Monday, September 30, 2013

Everything is Right with the World

There are some days when everything just feels right. It's almost as if a switch has been turned on somewhere and every detail seems to be more clear. You can see individual blades of grass that yesterday seemed to be a sea of green, there is clarity of sound, and you can hear the solos of nature's orchestra. This happened today in the art room. It was as if time had stopped and yet every student was buzzing with creative energy. Here are some pictures of this beautiful day.

Students are using one of my favorite, water color crayons to add the finishing touches to small family portraits for Polk County Family Week.

Some students chose to work in a larger format and create a single image of them and their families doing what they would do if they had an extra 10 minutes everyday with them.
I am curious to see what the students will do on their own. For too long I have tried to be in control of their artwork, and get them to create in a certain way. Now I want to see what they can do, how they will compose the space, and how they interpret the world around them.

These are the journals that we've started where we can take notes and answer the lesson essential questions. I also hope to encourage some reflective thought in these little journals. You can also see the rubric that I'm using with the students based on the five art room 'power-ups' from my beginning of the year Prezi. 
 I look forward to having more days like this. I think that the key was the letting go, and allowing the students to have more creative freedom. It's a difficult thing to do, but I think the learning and creative rewards are worth the effort.

How have you 'let go' with your class?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Art Contests and Shows

Every year there are tons of opportunities for students to show off their artwork. In addition to the school wide art show, there are partnerships between our school district and the county tax collector, the Polk Museum of Art, as well as others that showcase our young artists. In the past it has been burdensome to select the students that will represent our school in each contest and arts showcase, but not this year! I've finally developed a system that allows the faculty and staff to vote for their favorites.

After narrowing down student submissions based on which are the most complete, fill the space with color, and have the nicest craftsmanship, I set up the voting area in the office mail room.

The front compartment holds blank ballots, and the rear compartment
holds the votes that have been cast.
Just cut a slot in the top!

I created a ballot box using two plastic food-service containers. In the top of one box I cut a slot to accept the votes. I left the other box open; the bottom compartment holds blank ballots and a pen, the top compartment holds the slotted ballot box. I placed the box on the counter below the arr work and a sign that explained voting expectations and when I would come to pick up the results.

Each student artwork gets a number to ensure that it is rated based on artistic merit rather than student favoritism.

Then the artwork is hung in the mail room where the faculty and staff vote for their favorites. 
A sign and an e-mail explain the simple process and the voting timeline. I've gotten great positive feed back on this process. Faculty enjoy seeing what the students are working on in class and being a part of
the art action.

The contest that I'm showing in this post is for Polk Family Week. I was only able to send one students artwork, and am so grateful that others actually chose the work to represent the school. It can be awkward when students say, "Mr. Briggs, why didn't you choose mine?" Now I can say, well I didn't choose, the entire teaching staff at school had a chance to vote and they chose.

I have an idea to take this a step further. In future contests, I will ask the teachers to not only make a vote, but to leave a brief comment about why they made the choice. Then I can display the works of art again in the artroom with the comments so students can see what parts of each artwork worked, or made someone vote for it. It will be great to have this specific feedback to provide the kids so they can then improve their work.

How do you select artwork for an art show?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Courtyard Fish Mystery

Sometimes the strangest things happen at school. The day the fish arrived in the courtyard of our school stands out as one those strange times. I was coming back from having lunch in the teachers lounge and ready to greet the kinders outside the art room when I noticed something unusual in the courtyard. Laying in the grass, about ten feet from the walkway was a very large, very real fish! 

One student imagined the fish as an angler from the deep.
Now if you have ever worked with kindergarten students you know how easily excited they can become. An abrupt rain shower causes a major disruption and makes it difficult to regain the attention of those young creative minds. Imagine the effects of a fish falling from the sky!  (OK, so we don't know that it fell from the sky, but there was major speculation!)

I love the use of comic style storytelling by this student.

Rather than frustrating myself by attempting to reign in their questions and observations so that I could follow the planned lessons of the day, I quickly switched gears and used this opportunity to discuss how art is a way to tell a story. We talked about how we thought the fish may have arrived on the lawn of our courtyard, what could have brought it here, what will happen to it, etc. Then I challenged the students to create a drawing that told about the mystery fish. Their drawings were great! Sadly, I sent the students on their way carrying their pictures with them not even thinking of taking any photos. 

I went to inspect the fish, which was about as long as my forearm. It had scratches on it's side that appeared to be marks from where an animal gripped it. My guess was that a very large bird had picked the fish from a nearby lake and accidentally dropped it on our campus in the middle of the orange groves. Needless to say my third grade class had already arrived and was obviously aware of the spectacle. For the rest of the afternoon we drew stories about the mystery fish. 

Here are some third grade examples:
It looks like the reason the bird may have dropped a fish in this picture is because the bird was being greedy. There is still a fish in it's mouth.

This is one of my favorites. The student imagined a magical spring that erupted in our courtyard creating a pool including the fish. As suddenly as the pool appeared, it vanished and left the poor fish without water. 

This student made an addendum to their story (in the small box) about the further mystery of when the fish disappeared. I didn't have the heart to tell the kids that the custodian came and scooped the fish into the garbage.

This hungry student imagined eating the fish.

Always a realist, this student, illustrated how a bird dropped the fish. I thought it was fitting that the bird happened to be our school mascot, the hawk.

This image makes me wonder about how students see their world. While their drawing has lovely mountains, there are none to be seen in our central Florida community.

In this take on the story, there was a flying fish and a bird companion.
   At the end of the day I learned just how creative my students can be. I love the many (kind of cookie cutter) projects I have done in the past, and I love the way some of the really neat (kind of cookie cutter) projects that one can find on Pinterest look. There is something really beautiful, however, about a student using their imagination to create art all their own with little direction from the teacher. I think this is the path I would like to follow as an art teacher; the path of exploration and open ended activity.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Flipped Art Room

I am working to transition my art room into a 'flipped' art room. What does that mean exactly? In a flipped art room students can view the content of a whole group lesson at home, and when the students are in class they can spend more time getting to the good stuff, the projects. In a flipped art room, the teacher can create a video of their whole group lesson content and post it online for the students to watch outside of class. This way the teacher will not have to repeat the content over and over as we often do when we present the same lesson day after day to a new class. Here are some samples of the video lessons that I have made for my students.

Some lesson content is basic, such as the video above. I like this because I can use it as a refresher for a student if they are struggling with the idea. The student can use the computers in the art room to watch the video on their own.

This video shows a a step by step process for creating a specific item. While I know that there are videos that already exist on making these folded books (and the other content that I have), I think it is important for my students to hear my voice, and to be able to see me. I feel kind of like their personal tutor when they are watching a video that I have created. This helps me build a relationship with the students in a school with a large students population.

The video above explains why I'm working to flip my classroom. It was made as part of an online class that I took through the FIZZ institute. In addition to the reasons that I talk about in the above video, I am also hoping to create transparency in the art room. I want parents and families to know what their students are learning during their time in art. The videos also help me to reflect on the content that I convey to my students, and on the effectiveness and clarity of my teaching.

 As I mentioned above I am working towards making this transition, it's a continuing process that has taken some time. While I have made many videos already, I am still working on how to best get the students to watch them. Last year I gave students a mailing label with the link printed on. This year I have embedded videos on my art room website. Now that I have students watching the videos, I am working on a plan to get the students to actively use the content. One of my next goals is for students to create their own videos to explain the art concepts that they have used in their artwork. As Aristotle is quoted, "Teaching is the highest form of learning."

Have you used a 'flipped class room' construct in your art room? What successes or difficulties have you had?

Uniform of an Art Teacher

As artists we take inspiration from many places. This year I took inspiration from the POTUS. I read an article about President Obama this summer by Michael Lewis and this part stood out to me. 

You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.” 

I had often thought about how much simpler my life would be if I didn't have to think about what I was going to be wearing the next day, or as an art teacher, what kind of mess might we make tomorrow and what can I wear for that mess. Inspired further by the simplicity of my grandfather's 'uniform' of a blue chambray shirt and jeans I decided it was time to have an art teacher uniform.

I ordered my uniform pieces from Uniform Warehouse. The pants and the shirt are a poly/cotton blend that I think will resist stains better than the standard button downs and chinos I would usually wear. I also like to wear fun socks, they are one of the only items of clothing that I actually like to buy.

So there it is, a simple uniform makes it easy to dress in the morning and clears my conscious about getting stains on clothes that I might wear outside of work.

What are some ways you have simplified your days to make teaching a little easier?