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!