Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Thoughts About Change


It's something I've been thinking about quite a bit lately. I feel like I do a pretty good job as an art educator, but I'm intrigued by some new (or not so new) ideas that I've come across lately. 

I suppose I should start by explaining my teaching style and background. Art has always been "my thing." I graduated from Columbus College of Art & Design and went directly into the Master's program for art education at The Ohio State University. My education has greatly influenced my style. Technique and technical skills were often at the heart of my own arts education. 

As I develop lesson plans for my students, I use art, literature, and techniques as the basis for most of the projects I create. For example, a very popular lesson that I've posted about in the past is my totem pole project. The heart of the project is stylization. Students discuss and visually dissect culturally accurate examples of Pacific Northwest Native Americans. Students take quite a bit of time to develop good drawings of an animal of their choice in order to make it stylistically match the artwork we are studying. The final version of the project is a beautiful and often quite intricate collage of construction paper. Because we spend so much time developing drawings and studying art, this is an extremely successful project. 

Enter meetings with my elementary art colleagues. My district currently has 12 elementary buildings and the same number of elementary art teachers. Of the 12 of us, three run choice based classrooms. I'm intrigued by the idea of choice based art because I can see that students of those three teachers are doing work that is more personally meaningful. There is often deeper thought in the student work and I like the flow of work from one project to the next. I have added quite a bit of choice into my projects, but there is always a lesson plan that the student choice fits into. 

My biggest struggle with purely choice based instruction is the actual artwork. Since instruction time of actual techniques is so limited, I see so many pieces of artwork that have great ideas, but poor execution or craftsmanship. I know many of my lessons are outcome based. There is a lot of good thinking and creativity that go into the lessons, but the goal is ultimately to provide learning experiences for students that provide a balance of technical skills and meaningful thinking and creativity. 

At my latest elementary art meeting, we met in the room of Mr. Callicotte, a colleague who secured funding to completely redesign his classroom. In was, in one word, stunning. He was moving toward choice based learning, but realized that different students have different learning preferences and needs. He did an activity that resulted in students figuring out what kind of environment resulted in their best work. The design of the room was such that it accommodated learning needs and provided space for different media as well as gathering space for the whole class to learn together. 

Mr. Callicotte's redesigned art classroom. New design to meet new needs. 
My current classroom. 
I feel like I'm at a crossroads for my teaching style. I want to make some changes to my space. I want to make some changes to my style in order to provide considerably more choice while still maintaining the quality of the finished art. Is there a name for this style? Maybe I'm being innovative and coming up with the missing link between traditional teaching and full choice. Probably not. I'm sure some of you are already doing this. 

Do any of you do anything similar? What are your successes and struggles? I can't wait to hear. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Back to school....now?!?

Some bloggers write all summer long. Good for you if you're one of those all-stars! Summer is definitely a break from blogging for me. My school district started the year on August 15th. You may have noticed that I haven't posted since then. Is it because my summer lasted a little longer this year. 

Do I know some sort of secret loophole embedded deep in my contract that allowed me to spend more time at the pool while the rest of the staff was busy teaching? Well, kind of. 

That part of the contract would deal with paternity leave. My wife and I welcomed our second daughter into the world on August 10th. Her name is Graylie and she's pretty awesome. 
Big sister and little sister!

I was lucky enough to be able to spend the first month of school at home to help out with the new addition to my family. 

Of course that means that I had to write a mess of sub plans and trust someone else to start the year for me. That alone was no easy task. All in all, I really enjoyed the extra family time and I know my wife appreciated the help. 

Now I'm back to school. I'm one week in and getting back into the swing of things. New posts will be coming soon. There are a lot of changes this year with the addition of traveling related arts teachers, new projects, new technology, and continued creative learning. I'm looking forward to a great year! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

3rd Grade Terra Cotta Warriors

I was lucky enough to post a student teacher again this year. It was my fourth time in the last five years and it went extremely well. Based simply when student teachers are placed in my building, I often will have them work with students on a couple of projects that will wind up in the art show. 

Miss Christie Paul, who was from The Ohio State University, worked with my students for a total of seven weeks. She had written this clay lesson previous to working with my students and I told her it was too cool not to use. 

Miss Paul led discussions about the Terra Cotta warriors found in China. Students learned that each one is different and the sculptures represented many different types of people, not just warriors. Each student first drew his or her own warrior before building it out of clay. The clay went together piece by piece over the course of about three classes and was put together using scoring and a few drops of water. Some details were carved in after the sculpture was finished. 

The warriors were bisque fired, then they needed some paint. We used a two step process that works very well for aging sculptures. Students first painted the entire piece with a mix of acrylic paints that gave it the basic warm light brown color. After that layer was dry, students went over the whole sculpture again with a wash of darker brown paint. This was almost immediately wiped off. The cool part of this technique is that the wash will fill into details and cracks which really brings out the smaller, more intricate elements of the sculpture. 

Overall, this lesson turned out very well. I'm very seriously considering using it again next year! 

Monday, June 6, 2016

End of the Year All-Stars

Here's the deal. It's been a long year. At the moment, I'm simply ready for summer. I have quite a few lessons that I was planning on writing posts for, but I'm just not going to get there. What I'll do instead is post some all-star student work from various lessons that I haven't had time to write about. I'll be back to blogging this fall. Enjoy! Happy summer!

This first project is a 5th grade sgraffito mug lesson. Slab mugs topped with black underglaze. Sgraffito done with an underwater motif. Pretty rad. My example is the first image. 

2nd Grade clay dinosaurs. Always a winner. Clay with tempera paint. 

 5th grade Keith Haring paintings inspired by what is important to each student. Neon paint- oh, yeah!

 The next project is the slab castle project by 4th grade. 

Anthropomorphic animals by third grade. This project was clear at the end of the year and it was begging for more time. I'll do it a little differently next year. They still turned out really cool. 

Finally, a fan favorite. 4th grade animal reduction prints. This rock every single year. No exception this year. 

First Grade Clay Penguins

I think Instagram has surpassed Pinterest in usefulness for me. Since Pinterest keeps adding pins of things THEY think will be interesting to me and things that THEY think I'll want to buy, half my feed is essentially junk. Conversely, there are a lot of art teachers who post relevant, real life lessons, ideas, and observations on Instagram daily. I've gotten a good amount of new lesson ideas this year from Instagram and I've had great success with them. If you want frequent updates from my classroom, follow me on Instagram @thomas_elementary_art

One Instagram post by another teacher (@mrsallainart) inspired this new first grade clay lesson. I always base my first grade ceramics project on the pinch pot. This project included a wide, shallow pinch pot as well as a simple penguin. Penguin details (wings & beak) were added by simply smoothing clay together. The penguins were scored to attach to the base. The sculpture portion was pretty fun and not too difficult for my first graders, but the killer part of the lesson was the ice. 

I bisque fired the penguins after they had been sculpted. I then added several blue decorative glass marble type things to the base of each penguin. I got the glass from the dollar store. They're not perfectly round, but I would imagine real marbles or even small pieces of other types of glass would work just fine. I re-fired at cone 05 and achieved this sweet ice effect. The glass melted very nicely. I just recommend that you put plenty of glass in. I wound up adding more glass and re-firing the first set that I tried because they needed more glass to cover the bottom. 

This project was a big hit with the first graders and everyone up through 5th grade was super jealous that they didn't get to make one. I guess that's one way of knowing a lesson was successful. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Quest for Three Dimensions

Ok. Back to a regular posting schedule. I'm excited about this one. Really excited. 

About this time last year, I scheduled my art show with an outside company called Artomé. My building keeps growing right along with my student population. Seriously. We're putting on our second addition as I'm sitting here typing this. I decided to use Artomé to try to make the art show a bit easier. It definitely worked, but more to come with that in a later post. 

Another benefit of using Artomé is that it's also a fundraiser. That aspect became a bit of a conundrum. My yearly budget, though it has declined as I have gotten more students, is sufficient. I'm very lucky. I was thinking that whatever money I would raise through the art show could go toward a larger piece of equipment. What would it be, though? A printing press? No, one press for a class of 30+ doesn't make sense. A glass kiln? No. Not necessary. What could I possibly get? I then had that aha moment. A 3D printer. 

Then came the next problem. 3D printers cost money- a lot of money. I hoped to raise $500-600 at my art show, but the printer I had my eye on cost quite a bit more than that. I researched grants and came across one that I applied for and got. I presented to PTO. They were pumped up about it and granted my request for funds. I then had my art show and raised nearly $900. All of my work and preparation paid off. I bought my printer- the Ultimaker 2+ (at a 10% educator discount!) 
A collection of pre-loaded designs. 

I'm using some spare time this spring learning how to use it. It's pretty easy to get running, actually. Even though I hadn't ever even seen a 3D printer in person, I had it running 30 minutes after it was out of the box. I've been doing a series of test prints recently. Some are things that were pre-loaded on the memory card, some are my designs, and some are files from online sources. I'm wrapping my head around what the printer can do so I can design curriculum around it for next year. 
Holy Cretaceous Period, Batman! 

My plan is to use it with my 4th and 5th grade students next year. There is a free online program called Tinkercad that is pretty intuitive to use. A colleague of mine even uses it with 1st graders. I'm currently brainstorming ideas to use for lessons. Ideally, I'd like to develop something that will display well together. For example, my colleague built upon the idea of an imaginary world. One grade level designed buildings, another did public art, etc. You get the idea. 

Have any of you worked with a 3D printer in your classroom before? What have you done with it? I'm super excited to see it fully in action next year!