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! 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


  1. 1
    fail to care for properly.
    "the old churchyard has been sadly neglected"
    synonyms:fail to look after, leave alone, abandondesertMore
  1. 1
    the state or fact of being uncared for.
    "animals dying through disease or neglect"
    synonyms:disrepair, dilapidation, deterioration, shabbiness, disuseabandonment
    "the place had an air of neglect"

So....yeah. It's been a while. Two and a half months. Ooops. Life has been a little intense during that time. Nothing bad, just extremely busy. In the same week I had my school art show and also moved. Life took precedent over blogging. I've got some cool projects to share in the coming weeks including the acquisition of a 3D printer. For more frequent updates, follow me on Instagram. I try to post most school days @thomas_elementary_art

Friday, February 26, 2016

2nd Grade Secret Code Collage

Do you guys know Hope Hunter Knight from Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists? Other than commenting on blogs and on Instagram, I don't know her a bit. I feel like our philosophies about art ed are very similar. We've shared several lesson ideas and this one is totally ripped off inspired by her original post

This is the second year I've done this lesson with my 2nd graders and I decided it was going to be one of our art show projects this year. The whole project is inspired by a French artist by the name of Auguste Herbin. I know a lot of artists, but he was not one of them when I came across Hope's post. I immediately knew the project would be a winner, though. Essentially, Herbin created his own "secret code" alphabet called Alphabet Plastique. 

I have my students each come up with a title consisting of one or two words. They devise a simple geometric code for each letter in their title. The codes will eventually be made out of construction paper, so they can't be too crazy complex. 

When my students did this last year, I tried to have them plan out the final version of their work in a way that didn't leave any blank space. It got a little too intense. This year, I simply gave students various rectangles of card stock and let them figure out how to best fill their paper. If there was negative space left, it wasn't a big deal. I wound up with better results and fewer headaches. Most kids filled up their page anyway. 

I'm blown away by the work my students create. I have to stop and remind myself that they were made by kids who are only 7 or 8. 

I usually post my lesson plans, but I'm not going to post here because the lesson really isn't mine to post. You can see more details over at Mrs. Knight's blog. 

Seriously. The complexity of shape and the overall design are stunning. 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

5th Grade Plush Creations

Who knew that kids would absolutely love sewing? Oh, that's right. I've taught this lesson several times. I knew that. That's why I keep teaching it. I love it when a tough 5th grade boy comes up to ask if his stitching is neat enough. That will never get old. 
I ran this lesson pretty similar to how I've done it in the past, but allowed a little more freedom this year. Originally, students made monsters. This year I told them they could make anything. The results, as usual, were really nice. 

I love how much attitude the banana has. (Bananatude?)
There isn't a whole lot of technical expertise that is required for this project. That's great for me because my crowning achievement in sewing was making a pair of boxer shorts in 8th grade home economics class. It's simple enough that every student is more than capable of making something cool, but students who have experience with sewing can really run with it and make some cool stuff. 

This guy is named Mr. Pillow. It was originally
going to be an iPad, but I like how my student
reworked his idea to make it more successful. 
My biggest suggestion with the project is making sure that students work with large enough pieces of fabric. I purchased 9x12 sheets of felt. Each student gets two, so the final piece winds up being fairly large. I originally had students use only one piece of felt, so the work was smaller and a little more difficult to work with. I keep all of the fabric scraps throughout the project and students use those for details to glue on with fabric glue once their work has been sewn and stuffed. 

This project is definitely in line with my idea of challenging 5th graders with materials as opposed to overly technical and skill based lessons. I really think it keeps a bigger percentage of students engaged and truly enjoying what they are doing in the art room. 

A Harry Potter book with stuffed covers and actual felt pages!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

1st Grade Jasper Johns Names

The art show. Hours and hours and hours of preparation for show that lasts a few hours. Is it worth it? Of course it is. Do I look for ways to make it simpler and more streamlined? Oh, yeah. 

Enter Artomé. I had been contacted by art show companies in the past, but I was always a little suspicious. I would furrow my brow and think to myself, "I don't have the budget to pay a company to do what I can do for free." I got some information from Artomé and I realized that I could streamline the entire art show by using them. After talking to some colleagues who used Artomé last year and they were please with the results. I decided to give them a shot. 

Overall, I believe using Artomé will be a good move. They frame every piece of student work - 750 for me this year. It's free. In fact, I'll make some money from the show. I had two concerns. All of the frames are the same size. That means that all of the 2D artwork at my show will be 9x12. Ideally, parents will buy the framed work and I'll earn some money for the art room, so the artwork should be something that will appeal to parents. Hmmmm.... Well, that's a bit of a challenge. Most of my lessons are larger. It has been a challenge to come up with lessons that allow for a fair amount of student choice, but still conform to the required size. I also teach lessons that don't necessarily produce "pretty art." We explore science, history, and math. I design lessons to help students learn about art and the world, not specifically so they can have something pretty to take home. 

This is a new lesson that I decided to use for an art show project this year. It's based on the work of Jasper Johns. I really liked how it allows for some messiness, but the work still comes out super cool. I would include the lesson plan, but I borrowed it from For the Love of Art
and I don't want to take credit for it. It's super simple. Take a page and have students carefully fold it in half four times. When they unfold it, they will have 16 rectangles. Students write their names in oil pastels as large as they can in each box. I found that using only capital letters worked best. Students then took a couple of classes to paint the areas around the letters, trying to loosely conform to the shape of the original rectangular fold marks. It worked perfectly for my needs and it is something that I'll definitely consider using again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Alright, folks. It's that time of the year again. Do your civic duty and vote for your favorite blog over at The Art of Ed. Hopefully mine is one of them. I'm in the elementary category. There are a lot of wonderful blogs listed. It's always a time of the year when I find new blogs that I haven't ever seen before. Good luck to all of the finalists!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Creativity Time

I'm slowly changing the way I teach. Aren't we all? Through blogs, PD (I mean PD that I seek out. Not that soul-deadening garbage we all sit through at school.), and speaking with colleagues, I try to keep up to date and make changes in my teaching that reflect what I feel is best for my students. 

This year I decided to have more fun. I already mentioned that I have more free choice options this year for students who finish early. (Blocks, Legos, pattern makers, connectagons, etc.) I'm also trying to use more fun half day or one day mini projects. Last week I did a Lego building challenge that was awesome. This week I had one rotation to fill for 2nd grade before a student teacher started with them. I introduced the Movie Mash-Up drawing prompt. Hilarity ensued. 
Fashionable Toilet - The Teen Years. Two thumbs way up!
Basically, there are three columns on a handout. Kids pick one part from each column in order to create a movie name. They then have about 30 minutes to illustrate a poster for that movie. The movie titles can be pretty wacky and that's half the fun. It really gets kids thinking about how to best represent the title. 
That baby is so loud in outer space. I'd see that movie just to find out how. 
I'm working to do more things like this. I have a lot more ideas and plenty of school year to go. Is anyone else doing something similar? Share! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Guest Post - Margaret Orr: Animator

It is my delight to introduce a guest writer for my blog today. I was recently contacted by Margaret Orr, an animator and filmmaker from Bloomington, Indiana whose short films have been featured in film festivals around the world. 

Margaret is working to raise funds in order to work with early primary grade students in Chicago Public Schools on a very innovative animation project. As you find out by reading below, Margaret has a passion for animation and truly wishes that all age levels get to experience the magic of creating their own animation project. Click here to visit her Kickstarter page.

And now, the words of animator Margaret Orr:

Film and animation are art forms that are difficult to bring into a classroom. Animation, in particular, requires a level of patience that young children simply have not yet developed. As a result, young children are rarely exposed to this art form, and often miss out on its lessons.

I am not a teacher. I’m an animator and filmmaker. I first taught animation to students when working at summer camps as a college student. In my experience, once students reach about the age of 10, they really appreciate and are sufficiently motivated by animation. They're willing to sit down and draw for hours, sometimes making several hundred individual drawings to tell their stories. But younger students, especially those aged 6-8, tend to get extremely excited about the idea of making a movie, but don't have the patience to express themselves one frame at a time.

An answer to this problem comes from the history of animation, and is the inspiration for a project I am working on called Scribble. Long before Disney, back when film was brand new, innovative artists realized that they could scratch into the emulsion of film stock to draw pictures on film. We’re doing something a little different, but the principle is the same. By drawing onto “clear leader film” (which is a fancy way of saying clear plastic film) the students can create movement quickly in an accessible way. The students can use a wide variety of techniques to animate, depending on their interest levels, patience, and skill. For instance, they can use the film like a canvas and draw across it without concern for where each individual frame is, resulting in an abstract and disjointed animation. Or they can pay closer attention to where the frames are and actually create movement from frame to frame. They can use a wide variety of materials to create the film, including sharpie markers, paint, stamps, allowing for a wide variety of aesthetics and creative choices.
So what do you need to make something similar happen in your own classroom? There’s an unlimited number of ways to go about this. For Scribble, we’re using 35 mm clear leader film, chosen because it’s thicker than 16 mm, and thus a little easier for first-graders to use. But if you’re working with older children 16 mm film will work just as well and has the added benefit of being less expensive. Set up is fairly easy. We tape brown paper on the tables, use masking tape to tape the leader film onto the paper, and mark the paper with each frame interval (for 35 mm film there is one frame for every four sprocket holes). The students draw on the film with sharpie markers. I use a film-to-digital converter to digitize the artwork and edit it into a film, but you could also purchase a projector and screen the film directly.

Out students will have the opportunity to work with professional artists to create a film that will play at film festivals. We’re working with an incredibly talented composer, Aaron Marshall, to create music for the film. I have created four films over the last four years, all of which have played at international film festivals, so I have extensive experience with the festival circuit. We want the kids to be able to see their work on a big screen, with a packed audience to applaud when their names roll across the screen at the end. This project is as much about inspiring the next generation of filmmakers as it is about creating a film.
Examples of film created in the style described in the paragraph above. Very cool!

If you would like to support the project we’re currently raising funds for Scribble on Kickstarter. We’ll be using funds raised to purchase materials (film, markers, a film-to-digital converter, etc.), pay for the time of our composer, and for entry into film festivals once the film is completed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

3rd Grade Charley Harper Inspired Cardinals

Stop! Harper time! 

Wow. That was super lame. It did make me chuckle, though. It's also true. Right before winter break is when I typically have my 3rd graders study the work of Charley Harper. The outcome is a lesson that forces students to think and create art in a new way. It also looks pretty wintery and makes for a great display.

This lesson is all about Charley Harper, an artist who lived in Ohio the majority of his life. If you're familiar with his work, you know that he uses flat, graphic shapes to create mainly images of wildlife. As my school is in Ohio, I have students all make cardinals. I don't like limiting a project that much, but it works out in this case for a couple of reasons. First, there are limitless ways to create a cardinal out of flat, graphic shapes. No two students create identical cardinals. It also gives me the opportunity to display quite a few reference pictures, so students can get a really good grasp on what they are creating. 

I have students start with about 30 minutes of small sketches. I usually have students draw quite a bit before they begin a final project and it results in more thoughtful work. Students then select their favorite sketch and use construction paper to recreate it. They then create a background. More choice is included in making the background. I demonstrate how to make trees (using a dry brush technique), how to make snowflakes (using white paint and the handle of a brush), snow drifts, berries, and bird footprints. Students chose to use any or all of those ideas to make their own background. As has been the case before, the results of this lesson are super successful. 

Download the lesson plan for this project here!

Monday, December 21, 2015

4th Grade Recycled CD Snowflakes

Another Ohio winter, another way to incorporate more recycling into my curriculum. If you've followed my blog for any amount of time, you'll know I'm pretty opposed to holiday themed projects. Holiday crafts can happen in the regular classroom. We learn about art in my room. This lesson revolves around a big part of winter- snowflakes!

About 5 years ago, a box of old software CDs was dumped in my room. You know, somebody has something that they don't really want to throw away, so they give it to the art teacher. "I had these and I thought of you!" they say. Inwardly, I'm figuring out where I can store these newly found "treasures" or how I can surreptitiously get rid of them. 

Luckily, I was able to figure out something to do with the CDs. Good thing, too. I've got enough to last me into the next decade. I had previously done a paper mosaic snowflake geometry project with my 4th graders. Looking back, it was pretty terrible. I suppose I could have switched a few things around and improved it, but I came up with this instead. 

Students study mosaic artwork as well as the natural geometry of snowflakes. I show them how to fold and cut a six sided snowflake. After that, students simply mount the snowflake on either a gold or silver poster board, trim the board, and add CD shards. The best snowflakes tend to be the ones in which students carefully match the shape of CD pieces to the design of the snowflake. The outcome can be extraordinarily beautiful. 

**Helpful hint- no amount of pounding on a CD with a hammer will break a CD into little pieces. I use my paper cutter to slice the CDs into strips which easily break apart into smaller pieces for students to use. 

Click here to download my full lesson plan!