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

Friday, August 26, 2016

We're Back!

Y’all.  Summer. Is. Over.  I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the faster they go.  We just finished a week and a half of professional days and our babies come back this Monday.  As far as opening weeks go, I’ll have to hand it to my principal because these were some of the least painful workdays that I have experienced in my 26 years of teaching.  Yes, I started teaching when I was 7. We had the requisite full day of back to school meetings on the first day, accompanied by a wonderful lunch of barbeque (I’m in NC.  It’s a rule) provided by our amazing PTO.  We had a ½ day, that was more like a couple of hours with the district one morning to talk about the ASW testing that we are going to have to do this year (more on that in a future blog post) and the middle school art teachers (all 4 of us) went to lunch and then back to my classroom to do a little planning that afternoon.  We had a ½ day of health and safety training and another ½ day of PBIS training but other than that, we were free to work in our classrooms.  What a treat!

Having all this time to get ourselves in order has been a blessing.  Did I mention that about a week before we got back to work I dislocated my elbow?  And by dislocated I don’t mean ‘Oops, my elbow slipped out of joint’, I mean full on bent backwards at 90 degrees and the most agonizing pain in the history of pain. I’ve been in a sling with orders to keep it immobile which is easier said than done.  It gets better every day and I think I’ll be okay but this wasn’t the way that I wanted to start my school year, when there is always so much work to be done.  With the help of my amazing colleagues my room is ready to go.  
So, this was the inside of my elbow.  The bruise eventually made it all the way down to my wrist.  With the help of some arnica gel, lysine and bromelain, the bruise is almost gone.

An outside company was hired to strip our floors and when I walked into my classroom on day 2, all of my tables were up on end and my room looked like the hedge maze from The Shining.  Once our custodians got the tables, my desk, bookshelves and everything else in place for me, I needed HELP getting the rest of everything out of my supply closet.  Thinking about the rotten timing of my elbow injury and knowing that somewhere there was a reason for my suffering, I realized that I might need to be reminded how fortunate I really am.  It is SO HARD for me to ask for help.  I struggle with it.  It tortures me.  I’ll try to do anything in my power to not ask for help.  Pride?  Yep.  But also that feeling of not wanting to bother anyone with my troubles.  I had no choice in this matter because there was no way that I could do it all myself so I sent out an email asking for help and was richly rewarded.  Lesson.  Learned.  
See how shiny my floors are?  Still a little bit of fine tuning to do here but it's almost ready.

4 kids per table this year in most of my classes.  1 on each side.  I think that should work well.

My space in the background of the picture.  I might designate the round table as space for extra special' students.  It might be a nice reward.

My little reading area in the back.  The book shelf is full of art history books and artist biographies. To sit back there, you have to do a little bit of artist research or art criticism before you can relax in one of the comfy chairs and draw, read or color.

We had 2 open houses this week, one for 6th grade, which is always fun with the little ones coming into Middle School nervous and looking like deer caught in the headlights and one for our 7th and 8th graders.  Our ‘old pro’s’ came in with hugs and smiles, some looking like they grew a ½ foot over the summer.  There were also a lot new faces in the crowd of students that came to get their schedules and meet the teachers.  Some from the redistricting that was recently done in our county, but we also seemed to get quite a few students from neighboring counties and some as far away as the coast.  It’s always fun to meet new students and I hope that they will be able to get over their nerves quickly and know that they are a part of our family. I remember what it was like to be the ‘new kid’ when my parents bought a house in between my first and second grade years. I have a few things to do this weekend to be ready for Monday when the big yellow buses pull up in the driveway but I am looking forward to school starting back.  Even after all these years, the first day of school is filled with nervous excitement and anticipation.  I am wishing all my teacher friends out there a wonderful, successful school year!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Basket Weaving: Art vs Craft

One of the things that we talk about in my classroom is what the purpose of art is.  More times than I would like to admit, it is driven by a sullen middle schooler asking me why they have to take this class.  We talk about all the careers that are art driven, how art helps you think creatively, gives you a broad worldview and how learning about art helps us to learn about ourselves and other cultures.  We also talk about the function of art and whether or not it is purely aesthetic or if it can be functional as well.  For the last couple of weeks, some of my classes have been learning a basket weaving technique that people around the world, of many different cultures have been using for thousands of years.  

If you google yarn basket weaving, you will come up with hundreds of links that will teach you the process.  It’s a simple enough technique but I impose my own set of standards to make sure that none of us are taking shortcuts.  I introduce the project by showing them examples of baskets, both modern and antique. We spend some time talking about the sweetgrass and pine needle baskets made in coastal South Carolina and I share baskets with my students that I have collected from Senegal (purchased in an import store in Pittsboro, NC), Ethiopia (a gift from a former student who was there on a missions trip) and Charleston (bought on a recent trip).  We talk about how interesting it is that people who lived hundreds of years ago, thousands of miles apart somehow managed to create baskets using the same technique, but with the materials that were available to them.

I LOVE this project.  Once I get them started, which is the hardest part, and they understand the pattern, the atmosphere in the classroom is so relaxed.  We listen to music, talk about what is going on in their drama filled middle school lives and chat about art.  Can art be functional?  Is there a difference between art and craft?  How would you feel if you had to make a basket for everything that you wanted contained in your house?  We make lists of all the things that we keep that are in small plastic containers that you can pick up at the dollar store or bigger containers that we find at Walmart or Target.  It’s amazing to think that EVERYTHING was contained in a woven basket or a wooden box before plastics became so common.  We look around the art room  to see all the things that we keep organized with plastic containers.  I must have 50 things on my desk alone.  We find a new appreciation for our ancestors who didn’t have the luxury of picking out their Tupperware in a catalog so that they can neatly organize their pantry.

I only do this project once every 5 years or so.  The coil can be costly and I have to wait for my friends to clean out  their craft rooms for yarn donations.  It’s definitely worth the wait though.

Here are some pictures of our process and product:
Apparently, standing helps when starting baskets.

Sweet girls

Getting started is the hardest part.

Working hard

I think that this day was wear pink for breast cancer day

OMG Yarn monster.  I have a plan to take care of this.  Really, I do.

LilliAnn's basket

Xee's basket

Kylie's basket

Christian's basket

Courtney's basket

Moye's basket

Julius's basket

Payge's basket

Kaleah's basket

I am super proud of how nice these baskets are turning out.  These are by far the best baskets that have ever come out of MizzSmiff's Art Room!

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.