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".

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The Sketchbook Project

The Sketchbook Project: 2011

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The journey of process intrigues me and I am always changing it up.

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