Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

Friday, March 2, 2018

In Like a Lion...

March has come roaring in like a lion.  As we work in the art room at AMS, the wind is whipping around the back fields and I would not be surprised to see a house, a cow or a mean old lady on a bicycle flying through the air or between the goal posts.  It’s hard to believe that we sent home progress reports this week, marking the halfway point of third quarter.  It will be spring break before we know it and then, that long stretch until summer time will be upon us.

Every year, at mid-year, I get a new bunch of students.  I enjoy working on a semester rotation although there are always students that I wish that I could keep all year long.  The point of exploratory classes in middle school is to explore their options, so I have to let them come and go.  I usually intend to do the same projects first and second semester but that is rarely the case.  For whatever reason, last semester was rough and I didn’t enjoy very much of what we did.  This semester, I feel like starting over fresh and new.  

I usually start with line and color and move pretty quickly, particularly with my students in 7th and 8th grade.  They all should be able to remember these simple concepts, so we review and do one project that kind of does a once-over on the elements of art that they have studied previously.  This semester, I chose a simple, non-objective project based on the work of Ukranian/French artist Sonia Delaunay.  It’s fairly easy and I am able to set my expectations for craftsmanship pretty straightforwardly with this project.  It requires patience and perseverance, but there really isn’t anything much to it other than measuring correctly, following the color patterns and being neat and not ‘scribble-scabblely’ with their coloring.  Once we get the lines and circles drawn out, we can spend class time coloring and listening to music.  It’s pretty relaxing and the end product turns out pretty nicely.

Here's a few examples:

We are currently doing an artist research project and I have been shocked and surprised by how excited my students have been to work on it.  Usually, when I bring up the prospect of doing any kind of research, I can practically hear their eyes rolling in the back of their heads.  This time, I made a couple of examples of the finished product and stuck them up on the whiteboard in front of my class.  Several students, in each of my classes asked,  “Do we get to do this?” more than once.  It’s cute, it’s fun and I knew I had them with it.  I’m not gonna lie and say that I came up with the idea on my own.  On one of the several art teacher facebook groups I am a part of, someone posted a similar project where they had their students do a ‘hero’ in a similar fashion.  I just took the concept a little bit further, put some other ideas together that I found on Pinterest and created my own templates that worked for my project idea. One of my most difficult classes was the first class that I taught the lesson to, and I was being observed by folks from county office that day to make matters worse.  Somehow, the luck of the gods was on my side and the entire class was engaged, having meaningful discussions about the project and doing what they were supposed to do.  We are still working on them, but here’s a sneak preview of my examples.  I enjoyed it so much, I made four.  I know, right?  When my students finish theirs, I’ll do another post so you can see them.  They really are so excited about them.  It's so much fun listening to them talk about and discover information about artists for the first time. I love hearing their thoughts-everything old is new again. Also, I remember why I took French in middle school. They have no idea how to pronounce some of their's funny and I am sorry Mary Cassatt and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Bob Ross, my only Funko Pop! artist character has become our classroom mascot!

Students can choose to do the project in 3D.

Or they can do the project in 2D, like Vincent, shown here.

My examples, Frida, Pablo and Jean-Michel are done in 3d.  Students trace the Funko Pop! outline onto card stock using our light table, color, cut it out and attach it with paper springs.

Pablo is also in 3D.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Origami Pagoda Competition

I have been the most horrible blogger ever this year.  I've taken tons of pictures with the intent of sharing them with all of you but I just haven't gotten around to writing about them and here it is almost second semester.  I promise that I'll try my best to be better the second half of this school year.  It's only two weeks away and I am looking forward to changing classes and seeing some of my favorite faces in my classroom again.

I have to admit that first semester has been difficult.  I have had a hard time coming up with projects that were engaging for my students.  In my experience, most of the time, my students keep up with what I want them to do but for some reason this group has been rough.  I have found myself thinking and rethinking projects that would captivate and keep their interest and keep them working and excited about what they are doing.  It's not as easy as it might sound.  Being a middle school exploratory teacher can be so hard.  Students, especially 6th graders, have the mind-set that it's "happy-fun time" and don't take it seriously (until report cards come out) and don't realize that yes, our classes do count and yes, you are doing some serious learning in them and yes, YES, we are REAL teachers.  That being said, I do have some flexibility with what projects I do in order to impart the standards that NC says I need to teach my kiddos.  What I have found is that this group likes 3D projects.  They like to make things with their hands and fiddle with stuff and put things together and figure out how things work.  They got bored very quickly with basics like drawing techniques and color theory so I needed to rethink a lot of what I had planned to do this year and put in place some ideas to keep them interested, working and learning.

Over Christmas break, on one of the art teacher groups I belong to on Facebook someone shared that she had done an origami pagoda competition with her students prior to her break and that they really loved it.  I did a little bit of research and realized that the folds of the origami pagoda were very similar to the folds that we had just done with our explosion books so I thought I could build on that and I figured that maybe having a little competition would be a fun way to ease us back into the New Year.  

For whatever reason, this worked out to be one of the smartest things that I have ever done.  Have I mentioned that it is freezing cold in my little part of the world?   I know, I know, it's winter everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  I know that there are places that are colder (but not Alaska apparently).  But it has been COLD here.   We aren't made for this mess here.  We run different fuel in our school buses.  The heat pump in my house simply can't keep up with temperatures much less than freezing.  It's horrible.  And to make matters worse, it hasn't even snowed. At any rate, we've had 2 hour delays 3 out of 4 days last week, which meant that our classes were cut down to about 30 minutes a piece.  That's not a lot of time to get out art supplies and start painting or drawing or whatever-ing but it is enough time to do some origami.

I told you it was cold!  This is crazy!
I started out the lesson just showing them a couple of you tube videos about how to do the pagoda pieces.  I let them pick their own groups of 2-3 people and gave them gallon sized bags to save their pieces in.  I gave them their challenge:  Create the tallest Japanese Pagoda that stands, unassisted for at least 30 seconds and let them go at it.  On day two, I pulled out my document camera and we made the pagoda pieces step by step together.  After making one or two of the pieces with me, I'd say 90% of the kids got it and were on their way.  There were still a few kids that didn't get a couple of the steps, especially the ones at the end where you have to do some "Book Folds" and make "Barn Doors" but after some one-on-one lessons I think they finally got it.  We talked A LOT about being neat and making sure that our folds were even because we wanted our structures to be level and strong.  
Folding pagoda pieces proved to be a bit of a frustration but we eventually got it.
Simple towers of 3 or 4 pieces stand easily.
We don't usually sit on the table but when we get excited, MizzSmiff lets the rules slide a little bit.

By day three, most of the groups had quite a few pieces folded and were starting to try to build their towers.  Just as I suspected (because I am kind of smart like that) they all simply went straight up and tried to build the tallest tower from the get go, obelisk style.  And just as I suspected, they'd get about 5 or 6 pieces stacked up and down they would fall down.  "How, oh how can you make your bases stronger?" I'd ask.  And this is where we started talking about structures.  And engineering.  And architecture.  We started trying to figure out how to make our pagodas more stable. We talked about how triangles are the strongest shape because the force is spread evenly through the three sides.  We talked about reinforcing the paper to make it stronger.  They can only use the 81/2" square paper given them for the challenge (no glue, no tape, nothing but the paper), but I told them that they could alter it if they wanted to.  Some of them tore or cut the paper to make braces (they have to make their materials prior to the challenge on Monday) and some of them used 2 sheets of paper folded together to make on pagoda piece.  We talked about trusses and buttresses (yeah, that got a couple of laughs but you know...middle school) and we looked at the way the little pagoda pieces were put together in different ways so that we could figure out how we could support a tall tower. 

That's  a pretty tall tower!
No hands!
By Friday, which was day 4, we had finally gotten it and were working together to come up with solutions and working on ideas to make the tallest towers.  The kiddos were excited and BEGGED me to let them work and problem solve just one more day, and so, on Monday we are going to have the FIRST ANNUAL ORIGAMI PAGODA COMPETITION.  I'll update to let you know how it goes.  I managed to wrangle some prizes for the groups to win: Slushie passes from the cafeteria, Out of Uniform Passes, Movie Theater sized candy from the dollar store and trips to the treasure box.  I think the rest of the semester is going to be kind of a let down.  

So far, I'm thinking this 7th grade design is a winner!

Adding supports to the sides.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Wishes, Supplies and Back to School

The month of August is upon us!  A teacher friend of mine posted this meme not too long ago and it is so true! 

It seems that once August 1st. hits the calendar, summer is for all intents and purposes, over, no matter what day you report back to school.  Our 'official' teacher back to school day is August 16th. (students report on August 28th.), but my team has already been at work for a few hours this week creating our class lists for the first semester of the school year.  We are VERY grateful to be able to do this-it benefits all of us to be able to sort our students according to personalities and being that we teach them all, for all 3 years that they are in middle school we become very aware of classroom placement and it's advantages for everyone.

I've been asked to report early to our Central Office on the afternoon of the 15th. to be trained on how to train other teachers on one of the required district training days.  If you are a teacher and you are reading this, I'm sure you are smiling and nodding your head. So that is another day of my summer vacay gone.

Am I ready?  Yes and no.  It's been a good summer.  I pretty much got NOTHING on my list done that I wanted to get done, which is typical for me but I'm okay with that.  I went to the beach with my bestie for a few days which was awesome.  I had lunch with friends that exist only in cyberspace for the rest of the year.  I went to the movies.  I ripped up my carpet (I can't even...) and I have tried to embrace the change that always comes with each new school year.

I've missed my team.  I am so lucky that I work with a bunch of people that I call my friends.  So, I'll be glad to spend my days with them again.  I've missed my kids.  Mostly all of them.  I've missed being creative every. single. day. I've missed being on a schedule.  I've missed wearing pants. Ha ha. No, I haven't.  Really. No, I haven't.  

Every year, I try to avoid WalMart and Target this time of the year because of all the Back To School displays and this year is no different.  I did end up going to Target the other day (where I ran into teammate Nick, PE and Health teacher extraordinaire) looking for pastel crayola markers  which seem to be in short supply this year and I did find a few.  I haven't had to purchase as much stuff this year out of my own $$ because I've either 1. hoarded way too much in past years or 2. been frugal and stingy when passing out supplies over the last couple of years.  That being said, there are ALWAYS a few things that I can use in my art room that are either used up at the speed of light or too expensive for my meager budget.  I've created an AMAZON WISH LIST that you can access here or through the tab at the top of this page.  It will be updated throughout the year, shipped directly to Albemarle Middle School and greatly appreciated if you are so inclined to bless us with your generosity.  Thank you in advance.  

Here's to another great school year!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

It's The End of the Year (and I Feel Fine)

People.  I know. I've been away so long.  I'm sure that all 2 of you that might follow my blog on a regular basis may have thought that I have dropped off the face of the earth but I alas, I have been here.  Still doing art projects, still taking pictures but being a really, really bad blog host.  It seemed like everything got in the way, coupled with the fact that the ease that I have felt in the past uploading photos straight from my phone to this blog has become an ordeal.  I apologize for the pics down there that are sideways but as they say (or do they?) better late than never.

These sneakers are one of the last projects that we did in MizzSmiff's art room this year.  It was kind of a culmination of several things that we learned this year and I think that most of the kids did a spectacular job.  This year, I showed my kiddos tricks that artists use to make their artwork better.  While a lot of it was tedious and I thought that they were going to kill me when I made them do value scales over and over, I reminded them that artists never stop practicing their craft just like athletes never stop practicing their sport.  I shared a lot of my own experiences when I was in High School and College...learning techniques and doing what my teachers and professors asked me to do  (Mr. Tepper, I am looking at you) in order to become a better artist.

Humility is not a trait that comes easily to most middle schoolers who think they know it all.  Just sayin'.

I shared a lot of art that friends of mine, artists in their own right, are doing.  Harry, you are a God among men.  My kids marveled at your pencil portraits and you made teaching them how to draw using a grid for proportion a little easier when I showed them that you still do it that way.  Tony, your amazing paintings of contemporary athletes and sports had my kiddos enthralled.  They learned that art is a viable career.  Tommy, your incredible background paintings opened up a new world to them that they had never considered and they are now looking for your name at the end of some of their favorite cartoons. Rada, I showed them your neo-expressionist paintings and portraits and well, I need to get you in my classroom next year.  They want to meet someone who had a dream and has done his life, his way, outside of the box.  I showed them work by friends of mine that are architects, interior designers, art directors and photographers.  I showed them pottery and textiles by folks that I have met along the way.

I hope that throughout this year, my kiddos have learned that art doesn't have to be just a subject that we have to take in school.  Art is a part of our lives that can follow us all the way through.  We can appreciate it or we can make art, long after we leave school and it makes our lives better for it.  I hope we learned that art has always been a part of society and that we can learn so much about our past by looking at the art that was done at the time.  I also learned that I have a lot of amazingly creative friends and for that I am truly blessed.

Tomorrow is the last day of school and as always, I let my kiddos come down to my classroom to collect all their artwork that they have worked on, and I have held on to, all year long.  Usually, I'll get one or 2 to come down and pick up their stuff, the rest of it being left to collect dust in my  closet because I mostly don't have the heart to throw it away.  Today, I had more kids come to get their work than ever before. I hope that says something about them appreciating and valuing what they do.  I found an oil pastel still life in the closet-from-Hades done by the oldest brother (who is turning 20 shortly) of one of my sweet 6th graders (she is the last in a long line of her siblings to pass through my classroom) and when she came down to get her work, I gave it to her to give to him.  I hope he gets a chuckle out of it.

So, these sneakers.  We started out drawing some simple pictures on a grid, just transferring them from one grid to another.  I had several pictures for them to try, from flowers to violins and showed them that, by using a little viewfinder (we called it a window) that had a small 1/2" square cut into it, we could block out the big shapes and focus on the small ones.  As usual, the whole ruler, measuring and drawing straight lines made me want to jump off a cliff, but once we got past that part, they learned that by isolating the components of a drawing, and focusing on tiny parts we can make a picture that is in scale and has a level of detail and proportion that is correct like nothing we have ever done before.  The look on some of their faces when they realized that their shoes 'turned out right' was priceless and made all the "No, that is the cm side of the ruler" and "So, okay, you kind of have to line the ruler up on those little marks you made so the line is straight" comments worth it. Once our sneakers were drawn, we isolated an area for emphasis and colored that in and then did the rest of the shoe and the background in shades of gray.

I think they turned out great.  I had to convince quite a few of them to let me save some of them to display in the office over the summer.  I promised they could have them in the beginning of next year.  Which I am not ready to talk about yet.

Have a great summer, y'all!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Regarding Art Club...

Winter Break is upon us.  We have two days to work next week and then we will be done until next year.

We usually have Art Club on Mondays, but because it's a short week, we won't be meeting.   Click here for the letter I sent home with students last week.

Art Club hours have changed.  We will be dismissing at 4:00 pm instead of 4:30 pm.  Please make arrangements for students to be picked up at our new time starting Monday, January 9th

Our next project will be painted sneakers.  Each art club member will need an inexpensive pair of canvas sneakers to paint on.  Here are some great examples of what we are going to be doing.  The possibilities are endless!

I hope that everyone has a wonderfully restful break and a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's Second Quarter and Where Have I Been?

I don’t know what happened but I have been a total loser pants when it comes to blogging this year.  I promise I’ll try to be better in the new year.  We are already 2 weeks into the second quarter and I have only done one blog post this year.  It’s not that we haven’t done some amazing art, but it seems like this year kind of got the best of me.  So many of us have said that we have felt ‘off’ this year and while we can’t quite put our fingers on it, part of me feels like this year is just a long continuation of last year.  Many of my classes are the same make up of students.  In some cases, that’s a good thing, and in some it isn’t.  

We have to do ASWs this year.  For those of you not in North Carolina, ASW stands for Analysis of Student Work and is our state’s way of ‘testing’ those classes that don’t fall under the umbrella of regular end of grade or course testing.  Luckily, my county opted out of the method that the state came up with and has chosen to use an alternative way of assessing student growth and proficiency that was devised by another county.  This was explained to us in the beginning of the school year, but it is a little bit confusing and we are all kind of just flying blind with the process hoping that we are collecting samples and teaching our standards in a way that we can show our administrators what we have been doing in our classrooms this year.

That being said, I have been super impressed with my student’s work this year.  I have some super talented kids that love being in my class.  Some of their work has been extraordinary.  It’s so nice to work with kids that really enjoy art and are conscientious about their work.  We’ve done water color landscapes and 3D masks and we’ve collaborated with Social Studies.  We’ve explored new mediums and worked on our skills.  I have about 35 more classes with these kids and I am really going to miss them.

Below are some pictures of our latest projects.  The first set are inspired by Sandra Silberzweig.  We looked at her work and had some great discussions about different ways of portraying faces, uses of color and pattern.  The kids are on to me...they have definitely noticed that I am drawn to bright colors.  We used super big black construction paper and crayola color sticks on this project.  The second set was just supposed to be a quick project that I left for the sub when I had to go get a root canal.  I surely didn’t expect them to turn out as nicely as they did.  I wish I knew who to link back the ‘Silly Sandwiches’ project but it is all over the internet.  

We just realized that next week is Thanksgiving.  Where is the time going?  It’s going to be Christmas before we know it.  Here at AMS we are having our first Bonfire Night this evening.  It’s definitely that time of year.  

Sandra Silberzweig Portraits

Silly Sandwiches Sub Plan