Monday, December 30, 2013

Being Flexible

If there was one behavior I had to keep in mind this first semester of school, it would be "flexibility". I had to adjust my pacing several times due to projects taking longer than I hoped for, and also because we went to a four day rotation for third and fourth grade. I also ended up becoming the advisor for another club. I should add that we are rewriting our Course of Study to align with the new state standards and yes, we also have a new teacher evaluation system (state-wide). So, yeah, "flexibility" was the watchword of the first semester for me as an art educator. If you are trying to integrate your curriculum, then being flexible is also very important because (no offense grade level teachers) you are also rewriting curriculum and coming up with cool ideas, but not a year ahead like me, merely a few weeks or less for implementation. So, I am definitely trying to pull off a new unit, "Graphic Novels", with very little lead time, for my fifth graders when we return from break. I am actually quite excited to try this Language Arts integration, and I think we will still have time to do the robot unit I had planned, just do it a little later and a little smaller. So now, resources I found for Graphic Novels are:

There are plenty more posts to come on this integration as I work through it. Right now, I plan on having ALL the students do a graphic novel based on a myth, but work within a style (like "romantic" or "mystery"). This is all in alignment to a new literacy standard. As I figure it all out, I will post.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Keeping the "Flow"

         A book I read a long time ago is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I am embedding his TedTalk on this subject, it is just such a powerful concept for creative people: "flow" -- a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work".

         This past month or so in art, I really thought a lot about "flow,  regarding both myself and my students. Sometimes, there are projects that start out with so much promise, then really get bogged down (I'm talking about you, "Architectural Patterns"). Students loved learning about architecture, loved tracing and repeating designs, then a smallish group of students hated the tedium of coloring them in. One student actually wrote a note on the back of her paper, "This is torture." I sort of laughed when I read it, remembering how this student was totally goofing around and I had to redirect, so I am thinking this is when that got written. But still, message received and my solution will be to shrink down the size of the assignment. That being said, there were still a lot of really great results.

         The cartooning unit for fourth grade was revised from last year because of "flow". I dropped the "plot mountain" and accordion book format because those pieces were real time-suckers that students did not seem to enjoy. Instead, to keep it integrative, the students did descriptive writing first, which I checked, and used that for their Manga cartooning. When everything was done, we compiled the comic book cover, layout pages, descriptive writing, and student self-assessment and stapled it all together. Voila! More cartooning time, still have a book format, still have the Language Arts piece. You know you have the students hooked when they don't want to stop working on their cartoons.
       The fun, fun, fun third graders had a blast with their pop-up cans based on Andy Warhol, they love cutting and gluing! I decided to change up their next lesson, a cartooning experience by making it a two-parter. Easing into the holidays, I really did not want to jump into the more expensive media because I know that with the "Flurry of Gifts" drive, "boots" drive, "Holiday Shop" experience, and holiday parties/holiday concert assemblies, their hearts and minds are on winter break! Plus, my friends who miss "Holiday Shop" or are slow "shoppers" miss art time (yeah, I could go on forever about why students are pulled from Specials to do stuff like this, but I will restrain myself). Solution? An introductory cartooning experience I whipped up called "Art Dogs" and boy, they really are digging it! I found this neat artist who does really creative dog portraits, and used that as the hook for my lesson (hey, hooks are key at this age, as all "Teacher Pirates" know---read the book, How to Teach Like a Pirate). Of course, I whipped up a Pinboard for it-->

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Envisioning Team, Reading, & Webinars

I was recruited for our "Tech Envisioning Team", which gradually morphed into the "Learning Envisioning Team" that prepared a unique Professional Development Day for our staff of over 200 teachers. We met over the summer and started out with the question, "What would be the ideal learning experience?" We decided not to let perceived problems limit the discussion. Then, it got exciting, as all of us agreed that it should be experiential and totally "out of the box" from the moment teachers and administrators came through the door: a) they would be sorted by QR code scanning, so people of all grade levels would be mixed up; b) there would be embedded experiences that staff would rotate through with peer and student facilitators; c) afternoon break out sessions would give everyone the opportunity to dive deeper; and d) we shot for the best, most inspirational speaker we wanted, and he actually CAME (well, via Skypecast)---Dave Burgess, the author of Teach Like a Pirate. In the fall, everyone broke into groups to prepare the experiences and road test them. "The Harness Method" was the one I affiliated with, mainly because I was out recuperating from surgery for the first part of the fall meetings, but also because I dearly love deep, Socratic discussions. Another innovative session involved a "Minecraft Exposure", opening teachers up to the possibility of Minecraft EDU. We used high school students to create a Minecraft game that forced teachers to collaborate as they explored the different levels of the game. We also had a "Ted Exposure" with "Ted Talk" videos, "Google Apps Investigation", and "Google Research". All of this required a lot of technology, so teachers were encourage to BYOD (bring your own devices), but ample Chromebooks, the HS Mac lab, "Makers lab", and HS tech lab were made available as well as iPads. Each exposure had Smartboard set up to run instructions so the facilitators (the Envisioning Team) mostly were out of sight unless there was a problem. It was pretty exhausting, actually, as we were all keyed up and nervous about how people would feel about the innovative presentations in the face of all the Common Core and Teacher Evaluation System changes. Our goal, I guess, was to get staff to come around to the idea that these changes should not limit us, not keep us from creating engaging learning for our students. At the student roundtable after lunch, the high school students basically reinforced this idea! What really made the most impact, though, was Dave Burgess. This guy does a super cool trick with cards that totally pulls you into the "pirate" mentality, and as I was the Twitter feed moderator for the Skypecast, I could see how genuinely excited the teachers were getting as the discussion progressed. I had fun giving out Amazon gift cards to teachers for "first question tweeted", "first photo of their X card tweeted", etc. We also set up a "Today's Meet", and that moderator was able to get the flow of how teachers were collaborating during the Skype feed. A lot of planning for our PD Day was online, through Google Community, which worked very well for teachers from multiple buildings on different bell schedules.

So, I decided to keep my own inspiration rolling, and got two more books to keep me going: Sir Ken Robinson's updated edition of Out of Our Minds: Teaching Creativity, and Tony Wagner's Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. I also signed up for another Burgess webinar.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Reading and Writing in the Art Room

I love writing, and always have written poems, journals, and even made a few attempts at full books. Yet, I am an art teacher, not an English teacher, so why should I care about writing in the art room? Well, written artists' statements are a great metacognitive tool for students, plus a suave assessment. I can read about their intent and their process, even if the actual art might not reflect all the talking points in the student writing. Additionally, good writing takes practice, and good thinking about art making takes practice, and as I always like to say, "Practice makes perfect" (thanks, Aristotle: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.")
Another, very important reason, is that we are now a "Common Core" nation, and all our students are all our students across the curriculum (a view that I always held as I tried to integrate, but even more salient in 2013/14). With the aforementioned reasons in mind, I have spent time researching both the Common Core Language Arts curriculum in my grade band (third, fourth, fifth), and found several assessments suitable for the art room. There are several prior ways I have integrated writing in the art room: KWL charts, Compare/Contrast, Graphic Organizers (including Mindmaps), Journaling in Sketchbooks, and Think/Pair/Share to name a few. I have decided to hone in on opinion pieces, which is what artists do when they reflect upon their art, state an opinion. Here is the link to my Pinboard with assessments.
So, what are the foci (applicable in art) for writing at this level? (citation)

                    3rd Grade: Standard Statements Strand-Writing, Topic-Text Types & Purposes

  1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.
    a. Introduce the topic or text they are writing about, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure that lists reasons.
    b. Provide reasons that support the opinion.
    c. Use linking words and phrases (e.g.,
    because, therefore,
    since, for example) to connect opinion and reasons). d. Provide a concluding statement or section. 

                           4th Grade: Standard Statements Strand-Writing, Topic-Text Types & Purposes
    1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
      a. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
      b. Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
      c. Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
      d. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented. 

      5th Grade: Standard Statements Strand-Writing, Topic-Text Types & Purposes
    1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
      a. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
      b. Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
      c. Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically)
      d. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Printmaking Epiphany

I was a printmaking major in college (they called it "surface design" because we worked with fabric, which distinguished us as "commercial" artists as opposed to the "fine" artists in lithography & etching---nowadays art school demarcations of fine vs. commercial are nonexistent, thankfully). I digress because I wanted to make the point that ALL that my print knowledge was trumped by the decade-plus years I have spent as an art teacher. Every year, I analyze and tweak my lessons, and the one I changed the most this year was fourth grade printmaking. In the past, we have printed linoleum blocks, collograph plates, mono prints, stamps in geocache booklets, but still, I never really felt I hit the "sweet spot" with my fourth grade students. Always, I liked to focus on positive & negative space, and of course, craftsmanship, but with budget limits, being able to print repeatedly (which is what you really need to do to learn how to print) was impossible. I tried a smaller block cut from the larger ones, which made a neat framing motif, but students sort of blew off making the smaller block as nice design-wise as the larger block. Then, this year, I thought about radial printing, which necessitated cutting the blocks down to squares (keeping the small odd bits of course, those will come in handy for something, maybe clay imprinting). Then, I needed to focus the students on making a design abstract enough that it looked good rotated around a center point. This necessitated a full two weeks of designing, and I was out during the actual carving & printing. Then, the prints got dropped off at my house for grading and I was quite thrilled, because the designs looked pretty darn good! That smaller 4" by 4" block just worked out better than a 4" by 6". Printing radially revealed nice surprises design-wise, which is why I always liked "repetition" as a design element. Most of the pieces had at least one clean print out of the four, instead of having to rely on one "lucky" print. We did use a lot more ink than I would have liked, and I heard that the students would have liked to change colors, but printing with one color helped them ink better as each color has a different tackiness to it (in general, lighter colors are thinner, darker colors are toothier). We saved money by printing on sulfite instead of mulberry paper, so I think the costs balanced out. Mulberry paper is more forgiving with the ink, but I don't think anyone but me would notice the print quality difference. So, "eureka" & "yay"---keeping radial prints for next year (with a few "tweaks" of course ;).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How Pinterest Saved My Planning

I started the year with some amazing innovations, primarily inspired by the Teach Like a Pirate ethic, but then got derailed by the (unanticipated) need to be out for surgery. Since I always do lesson plans as holistic units, being out for 2 weeks was not such a big deal (okay, it was emotionally a big deal, but all my materials were prepped and ready to go). Then, I found out that I needed to be out for 2 weeks more (big OMG moment) and this was really something for someone who usually misses only a few days each year! As an art teacher, I always feel like the artwork suffers when I am not there. Over the summer, I started revamping my reference boards on Pinterest, and since part of my recuperation has involved plenty of sleepless nights, I felt at least marginally productive researching and adding images in the dark, wee hours of the night on my iPad or phone (I put the apps on both, extremely convenient). So when my sub called to say my kids had run through a unit faster than expected (mostly because a) I was not there, but also because b) we have a 4 day block schedule now), I was able to readily dig up a great lesson idea from one of my Pinboards and transfer it into my LP Word format. Apparently, other educators are realizing the genius of this:

4 Innovative ideas for using Pinterest to support learning

Feel free to check out my boards (for elementary art) at

Friday, August 16, 2013

STEAM Thoughts
STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Math. I admit that is a struggle to truly integrate this stuff in a once a week class, for forty-five minutes, with students in grades third through fifth. I was trolling around one of my favorite resources, Art Ed 2.0, and came across a posting on "automata" (see link and image above). It sort of fits into what I would like to do with my robot unit, but I would rather have students come up with their own experiments with the sculpture rather than say, "Everyone use a box and a gear." Still, showing a few of the videos is a very strong jumping off point. Then, there is the technology piece---I am hoping for some robot research led by students, but other than that, I am looking for the right hook. Possibilities: Robot apps? Bring your own device for research? Adobe Illustrator robots? Managing all that choice-based learning? One thing I learned from my Edmodo/tech/programming unit: there will still be a few students who do not want to do anything but draw and paint, and you have to honor their feelings.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

2013/14 Roadmap

Like most teachers, August is when you go into hyper-planning mode: all those ideas and inspiration that have been popping into your head over the summer now need to be typed up, posterized, or put into some useable format. Each year, I do a curriculum map, which really is my roadmap for the year. Sometimes we might take a longer, more "scenic route", but the overall path is there for me, all aligned to the standards. Here is the 2013/14 version:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Pinterest & Game-ifying: Teaching Tools

      I have been doing what I imagine a lot of teachers do over the summer: rest, relaxation, & then (right around mid-July), planning for the year ahead. I already have my curriculum map done (first thing I do before I officially start my summer break), but HOW I implement new projects and ideas is answered best by letting the inspiration percolate up throughout the summer. This summer, I started reading two different books, Teach Like a Pirate & The Multiplayer Classroom, and that got the creative teaching ideas flowing. First up, I decided to revamp my Pinterest boards. I generally use them as class resources thrown up on the Smartboard, but now, the "pirate" in me also decided that metacognitive openers would be a good idea, so I made a board for that. I had originally hoped for some funding for a robotics integration, but no luck thus far. I did find some cool resources online, though, which led me to create a "kinetic sculptures" board. I plan on introducing robotics principles of design within a scaffolded unit, we just won't be able to do any programming, which is actually okay since I am planning this unit for fifth grade. The game-ifying concept comes into play here, because I plan on making this unit similar to a "quest", with options and levels, which I hope will engage the students as much, if not more, than getting an actual robot to work.
      Additionally, I am getting the basic planning done for a huge collaborative tile mural the entire fourth grade will be doing. A partial grant for that came in near the end of last school year, too late for the kiln work to be done, but now this fall, we can get started. I still need to find a few volunteer tile setters, but I have faith that "if we build it..." This is very much a "pirate" concept. You can see the acronym below (citation:, and follow on Twitter #TLAP.
       I also went on a giant purge of "stuff", starting with our neighborhood garage sale at the beginning of the summer, giant pick-up of the leftovers at, then our whole family raided the bookcases and we hauled a bunch to "Half-Price Books" and got some cash. I had a lot of disappointing art ed books, that once I was past the newbie stage, really were just a waste of space. That led me to dive into my LP's, and let me tell you, once I started going through those, I realized how much better my planning and curriculum designing got as I became more experienced. Binders and binders of paper lessons got distilled into two "best of" binders, and I really recommend this process---highly reflective and informative. I eventually went back to my 2013/14 curriculum map, and compared it to the previous maps going back 12 years. Wow--so much more integrated, real-world, and generally, more open-ended now! I am relieved that the latest iteration of the c.m. falls right in line with passion, immersion, etc. I would have totally redone it if necessary, and was prepared to do so. I ended up just needing to fix the robot unit hook and get my resources prepped and stored online for easy access.
       So, I am very much looking forward to utilizing the boards I have updated, and in late fall, seeing how a game-based approach will work (man, that was never in the "Ed" books we had to read in grad school).  A lot of our teachers in our building are into doing a TLAP book study, so I will have nice support there. The game-ifying will be more difficult to implement, but I will post how it is going as the school year progresses.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Am I a Pirate?
   A big book making the rounds in education right now is this idea/book called Teach Like a P.I.R.A.T.E. I always sort of thought that most art teachers are like "pirates": we scrounge for supplies, make alliances with other teachers and technology to further our cause, say "arrgh" a lot (mostly in our heads), and we are a passionate bunch! Is it even possible to be a "pirate" 6 periods a day, 5 days a week? The main take-aways for teaching this way seem to be:

     So, every summer, I try to refill the well of my inspiration: gardening, working on the last bit of my 365 Challenge (making art every day), antiquing, being with my family, just noodling around and seeing where it takes me. As teachers, we give a lot--- & we also get a lot in return; the momentum is really hard to describe to someone who is not there in the classroom. I am pretty sure that I am a pirate---have been for years, and I thank Mr. Burgess for inspiring others to be more like art teachers (the original educational pirates if you ask me).
    I am going to end this post with one more thought, the push to go STEM to STEAM. Back in Leonardo's day, art and science were intertwined; the dichotomy we have today is artificial and limiting. Some of the most recent scientific advances have required very creative thinking, such as looking to how octopuses have sharp beaks attached to gelatinous bodies is yielding advances in better artificial limbs. I think STEAM is very much a "pirate" alliance---messy but workable. When did being an artist and being a scientist become mutually exclusive?
   Maybe, taking the Burgess acronym and making it a little more kid-friendly would help the cause.
Original....P- Passion                                             
                 I- Immersion
                R- Rapport
                A- Ask and Analyze
                T- Transformation
                E- Enthusiasm
Student version....P- Play
                             I- Involved
                             R- Relate
                             A- Ask and Analyze
                             T- Try
                             E- Enthusiasm

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Blend

    Needless to say, this has been a neglected blog. Part of the reason, is that I use my iPad for so many things as an educator, that I stopped parking educational reflections and videos here. Another reason, I started my "Daily Repeat", making art every day, or nearly, and that has been keeping me busy (oh, and teaching full time, being a mom, wife, etc. & etc.). My most recent post is above (#315). I should add that I was busy checking out colleges and doing myriad paperwork for college apps for child #1 (a wise co-worker told me that the college stuff is like a second job, and that was so true)...
   One of the primary things is that I got so involved with learning new technologies, and man, there is only so much time in the day. Art education/teaching/my own learning curve all blended together this year. My 5th grade art club students made a "sandmation", and they collaborated via Edmodo to design "sprites" for our gifted math kids to make educational math games with using Scratch, a free programming suite from MIT! Here are a few examples of those, to the right. --->
  We even Skyped with a storyboard artist from Paramount Pictures. That video can be seen on my school website,
   I wrote two grants, one for a clay tile mural we will do starting next fall, and another (pending) for a "Robotics Theater" (building honest-to-goodness robots, programming and everything).
   I just posted images on Pinterest of our district art show in May. We had hundreds & hundreds of pieces of art from grades one through twelfth!
   And then, there were SLO's (Student Learning Objectives)--the new evaluation tool for teachers that do not have Value-Added data. Yes, all that had to be researched, written, approved.  The new state art standards are in, and we are starting our COS (Course of Study) revision cycle. All of these things are exciting and worthy endeavors, but also time-consuming. So many people do not realize how much love, energy, and innovation goes into being an art teacher (or any teacher for that matter).
   So, in 2013/14 academic year, my goal is to "blend" even more, but find the time to reflect here, too...I'll end this post with one more goody, Makey Makey---they are too cool!

The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project: 2011

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