Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What does my art room look like?

For me summer vacation is an enticing time filled will travel, iced coffee, sunshine, and TIME TO READ!!!!, but sometimes transitioning from my school's every day rhythm into summer vacay is a challenge for me. The end of the school year is always such a busy time filled with field days, returning work, art room supply clean-up, organization. Year end good-byes seem to happen in an instant and the energy that propelled an entire 180 days comes to an abrupt halt. School's been out for less one week and in order to provide myself with some personal closure to the school year, I felt compelled to make some art about our art room adventures this year.

"What does your classroom look like?" is a common question asked to many prospective teachers during interviews. Well, a picture's worth one thousand words, so here is my answer in a visual format!

Blogger friends, do any of you ever use the sights, sounds, conversations, artwork from your classroom as inspiration for your own art work?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


This year I tried a fun, new project with my 5th graders called Rock Thoughts. I found out about the web-based story telling project that is Rock Thoughts via Mrs. Hahn’s Mini Matisse Blog. To read a detailed description of how the process works, you can visit Mrs. Hahn’s website by clicking here. She does a phenomenal job of describing each step of the process. You can also visit the official Rock Thoughts website by clicking here. The project is simplified when you work with great teachers like I do who help to make the project a school wide collaboration. For this project I teamed up with the Librarian at my school to help with the word processing component.

The project does entail a hearty amount of prep work, but the results are totally worth it! This project actually started last summer, when I ventured into a dried up tributary of the Susquehanna River with 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Barrett. We collected over 100 rocks, looking for shapes that would be inspiring for 5th grade artists. does this project work?

Students will design and paint a rock character in art class. A special, code number will be placed on the bottom of each rock.

 Students will create the beginning of a story about your rock character.

Students will type, edit, and proofread this story in Library class. This story will be put up on the Rock Thoughts website.

Students will hide your rock somewhere out in the world! Anywhere you want. Seriously, anywhere!

A mystery person will find your rock, look up your rock’s number on the Rock Thoughts website and continue your rock’s journey through story!

Students rocks will circle the globe, achieving pure awesomeness!  
The process was a little abstract for the students on the first day, so I provided the following two examples I whipped up myself. Here's a sneak-peak from my PowerPoint.

Below are some examples of finished student rock art showcased with their writing.

Old Dan Hoover
         Old Dan Hoover is an old man who is 79 years old. He wants to stay healthy so he eats his fruits and vegetables and goes to the gym on Fridays with his other older friends to do stretches. One Friday, he met up with his buds at 12:00 p.m. to do their usual stretches. First, they did one lap around the gym. Next, they touched their toes and did jumping jacks. His friend Bill did extra everything, and looked really sweaty. Old Dan Hoover started worrying, but said nothing. Then after a few more stretches, Bill collapsed and started breathing heavily.


         Hello, my name is Littledude. Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I live in Sarasota, Florida, but I am originally from Sayre, Pennsylvania. I play football. I love to listen to rock music. I hang out with a group of hard rockers.
         I always dream about catching mice filled with catnip in an endless meadow. My favorite thing to eat is popcorn with catnip. I like to watch “Hawaii Five O”. I am very nice and outgoing.
         One day I saw the door open. I wanted to go out to the meadow, but I was scared. What do you think I should do? How do you think the door got open? 


Crocy the Crocodile
         “Crocy the Crocodile” was a grouchy crocodile. He lived in Florida in a zoo. He wanted to go out in the sea so could be free. One day “Crocy the Crocodile got out of his cage. He ran to the nearest river and he jumped in. Right when he was about to swim away the zoo keeper grabbed a net, started walking towards Crocy, and BOOM! Just like that, Crocy Crocodile ran. He ran so fast that he did not know where he was. He found himself in Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie. He was happy but, THEN…. 


“Elvis Presley”
Hi, my name is Elvis Presley. I like to listen to rock and roll music. I like to eat ice cream. My favorite kind is Panda Paws. My voice is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
I live in Las Vegas. I have always had a dream. My dream was to be a rock star. I have all ways been a ladies man. I think I’m a ladies man because of my good looks.


Tena T-rex
Hi I’m Tena t-rex. I’m off to the dino. race! I have to pick up my race number. “Hi Rosey” I said “can I have my number?” “Here, take number 26”said Rosey “Thanks” I said, I got to the starting line. Everybody is in lime. The announcer announces “Ready…set…go!” 15 miles in I ….     


I am Hershey the rock.  I live on a windowsill in a pet store.  I want to go to Myrtle Beach. My favorite song is “Drop the World” by Little Wayne. Also, my pet store is located in Florida.
         I am always upset because I want to leave the pet store. Then one day the window opened and I fell out.  Next, a squirrel picked me up and took me to her nest. I almost got eaten but luckily I fell out of her mouth just in time.  


The Amazing Adventure of Oinkers 

Hello, my name is Oinkers and I live in this tiny house. I asked my friend Damion if he would take me outside. Of course, he did. I went walking around and Damion said he would be right back. By the time he came back I was already down by the creek. I can remember Damion yelling me. So I slept outside like camping. When I awoke I was lost in a new world.
         It was a brisk, cool morning when Dawn woke up. Dawn was a dove who was on vacation in the woods with her grandma, not far from her old nest on the H. Austin Snyder Elementary roof. Dawn’s grandma sent Dawn to the store. Then all of the sudden she heard the loudest boom she ever heard and at the same time pain shot through her as fast as a lightning bolt! To her dismay, Dawn realized hunting season had started.


         This is my rock named Wolf. He’s from Alaska.  He lives in Hawaii currently. He hangs out with MRS. KITTY (his girlfriend). He is always funny. He dreams of eating a 1,000 coconut flavored dog biscuits while surfing. He likes to eat coconuts at the beach. He likes the best rap music on the beach. He likes to go scuba diving. He likes to watch GOLD RUSH because he’s from Alaska...
Sally Sombrero
         Once upon a time there was a little rock named Sally Sombrero who lived in a hat store. She always wanted to see what it looked like outside .So one night she snuck off the rack .She saw a sombrero dancing, singing and laughing and more! She was curious and went and met her good friend Pedro. So they went to The Jumping Bean CafĂ© and saw a dance off. After they got done a girl named Juan came over and asked “Do you want to go dance against me?” Sally said, “Yes!” So they went to dance for hours and hours . Finally, the judges answered it was Sally sombrero the winner.                                                
Rock Lewis JR
Hi my name is Rock Lewis JR. I live in the Baltimore Ravens Stadium. Something bad happened to me though I was on the field and I got stuck in Ray Lewis’s cleat while he sacked Andrew Luck. If you find me please return me to Rock Lewis, or Ray Lewis (that’s who I wanted to be named after.) I forgot to tell you, if you don’t hurry I will miss my tryouts for my favorite Rock Football League team the Baltimore Rocks. Hurry or I’ll be late. Please help!!!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Treehouse Architecture

I tend to save some of my favorite lessons for the end of the year. This lesson is always a hit and is the perfect post field trip, post field day project. Believe it or not, tree house living is not just for kids! Tree houses are becoming more and more popular globally. A renewed passion for nature, combined with the growing availability of innovative building techniques and materials, has created a burst of imaginative treehouse construction on every continent.

"Treehouse Living: 50 Innovative Designs" Alain Laurens , La Cabane Perchee Company , Vincent Thfoin , Yann Arthus-Bertrand

I found this awesome book a few years ago that showcases some gorgeous tree houses from around the globe. The photographs are so beautiful the kids and I practically salivate over them and vow to devote our entire summer vacations to building our own elevated homes! For third graders, this project reinforces the concept of horizon line, foreground/background, architecture. I also emphasize perfecting colored pencil technical skills, showing the students how to layer and mix colors to create a gradient color effect.

We start with the horizon line and then set up our trees. At this point I have the students turn their paper over to create a "wishlist" of must haves that they would like to add to their tree house. From there, the architectural studies really begin to flow.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Musicians In Motion - 5th Grade

In honor of Spring concert season, I wanted to find a way to support and celebrate the hard work that students are doing in their music classes at my school. I bookmarked this lesson after I spied it on the  Art with Mr. Hall blog and was reminded of it when I was recently perusing "The Music of Painting," an amazing book I happened upon at a used book store.  The book provides a fascinating overview of the links between modern art and music and got me thinking a lot about how easily these disciplines hold hands.

To demonstrate the long history of artists finding inspiration from musicians, I shared the following works with my kiddos:

Charlie Bird Parker, Jean-Michel Basquiat

Philip Glass, Chuck Close

Three Musicians, Pablo Picasso

Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol

I played a short clip of each artists music and asked the kids to relate the sounds they heard to the visual information that each portraits contained. Watching the kids listening to music was a hoot and it really worked to activate their interest. We spent an entire class observing and sketching musicians from contemporary music magazines I borrowed from the music teacher. When choosing our final composition layout I emphasized cropping, simplicity, and block coloration. We added rich color to our compositions using oil pastels.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Exquisite Brainstorming with Exquisite Students

This week marks the beginning of the final nine week term at the elementary school where I teach. The time has come for me to brace for the reality that one of the finest groups of students that I ever encountered is moving on up to the high school. The 6th graders (who were my 5th graders last year when I took this job) are a remarkable bunch. If the art room were a sailing ship, and I the captain, I would endorse this group as a 100% sea worthy crew!

This week's art class allowed for some extra time after finishing the Surrealist collages (previously blogged about here) so I decided to wrap things up with a Surrealist method of idea generating called "The Exquisite Corpse." This game/brainstorming technique is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled by working on a rotating basis as an artist team.

The students begin by folding a 12" x 18" piece of paper into thirds. I gave each student a piece of vine charcoal so they could work quickly to achieve areas of dark value and shadowy details. Students began by creating the top half of any noun of their choice: a person, animal, object, or machine. After seven minutes, I explained to students how to make guide marks for the next artist,  hide their drawing, and pass the folded paper clockwise to the next artist at the table. This artist was responsible for creating a midsection or torso, and in the final seven minutes, the third artist sketched in the lower third. In the last five minutes of class students received their original drawing back and added final details and value shading. We ended class with a informal "gallery walk." 

The gallery walk simply entails the students neatly lining all of their creations up on two large tables so we can pow-wow as a group and talk about what we made. I led the group through a few key questions:

1) When you came to art class today, did you expect you would create an artwork that resembled the artwork you ended up with?
2) How is working collaboratively on one piece of art with another student different from working alone?
3) What is your reaction to completing "The Exquisite Corpse" process? What surprised you about what someone else at your table drew?

One of my students remarked that he thought the impulsive drawings of his tablemate was "fascinating." "Fascinating!" You hear that folks? I just about jumped up on the table when he said it. One of my 6th graders was bold enough to say in front of a group of his peers that he was fascinated by the drawings of others. His comment inspired a smile so robust you could have purchased advertising space on my incisors!

 It is also of note that as the students worked, blocking in each third of their communal artworks, the art room was absolutely silent. I did not mandate "Voices off" or "No Talking" the students just sunk into the process and drew. Gasps of surprise, giggles, kudos broke the silence once the students opened up the drawing to see what was created. I got to pay witness to this act of discovery, the ultimate reward of a lesson well-received.
None of the aforementioned events would be possible without students that approach their work with an open mind-- and that is what I think I will miss most about this group of kids when they move on. Doing "The Exquisite Corpse" exercise made me ponder the definition of the word "exquisite." Exquisite can be defined as  "a special beauty or charm," "admirable," "of rare excellence of execution," and "keenly responsive." All of these definitions seem apt descriptions of this group. It is so inspiring to be around students who are thirsty for knowledge, contemplative, and just over all really pleasant to be around.

Sometimes students teach their teachers things. During my first two years of teaching here in a new place these students where able to leave me with a few big ideas I won't soon forget.
1. Adopt a fearless attitude towards new things and you will never feel regret.
2. When you feel overwhelmed-- laugh, try to relax, and have fun.
3. The world is your oyster if you want it to be.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Assessment: Kindergarten Self-Portraits

One of my goals this year was to document the way I assess my students' artwork. I try to avoid assessing artwork solely on project completion but strive to find creative ways to measure understanding. I thought I'd share my thought process behind a very simple portrait lesson I tried with Kindergarten this year. I use the Getty Museum lesson planning template because the
Learning Objective-----> Activity-------> Assessment
trajectory is a logical thought process to me. They have a great "Lesson Building by Grade" which I find very helpful which you can access by clicking here.

Below are a few of the big ideas that I used to teach my Kindergarteners the basics of portraiture.

1) Learning Objective: Students learn about the life and work of an artist and speculate about his or her artistic intention in a given work.

Activity: Through guided looking, students learn about the life and portraiture of Frida Kahlo by viewing her iconic "Portrait with Bonito." Students then examine "Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear" by Vincent Van Gogh and speculate about his artistic intention.

Assessment: Students can formulate a theory about why a single element or image is included in a work of art and support their theory either with information from the artist's biography, or information found in other works of art by the same artist.

2) Learning Objective: Students identify and categorize art into different genres and categories.

Activity: Students work in groups to sort a deck of art print cards into portrait and non-portrait categories.

Assessment: Students who can accurately sort their card piles demonstrate a thorough understanding of the portrait genre. Students who successfully sort less than half of the card deck need more practice.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

African-Inspired Metal Tooling Masks

   I first learned about the art of repoussĂ© or metal tooling when examining a copy of Tutankhamun's burial mask during a touring exhibit I visiting when I was in high school. It was hard for me to imagine such delicate work was done on one solid piece of gold. "How in the world did the Egyptians do that?" I wondered. It wasn't until a few years later while doing my student teaching, I had the opportunity to try my hand at the process. I found the meticulous balance between gentle and firm to be quite meditative and I thought it would be a really great project to try with my current group of 6th graders. When I found these encouraging examples from the There's A Dragon in My Classroom Blog, I budgeted for some 36 gauge metal and the rest was art room history!

    The goals of this lesson were to tool (push or pull) the metal from both the front and the back, to create a mask that showed symmetry, and to use a variety of textures and patterns within the design. Students were shown a variety of masks that were representative of twelve different tribes in Africa. A brief PowerPoint presentation demonstrated the different ceremonial uses of the masks. We contrasted the way masks are used in American culture (holidays, theater, safety) to African culture (communal ceremonies for various rites of passage, ancestral communication, blessings, hunting expeditions, celebrations, and funerals.) The students were asked to use the visual references as a jumping off point but to instill the mask with their own creativity.

   Students added color highlights to the mask with Sharpies and then emphasized the relief and depth of the masks by using a burnishing technique using black Acrylic paint. Students used raffia and wooden beads as a textural complement their metal work.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Medieval Architecture

 So the new music teacher at my school, Mrs. G,  is ridiculously good and does great work. This Spring she will be doing a concert with 1st & 3rd grade. A common theme in both plays is fairy tales. I've gotten a jump start on making some artwork that will serve as a backdrop for the stage where the students perform their songs. The first project introduced 2nd graders to one of my favorite subjects: architecture. Castles were private homes built in the Middle Ages which started around 1000 A.D. They were different from regular homes of the time because they were made of stone instead of wood or plaster and they were fortified.

We focused on the different parts of a castle including crenelations, parapets, the keep, moats, and dungeons. While castles continued to be built well into the 1700's improved cannon fire made them more prone to attacks. Contrary to popular belief, castles were actually uncomfortable and undesirable places to live! In the 1800's castles started being built for the purpose of aesthetic beauty instead of military use.

I got the inspiration for this project from this post on Deep Space Sparkle. We used small rectangle sponges to make brick prints. I asked students to make sure they staggered their prints like a real mason does to make their walls strong. I wanted each castle to have a background so we used chalk pastels blended with a paper towel to whip up a simple sky.

 Students added details like windows, doors, knights, and trees using left over paste paper from a previous project and metallic paper. I absolutely love the results!