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

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Holy Hand-grenades, Batman!  The last few weeks in the art room have been a flurry of activity!  Seriously, I need a break.  Good thing Thanksgiving is coming up fast. It's all been great and fun but we have been so busy!


I am very fortunate to work in a district that has implemented a 1:1 chromebook initiative with all the high and middle schools.  High Schools got theirs last year and thankfully, worked out some of the bugs and we got ours mid-first quarter.  At first, I was a little bit hesitant wondering what in the world I would be able to do with them in the art room, but they have turned out to be a great asset. 

I started out by creating Google Classrooms for each grade level and had the students sign in, using a specific code for their class.  Using Google drive, I can send out messages, assignments, photographs of examples, slide shows and any number of resources that students can refer to at any time.  The kids are so much more tech savvy than I, which is saying a lot because I really consider myself pretty darn good with technology and they have totally embraced using the chromebooks in not just my class, but most of their other classes as well. 

Working on the Art Scavenger Hunt in Google Classrooms

Neil found the information about American Gothic fascinating.

Google Classrooms and a chromebook in every student's hands makes leaving sub plans a breeze!

Art Club
The art club recently completed their first project. We meet every Monday afternoon for about an hour and work on some kind of project that I generally can't do on a large scale.  I had some old vinyl records donated last year and was hoping to get enough to do this project with a whole grade level but only got about 30 so I decided that it would be an art club project.  We took a couple of weeks and drew on the records using plain old crayola colored pencils.  

We drew lines and patterns and just colored them in until one side of the record was completely covered.

We took them down to what was, at one time, the old careers classroom that has a small 'efficiency' kitchen in it and boiled water in a shallow skillet.  I have to tell you that I was worried sick that 1. It wouldn't work 2. The designs that they drew on the records would wash or melt off 3. Somebody (me) would get scalded with hot water. 

Much to my surprise, IT WORKED!  We were all thrilled to pieces with our record bowls and took home our first (successful) project.  Trust me, MizzSmiff breathed a sigh of relief.

I created an Art Club classroom in Google Classrooms and sent them all a message to let them know that we wouldn't be meeting this Monday.  We only have 2 days this week before Thanksgiving and many of us will be out of town and busy with preparations for the holiday.  I took the opportunity to let them know that our next project will be a canvas painting.  They are so excited and want to know what it will be.  The truth is, I really haven't decided yet, but I have an idea.

The art club and their record bowls

 Field Trip
The 'Arts Department' at AMS (that would be me and the band teacher, ha) took the 8th grade art, chorus and band students on a field trip about a week ago.  

We filled a bus with our students and headed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  G'boro is a little over an hour's drive from AMS in a car and we were expecting it to take much longer by old yellow school bus, but thanks to Ms. Watkins, we were there in record time. 

I know you aren't supposed to take pictures in museums but I couldn't help myself.  This was part of the 'Art on Paper' Exhibition.  I wish I would have written down the artist who did this piece.  I love it!  It was done by tracing shadows of iron gates, then cutting them out.

We saw an Opera, toured the school of music and the art students visited the Weatherspoon Museum of Art while the band students sat in on a practice session.  I have never been to the Weatherspoon before and was pleasantly surprised by their collection.  I was thrilled that the kids got to see art, in person, in a real museum.  They asked the docents a lot of smart questions and I think that they enjoyed themselves. By the end of the tour, they were tired and asking what we were doing next and when we were going home.  It was a long day with a lot of walking.

That all being said, I hate to admit that I think the highlight of the trip was having lunch in a real college cafeteria.  Can I just say that college cafeterias have been stepped up their game since I was in school back when the crust of the earth was cooling?  I'm not kidding.  It was overwhelming.  It was huge.  The kids didn't know where to start and what to do. We heard a lot of 'Can we have anything we want?' and 'We can go back for seconds?'.  There was a lot of wandering with plates out and eyes glazed over.  Apparently, the tater tots were amazing, mashed potatoes with a side of bacon bits make for the best lunch ever and cookies can be stuffed into back packs and the pockets of cargo pants for the long ride home.   

We also hit the bookstore up right before we headed back to the bus, I got wrangled out of 20 bucks for Starbucks for I don't know how many kids (did I really do that?) and we got back to school about an hour and a half later than we expected.  I really hope that we put a spark in their minds about what a large college campus looks like and what they can expect in just a few short years when they head off to college.

Teacher Artists
The next few pictures are of a 'Painting Party' we had in my classroom last Saturday.  This idea all started at the end of the last school year.  Usually, a bunch of us like to do something fun to commemorate the end of the year and thought that it would be fun to do one of those 'Wine and Design' or 'Paint and Pour' activities.  There was a Groupon out and as much as we tried, we just couldn't find a date that would work for most of us. Jennifer Walker, 6th grade science, assured me that I could teach a group of teacher to paint SOMETHING, but I really just wanted to go to an event to see how it was done before I tried to do it myself.  Fast forward to early October.  I'm not sure how it started, but someone, I think it was Heather, found a cute snowman painting on Pinterest and I exclaimed "OMG!  We can do that!  I promise!"  It started with about 5 of us. I ordered 5 canvases from Blick.  Then we said, We have to invite so and so.  And She needs to come! And I ordered 5 more canvases.  And we haven't seen Her in so long!  So, 10 more canvases. And it turned into a THING.  And I said "Eh, fuggedabout it." and ordered 10 more.  I realized quickly that no one had enough room in their house for 25 women, canvases and paint so I emailed my principal and said "Ummmm, Beverly, there are a few (a lot) of us that want to get together and paint a holiday painting on a Saturday and I was wondering if maybe we could use my art room and if maybe you could turn the alarm off so we could use the bathroom and stuff and you can come and paint with us too if you want."  

We had a blast.  And we didn't even have any wine with our design or pour with our paint.  AMS teachers, former teachers, former students, moms and friends came.  We are already thinking about what we are going to do the next time. 

I say this a lot and I know that I am not the only one on my staff that feels this way, but we are so lucky to work with people that we call friends.  We all know that teaching is a hard job and above all, we need to support each other.  Hanging out and just having fun with each other is so important.  

Staci and her masterpiece, pre snowflakes.

Heather,  working diligently.

Maureen.  Notice she put her flakes along the side of her canvas!
Kat adding her snowflakes.
Nancy, Jennifer, Chaundra and Brooke with their finished projects!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Donor's Choose

Shameless plug here, folks.  My Donor's Choose project has just been approved. I'm hoping to purchase a class set of digital cameras.  

If you should feel so inclined, please follow the link to donate.  Any donations made  through October 27th will be doubled if you enter the code SPARK. 

Thank you in advance!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wait. It's mid-term already?

Here in the middle of North Carolina, we are already in the middle of the first quarter of the school year.  How did that happen already?  The Bulldogs are getting ready for homecoming in a week and the weather has prematurely turned very fall-ish.  I keep telling myself that summertime is going to have one last hurrah! before the cool autumn days set in, but I'm not sure if I believe it or not.  The weather has been awfully odd this year, starting last winter with an unusual amount of actual snow and a relatively mild summer.  Sure, we had a few hot days but nothing like some of the 100° + days that we have seen in the not to distant past.  I wonder is this is a predictor of the winter weather this year?  Silly me, I forgot to count the number of fogs that we had in August, I haven't seen one woolly worm caterpillar to measure their brown bands and I haven't seen any pigs gathering sticks.  I guess I could try to find some locally grown persimmons to see what shape their kernels are but that seems like an awful lot of trouble.  The sunflowers this year were kind of tall so, who knows?  I guess we will all be at the mercy of our local meteorologists and waiting for that text message, phone tree call, blue line on the bottom of the screen on the 5:00 a.m. news and the greatest announcer of the snow day-Facebook posts from all my fellow teachers.  Let's face it, teachers get just as excited about a snow day as the kids.  We are also very fond of the 2 hour delay and the early release just to be clear.

I didn't intend for this blog post to turn into a conversation about the weather, but who knows where my fingers on the keyboard will take me?

So, back to the Art Room...we already have a couple of projects under our belt. One was not very successful as far as the outcome, but I am blaming that on the fact that I can't afford halfway decent watercolor paper and am forced to use construction paper.  Our second project turned out nicely.  We talked about infographics and the kids did a time wheel that depicted a typical day in the life of a middle schooler. I was happy with the result of those and I learned an awful lot.  Some of my kids have awfully jam packed busy days.  No wonder they are sleepy.  I'm going to hang some in the hallway this week and I'll take a few pictures to share with you.

This week, we are doing a project that falls under so many categories in our Essential Standards that I had a hard time narrowing it down.  I saw an image over on Pinterest by an artist when I was just scrolling through one day.   I think it was this one, but I can't be sure.  At any rate, it gave me an idea, which is by no means an original one.  I've seen similar projects all over the interwebs, using paper (similar to Notan designs), markers, colored pencils and paint.

In this case, I have my students working on 6 x 6 squares of paper.  Why 6 x 6 you ask?  Well, I can get more squares for the buck out of my 12 x 18 construction paper.  Who says we don't do math in the art room?  As if...

We divided the paper into 9 - 2' squares.  I then told them to draw an identical geometric (not organic!) shape in the center of each square.  Next, they had to draw the same shape, smaller, inside each shape.  For the last drawing step I had them draw 3 squiggly lines through their design.  The lines were to go from one edge or corner to the other and they weren't to cross.  Then they had to draw the same thing on their second piece of paper.  This was greeted with a lot of middle school worthy sighs and groans, a few exclamations of "This is too much!" and "This is haaaaaaaaaard!".  I reminded them that we could just walk down the hall to their math classrooms and start solving equations and writing down formulas and the room suddenly got quiet.

The hardest part of the project is the planning.  They have to actually sit there (OMG! MizzzzzzSmiffff!) and plan where the colors are going to go.  The first square is in black and white and they get to choose 2 complementary colors to finish the second.  I tried to explain to them that if they don't plan it right, it isn't going to come out right and they are going to have to DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN and I am so mean, I know this.  The rules are that the colors cannot touch side by side, so I instructed them to do the black and white one first and to write (LIGHTLY) a 'B' where the black will go.  So far, I've had about 7 or 8 kids to have to do it all over again out of 5 classes.  Not to bad, I guess.  This project covers positive and negative space, pattern, repetition, complementary colors, contrast and planning and Op Art.  Not too shabby.

I think they are going to look really neat when they are done.  I am thinking that our next project is going to be one using Emphasis.  I am not sure exactly what I am going to have them do but I have a few ideas swimming around in my head.  After that, it will be mid-October and I think I am going to try some atmospheric perspective with some spooky trees.

Treasure working diligently
Meghan doing a fast duck and Emma trying not to smile.
I love these guys.  They all do such a great job in class and seem to like art, which makes my job easier.

He gets it.  That would be his mid-term progress report right there by his left arm.  Again, time is flying.

Christopher, working hard.  

Misty, planning where her colors are going to go.

My examples.  Mine are 8 x 8 because I had some scraps that size left over from something.  I'll mount the student work side by side on one piece of paper when they are done.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Welcome Back!

Well, it's a new school year at Albemarle Middle School.  I am looking forward to the adventures that my students and I will be taking this year.  I've been told by both of the art teachers from my feeder elementary schools that the fifth graders coming up are quite the artistic bunch.  That put a big smile on my face!  The ones that I met during Open House were very excited to learn that they had art every day.  Our schedule has changed a little bit and this year we will be on semesters rather than quarters.  I think that I like this a little bit better since I generally end up seeing most of my students for 2 quarters during the year anyway.  I wish that we had it in our budget to have a full time chorus or drama or language or orchestra teacher but those are just pie-in-the-sky dreams that won't become reality until there are some kind of budgetary changes across the board.  I sure would love it if our students had those opportunities, especially in middle school, though.

This year is the first year that my classroom isn't perfect and ready for students.  Don't get me wrong...they won't notice that things aren't in place but I know they aren't right.  We've had more meetings this year than what seems normal to me.  We did, however, have the opportunity to hear the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, James Ford, speak.  Mr. Ford is a World History teacher at Garinger High School in Charlotte and was very inspirational.  I believe that we are very fortunate to have him speak on our behalf, especially in this current climate of education.

Our Open House was last Thursday evening and I am happy to say that we had a record turn-out.  Attendance in the art room is typically sparse, but I had a nice turnout of students, both past and present come to visit.  I always love to see my kids after the long summer break and meet their parents.  One dad let me know that his son, Trevor, looked at his schedule and was excited to see that art was there.  When asked if he wanted to go meet his new teachers, he said "No, I just want to go see MizzSmiff."  I also had a mom of a former student, who is an amazing artist, come by to say hi.  She told me that her son made her promise that she would come to see me.

We, in the Arts, are being tested this year so I am going to be sure to take a lot of pictures.  None of us on the middle school level are really sure how this is going to work.  When we find out, I'll be sure to fill you in.  We are starting the semester off with One Point Perspective.  I don't know why I do this to myself.  Rulers.  The bane of my existence.  Every. Single. Year.  Sigh.

Welcome to Art prezi

A little bit of beach perspective.  Memories of summers past.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Summertime, summer-time, sum-sum-summertime!

It's here!  Summertime!  Part of me is wondering where the year went and part of me can't believe we finally made it.  Our state testing was rather late in the year so I had my 4th quarter students about 2 weeks longer than I have in the past.  This gave us time to do some catching up and a little bit of assessment toward the end of the quarter.

The last project that we did was a bit of a test.  I reminded my students of the concepts that we explored this year, some way back in September.  I put containers of sea shells on their tables, along with some photographs of seashells and challenged them to fill their pages with drawings of the shells.  I gave them free reign but asked them to show me what they remembered about value and space, drawing from life, drawing from other sources and a few other concepts.  The only thing I asked was that they show me value in grayscale, using pencils only.

This is what they came up with.  I think it is safe to say that we are all dreaming of long, lazy summer days.

I took these pics with my iPhone, so I apologize that they aren't the best quality


I love how they are all different but they also all fulfilled the requirements of the lesson.

I have been trying to figure out how to embed a PDF document here so that I could share my Summer Art Challenge with you but so far, I have not been very successful.  In the meantime, here are a couple of screenshots of the challenges I came up with this summer.  Lots of kids took one so I hope to have a bunch of stuff turned in when school starts back.

I hope that everyone has a wonderful, creative summer and that all of your summertime dreams come true!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

I can't believe it's May

Where did this school year go?  There are 39 (actual, including weekends and such) days left until the last day of the school year.  I haven't posted since the dreaded third quarter...the quarter that never was.  Between the snow days, regular days off and 2 hour delays/early releases because of weather it feels that nothing got accomplished.  The weeks between January and 4th quarter are usually the longest in all Teacherdom, but this year I think that time fell into a (polar) vortex.

Fourth quarter at my school is an interesting time for teachers in the Exploratory hallway.  Because we don't have many class offerings for our students, we generally have students this quarter that we have taught earlier in the year in some classes, classes of some kids we haven't seen yet, and a mix of the two in other classes.  We also have less time due to End-Of-Grade testing, which this year is happening later than ever-the last 2 weeks of the semester!  I always try to find fun and interesting things to do this quarter because I am getting bored to keep the kids excited and interested and to provide a little bit of relief from all of the intense test prep.

I decided to break out the paper making stuff this week.  I have 3 of these molds from Arnold Grummer that I have collected over the years.  They sit in my closet for years at a time until I work up the nerve to use them again.  I forget how much fun it is but truth be told, the students need to be more of the responsible, patient type.  You know I teach middle school, right?  Other supplies that I have collected to make the process easier are 3 blenders-2 from yard sales and one that I have had for years that won't even crush ice. Occasionally people will pop their heads in my room and give me the side-eye when the blenders are running.  Like I would make frozen-frosty-fruity drinks in my class.  During the school day.  With kids in the room.  Sheesh.  I have restaurant bus tubs, cookies sheets and fluffy old towels.  And irons.  Irons are very important because with just 45 minute classes and no where to dry the paper we need to be able to get the paper as close to dry as possible.  In fact, after I finish this post, I am going to head out to scout a few yard sales to see if I can find at least 2 more old but in working condition irons.  I might also head to Sam's club to purchase the Rowenta that I have been wanting and donate my cheapy iron to the cause.  Anything for my students, I say.

I start out the project by showing them a video of Arnold Grummer himself making paper.  Then, I pass around some homemade paper that a friend and retired CTE teacher got for me in Thailand when she went to visit her missionary son and his wife a few years back.  I encourage them to feel the texture of the paper and smell it and take it all in.  Then I show them another video, about how they make handmade paper from elephant poo.  In Thailand.  You can guess what happens next, right?  "MizzSmiff! You made us touch that!"  "Can I wash my hands?" "Ewwwwwwwwwww!"  Muwahahahaha.  What can I say?  It's been a long year.  The art teacher is evil. 

The next day, I go through the process with them and we make one piece of paper.  I let them get into their groups and I stress the safety issues with this project.  I worry about the hot irons, the sharp blades in the blenders, and the water on the floor.  They give me that preteen "OH MY GOSH!" look when I tell them to be careful of the irons and the cords and the slick floor, but I really do worry.  I don't want any of them getting hurt. I threaten them within an inch of their lives so that by the end of class they know that I am dead serious about their behavior and safety.  The next day, I just remind them of the steps and let them go.  Yesterday was the first day that they got to it.  My seventh graders did pretty well but I had to watch them like a hawk.  My sixth graders.  Oh! my wonderful sixth graders.  I really didn't even need to be in the room with them.  They were a well oiled machine.  I am so proud of them.  Sigh.  I'm a proud mama art teacher.  I'm going to try to take some video next week of them working and if I do and it is coherent, I'll post it here.  My 8th graders...well, one of my classes isn't doing this project and THEY KNOW WHY and my other class, which is wonderful, will get started on Monday because we are a day behind because of High School Cheerleading tryouts.  Priorities, people. 

Here are some pictures of the process:
Tearing up the paper before it goes in the blender

Blending the paper pulp

Preparing the frame

Dropping the frame in the water

Pouring the pulp

Leveling the frame. Clean as you go!

This is so much fun!

Working as a team

Getting the water out of the pulp is the most time consuming part

More sponging!

Using a brayer to press out the water

ShamWOWs are very absorbent

Ironing the paper to get it dry

More ironing

By the end of class, one or two kids had a dry, finished piece of paper.  This is going to be a lengthy project, especially since I PROMISED them that they all would have at least 2 pieces of paper.   We are going to use one piece of paper to make a cover for a book-a summer journal for them to fill up with pictures, thoughts and ideas over summer break and one for them just to have.

Here're a couple of finished pieces:
Patricia called this piece "Unicorn Barf".  I think that is because of the glitter. 

Hayden was so excited about his paper that he asked to go show his mom, who teaches 8th grade science.

Do you save any special projects that you save for the end of the year?  How do you deal with your own anxiety over safety issues in your classroom?  I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Until next time...