Sunday, September 29, 2013

Play with Art

I had so much fun playing with Anish Kapoor’s Untitled from 2010 at The High Museum of Art. But, my favorite part was seeing this gentleman get out of his chair to play with it. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Pop Art Candy Wrappers and Prang Product Review

This past Summer, DixonTiconderoga Company contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing a few of their products.  I’ve never known any Art teacher to turn away free products, and I am no different.  They sent me a generous box full of Dixon Ticonderoga pencils and, Prang colored pencils (Dixon Ticonderoga is their parent brand).

Honestly, I cannot tell the difference between Dixon Ticonderoga pencils and any other brand. As a middle school Art teacher, any “Number 2” pencil is equal to any other “Number 2” pencil; if it makes a good mark, then it is a good pencil.  And, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils make a good mark; they are a good product.

But, let’s talk about Prang.  Prior to Dixon Ticonderoga contacting me, I bought a class set of Prang colored pencils for my 8th grade students. I have used Prang colored pencils in the past, and was impressed with their quality. It is important to me my oldest (and most advanced) students have an opportunity to work with quality products.  In my fantasy middle school classroom, I would love to have a class set of Prismacolor colored pencils. . .But, that is as unrealistic as it is expensive!  I decided to add the Prang colored pencils Dixon Ticonderoga sent me with my class set, and allow my 8th graders to use and review the products. 

Below is the work they created whilst reviewing the products. I will go over the lesson, and then include their reviews of the products at the end of the post.

Pop Art Candy Wrappers
Time needed:
-Six, 45-minute sessions

You will need:
-black construction paper (18” x 24”)
-colored pencils
-color print-outs of candy wrappers and/or candy wrappers

A note about black paper: In my Art room, we use as much black paper as we do white paper.  I like for students to work on black paper because it forces them to fully cover the paper with color in order to achieve the desired effect.  The final works are higher quality. It also inadvertently teaches students how to build up color and blend. ;)

1.       I went to Mike’s Candy Wrapper website, and saved a few images. I cropped the images down into interesting compositions (you could extend this project, and teach a mini-lesson on composition by having students crop their own work in the computer lab). I printed 12 color pages of small images. 

2. Students watched the following video about Pop Art, participated in a PowerPoint presentation about Pop Art, and completed a quiz about Pop Art.

3. Students selected a candy wrapper print out.

4. Students practiced drawing their print-out (and some chose to exchange for another image etc.).

5.   Students re-drew their sketch onto 18” x 24” black construction paper.

6. Students colored their work.(some students cut their paper down slightly to accommodate a square composition).

I was genuinely surprised at how “in” to this project my students were. I thought they might, at first, have issues with drawing the candy wrappers accurately and/or have issues with scaling. I was prepared to offer the “grid system” for those who struggled. It turned out to be unnecessary. The students had a high-level of buy-in, and it was very important to them their work look accurate.  I expected them to default to the colors presented by the colored pencil options instead of attempting to color-match the candy wrappers. However, students actively queried how to blend colored pencils to achieve desired colors and effects. I was SO, SO, SO impressed with their level of engagement, interest, and commitment to this project.

It is definitely one I plan to teach again and again.
 Review Continued:
Previously, my students have exclusively used Crayola colored pencils for their projects. I think Crayola colored pencils are a good product for beginner and beginner-intermediate students. Prang colored pencils seem to have a higher pigment to oil ratio than Crayola colored pencils. I noticed that your get a creamier, bolder, color with Prang colored pencils.

I told my students to try the Prang colored pencils, and if they didn’t like them, to use the Crayola pencils. They noticed the difference immediately, and not a single student deigned to use Crayola colored pencils. In fact, we nearly ran out of Prang white colored pencils, and I offered students the Crayola white colored pencils (we used one class set of Prang colored pencils for 71 artworks on 18” x 24” paper). Initially, the students were willing to try the Crayola white colored pencils, but they instantly refused them when they noticed, “They aren’t as bright as the other ones, Ms. Z.!”

As you can see in the picture below, the students were really committed to finishing the proj
ect using only the Prang colored pencils.

Here are a few comments my students made about the Prang colored pencils:
“The colors are better.”
“I like how much deeper the colors look.”
“It is easier to blend these colored pencils [Prang] than the other ones [Crayola].”
“Oooh! These colored pencils are tight. I’m gonna get me some.”
“Where can I buy these colored pencils?”

Ultimately, I believe Prang colored pencils are a wonderful product for the intermediate artist. As you can see in the artworks my students made, you get a really rich application of color that enhances the final outcomes. I’ll be purchasing another class set ASAP.

I have not received any compensation for this post beyond the supplies provided to me for review by the Dixon Ticonderoga Company. The opinions are honest and reflect my (and my students') experience with the products. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Collages and Contour Portraits

 My seventh graders have been struggling to display positive behaviors during Art (and every other subject at my school). Every once in a while, you teach a group of students that is just really, really difficult. I have no explanation for it. . .And, I'm on year two of this particular group. Individually, they are an awesome group of kids (whom I love), but collectively they can really make my eye twitch. Like, a lot. Oh, well, there is also the fact that my seventh grade class sizes are 42 students and 43 students, respectively (think that might contribute?!).

Since there have been so many seventh grade hallway fights and incidences of inappropriate touch (you can only imagine what I can't write about!), I've taken to running a really tight, specific, ship during my seventh grade Art block. It isn't really my teaching style to be so draconian, but I have to be able to keep everyone safe too. The students come in, sit down, and they do not leave their seats until I dismiss them.  Every material they need is provided to them, and clean-up consists of what they can do from their seat. It makes for a lot more more, planning, and prep for me. . .But, it is soo worth it to have a productive and safe seventh grade block.

As such, I've had to change quite a few of the planned lessons for this year. This particular project was a mash up of "what can they do from their seat," and "what random stuff can I use in the supply closet?" My students have been begging to paint, so I threw together this little project to give them a taste of everything. Also, I wanted them to focus on honing their drawing skills (I like to introduce realism-based drawing skills via the grid-drawing method), but I didn't want to spend three days on drawing grids (you know it happens). I made up a quick little trick to avoid drawing grids. woot! Oh, also, the beginning collage part of this project is inspired by this project from That Artist Woman (read her blog now!).

Materials required:
-clear overhead transparencies (remember those?)
-permanent markers
-white copy paper
-leftover pieces of matboard that are too small to use for mats
-old magazines
-gesso (I had an old can, but also made a mix of white tempera/glue/water when I ran out)
-4" x 6" black and white photos of student faces

The dry materials needed, yo.

Step 1:
Take a picture of each student's face. Print out 4" x 6" on copy paper. Print out a 4"x6" rectangle 0.5" grid for each student on white paper (you can get 2 per page, I also lightened the gird a lot for the white paper print-out). Print out a 4"x6" grid on clear transparency for each student (you can get 2 per page). You will need all of this later.

Step 2:
Students cut out images from magazines that they liked, represented them, and/or spoke to them in some manner and glued them to their board.

Step 3:
Students coated their collaged board with a thin coat of gesso.

Step 4:
Students painted a gradient with cake tempera. I had my choose between yellow-red or blue-purple.

It makes more sense when you see a picture, yes?
Step 5:
Students lined up their clear transparency grid on top of their picture print-out. Students used the "grid-method" to draw their face onto their white grid paper.

Step 6:
Students trace faces with permanent marker.

Step 7:
Students cut out faces.

Step 8.
Students glued faces to dried board.

Step 9:
Students cut out the letters of their first name from magazines, and glued to board.

My students got very serious about their drawings once they realized that 1) they had to draw themselves, and 2) I told them I was going to "hang up every single one!" (but, no, not really).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

I Want You! To Change the Landscape of Education

Over a week ago, I wrote about how I felt like quitting my job as a Title I middle school teacher. I was more emotionally exhausted than serious, and my little post expounded this fact. It also exemplified how frustrated I was with my week, and the particular set of circumstances that are unique to my teaching environment.
I was surprised at the number of notes the post received, but what really surprised me was the number of people who commented to say (something along the lines of), “It gets better… I work in a great/non-urban/non-Title I school now.” 
I believe, as teachers, we feel a specific set of pressures as educational bloggers to only discuss positive behaviors/experiences/outcomes, and gloss over the negative aspects of our jobs. This is, in part, because we cannot ethically write about specific students and/or circumstances, and because we fear writing specifically about the parts of our jobs that are less-than-stellar could cost us our careers.
And, you know, it could.
But, we are also the only adults who witness the real-life, everyday reality of public schooling in America.  We get frustrated when those who do not or cannot teach make epic policy decisions that change the landscape of education, but we are too afraid to share our view of the landscape in even small manners. And, that is a huge problem.
We can’t just complain; we have to campaign.
This is not the first time in my near decade of working as a middle school teacher, that I have had other teachers advise me that “there are great schools out there.”  I’ve heard many a teacher make the statement that s/he “did their time at a bad/poor/urban  school, and now work at a good/wealthy/suburban school. “  I wonder why people with these attitudes got into a career dedicated to providing equitable access educating the huddled masses (at least as a national, aspirational ideal, if not a fact). 
I made an impassioned speech at faculty meeting this past Friday (yeah, I’mthat teacher) when I realized my Title I urban school might lose resources to a wealthy, suburban school in the same district. I’ve tried to re-create it below:
“I’m so sick of my students being overlooked in favor of wealthy students.  If the powers-that-be in educational policy-making had their students sit as one in a class of forty, the circumstances in Title I schools would change immediately.  Those with the most social and cultural capital are manipulating the system through specialized charter schools, booster programs, and private schools to ensure their children get the best of everything. And, while I admire their dedication to their children, I am here to serve all the children. We need the people with the voices to take a stand and work for what is needed and right for those without voices. The students I teach are more susceptible to dropping out of high school, to not going to college, and to having lives of crime and destitution.  And, when I see that those who have all the privileges that come with being born the racial and social majority get more programs, access, and benefits than my students, I become enraged. It has to change.”
I am a passionate educator, and I take my role as someone who has the ability to be the impetus of change seriously. While I may become frustrated inside the classroom, and talk about quitting, it is little more than smoke-blowing.  I write about my emotions, because non-teachers and new-teachers need to know that this job is emotional, and it has an ebb and flow that can change yearly, monthly, daily, weekly, and in minutes.  And, while we are all-too-familiar with the change being negative, there is no reason we can’t work together to make the change positive.
As one of 7.2 million teachers in America, it often seems as if you don’t have a voice, and don’t have the ability to curate, cultivate, or participate in change. But, you do.  Your change might be a hug given, a kind word, or a special club. It might be a presentation; it could be political stand, or a movement. But, the point is, in the face of incredible inequity, doing nothing yields nothing. 
My students and I actively study and participate in social justice. One of my favorite units uses the Berlin Wall as a metaphor for all of the modern injustices in the world.  I end the unit by showing my student the image below. It reads: “Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things that can alter the face of the world.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Free Art Ed Rubrics!

I hope your school year is off to a great start!

In the past few weeks, I've received oodles of emails from readers asking for copies of the Art Assessment for Non-Readers and the Conduct Reflection forms.  While I'm happy to email, I'm not always speedy. . .

So, without further ado, here is an "open" link to my dropbox folder wherein you can download all three of these forms.  You are welcome to share these forms with other teachers, but I do ask that you not share them publicly (on a blog etc.) without first contacting me.  The clip art on the assessments is by illustrator Mark A. Hicks, and is free for teachers to use inside educational environments thanks to the Discovery Kids clipart gallery. 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. :)

Below, are JPEG copies of the forms. Some readers are able to simply right-click and download the forms directly from the blog. Others, have had issues with size etc. (I suspect this is due to different browsers and machines etc. etc.).