Thursday, December 4, 2014

Snowflake Collage Villages and Bringing Joy into the Art Room

My darling sixth graders are just bereft that there are no holiday-themed projects in middle school Art. They are still young enough that, to them, this time of year means tons of holiday-themed craft making at school. . .Only, that is no longer their truth.

And, isn’t that kind of sad?  We spend so much time as adults trying to get back to the childish enthusiasm that often accompanies this time of year. . . Heck, I’m chasing childish enthusiasm pretty much all the time. Who wouldn’t want to live with that kind of inherent joy?

Apparently, we do. We (us troll-like-adults)  spend a great deal of time telling kids in both words and actions that part of growing up is letting go of things like childlike joy, enthusiasm, and silly holiday crafts.

But, y’all, my Facebook and Instagram feeds are just chock-full of holiday decorations and crafts made by artist and non-artist adults alike. Whether we are young adults or in the twilight of our lives, this time of year is forever fun-crafting time for us. Or, at least that is what most of us want.

In graduate school, one of my art education textbooks talked about the incidence of “bats” projects.  Basically, around Halloween, many Art teachers make some form of bat project with their students. These projects, according to the text book, aren’t usually very art-minded and serve littler purpose other than cute-crafting time; the text calls these project “bats” projects. And, I get their point; making bats just to have cute decorations is pretty lame. But, I see so many of you –especially elementary Art teachers- teaching units that incorporate necessary and challenging Art-related skills, standards, and cultures right alongside the cute-crafting, holiday-themed, part of a project.   

And, the results are awesome, art-minded, and obviously very emotionally fulfilling for our students.

I’m all about bringing back the joy.  I’m also all about making Art relevant and engaging for my students; which is why I designed this wee little winter-themed project for my sixth graders. It is heavily influenced by the amazing collage works and teaching styles of “ThatArtist Woman” and “Painted Paper in the Art Room” (seriously; love their blogs!).

My sixth graders are L-O-V-I-N-G this project. They are so enthusiastic about it! Gotta love their simple and uncomplicated enjoyment of “making stuff.”  

*1. Students collaged magazine images onto 12” x 14” white paper.  Initially, I told them to focus on patterns, but the ones who didn’t follow directions still had amazing results. I don’t think it matters what they glue down. It really is just adding a cool texture.

*2. Students glazed their collages with a mix of blue tempera paint and clear glossy acrylic medium. They loved this part. One told me, “Ms. Z. THIS is the kind of paint we should use ALL the time.”

*3. Students splattered-painted with white paint onto their collages to create a snow storm. In order to keep the mess –and destruction at bay- I called students over to the sink in pairs. The collage was put into a dry sink, the student dipped the brush in water-diluted white paint and shook the brush SIDEWAYS (not up-and-down) to make a “snowstorm.” You can image that they especially loved this part. They were transfixed by splatter painting and were offering friend tips on getting the “best storm” as I called them to the sink. Also, a few students held their paper and allowed the splattered drop to run down the paper. The students who did this told me that this made it look more like a snow storm. Also, while splattering painting in the sink one kid asked me, “Wow! Ms. Z. This is so much fun! How do you come up with this stuff?”

*4.  During the drying time for glaze and snowstorms (and for the early finishers who completed all of the set tasks during a class period) students drew patterns on brightly colored paper. We linked this to a recent project we did wherein we made zentangles. I made each student make four 9” x 11” zentangle designs for a community pattern paper box.

*5. Students learned how to make paper snowflakes. Only one of my seventy sixth grade students claimed to have ever made a paper snowflake before; that’s just sad, y’all. They were SO PROUD of their snowflakes. I swear, they had to show me each and every one and wait for me to ooh and ahh over it (which I did). We made pretty simple snowflakes, but if you want to be accurate (and hook in a bit more math), you should check out Phyl’s instructions for making proper snowflakesover on “There’s A Dragon in My Art Room.

*6.  Using the patterned, zentangle papers, students cut at least 5 rectangles and 5 triangles to make the houses in their villages; they glued these down.  Some students asked to deviate and make long houses and/or differently shaped houses. OF  COURSE they were allowed to do this, but many students needed the structure of “5 rectangles; 5 triangles.”

*7. We discussed how JUST having the rectangles and triangles was cool, but not especially awesome. We talked about what might make the collage awesome, and we decided on details. I encouraged students to add white square windows, lintels, chimneys, trees, etc. etc. Students were allowed to use colored sharpies on top of their cut paper. Some chose to add in Santa’s and/or Christmas trees; this was also allowed.

*8. We focused on adding MORE details. So many details. More details than you ever could imagine! ALL THE DETAILS.

*9. Students outlined their houses with a fat, black, permanent marker. I think a black oil pastel would work well, too. This helped their houses to stand-out a bit more against the busy background.

*10. Students splattered painted more snow because, hey, we needed snow ON the houses too. In retrospect, we could’ve just splattered painted once, but this was waaay more fun.

*11. Students could choose to add another paper snowflake to their composition.

 My students are still wrapping up this project; we are having a ton of fun. My sixth grade Art periods are full of the happy sounds of excited and jubilant artists. It is uplifting for me and empowering for them; truly, it is a win-win situation. Additionally, I was able to hook all the various parts of this project into our standards (collage, use of color, contrast, line, shape, form, etc. etc. etc.).

Joy is important. And, so is preserving the enthusiasm of young artists. Sometimes, you have to find ways to hook into the joy and scaffold in the important learning parts of a unit. One of my sixth graders told me (while covered in blue glaze and happily cutting out white snowflakes), “Ms. Z., this is the BEST project in Art I’ve done, EVER.”

I wouldn’t trade being able to give that kiddo THAT EXPERIENCE for the world. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lesson Plan: Islamic Stained Glass Windows

EDIT 02/10/18:  The original online application I recommended to design a mandala is no longer available for free. I found an excellent free substitute called "Mandala Maker Online." In some ways, I like it better. It's simple. The default colors are black and white (easier for printing). Students can choose how many sections for their mandala, the line weight (I encourage 8-12 pt for easy visibility), and there are multiple ways to edit. To save, students can either click "Save" (it will default save to the "downloads" or "Google drive" depending on student device), or they can right-click and save the image to the file of their choice. To easily print, I recommend inserting the finished and saved mandala into a Word, Publisher, or Google Doc to ensure compatibility with the 8.5 x 11 inch dimensions. Enjoy!! 

Remember clear transparency film we used on old overhead projectors? Send out an email to your colleagues and say that you need a few sheets. I’ve done this at my past three schools and have received dozens of boxes of the stuff in return! Us teachers, we are such hoarders! While no one knew what to do with the outdated material, they were loath to throw it away. . .

And, I’ve been finding incredible uses for the stuff!

My current favorite is this project (inspired by some visiting pre-service Art teachers) about Islamic Art and Architecture.

Here’s how the kids and I threw this party down.

*1. (Day One)
We studied the art and architecture of Islam using this PowerPoint I made. The presentation asks students to compare and contrast with other varieties of architecture and to hypothesize the reasons for geometric design and usage of stained glass. We focused on the Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque (sometimes called the Pink Mosque) in Shiraz, Iran as it is noted for ah-mazing stained glass.

*2. (Day One)
Together, we drew a geometric design inspired by the Islamic ideal that geometric designs emphasize the infinite power of Allah ("God" in Arabic is "Allah). through the intricacy of design and usage of circles and squares.  Muslims use complex geometry in religious art over depictions of humans because they are not supposed to use graven images in art. The more complex a design, the more it represents the infinite power of Allah. We used compasses and protractors to measure out our angles and circles. We did this together because it is pretty tough. . .But, I felt –and do feel- that it is important for them to understand the math behind this art.

*3 (Day Two)
We went to the computer lab. We discussed divine geometry and I showed them this awesome, online, free application that helps you draw complex geometric shapes based on divine geometry ( . Students “played” and then printed their designs.

*4 (Day Three)
We used transparency film, tape, and colored sharpies to trace and color our design. Pro tip: use colored sharpies first AND then use black sharpies to avoid “yucking-out” your light-colored markers!

*5 (Day Four)
We continued coloring on our transparency film. I introduced the final step, which was to create a frame for your glass. I modeled this, provided students with a Islamic-design-sheet for inspiration, and gave them white prismacolor colored pencils to create their designs.

*6 (Day Five)
We continued on our films and frames. Students hot-glued their film to their frames (use low temp glue guns or else your plastic will melt; you could use regular glue but I wanted to finish on the 5th day). Originally, I was going to give the students foam tape to build and allow them to build up space between a white sheet of paper and their frame in order to create shadows. . .But, we tried it and it looked lame.  Instead, the kids asked if they could hang them in the window, “like they did at that Pink Mosque!” We did and it was about 100x’s more awesome than my idea. Kids are amaze-balls like that! 

Here is some unexpected awesomeness from this project
-OMG kids love colored sharpies. They were SO respectful with them, and were SO eager to create using them. I love sharpies too!

-Hanging the work in the window created an instant-critique experience for the students. The early finishers sat and talked about their artwork for over ten minutes (!). I know! I timed them!!

-The artwork is really an experience. The other students LOVE it too. And, it is exciting to look at it.

Enjoy! And, if you teach this lesson . . . Share your pics with me!!


Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Best ArtEd Medieval Castle STEAM Project in the World*

A pretty castle that was difficult to defend (little to no walls!)
Look, let’s not mince words; I heart me some assemblage. Can we glue stuff? Can we tear stuff up? Can we paint it? Can we collaboratively brainstorm? Can we see if it works? Can we just try it? Can we make a mess? Oh, I am SO there for that.

And, most middle school kids are too.

Now, y’all, assemblage does make those ole administrative observations a little daunting. . .I know my administrator was a little unnerved by the whole 17 glue guns, 100 lbs of cardboard, 27 pairs of scissors, and 37 students thing. But, it was SO, SO,  SO worth it. I can’t tell you the last time my students both learned so much and had such a good time.
Glue guns forever.

Here’s how we threw this thing down!

*1. We studied linear perspective (hey, you wanna have fun; you gots to learn). I used this wonderful aerial perspective lesson. I don’t usuallyendorse paid lesson plans, but this one is worth Every. Little. Penny. 5-6 class periods.
One of my student's aerial perspective works

*2. We studied the traditional architectural elements (and function of) medieval castles. Also, for fun, we looked at these videos to learn more about castles, warfare, and armor.  1-2 class periods.

*3. We used the worksheet below as reference and we drew an aerial view of a self-designed castle. We had 5 required architectural elements, and had to choose 5 more elements from a list of 14. I emphasized using architectural short-hand. 1-2 class periods.

*4. We assembled into student-selected groups of 2-4 students, and chose our favorite castle blueprint to build
a particularly epic blueprint

*5. We utilized recycled cardboard, glue guns, scissors, yarn, paint, and paper to build our castles. 6 class periods.
On my projector throughout the project. Safety first, y'all. 

Not.One.Child. is off-task. Really. No, really.

*6. We were given 9 popsicle sticks, 6 rubber bands, and 1 plastic cap to build a working catapult.We viewed a Bill Nye video about fulcrums for inspiration.  1 class period.
There was a variety of design
The winning catapult. It was undefeated. . .And, designed by a group of ladies. 

*7. We went outside and conducted a siege tournament against one another’s castles using our catapults. 1 class period.
SIEGE! OMGosh y'all, I wish you could see their faces. They were so serious. Like, this was life and death! My parapro and I were holding back giggles the whole time! Also, yes, you must wear a crown if you are sieging another castle! Duh, you're the sovereign!

This group went undefeated. . .until the final round. . .

. . .When they were trumped by these two very charming budding engineers. 

This is one of my favorite projects I’ve taught, ever. Here’s the thing, it’s not really about the product at all. Sure, castles are hecka awesome, and who doesn’t love assemblage and tearing stuff up? But, what the kids really learn is how to brainstorm, how to creatively solve problems, how to try something without fear, how to learn from mistakes, how to be a leader, how to be a follower, and how to try.

Lesson I learned #1:
Collaborative problem-solving brings out the best in many students. It was amazing and awe-inspiring to see some of the identified-as-lowest-performers in my school step up to this challenge and just knock it outta the park. I got to see an entirely different side of some students, and these students got to stand out as leaders (for some, this was the first time!); in so many ways, this unit worth it for that alone.

Lesson I learned # 2:
Kids really need opportunities to deeply creatively problem solve. Y’all. Oh, y’all. I just about died of laughter on the first day of castle building and the day of catapult building. ALL the kids wanted to Google “how-to’s.” They were beyond shocked when I told them they would only be allowed to use their mobile devices in limited manners. One kiddo famously shouted, “What?! We can’t use directions!?” Kids today are so used to finding answers on a worksheet, on a device, or from an adult. I don’t know if we started spoon-feeding kiddos because of the pressure of standardized tests or if it has always been a prevalent problem. . . But yowza, I was stunned to see how challenged they were to use a cardboard box. Later, I was super-proud to see how deftly they dealt with the learning curve. Additionally, it was awesome to witness the sense of accomplishment they had when they solved their identified problem (building a turret, a portcullis, an arrow slit, crenellation, etc. etc.).

Lesson I learned #3:
Competition really motivates kids. Okay, I knew this one. . .But, wow, my kiddos got super-competitive and it really motivated them. They knew from day-one that we would eventually conduct a siege tournament and that there would be an identified “winning” group. This knowledge informed the building of their castle defenses and their catapults. The kids quickly figured out that they wanted to build castles with HIGH walls, and catapults that projected items out instead of up. I’m not sure if they would have made these connections on their own without the element of competition.

Lesson I learned #4: It’s okay to have fun. SAY IT WITH ME: “It is okay to have fun.” In this climate of high-stakes testing, 1200 observations-a-year, and proving that you aren’t bad (eep, you know you feel that way sometimes), we often forget that the most profound learning is FUN. Think back to your favorite middle school education-lessons. I’m betting that there was an element of fun to whatever it was you did. I know that my kids may not remember what the heck ashlar is (and does it really matter?), but they will remember how it feels to be confident about problem-solving, how to listen to others, and how to take-charge when you have a good idea. . . And, a lot of that is because we went outside and projected spitballs at one another’s art in order to win a donut.

Mmmm donuts. J

The Best ArtEd Medieval Castle STEAM Project in the World*
*according to me

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Copper Repousse Celtic Knot Jewelry

When my 8th graders saw that my 7th graders “got” to use copper they all but demanded that they (the upperclassman) should get to do it too.

Sad thing, though, is that I was really low on copper.

Yet, I couldn’t help but want to give in to their enthusiasm. Anytime kids are demanding and/are willing to do something deep and creative in Art class; I try to make it happen.

Hence, the invention of this wee little project.

*1. We learned about Celtic art and the history of Celtic metal-working

*2. We practiced drawing our own Celtic knots using a dot matrix (easily found online)

*3. We designed our own Celtic knots

*4. We watched a demonstration –by me- on copper repousse and learned about tooling and chasing

*5. We designed 4 pendants.

*6. The first 1-2 pendants could be copied from existing Celtic knot designs (this enabled students to practice repousse without sacrificing design)

*7. The 2-4 pendants must be original in design and did not necessarily have to be Celtic. Many students chose to do monograms and/or other designs.

*8. We added a patina to our designs. We did this by painting the copper with india ink cut with soap, allowing it to try, and then “scrubbing” the copper with a kitchen dish scrubber.

*9. We added a felt bail, felt backer (to protect our skin and to enable the bail better attachment). We used E6000 glue since copper conducts heat so well that glue guns endangered us to burns.

*10. We took our pendants outside and sealed them with clear acrylic spray. Yup. Felt included. Worked fine. J

*11. We strung our pendants on cording.

This project took –from start to finish- two weeks of 45 minute class periods. I taught it to two sections of my 8th grade students. One is my regular 8th grade Art class. The other is my advanced content, year-long Art class. My advanced students had more choice with regards to their design and their patinas. In fact, my advanced kiddos are STILL working on these.  They made much more detailed designs and feel much more proprietorial about their work. The advanced students also had a choose of three different patinas: 1) black india ink patina, 2) green ammonia fume patina (expose copper to ammonia fumes for 2-3 days it turns green), and 3) super shiny (soak copper in Coca-Cola overnight and it gets real shiny). I’ll be sure to share the advanced kiddo’s pendants with you as they finish. 
Pendants in the Ammonia Bath before we sealed it up!