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

Monday, May 28, 2018

This is the End

In the words of Jim Morrison, "This is the end, beautiful friend, the end, my only friend the end.
I can’t believe that another school year is almost over.  Why is it that when you want the time to speed
up it seems to drag, but when you need more time, you blink your eyes and it’s gone?  Don’t get me
wrong, I am looking forward to summer vacation. I have a long list of things that I need to get done,
places that I want to visit, and people that I want to spend time with. I’m ready for a few weeks of down
time.  My niece, who loves art is going to spend some time with me this summer. I'm a little nervous,
since she informed me last night that she 'prefers first class' and things at my house are decidedly 'coach'.
That and she pretty much eats nothing but carbs and I haven't let them in my house since sometime in
early 2017. If I can keep another young hooman alive, we'll spend some time painting and being crafty.
I really am looking forward to it. I have a lot of fond memories of spending time with my Aunt Loree in
the summertime and I hope she can look back at our time together in the same way.

Like so many other teachers, I am just exhausted right now and summer vacation promises
some me time and renewal. It just seems that I really over-planned this school year and just didn’t
have time to get things done that I thought I would be able to do.  I wanted to try out sewing with my
students and that didn’t work out and I am really disappointed with that. I didn’t feel confident that the
personalities in my classroom could handle working with sharp objects (needles) and there is no way
to get around that when you are sewing.  I might try to do it as an extension activity next year where
students that are done with their main projects can try new things if they want to in my make-shift
Maker Space in a little corner of my room.

I’ve already started thinking about the next school year.  I’m not going crazy but I am thinking of themes.
This year, we focused on ‘The Jobs that Artists Do’  and looked at professions beyond what middle
schoolers think about artists. They aren’t just old, dead guys that have paintings hanging in museums,
but that nearly everything that we come in contact with has been designed or somehow touched by an
artist.  For next year, I am thinking of focusing on ‘Artists and Social Issues’ where we will focus on the
impact that artists have on certain issues, movements and the world. We’ll look at how artists inform us
about their culture, tell stories and create inspiration.  I also want to expand my maker space and offer
more free studio time in my classroom where students can explore and try things on their own terms.

But that is next year.

In the meantime, here’s a sort of gallery round up of a few things that we have been working on this
semester that I don’t think I’ve shared:

This was one of my favorite projects. We were inspired by my little Bob Ross Funko Pop figurine. I
took some ideas that I had seen on Pinterest and a couple of art teacher groups that I belong to,
changed them around to work for my needs and lo and behold, we had an artist biography project that
was actually fun to do.


I found some old scratch board in a drawer and I didn't have enough big sheets to go around
so I cut them down and we did a sort of positive-negative space examination of bugs.
This was not as successful as I would have liked. The styluses that we used for scratching the
designs were breaking left and right and we all got frustrated. In the end, I quit asking them for as
much detail as they were originally going to put into their work but these turned our pretty nice.

You know how an art teacher knows when a project is successful? The kids start asking if they can
take the project home before they've even finished it. (I usually hang on to their work until the end of
the year) AND they ask if they can do another one. I called this one 'Draw Me a Song' and my
intention was to give them some freedom to pick a song lyric OR a poem (original, or one that they've
studied in their ELA classes) in hopes that the subject matter would keep them interested and
motivated. I gave them a week to bring in a song or poem that they wanted to do.
ART HOMEWORK! OMG! MizzzzzSmiffffff! I told them that it had to be appropriate for school and
if they didn't bring one in, then they would have to do one of MY songs. Which were all Disney lyrics.
We talked about how to alter your everyday handwriting to make into a more interesting font and
how the layout and placement of words can create a more visually appealing art work. We talked
about emphasis and space and even replacing words with symbols. Which came in handy when you
ran out of room because you didn't plan for space very well. I particularly love that one of my students,
who speaks limited English, did a song in Spanish. Thank goodness for Google Translate.

Sometime this year, I really don't remember when, all the art teachers got together and met with the
Sax/School Specialty rep and did some fun projects and learned a lot of new fun things that we can
try out with our kiddos. It's one of those professional development days that I am so grateful to be an
art teacher. What did you do during your PD day? Ummm, we looked at data and blah, blah blah,
ZZZzzzzzzz. What did we do during our PD day? We made stuff and did a paint pour. I've had a
couple of examples of what we did on a shelf in my classroom all year and my kiddos were begging
me to let them do it. So, we did.

We have just one class day left until testing starts and then the 2017-2018 school year will be over.
This was the day that I lost control of my 8th graders.  They were trying on all my hats and hula hooping in my classroom.  Sigh.  I guess they were making memories.  

Sydney often draws my portrait but this is one of my favorites.  Me and a bulldog.  I guess that sums me up pretty well!
Hopefully after a couple of weeks of rest, I'll look back on this school year fondly. Until then, I hope everyone's end of year goes smoothly and successfully. I wish you all a wonderfully restful summer and I look forward to sharing my classroom with you next year. See you in August!

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.