practices and field trips start taking my students away from art class as early as November. So now, we dive into media and techniques by the second week.
  I am also starting a Sketchnoting push in my classroom with a dual purpose: to help students make better connections about art concepts and also, to help them learn better outside the art room. No one really teaches kids how to take notes. I thought this video summed it up:
My students cracked up at how fast the narrator spoke, but seemed pretty interested otherwise. I would have loved to learn about using text, image, and hierarchy to make sense on my notes when I was in elementary school. We drilled on the Roman numeral method, mostly in English class to outline for papers. "Note that the standard order of an outline is:
I. Roman numerals (I, II, III, IV, V, etc.)
A. Capital letters (A, B, C, etc.)
1. Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.)
a. Small letters (a, b, c, etc.)
i. Small Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.)"
I used that skill set for note taking in college, but ended up being a big doodler on my notes (especially in Biology classes, back when I thought I was going to be a medical illustrator). At any rate, I was doing visual note taking a LONG time ago. I always worried that I would get busted by a professor for not doing notes the right way. Fast forward to now--I think this method is good for many students, especially by helping them make connections. It is better than "mind-mapping", in my opinion.
    Recently, Wall StreetJournal wrote an article about the power of doodling and memory:

"Michiko Maruyama, a medical-school student, says she writes down key words during class lectures and later draws "daily doodles" that bring together what she learned. Ms. Maruyama, who attends the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, says she fills gaps in her understanding while she draws images of gastric secretions, hernias and other subjects of study.
"It's not until I doodle that I think about how everything comes together. I find out what I know and what I don't know," she says. When she stopped doodling for a week, her grades went down.

Doodles by Elizabeth Bales of Seattle 

 citation (from website): The Power of the Doodle: Improve Your Focus and Memory, Research Shows That Doodling Helps People Stay Focused, Grasp New Concepts and Retain Information

The appearance of a doodle can stimulate ideas for improvement, according to a 2014 study by Gabriela Goldschmidt, a professor emeritus of architecture at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and a researcher on learning techniques of design. A doodle can spark a "dialog between the mind and the hand holding a pencil and the eyes that perceive the marks on paper," the study says."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Creativity in Crisis: What I Learned

I took a three credit hour class called "Creativity in Crisis" (based on the book by Sir Ken Robinson) and I found it very refreshing to have an art focused class with primarily art teachers in it. I got a lot out of this class and am posting a few things I learned, as well as my action plan for the year based on that knowledge.
Ken Robinson lists these nine principles under three categories: a) personal (a creative leader should “facilitate the creative abilities of every member of the organization”; b) group (“the second role of a great leader is to form and facilitate dynamic creative teams”; c) culture (the third role is to “promote a general culture of innovation”). I don’t disagree with the categories, but there seems like there is a lot of overlap. For example, creative spaces could be personal, and creative potential facilitation should be part of the culture of an organization or classroom if you want to foster innovation.  One of the most important things Ken Robinson wrote in the book was at the start of this chapter: “Creating a culture of innovation will only work if the initiative is led from the top of the organization” (p.119). This is so true! I will discuss the principles using either the classroom context (for grades 3-4-5 Art) or the personal context depending on which one I feel I can realistically implement.
Principle 1: Everyone has creative potential. I could not be an art teacher if I did not believe this. There are myriad ways to nurture individual creative potential, and the first one is to build an environment of trust and openness. I feel like my students are so locked-down in their classrooms, and I give them the chance to make choices: they choose their seats; they can choose the subject matter, sometimes even the media for a certain project (with a tight budget, there are constraints there). I also believe that nurturing creative potential means empowering my students. To that end, I encourage students to bring items or reference from home to add to their artwork. Another idea that I have been flirting with is to let students design their own projects more often. Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) somewhat addresses some of the classroom management that would be involved; it would be a daunting management issue for 660 students. I already have a TAB center for computer arts, one for research, and one for A.T.C.’s (Artists’ Trading Cards).  I am thinking about trying to add more TAB options (i.e. more discovery learning) to replace one or two projects a year, per grade level.

Principle 2: Innovation is the child of imagination. Basically, I take this to mean that you need to foster imagination in the classroom as a stepping- stone to innovation. Most certainly, the current educational climate does not foster imagination for teachers or most students in core subjects (standards, testing, rankings and high-stakes evaluations are key culprits here). Imagination is such a fragile thing. I wrote about it in assignment 8, particularly how I think students start to abandon their imaginative ways as a way to fit in and seem older. The art classroom should be a refuge for the imagination. I think that having students step outside of their comfort zone on projects is part of the equation, and also letting them play/experiment with the media. One of the things that I need to do less of is having examples. Some students need them, in fact, their I.E.P. might mandate something like “chunked examples”, but that does not mean I have to have them out all the time. Use of stories is another great way to spark imagination, as is unusual juxtapositions (like making a garment from duct tape, although that is so common now). I also like to use visualization techniques with my students. One I have tried is “A Beautiful Thought”, where students meditate on something that makes them happy before we start making art. I think I could do something more with this, with funny/creative prompts to spark their imaginations.
Principle 3: We can all learn to be more creative. I am going to address this personally, because you have to lead by example on this. Most students expect that I am the last word on what is creative or how to be creative. Many teachers on my staff have pretty much said as much to me (e.g. “You are the creative person”). I am pretty good at knowing when my creative low is fast approaching, and this past year was about as low creatively as I have ever gotten. Just saying you are going to make more art, or experiment more just does not cut it. I like to share with my students how I am challenging myself creatively (e.g. the second year of my “365 Challenge”-, and I know that I will be sharing things that I am learning from this class. For me, the hardest part is saying “No” to stuff, but I made a real commitment to myself creatively when I dug deep on things that just killed me last year. Things I cannot control: health issues or my teaching schedule. Things I can control: backing off from extra commitments that have nothing to do with art, teaching art, being a mother, being a wife, or pursuing creative challenges. Learning to be more creative is not linear, and you have to be willing to embrace that.

Principle 4: Creativity thrives on diversity. I take this to mean a diversity of experiences as well as a diversity of people. In the art classroom, that involves changing things around: different projects each year, different instructional methods, and different modalities of learning (e.g. kinesthetic, auditory, spatial, experiential, experimental). I talked about “design thinking” in the last assignment, and that interdisciplinary method of approaching ideation/prototype/revise/repeat is perfect for the art classroom! Students who see themselves as perfect little artists sometimes crowd out the disenfranchised students, but design thinking in the classroom is collaborative, freewheeling, and puts every student in a position to attack more complex problems. I also would like to add more students as co-teachers on certain projects. It is very powerful to have students peer coach. One lesson I am going to try is designing Minecraft “skins” in Photoshop (as a TAB center). I know that there will be a lot of Minecraft experts in every class.  
Principle 5: Creativity loves collaboration. I feel like I covered some collaborative classroom strategies I could implement in the “diversity” piece (above). I am going to outline ideas about professional creative growth via collaboration. I almost feel like professional growth is creative growth for me. I love collaborating with teachers, but push for that creative angle. So, instead of just having students design characters for an online program, I try to have both classes meet together and brainstorm (even though that means giving up my lunch and staying after school). I try to let other classroom teachers put out their vision, then I get the chance to add the creative “wow” factor.  Collaborating in this way challenges me, and when I am challenged to try new things, I usually am my most creative. Students get a real kick out of knowing certain teachers are working together.
I do have a very cool example of a classroom collaboration that my Art Club does, and it arose out of an international collaboration of art teachers, “Rotoball”-
Each student works in a team to create stop-motion sequences depicting a ball moving across the screen. My students choose what they want to do, and we have Rotoscoped, done clay animations, paper puppet animations, and even a sand animation (yeah, that one was not great, but it looked cool). Then, these fifteen-second animations are uploaded from all over the world and compiled into one movie. It is incredible!
My most recent collaborative class project, just completed this summer, was a triptych clay tile mural on the theme of “community”. I wrote a grant to partially cover the supplies, and all of my fourth graders made clay relief tiles. I have never done a tile mural of more than thirty clay tiles. This mural was two hundred and ten tiles! I would like to try for more community/classroom partnerships as an additional way to enhance collaboration.

Principle 6: Creativity takes time. Once again, if you read the projects I described in principle five, they took most of the school year. Creativity takes time because it is messy, and you are going to make mistakes, and finally, the most exciting creative growth experiences evolve as the result of building relationships. It takes time to build relationships with students. It takes even more time to build relationships with other teachers (especially if you do not have common planning time and almost never see each other). Things cannot be forced. Strategies to support creativity in terms of time: a) be patient; b) forgive yourself if things don’t work out and move on; c) think “big picture”; d) be flexible.
Principle 7: Creative cultures are supple. I am going to go with “supple” as meaning “readily adaptable or responsive to new situations” (Merriam-Webster dictionary online). I cannot really say that most educational institutions are supple, so I am going to go into how to make an art classroom more “supple”. For one thing, you have to be willing to bag a project if it is not going anywhere. Conversely, letting things play out longer than anticipated is warranted if students are really into it. Scheduling is always a challenge with holidays, field trips, testing weeks, calamity days. A good teacher just has to adapt by adjusting the lesson (e.g. level of completion, depth of investigation). Ken Robinson talks about how CEOs changed their leadership roles to be suppler, which involved delegation and collaboration (Pixar, IDEO, Google) (p.239). I have started to delegate more tasks in my classroom, using a game-ification format. I need to embed that into more of the classroom culture.
Principle 8: Creative cultures are inquiring. As a teacher, you need to be more inquisitive about your pedagogy and your classroom methods if you want to grow professionally. There is significant support for that premise institutionally. How can a teacher promote a more inquiring classroom culture, though? You need to be respectful of differences: differences of opinion, differences in approaching a project, personality differences. Students will not be comfortable asking questions and making deep inquiries into the subject matter if they feel uncomfortable. I think that out of all the principles, this is the one that I could be more explicit about with my students. I need to tell them, right out front, that we will be embracing trial and error.  The European trust manager tried to balance directness and openness with listening and considering other viewpoints (p.241). I need to be more of a listener with my students (it can be exasperating at times), as well as help them consider other viewpoints.
Principle 9: Creative cultures need creative spaces. Okay, the art room is the best room in my school in my opinion! I have pictures everywhere, a mobile that hangs from the ceiling even though the fire marshal gives me the stink eye every year, an art reference library, computer table, and a “bin case” full of supplies for free draws. I have great art that students give me hanging by my desk. I wish I could paint the walls or ceiling tiles, or haul in a comfy chair for a quiet reading corner (all forbidden). As the year progresses, every surface and shelf will be bulging with creative projects. My tables and desk are arranged according to feng shui principles. Then, you go down the hall. Classrooms are decorated sometimes, but mostly for “Word Walls” and instructional posters, the desks are in arrays. I think the most creative school spaces are in Montessori schools. Those environments exhibit some of the following characteristics: a) an arrangement that facilitates movement and activity; b) beauty and harmony, cleanliness of environment; c) construction in proportion to the child and his/her needs (source: I have seen gorgeous pictures of Montessori classrooms with tons of windows, arrangements of unusual and compelling materials for students to investigate. Those classrooms look so different from even the nicest public school buildings. In some ways, a Montessori classroom looks like a very expansive art room!

Creative spaces are eclectic and reflect the people or person working in them. They should be colorful and light filled. There is a reason the school tours always stop in my art room---it looks fun!
    Action Plan for ways to personalize learning for my students:
1) Makers Lab: This is an idea that has a lot of traction nationally and our district initiated one at the high school level. In some ways it is like shop class on steroids. A great resource is here-
    Our high school Makers Lab is primarily a computer center with connections to community think tanks. Students used to do it during their free time, but now the district has allowed them to get credit for their work with a credit flexibility program. They designed “The Minecraft Experience” for the upper elementary students, do robotics, and are also doing multiple student-driven research projects. In my upper elementary school, I proposed turning our science lab (we used to have a full time science teacher but the position was cut due to budget constraints and our lab is underutilized) into a Makers Lab, but the idea was turned down. Now, I am thinking of ways to turning a corner of my (already cramped) art room into a Makers space. In some ways, all the clubs I run do some sort of “making” (Broadcast Studio, Art Club, Newspaper Club blog). The first step would be connecting with the local engineering company that donated a huge amount of funds to my art program last year. I think they would be very interested in supporting a few more things. Plus, I think the PTO would be helpful. I would need Legos, balsa wood, wood glue, hammers, nails, scrap lumber, a task light, safety goggles, and tinkering cast-offs (e.g. small wheels, nuts/bolts, rubber bands, etc.). I have a planning period at the end of the day, and I could see the Makers Lab as something that could be utilized during that time. Ideally, a parent volunteer or high school student could run it.

2) Game-ification: I read this amazing book last year, The Multiplayer Classroom: Designing Coursework as a Game by Lee Sheldon ( The idea is that you structure your learning experiences as a game. John Hunter’s “World Peace Game” is a perfect example of that. Lee Sheldon’s experience is as a Hollywood producer and game designer, so the book explains how to “level” classroom experiences like a video game. He is now a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has some very original ideas on grading, too, such as everyone starts out with a zero and has to work to level up. Obviously, a lot of this would be hard to implement at the elementary level, but I did “game-ify” my class tasks last year and that worked out really well. This year, I want to try “game-ifying” at least one project. An example for a regular classroom: “Gamification projects offer the opportunity to experiment with rules, emotions, and social roles. Read an optional library book on the topic being taught in class? Receive “Reading” points. Get perfect attendance and complete all homework assignments on time for a month? Earn an “On Target“ badge. Get assigned as a “Lead Detective” role in science class? Work hard to ask the best questions. When playing by these rules, students develop new frameworks for understanding their school-based activities. As suggested by Leblanc (2006), this can motivate students to participate more deeply and even to change their self-concept as learners.” (cite:
     I think the easiest way to get my students started is with creating an “experience points” system for drawing. I envision a game board they could move across with tokens as they level through drawing tasks. As I am writing this, I am getting so excited that I know what I will be working on when this class is over! The ideal situation is turning the whole curriculum into a meta-game run by the students, but just like John Hunter, I better start small and let things evolve organically.
 3) TAB Centers: Teaching for Artistic Behaviors is a pedagogical movement that truly uses personalized learning as the students have choices about what they would be doing and when. I am not fully onboard with this concept for a variety of reasons including budget, hitting the standards, and my belief that some students would really dislike the concept. Still, I have created some TAB centers in my art room (computer, research/reading, and A.T.C.’s) that have been well received. Also, I think that there would be a negative perception of the art program, in general, if everything was just centers that students rotated through. The best way to personalize the learning without driving myself crazy trying to keep track of who is doing what and when (220 students per grade level with three grades to teach and grade) would be to offer a TAB option to my students to replace a project they do not like (“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, John Lydgate). Actually, I found a great resource from AOE entitled, “Yes, You Can Write a Tab Lesson Plan”- I think that “collage” would be a great TAB center that would be easy to implement using TAB principles as a student-selected project substitute. I love Pinterest for finding meta-collections of resources, and a really nice one on TAB is A collage center could even be “gamed” with students building up experience points if they hit the center more than once, which would also solve the “I’m done, what do I do now?” problem. I would not have a budget problem since collage uses up the scraps of everything I always have after my regular projects. I need to start on the TAB resources now, getting the project requirements in a format I could laminate and ready to introduce. I found a “Wow” or “not Wow” resource I like a lot for this, which gives the students non-judgmental requirements that could fit most self-directed projects they might explore.  

The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project: 2011

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