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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Middle School Conferences and Two Days Out of My Classroom!

I recently had the opportunity to go to the NC Middle School Conference in Greensboro.  It was a wonderful learning experience and a great time to spend with some colleagues that I rarely get to see.  More on that later, but as you all know, being away from school whether it is for a conference or sick leave sometimes takes more work than actually being at school.   We were gone on a Monday and Tuesday and I knew I had to have a plan so that I didn’t come back to a classroom that looked like it was hit by a tornado.

Thankfully, and I think I have mentioned this before, all of our students have chromebooks so the easiest thing for me to do was to send them an assignment via Google Classrooms.  The best part of that is I could check up on them from time to time and message them giving them little tidbits of encouragement ‘Great Job!  Keep up the Good Work!’ or in most cases ‘Seriously?  What the heck have you been doing all class?’.  

I left all three grade levels an artist study to complete.  It was pretty simple.   All they needed to do was pick an artist and fill in a chart with the information that I asked for, along with some examples of the artist’s work.  As I’ve been looking at their work, it’s been interesting to see what artists they picked and their answers to some of the questions.  

Here’s a couple of excerpts from one exceptional student’s work on Picasso:

About Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and answering the question “What do you see?  How does it make you feel? “This painting is a very abstract portrait of five nude prostitutes from a brothel. It makes me feel like women aren’t viewed as women but as objects that are sold to men.”

About Girl Before a Mirror, answering the same questions: “This painting is an abstract portrait of a young insecure girl looking into a mirror and seeing a young woman aware of her own sexuality. It makes me feel like you have to hold on to the things that make you, you.”

About The Old Guitarist, again, the same questions:”This painting is of an old homeless man hovered over his guitar. It makes me feel as if he must hold on to the things he has because it is all he has.”

Seriously, from an 8th grader.  Before you start thinking that I am teaching a bunch of prodigies, most of the kids gave answers like “Uh, I see lots of colors” and “I feel wonderful”

But it sure is nice to come across a student who really, really gets it from time to time.   Here are links to my lesson in case you are interested:

List of Artists
My example

The NC Middle School conference was held in Greensboro at the Joseph S. Koury center in Greensboro, NC.  Apparently, this is the place to be if you are a conventioneer or conferencer.  It was HUGE!  Greensboro is about an hour and a half from my town and luckily our band teacher, Jess, who also went to the convention, went to UNCG and knew the area well.  We arrived early and ended up at The Waffle House for breakfast.  We had hoped to be able to check into our room before the opening session but no luck there.   Poet and former teacher Taylor Mali spoke to the crowd of teachers and administrators before we set off for our breakout sessions.  Presentations ranged from Line Dancing to Literacy, PBIS to PBL, Middle School Apathy to Middle School Diversity.  We divided and conquered and occasionally came together.  Jess and I started our day on Monday with Drum Fit which was super fun, got our hearts pumping but had I known that I was in for an hour of drumming and dancing I might not have worn a skirt.  So much for ‘professional attire’.  Most of the sessions that I attended were presented by middle school teachers just like the folks that I work with every day.  People that had a great idea and were excited to share.  Teachers, for the most part, are some of the most generous people that you will ever find.  Here, this has worked great for me.  Please, use it,  change it for what might work for you, but what is mine, is yours.  My conference ended with a presentation called ‘Witnessing the Witnesses’ where we had the honor and pleasure of meeting and hearing the story of Esther Lederman, a survivor of the Holocaust.  A great end to my two days.   Aside from all the breakout sessions, I have to say that it was super fun to spend a couple of days away with colleagues that I don’t get to spend all the much time with.  My school’s layout is not conducive to mixing of teams and honestly, I  can go weeks without seeing some people.  If it wasn’t for morning duty and staff meetings I might never see some people, save a passing Hello! in the hall.  We came back with great ideas and yearning to have the time to collaborate together.  If you ever get the chance to go to a professional conference, I highly recommend it.  

Someday, before I retire, I’d love to be able to go to an art conference.

Have any of y’all ever been to a conference?  How do you handle your sub plans?  

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cave Art - Sort Of

A long time ago, during that magical time called summer vacation, I was having a chat with my friends, Antoinette and Sue, who are living the retired life up in the mountains of western North Carolina.  The conversation involved emojis and the cryptic conversations of today’s youngsters.  Antoinette, a retired public school librarian, recently acquired her first smartphone so as to communicate with the yoots in her life.  (Bonus points if you can name that movie!)  Now, let me be clear that back in the day, Antoinette was on top of the technology of the time.  Throw anything computery her way and if she didn’t know it, by golly, she would figure it out in no time.  Having been retired and living a life that I can only dream of (you know, outside, in the sunshine, doing real things) she has gotten a little behind on the current trends of techy pop culture.  As Sue said during our conversation, “I am woefully uninformed.”

Somehow, the conversation turned to the evolution of language and how all those emojis that we use nearly every day aren’t all that different from cave painting and the symbolic written languages of the past.  I started thinking (even though it was summer) and realized that there was an art lesson in there somewhere.  Antoinette mentioned the cave paintings in France and Spain.  I immediately thought of cuneiform and hieroglyphics and realized that these written forms of communication are no different than emoji language that we use today.

I intended to write a lesson plan and do this as a getting to know you activity as soon as school started back but like most plans, I didn’t actually get to it until second semester. When I finally got around to it, I put together a slideshow about the history of written language and we watched a youtube video of some of the oldest cave paintings that were found in Spain. We talked about the ancient Egyptians and how they communicated their ideas and we learned how our alphabet came to be.

Then, I asked them, in my best art teacher voice, “How many of you have a smartphone?” 99% of my student’s hands went up.  I think, out of all of my classes, MAYBE 3 kids don’t have a smartphone.  I asked, “How many of you message your friends on facebook or some other form of social media.” 100%.  No kidding.  100% “Who knows what emojis are?”  All hands up.  “How many of you have ever sent a message or text to a friend using ONLY emojis?” ALL HANDS UP.  “How is the way that you communicate with pictures and symbols different than the way that cavemen, ancient egyptians and other civilizations that used pictures and symbols to communicate?”  Well, gee, MizzSmiff, it isn’t.  

So then, I suggested that we try to write a short autobiographical sentence to share with our classmates.

I projected mine as an example:

Yeah, that’s right. MizzSmiff likes the beach, cats, sunshine, cheeseburgers and art.  I’m a simple girl.  I didn’t put the wine glass on there because, well, school.  And honestly, we all know that truth.  

For our project, the rules were simple:
1. Use 7 emojis
2. Take up the space on your paper (which, my friends, were scraps leftover from cutting down 12 x 18 pieces to 12 x 12 squares from a prior project. BOOM!)
3. We should be able to learn something about you by reading your sentence
4. Use your best art skills.

I gave them a packet with every emoji known to mankind and they had at it.  It was a quick 2 day project and we learned a lot about our classmates by the time we were done.  For those of you that are not up to date on your emojis, there is an actual Emojipedia.

One of the things that I like the best about my job is listening to the conversations that take place while we are making art.  There was a lot of giggling at one table while we were working so I gravitated that way.  I sat down and heard the 7th grade girls (WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE 7th. GRADE?) talking about the dreaded eggplant.  Jesus, take the wheel..  I told them that if anyone ever sends them the eggplant, unless it’s their mother telling them what is for dinner, to block that person immediately.  DO NOT mess with the eggplant.  EVER.

On the news this morning, I heard that sometime this summer there is going to be a release of a bunch of new emojis for the iPhone.  I have to say I am excited about the avocado, bacon and the Pinocchio liar face.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that my favorite youtubers, Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning played a game of Emoji Charades on the same day that I wrote this post!  No kidding!  It’s like we are likethis.  If you are unfamiliar with Rhett and Link, they are North Carolina boys now living the life in California as world famous (kind of) 'internetainers'. If you ever find yourself awake at 2 am with nothing to do, I suggest binge watching a couple of dozen episodes of their daily morning show.  It’ll be time to get up and go to work before you know it.  You’ll start your day a little bit tired but with a smile on your face.  I speak from experience.

There's always that one kid who has to add a little extra...MizzSmiff, can I have some tape?

How many of our emoji autobiographies could you read?  This was a really neat, fun and QUICK project.  I was able to ease my students into art and my expectations for artwork and taking care of materials and supplies while doing a project that taught me a little bit about my students and their likes and dislikes.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Second Semester

The second semester of the 2015-2016 school year is almost upon us.  Let me tell you, my friends, I am so ready for a do over!  This first semester has been a difficult one, for reasons unknown to me.  Sometimes, I suppose things can be rough and we might not even know why.  On a daily basis. Every. Single. Day.

One of the great things about being a middle school art teacher is the chance to start over with a fresh batch of kids not long after the new year begins.  Usually, I will take my first semester and change a few things up but for the most part, I'll repeat all the projects I did in the first half of the year.  Not this year.  Not at all.  While some of the projects that I did were tried and true and pulled out of my magic bag of tricks I just haven't been thrilled enough with any of them to do them again in the second semester.  That being said, I do have a plan.  In an amazing move that has surprised even yours truly, I have planned all my lessons out, even to the point of having a lesson plan written for every project until state testing starts in the beginning of June.  IKR?

I even redid my art newsletter that I send home in the beginning of each semester.
Here it is.

I'd love to know: If you are on semesters and have a whole new crop of students the second half of the year, do you do the same things or switch things up?  Does the weather play a role in the projects that you do?  Does state testing interrupt your routine?

So tell the truth, who is looking forward to Spring Break already? 

Ah, NC beaches are the best!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Helpful hints

While we try to take care in the Art Room, accidents do sometimes happen. Here is a great site that has some great cleaning tips.  We've been painting a lot this year and even MizzSmiff has had a couple of accidents.

For smaller stains, I have a couple of tubes of Kiss Off in my desk that work pretty well.

Do you have any great solutions to art room accidents?

Monday, December 21, 2015

I'll Get a Smile Out of Him Yet

We all have that one kid.  Or maybe more than one.  The one student that is quiet, does his work, never makes a fuss, and almost seems AFRAID to talk to you.  This year in my class, that guy is Ronnie.  He's a sweet 6th grader that sits at a table with 3 other sweet girls, by his choice, and he doesn't interact with them much either.  I try to encourage him daily and often find myself at their table, trying to get a little bit of conversation going but my friend, well he just sits and does his work and only speaks when spoken to.  Ronnie, Dude, I'm trying to help you out here.  In 4 or 5 years, you are going to thank MizzSmiff, trust me. Turns out Ronnie is the same way in PE.  One day at lunch I said to his Coach/Health teacher, "Hey, what's up with Ronnie?  Does he talk much in your class?" and she responded with a hearty, "NO!  What is up with him?" I don't think he is unhappy, or frightened or anything that a good teacher should always be on the lookout for, I just think he is one of those kids.

Our last project before break was the printmaking project that will never end Printmaking. Sometime last year, I got it in my head that I was going to use some of the old printmaking ink that had been lingering in my disaster of a supply closet for the last forever.  I probably saw something on Pinterest that sparked my interest and I did an example and somehow, it got moved to the back of my brain and onto a shelf and I never got to it.  I LOVE printmaking even though that is the one major class that I never took when I was in college.  I have taught myself how to do silk screening and how to make gelli plates and how to do various other methods by reading about them.  Yes, dear readers, I am way older than youtube, but that has been an invaluable resource as well.  Some summer when I don't have a To Do list a mile long, I might just find a class somewhere that I can take.

So, some time in what feels like the last millennium, I introduced the process to my students.  I showed them a couple of videos and gave them a demonstration.  Perhaps because it was so close to the holidays and even though it's hard to believe, I think that they may be getting tired of me, they seemed to pay better attention to the videos.  This got me thinking that I might just video my lessons and send them in via GoogleClassrooms in the future, all the while sitting at my kitchen table in my jammies with a cup of hot cocoa but THAT is another blogpost.

We painted our backgrounds, did a little tutorial on radial symmetry (an idea that I will expand upon with our next and final project of the semester) and got busy with the printing.

But shall I stray from the original topic at hand, our friend Ronnie was the first one that got to the actual printing of his designs.  His little drawing was perfect and printed very clearly.  His background was bright and colorful and came through marvelously through the printed design.  I was excited!  The other kids were excited when they heard how excited I was.  They all gathered around to watch Ronnie print little square after little square.  There were Ooooooooos!  There were Ahhhhhhhhs!  Someone shouted Coooooool!  The atmosphere in the Art Room was positively electric! Everyone was so excited to get to their work because of how awesome Ronnie's work looked.  I was smiling ear to ear, which my friends is not easy as Ronnie's class is my first class of the day.  I was happy for success.  As Ronnie printed, I smiled.  And finally, I said, "Ronnie!  You are doing such a great job!  It looks awesome.  Do you like it?" and my stoic little friend said, "Yes" and kept printing.


I'll get a smile out of him yet.

Here's the process:
We drew a 3" grid on 12 x 18 white construction paper
We painted a wash of colors on the paper using watercolors.  Some students chose to paint in a checkerboard, others were more expressive in their painting. ;)
After learning about mandalas and radial symmetry, we practiced drawing our own mandalas.  We chose 2 that we liked and transferred those designs to 3 x 3 stickie notes.
Everyone got one 5 x 5 styrofoam to-go containers (I got them at Sam's club), which we cut in half and trimmed the edges off.
We stuck our stickie notes on the flat parts of the styrofoam, and trimmed it to size.  Then using a dull colored pencil, we transferred our design onto the styrofoam.  We pulled off the stickie notes, then went over our lines using a ball point pen to define the lines and add detail.
We did a test print, made any changes that were needed and started printing on our paper.  Some students chose to use both 'plates' after their test prints, while others chose to use the one they liked best.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Hundertwasser Murals

I recently did a group project with my classes.  In all my years of teaching, I've never done a group project because I hated them when I was a student. Things were never fair and someone always ended up doing most of the work.

Looking through Pinterest I found several projects by Friedensriech Hundertwasser,  an artist that I was unfamiliar with and I became fascinated with his work.  His work is whimsical, colorful and fun.  Recently, my district has made it easier to show our students YouTube videos and I was able to find several short videos that featured Hundertwasser and the students were able to hear the artist himself speak about his work, via video. 

I knew I wanted to do something with paint because my students were getting tired of pencils, colored pencils and markers.  One of my fellow art teahchers had recently done a project using black glue and I knew I wanted to give that a try as well.  I had a couple of rolls of butcher paper and I thought that murals and a group project might be a nice change.

I allowed students to pick their groups and they got busy.  They sketched out their ideas, making sure that they included all the elements of Hundertwasswer's work in their painting.  
They worked hard, with the black glue being the hardest part.  I think they enjoyed working in teams and while I don't think I'm going to do that again for a while, I would say that the project was successful.  The students are super proud of thier work and it brings a dose of much needed color to the hallways.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

It's Report Card time!

Report cards come out this coming Friday, November 6th.  Invariably, I will get a few phone calls, emails or visits regarding grades.  Hopefully, this post will answer some of the questions that I will get.

Grading is my least favorite part of my job. Art is so subjective, however I try to be as objective as I possibly can be when it comes to assigning grades to the projects that my students turn in.

Today marks the last day of the First Quarter of the 2015-2016 school year. The last 4 days of the quarter have been used as "Ketchup Days". Students have the opportunity to use class time to finish any projects that they may not have completed. It is up to students to get their work done and to use their time wisely. I conference with each student, showing them their grade for the quarter and give them the opportunity to complete or redo projects.

In my classroom, I have visual reminders of the expectations for the level of craftsmanship for middle school students so that there is no question about what is expected from them at this point in their school career.

This rubric is on my door and is an example of the expectations for craftsmanship and coloring.  Often, I will redirect students to the rubric when they turn in a project so that they can self-assess.  

This second image is on my front board (in a different direction!) and shows the expectations for different media.  I want to make sure that students have absolutely no question as to what is expected of them.

I also use a modified rubric fashioned from the Studio Habits of Mind.  This outlines expectations in the Art Room (studio) and demonstrates to  students that they need to participate in taking care of the classroom and materials, not giving up when learning a new skill and learning to think like an artist.

Studio Habits

A (90-100)
B (80-89)
C (70-79)
D (60-69)
Learning to use materials and tools correctly and caring for your space and the art room.
Art materials were cared for and returned to where they belong in excellent condition.

Space was clean and ready for the next class.

Art work was neat
Art materials were cared for and returned to where they belong in good condition.

Space was clean and ready for the next class.

Art work was neat with few extra marks or mistakes.
Art materials somewhat cared for and returned to where they belong in fair condition.

Space was not left as clean and neat as it could be.

Some of my work was sloppy.
Art materials were not cared for and not returned to where they belong.

Space was left messy.

Art work was sloppy and evident that time and care was not taken.

Engaging and Persisting

A (90-100)

B (80-89)

C (70-79)

D (60-69)
Learning to work through problems, to develop focus and perseverance at art tasks.  
Artwork was complete.  The artist took his time and was thoughtful about the process.
Artwork is mostly complete and the artist worked hard.
Artwork is still in beginning phase or it is evident that artist has rushed through the project to complete it.
Artwork is not complete or was rushed through with little to no regard to technique or process.  

Envisioning and Expressing

A (90-100)

B (80-89)

C (70-79)

D (60-69)
Learning to imagine and brainstorm.  Thinking outside the box.
Artist came up with more than one idea and chose the one that was the most unique.
Artwork is clearly thought out.
Artist came up with one idea that was somewhat original but many components were copied.

Artwork was not original.  Artist put little thought or effort into coming up with a new idea.
Artwork was copied and the artist put no effort into being original.

I hope that this information gives a little bit of insight as to how I grade student artwork and why your child has earned the grade that they have earned in Art.  Of course, each project also has different criteria that are explained at the beginning of a project.  For example, we recently finished an abstract drawing that was to show the use of value.  In that project, students knew that they need to show me that they understand how to show value, use the space on the paper and follow the steps to create the forms that were expected along with the requirements in the above examples.

I do tell my students that effort does go a long way in my class.