Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Portrait for My Sister

There are a lot of stories I hear about sisters, how close they are, how they are one another's best friends etc. etc. etc.

My sister and I do not have that sort of relationship. We are like oil and vinegar; we don't mix well, but we are fun together at a party. I can't quite figure it out. Maybe we are too similar. . .But, that really seems to be quite an oversimplification. But, whatever the reason may be, if we spend too long together we usually have some kind of epic argument over nothing in particular. We both have hot tempers, are stubborn, and don't like to admit fault. We are both, usually, convinced of our own "rightness" as well.

But the thing about my sister and I is that while we don't always see eye-to-eye, we have one another's back's in a way that is quite superior. Sure, of course I'd come to her and she to me in the middle of the night, that is a given. We have even more than that.

Once, when I had dumped a boy who didn't treat me very well, he kept calling in way that gave me concern. My Dad teased that I shouldn't worry because I had plenty of people to keep me safe and he meant my brothers and himself. We are not a violent people and solve our issues with words, but at the same time, a healthy dose of intimidation often goes a long way. In this same conversation my Dad remarked: "But really, who this guy should be worried about is your sister. Your brothers and I have some reason. When she is angry, she goes nuts."

And, you know what, she does. And, I do too. If you mess with someone my sister loves, you had best watch out. She doesn't tolerate that at all.

She likes to comment that she isn't much of an artist, but that isn't true. She has a natural flair for color and design, and I think if she tried she could be quite a great artist. She always comes to all of my art shows, and of my family, in many ways, she is my biggest cheerleader. I've hidden in the bathroom during several art shows wherein she has stood with my art and talked me up to visitors. She has a true appreciation for art.

So this year, I made her a portrait.

We may not always get on, but my sister is my strongest defender, cheerleader, and fighter, and I love her very much.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Go Granny, Go Granny, Go Granny, Go!

I had a very great friend who was also very elderly. She used to say: "You can call me 'little,' and you can call me 'old,' but don't you call me 'little old.'" She was quite the character and I miss her very much.

This is what I gave my mother for Christmas: a small gouache illustration of her and her dogs chasing squirrels in a carmengia. My mother's dream car from her single days is a carmengia. . .And, well, you can't even mention the word 'squirrel' in her house because the dogs know it, and will go nuts.

A few years ago, my mother, who had very dark hair, decided to quit dyeing it and let it go natural. What resulted is the most beautiful gray hair I've ever seen. I hope I'm lucky enough to grow into such a great look. She gets complimented on it all the time. While, I think she likes it, there are times when she feels the gray may make her look older than she really is (she is only 57). She likes to tease and talk about herself as if she were the subject of that fantastic Beach Boys Song.

She is a delight, and I hope (as I am writing this pre-Christmas) that she likes her gift.

Happy Holidays!

Hiya everyone! My apologies for how quiet it has been around here lately. I've been gearing up not only for the holidays, but for my upcoming trip to Africa as well. I leave two days after Christmas (the holiday I celebrate), and all the food, laundry, last-minute prescriptions etc. etc. have needed my attention.

In the midst of all of this, I lost my mind and decided to hand-make all of my gifts. More on that in the next few posts.

I will be gone until after the first week of the new year, but have several posts that have been set to appear in my absence.

The above is my holiday card. I'm still using the same characters from last year, and you can learn about their very special origins here and here. I wish you the best of your time off from school, and send you the warmest wishes for 2011!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Education Cuts

Education cuts make all educators angry. It is something we all indulge in lamenting. But, how often do we join up and force the politicians to hear us? I think that in the face of such a big machine, we often feel hopeless and very small.

Georgia, my state of residence, received some of the Obama "Race to the Top" money during the second round of awards. Our new incoming governor, Nathan Deal, is uncomfortable about this award, and may refuse the money. When I heard this, I was shocked.

Since the recession began, public schools have undergone unprecedented cuts all over the state. There are less buses, and they have very unusual routes to be more gas-efficient. Students who live within a mile of their school - in some areas- are refused bus service. Teachers across the state have received at least three furlough days (some have received more) and the school days have become longer by a few minutes. The reason for this is that schools can still have the same amount of instructional time yearly, but pay teachers for less days, run heating and electric for less days, run buses less days etc. etc. etc.

The saddest part of all of these cuts is the new "assessment-led instruction" that is occurring across our state. All students, state-wide (in public schools) take a mandated CRCT standardized tests, and if students don't score high enough, schools stand to lose quite a bit (funding, students, and even accreditation).

A few school districts have begun to base teacher pay on whether or not students improve by a certain percent margin from the previous year. These are all inner-city school districts, and the students in these districts often have tough home lives. As such, there is more going on with why the scores aren't high enough than just the instruction. But, teacher's livelihoods are put at risk through this testing. And, unsurprisingly, there is a massive investigation with pending criminal charges undergoing right now because so many teachers in these districts have admitted to helping students cheat. Well, I mean, it isn't right, but really? Are we surprised it has happened?

And now, incoming governor Nathan Deal ("The Real Deal") is thinking of refusing the "Race to the Top" money, and he is getting support for it! I haven't been able to find any evidence as to the "why" of this situation, but I have my own opinion. It is that Nathan Deal (an avid less government politician) doesn't want the scrutiny from the federal government on our education system.

Let me be honest, the educational system in Georgia sucks. And, Deal, either doesn't think that (i.e. not smart) or knows that (smart) and doesn't want the government poking about our broken system.

Please note, I said "system," not educators, teachers, students, coaches, or support staff. The people who work in Georgia public schools across the board are doing it because they believe in what education promises for young students. But, the system is shite.

The part in all of this that I haven't mentioned is that fine arts programs across the state have been cut. There is very little band and visual arts left at all in Georgia. We are all about making sure that students can pass those standardized tests for math and reading.

The reality is that we all know this system doesn't work. You either know it because you've tried doing it that way and witnessed the results, or you have a "gut" feeling that tells you learning should be more than memorization. As educators we are "in-tune" with teaching, we have a finer understanding of good and poor methods.

But, scientifically? Assessment-led instruction has been proven empirically not to work. And, from a neurological standpoint, assessment-led instruction only engages the first part of the four neo-cortex portions of the brain that function during learning. Quality learning engages all four portions. So, just in case, you needed some scientific data, there you go.

I think the problem is that most politicians, whatever their "rags to riches" campaign story may be, have no idea how tough it is to earn a education. When I was very young, I worked on Capitol Hill for a summer. It gave me a life-long interest in the political happenings of the U.S.

What I have learned about most (please note the "most") politicians is this:

1. They are far from dumb, but they aren't the smartest people either. They surround themselves with smart people in the form of advisors and listen to them as it suits them.

2. They are incredibly charismatic; you want to like them. There is a reason they can win elections; they are very likable people.

3. They are often incredibly paranoid. We have all made mistakes and done dumb things and politicians are no different. But, they are very worried about each and every situation (the smart ones at least), because you never know how something can be misconstrued negatively.

4. Their career is to be a politician. While they care, deeply, about the work they are doing, ultimately, if they aren't in office, they don't have a paycheck. If they are career politicians, this is a problem. They will sell out the needs of people to keep themselves in office.

5. They are well-educated. They may have had a tough childhood, but their mothers/fathers/advocates fought for them to be educated. They got into good colleges with little struggle. This is because their advocates made sure they were good candidates and (see #2) they are very charismatic people.

6. They feel like rockstars. I've never encountered such a large group of entitled people in one place than I have during a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. They are surrounded by groups of advisors who actively work to keep them happy. Not unlike the "crews" who surround young celebrities always telling them "yes," so the politicians have their own groups.

7. They are selfish. Their own needs and desires to become powerful men/women of the world eventually dominate whatever desire they have have originally had to change the world. Power is an opiate.

And, y'all, these are the people who matter the most when it comes to decision-making about education. These are people who have had life "work out" for them in the best of ways. They can't imagine how hard it is to go to school and take a test on Monday when your arm still hasn't been set since you broke it on Friday night (that was one of my students). Truly, they have no idea as to what works and what doesn't. They only know what sounds good, and that is what they will vote for over and over again.

Last week a fellow teacher said to me: "I listen to what you say in the faculty meetings. You are smart; you should be an administrator. I could never rattle off what you do so quickly." It is a nice compliment, and I took it as such. But the reality is, the fellow teacher is a veteran of over thirty years; she knows WAAAY more about education and what works than I could hope to. But, she isn't involved.

We have got to stop standing around and complaining and get to action. Join your discipline association groups, get active, when you see educators getting together to support a cause you believe in, join up. By our sheer numbers, we should be telling these politicians how education is going to happen, not the other way around.

I don't want to be an administrator, I want to be a force of change in this field. I want to demand more for my students, I want them to get more. And, the only voice they have is me, and is you.

So, if you are as mad as I am about the state of education right now, please, join up and say something about it!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Graduation Day!

Today is THE day! I'm so excited; I can't hardly wait!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

6 Keys to Being Awesome at Everything

Yesterday, I saw the following headline in my RSS Reader: "6 Keys to Being Awesome at Everything."

I thought: Yeah. Right.

But, then I read the post, and I have to agree!

Here are the steps:

1. Pursue what you love.
2. Do the hardest work first.
3. Practice intensely.
4. Seek expert feedback intermittently.
5. Take regular renewal breaks.
6. Ritualize practice.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Graduate Presentation: The Connection Between Play, Neuroscience, and Meaningful Learning

TODAY is my last day of graduate school. I wrote on my facebook account last night: "I'm excited and bummed that tomorrow is the last day of grad school. I think I'm a masochist." And, that is the truest statement about my experience! I've enjoyed it, stretched my mind, and been endlessly stressed out. Since I had already been teaching for five years when I began school, a lot of the early material (this is a program designed for people who had art degrees, but no teaching degrees) was redundant.

I feel that it has finally gotten really interesting and now it is over!

I wanted to share my final presentation with you. My area of interest is neuroscience and play. And, while this area pertains to art for me, the presentation is designed for all educators. I know that in the future, I will continue to study in this area, and can't wait to see what develops.

Please feel free to share it with your teaching community!

Coloring Worksheet

Since I teach both High School and Elementary students my schedule is very crazy. Due to finals next week, and my need to be present to administer them, my schedule gets even nuttier. So, since I will have to cancel several elementary classes next week, I've made this little coloring sheet for them to enjoy.

I'm not the biggest fan of coloring sheets as a whole. And, when I use them, I greatly prefer to use the Anti-Coloring Book. . . But, I can't find my my copy, and I'm not sure if the students will even have time to do these coloring sheets or not.

I mostly make these as free-time activities and because when I cancel elementary classes, the teachers understandably get very upset as they lose planning time. I like to, at the very least, offer an alternative to having art class.

And, I would like to add that I hate cancelling classes, but this is how my school handles double scheduling conflicts.

Click to see a larger image, and to download and use in your own classroom.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Classroom Management

Jessica Balsley over on the ART of Education is doing a week about Classroom Management. Today, she posted a copy of the form letter she uses to communicate with parents.

I made something similar for myself and the specialists at my school a bit back and we have been using them for months now with great success. The reason I made these was that our previous system was a form that was carbon, and went home in triplicate. The austere and serious nature of the appearance of the paperwork ALWAYS upset parents, and resulted in a lot of phone calls and meetings that were mostly to calm a very upset parent down. You know what? It is school, and we learn how to behave in school (among many places), and kids are going to mess up from time to time. We needed a friendlier form! So, I made this, and like I said, we use it with great success.

In the nature of celebrating good classroom management before the winter break, I wanted to share them with you. Any blacked-out areas you see, are areas where my school name was posted.

Click to enlarge the images for reading!

The first sheet is the front, and this is for the student to fill out. I want my students to reflect on their actions and learn from them. I do not want them shamed, but instead to understand the environment and their actions. The second sheet is the back, and this is for me to fill out and to communicate with the parent.

I used clip art from the free clip art for teachers over on Discovery Kids. This clip art is licensed for teacher use in non-commercial, k-12 environments. So we are able to share and repost so long as no one tries to turn a profit from their use. :)

I also made a visual version of the student reflection portion of these sheets for my kindergartners, some 1st graders, and my preschool students (my non-readers). I used Berenstein Bear images. From talking with my media specialist, my understanding of copyright law is that teachers may use such images in an educational, non-profit, k-12 environment as long as it is not in a commercial manner (fundraising, advertising etc.). However, I do not feel comfortable posting the Berenstein Bear imaged sheet because I am not sure of the copyright with regards to promotional blogs etc., and do not want to infringe.

You are so welcome to use these images! I made them in MS Publisher. If you would like a copy that you could edit for your school, please just email me/comment and I will send them your way!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Music to Soothe the Savage Beast(s)!

Do you play music in your classroom? I do. I love to play music while my students work. There is a process, however, to playing music for your students. You have to really (really) listen to it at home. Anything that has rude language, hints at rude language, hints at rude behavior etc. etc. can't be played. I'm sure you already know that. But, did you realize just how many songs of today and even yesteryear reference inappropriate topics for the elementary classroom?

For instance, I don't play "Loveshack" by the B-52's because it references sex (and pregnancy?) in a shack in the woods (in my college hometown nonetheless!).

There are A LOT of songs that you would think you could play, but on second (safe) thought, you should probably not play.

Mostly, I keep it to a lot of Beatles and late fifties/early sixties music. I like that music, and the kids don't seem to mind. I've taught in a lot of diverse environments and here is what I have learned: People have a lot of opinions on music and what they like. . . But, I've never once -in any environment- I had a complaint about the Bill Withers, the Beatles or the Indigo Girls (appropriate non-cussing songs only).

One important thing is to avoid asking students their opinions about the music. It encourages the students to ask (badger) you to play their favorites. Which, incidentally, are almost always inappropriate for school and then leads to said student attempting to share the rude lyrics of said song with the whole class. Ahem. Instead, I play what I play and they can like it or I can turn it off. It sounds a little mercenary, but I remind them that listening to music is a privilege and they can either be polite, or I can turn it off. They always decide to keep it on. :)

Having said all of the above, the most important thing I have learned is what type of TEMPO to play. As much as I love music -all types- the up tempo music gets the kids moving and grooving (great if they are in P.E. class), which is not always so conducive to working on your art project.

I began to seriously play classical music this year, and it has made HUGE difference for my classroom management. I had an entire class of kindergartner's working silently(!) of their own accord today while Debussy played. I never asked for silence (I try to never do that because I think it really limits their creativity); they just did it! Wow. I will say that I play calm classical and avoid any dramatic operas. Well, and I avoid most of Tchaikovsky because he is just so "thunder" and "lightening."

Here is what I like to play:

Lacrimosa by Mozart
Nocturne No. 2 in C Sharp Minor by Chopin
Claire de Lune by Debussy
Un Sospiro by Liszt
Waltz in A Flat by Brahms
Traumerai by Schumann
Piana Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky
Petite Suite: En Bateau Debussy
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart
The Swan (Carnival of the Animals) by Saint-Saens
Requiem - in Paradisum by Faure
Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet by Mancini (not classical, but I love it!)

I like the current mix I use so much I made a playlist to share with you. What type of music do you play in your classroom?

One Week From Today. . .

One week from today I will put on a cap, a gown, AND a hood. I will put on a dress and dark shoes. I will go to a small reception for my cohort. I will go and wait and learn how to "walk." And, finally, at 7pm, services will start for my graduate school graduation.

To my very great regret, I did not walk for my undergraduate degree. I attended The University of Georgia and it would have been so cool to "walk between the hedges!" But, I was an art student and I didn't think that walking was very artsy. So, instead, I had my family attend my final exit show. . . And, that was it. And, I just SO wish I had walked.

So, next week is going to be my big moment for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees (I'm at least assigning it that way).

My very first year teaching the teacher who "put in a good word for me" and enabled me to be hired gave me this clip from Kennesaw State University's graduate program. I remember getting it and thinking: "Man, I'm never going to make it to graduate school."

And now, I'm finished!

This clip has sat on my desk every day since the day I received it. . . And, it will continue to sit there as a reminder of all I can do when determined!

Finished Winter Mural


I'm thrilled with how this turned out. It was so much fun. Mr. E said that the kiddos would enjoy watching the artwork come together. And, he was so right. Everyday they came in (I see students twice a week) they would oooh and aaah as a group. The mural is now hanging in the main hallway, but here it is as finished in my art room.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How Neuroscience Links Our Brain Function to Learning

I've been reading about play, learning, and neuroscience. More on how those three link up later. . . But until then, I thought you might enjoy this animation I created about how brain function links to learning (this model is designed by James Zull).


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Great Art Quote

I'm not sure I 100% agree with this quote. . . But when you think about it, it is awfully hard to be an artist if you never finish anything. I suppose you could argue that some artists feel that their work is never finished. . . But, the artist who created this piece -an illustrator- her work has to be realized in a finished state by others even if it isn't by herself.

I WOULD like to have this quote all big and in my art room either at school or at home. These ARE definitely words that would inspire me to work harder to complete my work, and maybe it would inspire my students similarly.

Artwork above is by one of my favorite illustrators, Jannie Ho. You can like to her blog here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I was asked a few days ago if I had a weakness in the art classroom. My answer: "Sure."

My weakness is assemblage. I could assemble paper-based projects forever. I really have to plan out how I'm going to attempt my projects otherwise I would let the kids work on assemblage for WEEKS.

Here are some of my favorite assemblage projects!