Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lesson Plan: Maasai Inspired Tribal African Necklaces

My exemplar

This school year my students are more diverse in terms of economy, skin color, culture, philosophy, and in variety of other, more specific, manners. Last year, I tried to bring more diverse projects into my classroom; I attempted to incorporate multi-cultural artists and artworks. . .But, honestly, I didn’t truly try as hard as I might have.

this was made using variegated thread

When I look back to this first semester, I am floored by just how many multi-cultural projects my students have completed. The odd thing is that I haven’t made any whole-hearted attempts to incorporate diversity. Instead, I’ve been trying to devise lessons and projects that incorporate the standards. I noticed, early-on, that when my students were interested in the project, their behavior was much improved. It just happened by coincidence that the projects for which my students have the most interest are primarily multi-cultural.

love the patterns this student used. . .and the Kazuri elephant bead

In my free time, I’m obsessed with fashion and the art of dressing. . .It sounds like a tangent; but trust me, it all comes together. Using my RSS reader, I follow about 400 different fashion blogs that talk about high, low, and costume dressing. One of my favorites is I Spy DIY wherein the author uses high fashion inspiration for low-budget DIY projects. A few weeks ago I came across the tribal necklace design based on the runway designs of fashion designer Mara Hoffman’s SS 2012 line. The moment I saw the project, I knew I’d find a way for my students to do something similar.
This student wound 2 colors of thread at the same time for a patterned-effect

Cut to the last week of school before the holidays. I easily “sold” my students on the idea of a project wherein they’d have a product they could gift to friends and family. I tied the project to fine arts standards, and my personal artistic experience, by incorporating the art of the Maasai tribe of East Africa (I have Kenyan friends who are Maasai). I also was fortunate enough to have a few beads my Mom brought back from a recent trip to Kenya from Kazuri bead to share with the students. And, whaddyaknow, I had a great, authentic, multi-cultural, and “standards-excellent” lesson plan.

View all of the pictures I took of students working and modeling their necklaces:

You can view (and download!) my PPT presentation about this project below:

Enjoy! And, if you decide to try this project and feature it on your blog please cite I Spy DIY and Artful Artsy Amy as inspiration sources.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Clay Mugs: Mrs. Heller's Art Blog

Okay, I'm not one to re-direct to other projects often. . .

But have you SEEN these great mugs by Mrs. Heller's 8th graders?!

I know what I'm going to do when my next clay shipment arrives.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lesson Plan: Remixing "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa"

As an art educator working in an urban environment of diverse learners, I struggle to create lessons that are relevant to my students and still incorporate and uphold art standards. What I have come to realize is “diverse learners” doesn’t indicate a group of learners from cultural backgrounds and/or races but instead, refers to individual learners who come from varied cultural and racial backgrounds. When in the past we might identify students as one cultural or racial group, today we must recognize students have backgrounds that include one group, two groups, or even multiple groups. In some cases, student backgrounds may represent groups whom have been in conflict. And, as educators, we must strive to develop lessons that are inclusionary of such diversity. Today, I teach middle school students and have discovered my students are proud to discuss the multiple racial and cultural groups they claim. It is perhaps part of the adolescent development of identity, but students are eager to discuss not only their heritage, but also that of friends and family.

Nicki Minaj wearing a remix

Art History is vital to creating multi-tiered art lessons that reach beyond just product. Yet, as educators who do not see students on a regular, daily basis how do we develop lessons that reach beyond a product and are inclusionary of diversity? Several years ago, I began incorporating more Japanese and Chinese art into my classroom in an attempt to bridge the gap left in Western education when it comes to the Far East. What I found was my students loved learning about these cultures and far more students than I thought have backgrounds inclusionary of Eastern cultures.

As art educators we all know in late elementary and early middle school the student schema develops a need to draw “realistically” in order to feel success. But, it is difficult for students to curate such skills when such little time is devoted to art. I began to incorporate projects into larger lessons wherein students make a copy a fine artwork. There are varied views on student copying, especially when it comes to creativity, but what I have learned is it is easier to discover how to create when you are walking the path of another, master, artist. From the concept of copying and including relevance and diversity, I developed the lesson “Remixing The Great Wave off Kanagawa.”

A copy of the original on top, and the student "remix" below

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai represents one of the great appropriated images of Eastern art. I show the image to my students and many have seen it previously; in this way, we are able to bridge upon existing knowledge. As a class, we discuss the series that includes The Great Wave off Kanagawa; Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji. Students are encouraged to identify the importance of the artwork as relevant to the natural history of Japan and to the importance of art history. Each student is given a full-color copy of The Great Wave off Kanagawa and are instructed to copy and color it in colored pencil.

Upon near completion of the copies, the class discovers the appropriation of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. As a class, we define the concept of appropriation and homage as it relates to the use of pre-existing images. Appropriation of visual imagery can be an abstract concept for middle school students. Students are, however, familiar with the concept of sampling parts of songs for a new, original, musical composition. Recognizing this, I am able to make the concept of appropriation relevant, and thus tangible, when I compare it to “remixing” a song or track. We view a series of images that re-appropriate The Great Wave off Kanagawa from fashion, to functional art, to humor, to composition, to situational, to material, to color. Students are instructed to create 4-5 thumbnails that “remix” or appropriate The Great Wave off Kanagawa according to their own creativity using pencil and colored pencil. After a brief teacher conference, each student begins their final draft of the remix. Upon completion of both the copy and the remix, students mount their compositions side by side for display.

I love how this student remixed the composition, instead of the content

Part of creating lessons that provide profound learning is allowing students to share their discoveries and struggles. To conclude this lesson, we host a mini-critique session wherein students are encouraged to share their creations and the personal choices that aided in the development of final drafts. During this portion of the lesson, many students choose to share about their personal heritage as it relates to their creation. The success of this lesson is not dependent upon drawing ability, although it does include that, but rather creative concept. My experience has shown a lesson that bridges the gap to student relevance while incorporating diversity, art history, and a basis for stronger execution skills leads to deeper learning and understanding.

I LOVE how the remix is on an XBOX 360

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Teaching for Artistic Behavior: Art is Not Easy

Ha! I love the way our innermost thoughts work their way to the surface when we create. In this case, it would be this student's struggle to create artwork that matches his standard.

I'm now midway through my first rotation of Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) based lesson plans. Currently, four of my classes (the 6th and 7th grades) are working on TAB rotations. I thought it would be good to share my thoughts on this process.

In the event you don't know, TAB is, ultimately, a grass-roots organization that recognizes and supports the validity of choice-based arts education. An organization? Well, yes, but one that is heavily researched, provides conferences and learning opportunities for educators AND is endorsed by many academic institutions. It's also a bit of a philosophy as well. Some students work at the window while others mix color palettes at their seats.

If you've read here for any length of time, you'll know that I'm very interested in how the brain works when we learn. Specifically, I am interested in what the optimum conditions for learning are and how I can create an "optimal" experience for my students. One of my mentors has long encouraged me to do more research and test out TAB in my own classroom. And, I've been reluctant to do so. . .For many reasons.

For one, choice based arts education? The phrase alone sounds tricky, and trust me, when I first mentioned it to my administration I could see the "oh no the Art Teacher is a crazed hippy" look pass across their faces. It can be difficult to help your administration bridge the gap between thinking the students "do whatever they choose" and the students are guided carefully through a structured environment that provides for positive, creative, informative, choice making.

Secondly, giving students choices takes a lot of planning. TAB is no joke. You need to plan and anticipate certain questions, theories, and ensure the materials are available as well as the distribution. And, TAB encourages working in centers. There is no way that would work in my educational environment. The kids would treat it like recess. Which means I had to build kits etc. for different tables/materials so the media was accessible to all.

Thirdly, TAB ain't for sissies. While it does provide for some AH-MAZING authentic engagement, you better have some amazing classroom management plans. Because, a lot of TAB depends upon students being able to task themselves. On being personally responsible. In middle school. in elementary school. in high school.

So, when one of my mentors, way back when, encouraged me to explore TAB, I just nodded and walked away.
Look ma, we're engaged! And, we're all doing different stuff!

But, then came THIS year. You know I moan on here all the time about engagement and authentic engagement. It is soo important, critical, in the middle school years. For many of our students middle school marks the last time they will be actively enrolled in a visual art class. I want them to LOVE it. I want them to take away a lifelong love of some aspect of visual art be it art history, an artist, a style, a method, or aesthetics.

Also, I'm insane and willing to do anything to make this happen. I also, (insanely) want to be the best Art Teacher in the World. Ha! It is nuts. It is super crazy. But, when I think about lesson plans, projects, classroom management etc. I'm always thinking: "Is this the best for my students? Is this the best, period.?

Yeah, I'm crazy. Let's just establish that.
These two students creatively "feed" off of one another. They really are into peer-critiquing one another.

So, far, I'm LOVING how much the students are LOVING TAB. I've polled them -informally- and they really like having a choice. They also really like having their talents acknowledged. Most of all, I see so much more exploration and trying happening in class. And, I don't cringe when I have to say: "You have more talent that this piece shows. I know you can do better," because I know that student has options wherein we can better incorporate his/her talents.
exploring blending and shading -without prompting!

My TAB lessons are not entirely open to the students choosing whatever they want. I'm following a fairly tight structure, because my students aren't prepared for me to just "unleash" them. We don't encourage much independent, divergent thinking anymore at school. And, you should see how their minds are bent by directions that say things like: "You can also choose to do a project that is not on this list. BUT, you must first conference with Ms. J. and plan out your project." I've had a lot option to do this, and with great results btw.

If you are interested, here is how I'm structuring the "unpacking" of TAB right now:

1. I present a topic -usually based on Art History
2. We discuss as a class
3. I introduce a question/statement. I explain this is like an essay question that I expect the students to answer by creating artwork instead of writing. For instance, for the Pop Art project the statement is: "Your work should recognize that Pop Art refers to creating art from everyday objects."
4. I present 2-3 "five minute or less" demos on 2-3 different projects
5. Students can pick a project OR opt to design their own (but must meet with me first)
6. Students get materials and work
7. I keep a projection up with the overall question/statement along with a "To-Do" list and an "Expectation" list. Both lists have less than 5 items.
8. I circulate and aid as needed.
9. My grading rubric etc. refers back to the overall question/statement

What about you? Would you try TAB in your classroom? Are you doing TAB now? What do you think? DO you think your students learn better? Are they more engaged? Do you see more creative expression and exploration? I know my answers are emphatic "yes's."

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lesson Plan: Thiebaud Pop Art Cakes and Teaching for Artistic Behavior

My Thiebaud Cake exemplar

This is the Part II aspect to my utilizing the Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) philosophy to teach a Pop Art unit.

In case you missed the first post, here's a quick review: TAB recognizes all students are creative and artistic to some degree, and that all engage in creative activities in different manners. Ultimately, the point of TAB is to authentically engage students is to engage in such a manner that they are expressing ideas and concepts of their own choosing that still meet the required expectations of an assignment.

printed TAB packets, ready-to-go

My students are learning about Pop Art. I expect them to be able to express the foundational idea that Pop Art celebrates everyday, commercial, imagery. They have a choice of two projects: a Lichtenstein portrait or a Thiebaud cake. Students will have two packets about each project with step by step written and visual directions, examples, and special references.

blending reference page for students

What I'm not telling my students is that I want them to deviate even further away from the two projects I've assigned them; to get super creative. But, I know if I simply tell them that. . .Many will hear "do whatever you want" instead of "you can meet the expectations of this project utilizing whichever creative means and mediums you choose." I know some will deviate anyway, because that is who they are. And, as students deviate, I'll celebrate that with the class and discuss how these deviations are positive and encouraged.

Baby steps y'all.

Okay, back to this specific project. I love Thiebaud, and you know, in my experience students really get him too. Students will learn about Thiebaud during our Pop Art intro and will use an in-class packet to help them follow the directions to create their own Thiebaud-inspired project.

Here is the packet my students will be using:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Lesson Plan: Lichtenstein Pop Art Self-Portrait

My self-portrait exemplar

Pop Art is an exciting genre to teach. I find that my students are easily are excited about any kind of art that they perceive as heavily referencing their culture. . . i.e. "pop" culture. And, even though the Pop Art you and I think of is not really our students' current culture (it is more the 1960's), there are residual elements of that culture still around today.

I love to teach Pop Art, but I'm really over all of the Warhol projects. Honestly, they bore me to death. A lot of this stems from the fact that I'm not exactly a huge fan of Warhol or his art. Was the guy a genius? Absolutely? Did he turn the art world on its head? For sure. Was he a huge jerk who used his subjects cruelly? Yeah. I know the whole "that artist was a jerk" philosophy can be applied to a lot of artists (Schiele, Degas, Michelangelo just to name a few). The issue I have is that Warhol is so contemporary, and when his artwork is filtered down to a student project, I fail to see my (note I say "my" 'cause it might be how I teach to them) students get authentically engaged. Jerkiness + boring = no good for me.

They get bored. REAL bored. They tire of copying the same thing over and over. They "putt" out in the last portions and I'm left with one or two pieces that are truly phenomenal and the rest are just kind of "meh."

Instead, I focus on the still highly famous, but less talked about in the classroom, artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Wayne Thiebaud, and Claes Oldenburg.

I'm trying to incorporate more and more of the "Teaching to Artistic Behavior" philosophy into my classroom. And, as such, my students will have two product choices for our Pop Art Unit: a Roy Lichtenstein inspired portrait and a Wayne Thiebaud cake design. I've seen similar versions of this Lichtenstein project done elsewhere online. This is the version I've been doing for a few years now. I prefer to only do the facial tones in the dot matrix and leave the rest fully painted.

Here is the Power-Point we will use in class. I've modified a great PPT I found online. You'll find the original cited on the front page of the presentation:

Here is my how-to steps for students:

I can't wait to post what the students' products look like!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

FYI: How to Make Slime

We have been using a liquid starch mix as a papier-mache vehicle. Today, I ran out of liquid starch about halfway through a class and began pouring some watered down glue (I had already prepared for such a moment).

After about 10 minutes the noise level got very loud. . . Lots of exclamations. Screaming with delight. Discovery.

Here's the deal. If you so happen to mix school glue with liquid starch you make a cohesive, sticky slime that will mold into stuff.

And, you know, just for your information the slime makes a great projectile. It will totally stick in some weave. And hair. And on clothing. Yeah.

Just Sayin' ;)

P.S. My boyfriend asked me to read this post to him. . .So, I innocently did. THEN, he took my words and made this song with it. Hilarious! You have to click on the link to hear it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Papier Mache with 32 Students

Wow. Just wow. I have 4 different classes working on different papier-mache projects right now. We have already gone through 8 gallons of papier-mache mix.

Here are some images from one class. I wish you could see their faces! I loved editing and looking at these pictures. Sometimes it is hard to assess in the moment -when you are trying to keep everyone on-task and safe- how much fun the kids are having. Based on the pictures, my kids are having a blast!

I, however, may have earned a few gray hairs. ;)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

When To Worry About What a Student Creates

We've all had a student (or students) who've created something odd, unusual, frightening, creepy, and/or alarming that may or may not be in context. I'm sure we've all spoken with the school counselor (or even the school psychologist if you're lucky) about what the student drew. On one or two occasions, the school counselor and I have followed up with family etc. But, we all know that context is important, even key, to these situations.

Here are some great thoughts on what kids draw from Notes From The School Psychologist (not reading her? You should!!):

My Favorite Halloween Game.

I have this game I play whenever I’m testing students around Halloween. It’s called “Halloween or Emotional Disturbance?”* Around this time of year, when I ask students to draw for me, I often get some pretty disturbing stuff—zombies eating people, ghosts, headless horsemen—and it begs the question, “Is the child emotionally disturbed or just thinking about Halloween?” I was reminded of this problem in assessment when a friend of mine posted this picture on her Facebook and asked, “Should I be concerned?!?”

She of course was not concerned because she knew her little treasure was going to be a vampire for Halloween. Yes, yes, that makes a difference in context. Now if her kiddo made that drawing on a random Tuesday in March, it would be a different story, no?

I have a memorable assessment from last Halloween time to illustrate the point…I was walking this kiddo to the testing room, when I spotted a huge spider web and a spider was chilling in the middle. I am not a huge spider fan, but I do anthropomorphize every spider into being that nice spider from Charlotte’s Web, so I said, “Oh look! That spider made us a web for Halloween!” The child turned to look at the spider’s web and then started spitting on the spider, yelling “Die! Die! Die you mother*#(%#@!” Whoa. I did not see that coming. Later, when I asked him to draw a picture of a person, he drew a vampire with a machine gun, blasting all the spiders in the world. Soooooo, you’re not a fan of spiders, eh?

Kids’ drawings are awesome. They are one of my favorite parts of the assessment process. Aside from the comorbidity of creepy drawings and Halloween, drawings can reveal a lot about our students. I especially love the Kinetic School Drawing, which is basically a way to see how the kid feels about school. You just ask them to draw a picture of themselves at school at any time of day and see what they come up with. I wish I had kept this drawing of this 10th grade student I was assessing for ADHD (who later cornered me on the streets of SF with his pack of friends yelling, “Hey, that’s the lady that put me in special ed! Thanks lady, special ed is way easier!”). His drawing was a cartoon-style sequence of him getting in trouble (“Here’s where my pencil accidently flies out the window, then here is me getting kicked out, and here’s me going down the stairs to the dean’s office, and here’s the dean saying to get a pass, and here’s me going back up the stairs, and here’s the teacher saying I can’t go back to class without a pass, and here’s me going back to the dean’s office…”).

Another kiddo who I was assessing for Asperger’s syndrome drew the most literal interpretation of the drawing I’ve ever seen. He started drawing every facet of the school building, including the irrigation system out front. When I asked him to draw a picture of himself in the drawing, as if I had a camera and took a picture of him at school, he drew a picture of me jumping out of a locker with a camera, taking his picture. HA! I love it.

My absolute favorite drawing was actually of me (not a Me-Monster story, I promise). The kid was 6 years old and in a school for students with emotional disturbance. The kid hated testing so much, it was torture to get anything done. After daaaaaays of trying to get something out of the guy, I finally asked him to draw a picture and tell me a story. He drew this monsterously fat and ugly person and said, “This is Dr. Fat, no I mean, Dr. B. She was a horrible fat person who made kids do stuff. She has a timer and her pencils and a monster ate her.” Soooooo, how do you feel about testing, little buddy?

So, as you go forth and test students on Monday on Halloween, look out for ghosts, goblins, spiders, and creepy drawings! You might also want to look out for REDRUM as the answer on a spelling test. Now that's a scary reversal...

*My friends and I also played a related game around Halloween when we were in grad school at Berkeley called “Normal dress or Halloween costume?” So, when a cloaked man entered the “Games of Berkeley” store, was he normally dressed for his fantasy board game club, or was it a Halloween costume? Is that a hippie costume or an actual hippie?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Beyond the Pencil: Great Concepts and Ideas from an Amazing Art Teacher

High School Art Teacher, Ian Sands of Art of Apex High School made this amazing presentation about "going beyond the pencil" at the South Carolina Art Education Association Conference. I sure do wish I could have seen it/met him! Did any of you from SC get to go and meet Ian?

Here is the (fantastic!) presentation:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I've got a lesson plan posting planned for later in the week. . .

But I just wanted to share some great news. . . I have over 50 kids interested in Art Club! I'm SOOOO excited.

And, students are moaning about the end of art class. . .Which means they are so happy to be here that the end of it is "sad." Which, wow! That makes me so proud. :)

Thanks Guys!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lesson Plan: Hip Hop Contour Line Shoes

Ever have a lesson plan you back into that ends up being awesome? Yeah. This one is kind of like that.

I wanted my students to have more opportunities to work on their drawing skills; specifically, their realism drawing skills. I knew completing a contour line assignment would be a great project to build these skills, but I feared my students would get bored. I've talked -extensively now- about how I have a few students who are hard to engage. I also have a lot of students who have a hard time sticking with a project once it becomes "hard" or "too real."
I knew if I wanted them to do some contour line drawing, I'd have to create some kind of really great "carrot."

Shoes are a major part of my students' self representation. They wear uniforms to school, but are allowed freedom of footwear. Additionally, shoes seem to be important in the community in which I work. So, while many may not come from wealthy backgrounds, they do have quite nice shoes. They brag about shoes, compare/contrast shoes, talk about prices etc. all the time.
I figured we could draw our shoes. But then, I got a little bit concerned. My students enjoy aggressively teasing one another and love using smells (farts, chemical odors, cooking scents) to make noise and derail the class. I didn't want to give them an opportunity to attempt to take control of the class. And, well, I got worried that some of them may not have clean socks OR that some students may not have nice shoes and this may isolate them.
Eventually, I decided to take the students to the computer lab and let them use the Nike ID, MI Adidas, Vans, and the Converse websites to customize their own shoes. I asked them about this first because I was concerned they wouldn't like customizing shoes that they couldn't buy (or maybe couldn't afford), but was reassured by their enthusiastic response.

Y'all, I've never seen them so well behaved as the days we went to the computer lab. They LOVED tinkering with the different websites to create cool shoes. I used this as an opportunity to do a presentation about how desire drives design.
They had directions to follow and had to print out at least 2 different shoes. The next few days we focused on contour line drawing. The students had to complete 2 different contour line drawings of their shoes. They had to color the shoes in either colored pencil or marker and then create a black and white (or colored with permission from me) background of doodles. I then laminated the final versions.

My students loved every part of this project. They really enjoyed drawing their shoes and I had virtually no complaining during the difficult drawing process. And, when I asked the new crew of students what they wanted to do during this 9 weeks of Art, I had many reply "I want to draw shoes."

Quick Thoughts on the 1st Day of the 2nd 9 weeks

Whew! Today went by fast!!

Nothing like having new students, new rules, new portfolio, new, new, new to make the day go by quickly.

As you all know, I've been writing a lot about engagement. As art teachers, I think we really strive to create learning environments that encourage authentic engagement. Honestly, I want my classroom to be an exciting, fun, and special place to be.

Today, to begin my 2nd 9 weeks I decided to ask my students to write about themselves. I gave everyone a notecard and instructed them to answer the three following questions:

1. Are you excited to be in Art?
2. List three things you hope you get to do in Art. (I told them to think of the wildest things!)
3. What is your dream? (I kept it general because I wanted to see how they would respond)

I explained to students that I wanted them to be honest, and that I wouldn't be upset or hold it against them if they weren't happy to be in Art class. I told them it was important to be honest, because I do want them to be excited in class. So, if I learn their dream is to be an NBA star, then I'll try to work basketball into the projects. The kids really, really, really loved this, and they were so honest.

And, wowza! I got some great responses and some amazing ideas for how to change my lessons to better suit my student's interests.

Here are some of the most popular "things" my students want to do in Art class:
-sculpting. EVERYONE wants to sculpt
-sewing. A lot of students want to learn to stitch
-computer art. Quite a few kiddos are into technology and/or are interested in game design.
-art with bubblegum. What a cool idea!
-go outside. YES!
-Jewelry. LOTS of requests for this.
-Play-Doh. I had a lot of mentions of play-doh. Interesting.

As for the dream question; I was pretty much humbled by their dreams. They range from being lawyers, veterinarians, artists, comic writers, doctors, ob/gyn's, Navy SEALs, Engineers, to being wealthy, living a good life, and helping others.

I was touched by so many of their dreams but this one left me teary. I leave you with this great response to "What is your dream?"

"I want to go and graduate from Emory University, become an orthodontist, and give my dad his dream of going around the world."

I hope your week is off to a great start!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

End of the 1st Nine Weeks

Yesterday was the last day of the 1st 9 weeks of the year. I am really excited to get a "new" batch of kids. I haven't had the luxury of being "done" with certain behavior problems in just 9 weeks in a looong time. On the other hand, I wish they were in Art year-round. . . And, when I really reflect on it there are SO MANY kiddos I'm bummed I won't get to hang out with everyday.

I wrote in my "Ouchies" post that teaching in my current environment seems like a day-to-day thing. Some days are awesome, some are less than awesome. And, well, that is true. Yet, I'm trying to make everyday awesome. What I've come to realize is that right about the time I feel totally overwhelmed and/or think "I'm not qualified enough to teach these kids" something happens to make me change my mind.

I've been working hard to make Art visible in my school as this has never been the case. The kids love (LOVE!) seeing their artwork on the walls so much that it is a huge motivator (and this has never been the case anywhere else I've taught). The teachers also love seeing the artwork on the walls and they make a point to tell me how much they appreciate that. And, wow, you guys just hearing that someone likes it makes me not only proud but hugely validated. It has made me realize it is critical in environments like mine to positively "cheer" on others.

I also made a Shutterfly book showing off some of the strongest accomplishments from Quarter 1. The artwork isn't necessarily the best or strongest, but it represents students who gave it everything they had. I put a copy in the front office for parents to check out while they wait for kids/meetings etc. And, I gave a copy to my principal. This also has been a huge positive incentive for the kids (and me). The principal is thrilled with the book and loves how we can show off to visitors etc. I researched and found out that schools can set up their own Shutterfly accounts from which parents can buy merchandise online. . .And the school can set the prices. Meaning, hello minimal effort fundraiser! I do teach in a Title I school, so I was unsure if kids could afford the book, but after asking around I feel quite sure we could make some money. And now there are plans to make a calendar and holiday cards. Woot! (You can see the book below, it cost $15.00 to make and we plan to sell for $18-$20).

Click here to view this photo book larger

Shutterfly offers exclusive photobook layouts so you can make your book just the way you want.

In the midst of all of this, the Special Ed. department has been conducting yearly conferences to review student accommodations and modifications. Something really great happened in those meetings. Almost all of the parents made a comment of some kind or another about how happy they were that their child was in Art class. AND, the parents made comments about me and the accommodations and modifications I made to make the class accessible.

Then, last week I got some new Art Supplies (my orders had been placed and arrived!). Super Woot!
So, things are really looking up. I feel as if I'm not just merely treading water anymore.

I know we've all been sharing about classroom management in at-risk kid environments and I wanted to also share with you some of the changes I'm making for the 2nd Quarter:

1. I got rid of all the rules! Ha! I know a lot of you thought there were too many. And, that number has worked for me in the past, but I'm simplifying down to 6.

2. I have 3 concrete reflection areas in my room instead of 1. The primary area is beneath the rules and has some motivational posters.

3. I'm organizing the clean-up procedure. It will likely take 8 minutes instead of 5, but I want the kids to be more personally responsible for material clean up.

4. I'm controlling bathroom visits. The students like to leave everyday and I'm culling it down. I'm not going to do "only 3 per quarter" because I don't want to monitor it. But, I am writing down their visits in their agenda, so when I do say "no" I can prove that it is a habitual way of avoiding class.

5. I'm sending home artwork every 3 weeks. My state standards require the kids keep a portfolio. But the work just got too bulky and would jam the storage drawers and art would get lost and torn. So, they can still keep a portfolio but take home older work regularly.

6. I'm tracking down the social worker to help me get phone numbers of students whose listed phone numbers have been disconnected etc.

7. I'm giving the students a weekly warm up sheet instead of them keeping track of it in a binder. I started this a few weeks ago. Too many kids just won't do it if I don't give them a sheet. It is a lot of sheets for me to run weekly, but it is worth it to see the kids come in and get started.

So, what about you? What have been your successes so far this year? What classroom procedures and/or rules are you changing to better suit the needs and demands of your students and your classroom?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Value Shading and Self Portraits

Value, as you all know, is deceptively easy to teach. On the one hands kids "get" that there are shadows and light areas appearing on what see. . . But, trying to get them to illustrate this understanding can be an epic struggle. As I'm now teaching Middle School students full time, I've had a very quick reminder of how they feel their art is "unsuccessful" unless there is a positive, cohesive (usually realistic), final product.
I started doing this variation on the value shading project a few years ago. I honestly can't remember if I devised the idea or if I was inspired from somewhere. . .So, if you've been doing it for awhile too, feel free to share a link in the comments!
Students begin with learning about value and completing a value shading worksheet. During this time (or during the studio session for the previous project) I take a picture of their face. I print their faces in black and white on the printer. Each student receives his/her face image and uses a marker to outline all of the various different value areas on their face. Next, they are presented with one paint color cup, one white paint cup, and one black paint cup. Students must paint the values on their faces using only these three paint choices. I keep several copies of their faces on hand, because many of them rush through the first attempt (which ends up a mess) and want to try again.
The results are usually quite beautiful. . .And, because they were painting on top of a photograph (in essence), the end result, at the very least, appears humanoid. Which means, even my most insecure middle school students have a modicum of success. I'm not sure if this is the MOST student creative project. . .But, I have found that it sets an excellent foundation for value and enables me to introduce more complicated and creative painting concepts.

The lesson plan and value shading worksheet can be downloaded below. The worksheet includes images from two online sources, which are cited on the sheet. Please keep this in mind when you use it. You are welcome to use these items in a non-profit manner in your classroom but not for commercial reproduction.

Friday, September 30, 2011


I'm soo enthusiastic about art and about teaching art. In fact, when I look at my facebook posts, nearly 90% are about art or teaching art. I've never (NEVER) had an issue with engagement before. . .But, I'm having some challenging situations with it this year. I have quite a few kids in every class that just refuse to engage.

I've tried positive incentives, consequences, modified projects etc. etc. But, these hard-to-engage kiddos mostly are peeved they can't sit with their friends (because they prove over and over when allowed that they don't work and/or don't behave when allowed to do so). When I ask what sorts of projects they want to do it is always "Graffiti." Which, I'm not against at all (Banksy is one of my favorite artists and I subscribe to Juxtapoz Magazine), but this is an, at-risk kid environment. And, every. single. time. I've ever taught graffiti at least one kid has gone out and committed a crime because of what s/he was inspired by in the art room. I KNOW these kids would follow suit; in fact, they admit to wanting to learn how to tag stuff it in class!

I know now that a lot of the engagement struggle has to do with supplies. My school had no Art teacher last year, and the teachers readily admit that they "fleeced" the art room of supplies. My supply orders for this year have yet to be placed, which means my primary art tools are: crayons (only the original 8 pack of crayola colors), paper, and. . . . ? In fact, I went and purchased 30 pairs of scissors just so I would have some in class. There is paint, in random colors, but the only brushes I've found are the plastic ones with the plastic bristles that come free in a watercolor set.

This week, we painted. . .crappy brushes and all. . .And, like, WOW! What a difference it made in engagement for those kids who seem to struggle with being on task. They were just so. . .happy. I was and am thrilled. I was beginning to think it was all me, and it is frustrating when you feel so helpless to fix a negative situation.

But, THEN, today this happened. An 8th grade student (definitely the group with the largest number of hard-to-engage kids) said: "Are you the one doing the Art Club?" I replied, "Yes." To which she responded: "Oh, then I'm sure not doing Art Club!"

Sigh. That just made me deflate inside. That she would consider Art Club and then NOT do it because of me just makes me feel like a failure. To be fair, this student struggles with her behavior at times and may have just been saying to "get my goat." But, you know, it is hard to avoid feeling as if you -meaning me- are the problem.

Sometimes, it feels like it is touch and go, no? I wish these kids could understand how much time I spend thinking about the projects they do, and how excited I am to see what they do. . .I always try to praise and remark on the positive things about their work. I hang work etc. etc. Next week we are doing "Day of the Dead" inspired projects and I *really* hope my hard-to-engage kiddos are inspired.

And, I hope my little negative Nancy decides to take Art Club anyway.

P.S. I will say that one of my male students who got into A LOT of trouble in Art a few weeks ago was really inspired by our project this week. Turns out, he loves painting. He made one of the best works of the week, and I made sure to lay on the praise and show off his work. He just preened like a little rooster. And, me? I'm so happy I get to see this side of him and I'm sooooo thrilled that he and I could turn around our negative student/teacher relationship!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Digital Avatars in the Classroom

A few years ago my then media specialist (who is now a professional ceramicist!) taught me about a cool online program called, Voki. Voki is a website that allows you to create a customized, personal, animated avatar. . .that speaks! In fact, if you have access to a cell phone or a microphone, you can even use your own voice. If not, there are plenty of voices from which to choose.

She discovered it was used for mainly social means, but she saw the potential for education. As I am total technology nerd, I quickly developed ways to incorporate this totally engaging digital exploration into my digital art class. My students -at that time- created wikis about famous artists. They had to create a Voki of their chosen artist and articulate that Voki. It was SOOO cool. We ended up with animated version of Pollock, Rothko, and Warhol that spoke right to us.

Well, Voki has discovered the "untapped" resource of education and now has an entire Voki service devoted to students and teachers. I REALLY encourage you to go and try it out (I promise they haven't paid me). I believe this resource has endless ways to be used as both an engagement tool and a means for higher order thinking skills. . .Also, in tons of different courses. It would make you look so slick to bring up Voki's at your school's next collaboration meeting (just sayin').

Above, you can see a Voki I created for one of the several claymation websites I've developed in the past few years for student use (you can check one out here). Enjoy!

Friday, September 23, 2011


A collaborative tessellation I supervised during a curriculum night years ago

This next week my 7th graders are going to be doing tessellations. I do a tessellation project based on an equilateral triangle. There are tons of great tessellelation ideas online!! Tessellations is a great cross-curricular math-based art project. . .So, if you're in need of something like that, this is a good one for the "lesson plan arsenal."

My students begin by creating three symmetrical faces. I encourage them to add in "funky" extras like cool hair, glasses, earrings, etc. etc. Next, students draw one half of each face onto one edge of an equilateral triangle. Students need to either trace over darkly with pencil or trace with black pen. They cut out their triangles and I make multiple copies for them on the school copier. They cut, color and assemble their triangles into an amazing tessellation.

The only rubs with this assignment are students forgetting to put names on triangles and then they get "stolen" (i.e. lost!) and students cutting off the black lines of the triangle. It is important to have the black lines of the triangle so students can have the most accurate cut when assembling their tessellations.

So, to solve this issue, I made this handy-dandy worksheet that has a built-in safety net for that. I used an exemplar image from another site, and you will see that citation on the worksheet. Enjoy and share, but do not financially profit or sell. You can click (to make bigger) and then right click and save this one. . . .

Click to see a bigger version

Or, you can download this version here:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Try a Little Tenderness

I'm working really hard to develop quality relationships with my students. I believe this will help me to remember to be graceful with them, as they endure much AND I believe it will help with classroom management.

Today, a student asked me if I had always loved art. I replied: "Yeah. I went to college and studied art."

Immediately, one of my "blurters" said: "You got to go to college?! Wow. You are LUCKY!"

Yes. Yes, I am. ;)

Monday, September 19, 2011

This, That, and The Other

I miss you guys. . .I miss posting. Honestly, my lack of posting isn't because I'm lost under a stack of paperwork. Oddly enough, I seem to be hitting my stride with all of that. I'm a lady who likes to get that "stuff" off of her desk. So, typically, I divide and conquer that paperwork. Yay!


What I am lacking is some posts about lesson plans. I do have several ready-to-go. I am however, submitting some of these to publications for review. And, while I am intensely inspired by all of you, rest assured these are all original (to my brain at any rate). It is frowned upon to submit and/or publish information to other publications simultaneously, and I suppose that applies to blogs as well. So upon the (likely) rejections, I'll be posting them here.


As we are all now "in-school" I just want to remind you to be careful about posting images that include your students' faces. Many schools do have sign-off sheets about printing student names and images on the internet. Please double-check your school's policy about posting such information on blogs.

My school has a very public-access Art blog. Since there is no log-in for parents; it is not secure. This means that anyone can view, right-click and save any image they see. . .Just like here on blogger. My school last year had a log-in, but the sign-off permission sheets about student images only permitted posting images on the school-secure websites.

I am not a parent. But, I do know that should I ever be blessed in that manner, I will be very restrictive about my child's face and the internet. I wouldn't want creeps looking at his/her baby/childhood images now or ever. I would flip-out (to put it mildly) if my kid's face (or niece's or nephew's) showed up on the internet without my permission. And, you know, a lot of parents, guardians, and school administrations feel the same. Protect yourself accordingly.


My school has some discipline problems. When I talk to other educators and educational professionals about how trying this atmosphere is, I am met by an almost unanimous response. It seems many feel that I need to put in my "time" in a Title I school in my county in order to be "transferred" to another, non-Title I school next year. There have been a lot of comments about "cutting your teeth," "paying your dues" etc. etc.

And, they're probably all right.

But, I would like to point out something my sister, a child life professional, pointed out. When we discussed the whole "paying my dues" thing she said: "That is just so sad. These kids are human beings; they matter too." See, my sister works with severely poor kids who are in very ill or life-threatening situations in a hospital. She is so great that at the ripe age of 25 she is running the department. While not a highly empathetic person, she does highly value life and other the rights of other humans. I've never seen her judge parents' decisions about their child's health (and trust me, there are a lot of situations where it is easy to get "judgy"). Her point is that we shouldn't be "putting in time," "cutting teeth," or "paying dues" with Title I schools. We should be teaching there with as much grace, professionalism, and hope as we can. Instead of focusing on when we leave or simply surviving a year or two, we should focus on how we can have a positive impact now.

Her words meant more to me than I can tell you. I definitely put on my big girl panties today and felt that it went much better than usual. What do you think about this attitude of "paying dues" in tough schools?


I'm so excited because in three weeks the Visual Arts Coordinator for my county is hosting an after-school get together for all of the Middle School teachers. We are going to share lesson plans and ideas. . .But most importantly we are going to talk about classroom management strategies and engagement activities. I'm so excited. I can't wait to pick up some more CM strategies to add to my arsenal. If you were going to this meeting what would you most want to share and what would you most want to learn?

I hope your week is off to a great start!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Visual Art Standards Matrix

After the past four years of teaching in a zero-accountability atmosphere, you can imagine this year has been a bit of a head-spin for me. Everyday, I feel like I am struggling to catch my breath. This past week was the first one wherein I felt, "Okay. I got this." And, let me tell you, I'm the original "I got this!" girl. It is hard. And, while I have mixed feelings about the current level of teacher accountability (do students and parents have any accountability? I can't tell?), I do very much prefer having some accountability.

Here is the issue with a zero accountability environment: Some kids will get educated and some will not. No one will know, and it is unclear if anyone cares. The other issue is that there is no way for your administrator to evaluate you. . .And, imagine if all that kept you employed was if your administration personally liked you or not. I know it often does feel that way, but at least when there is some accountability there is a method for measurement. It isn't perfect, but hey, it is better than "I like you; I like this." My final issue with zero accountability is everyone is getting paid the same whether or not they are doing the work. Work with some folks who don't work and earn the same as you. . .It will eventually chafe.

I was flummoxed to hear at my pre-service training for my county that I had to have a "Standards Wall" wherein I kept a list of what we were learning. . . AND, that this wall had to be interactive for students. This Standards Wall is a replacement for the "outdated" Word Wall concept. After the exhaustive explanation, it seemed it was designed for year-long "traditional" studies, NOT the 9-week cyclical Connections (Music, P.E., Art etc.) courses. My fellow art teachers and I pointed this out, only to be met with the (typical) bureaucratic stance of "of course this works for you." Uhhhh.

Well, we sure as heck made it work for us.

At our little hold-out fine arts table, my fellow art teachers and I concocted a series of concepts for making the Standards Wall work for us. Some of us thought about creating something that met the requirements but for which we would have to do little work. I get that, and I work on the same philosophy for some items in my educational life. If I, however, have to make some big bunch of "accountability" for one of my walls, I wanted to make it WORK for me. I love this model that some of my fellow art teachers developed. It was a very collaborative experience, so I can't claim any ownership.

We decided to work on the premise below:
The idea is that you can list "1 important Standard" (I know all of our projects have at least 4-5 standards we use, but focus on one for this), and then have the subgroups for the Comprehensive Art Model follow. As a part of review my students and I devise which categories the history, elements, vocabulary, products, and personal responses to the art we are creating go. We write them on index cards and then use double-stick tape to adhere the cards to the appropriate category. I leave the cards up for the entire 9-weeks. In a way, it serves as a Word Wall and a Standard Wall. I regularly see my students reference it as we review etc. So far, I really like it, and it appears my administration does as well.

Here is what my Matrix looks like on my wall:
taken prior to school opening, so no index cards are adhered just yet!

So, take that bureaucracy! We made it work. . .And work way better than you would think.

Also, unrelated to this post, but something I want to share: One of my Georgia Art Teacher buds has started a great web space, The Crayon Lab. I hope you go and check out what is going on! She is sharing some great stuff!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Happy Labor Day!

I hope you have enjoyed yourselves and this holiday! It is my last "holiday" before Thanksgiving, so I made sure I enjoyed myself! I know for many of you this marks the end of summer vacation; may the beginnings of your new school year's be positive and productive.

I have a lesson plan posting in the works, but until then, I have something amazing to share. I was out of town over the weekend, and my mom dog-sat my maltipoo, Fred, for me. My parents live on 4 acres of wooded lot and their home is at the tippy top edge of their property. This means there is a long, winding driveway that goes through the woods and over a bridge.

While leaving yesterday I spied a hawk on the side of the drive with a freshly killed squirrel. The squirrel was too big for the hawk to fly away with, so he was eating. . . a la carte? The local squirrels wanted him to go away so they grouped up and started aggressively chattering at him. This made him VERY angry and he squawked and spread his wings to full span.

sorry for the blurry image. Fred and I were moving around in excitement and it is shot with a phone!

During all of this I was about 4 feet away. I figured he wouldn't bother me unless he saw me as a threat to his dinner. . .But, he didn't like how excited Fred got about the squirrels and started looking at him like he was dessert!! So, we got in the car and I hung out about a foot out the passenger side window and took this film.

It was so amazing to see a wild hawk doing his hawky thing!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lesson Plan: John James Audubon and Texture Techniques

I love drawing birds. Oddly, it isn't something I would think of if someone asked: "what do you like to draw?" But, if you look at my portfolio birds appear over and over again. Well, birds and squirrels ! I love squirrels too! Birds have easy-to-draw bodies, and not unlike butterflies, if you get the coloring wrong, they can still look fantastic. I find that a drawing assignment for students wherein they have to draw birds is always successful. Furthermore, I find it helps my students to bridge the gap between drawing what they know, and drawing what they see.

My 6th grade students created these sweet birds during a recent unit on John James Audubon. We created an interdisciplinary unit by connecting the work of Audubon to nature conservation and recording. . .My students got a huge kick out of the fact that Audubon would sometimes kill the birds in order to observe them more closely!

While typical Audubon projects would focus on watercolors, I decided to focus on oil pastels. My students tend to be heavy-handed with materials and I think they will really struggle with applying watercolors so that they look like watercolors and not tempera paint. Notice, I said "they will struggle" because we will climb that mountain, but I want them to have more control over their drawing skills before we get to that place.
So, instead, we used a medium they really seem to like: oil pastels. For the first day of this project, we all worked on creating texture using four different shading techniques: blending, impasto, hatching, and fragmenting. Each student created a texture "cheat sheet" they could reference later in the project. Their final project was to observe a photo of a real bird and to draw it as realistically as possible. They were required to incorporate at least one texture technique into their composition.
My students really loved this project. It was a real success for them. As an added bonus: this class is a inclusion classroom and we had several students with specific abilities. Several of these students haven't been able to participate in art in the past (I wasn't their teacher!), but were able to fully participate in this project. Awesome!

Here is the Lesson Plan:

Here is a video I made -using my Doc Camera- of me making the texture cheat sheet in class. I edited it for the web. My absent students were able to use this video to catch up!

Here is a mash-up of several presentations from slideshare that I pushed together to make what I needed:

Here is a presentation demonstrating several student exemplars.
Audubon birds in process
View more presentations from ksumatarted.

The format for these lesson plans is one that I use for my school. I did not create this lesson plan, so while you are welcome to use it, please be careful to not violate copyrights when sharing.

**you are welcome to share this lesson plan on your website or blog but please credit Artful Artsy Amy as the source. Please do not re-publish this lesson plan for profit or for a grade.**