About this Site and Me

My photo
Flower Mound, TX, United States
Hi, I am an artist, wife, mom, gamer and the Elementary Art Educator at Donald Elementary, a sweet and wonderful school in Flower Mound, TX (outside of Dallas). This is a great place to see how we are integrating studio habits with technology and interdisciplinary connections. I also love to share my "wisdom" (Re: Experiences. From mistakes.) about teaching Elementary Art. I love what I do, and I've been doing it for a long time. Creating and teaching Art is what I live for. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thinking like an artist: Castles with Landforms, 3rd grade

Think like an artist: If you could create a castle anywhere, where would it be? What kind of castle would you build? What would it look like? How would you build it?

Before we begin, take 15 min and watch this. Just do it.

Without realizing this was an Art Ed movement, this has become the direction of my art program. Out of necessity. Out of frustration. And I am so glad to know I am on the right track, that other teachers are dealing with this exact issue.

I have introduced  modified TAB (student choice within the assignment), because despite my best efforts I keep seeing from my elementary kids:

  • Copy art, even with no demo
  • Refusing to think out of the box
  • Anger if I don't give yes/no answers (Kids: Is this right? What do you want me to do now?)
  • Tendency to do the minimal required

Why? I don't know. I usually blame standardized testing. I know I am not the only art teacher dealing with this. Kids want a yes/no answer. They are terrified to make mistakes. To think for themselves. They require constant validation. It's our job to teach them the skills to think for themselves. 

So I find myself demo-ing less, and chant "Act and think like an artist" about 50 times a day. "YOU are the artist. This is YOUR idea. I am here to help you, but I cannot tell you what to do".
 They seem to get that. (*Some kids are upset with this creative freedom, just be prepared. Be patient and direct. They can do it.)

With all this is mind, I spent the summer reviewing lessons (I rarely repeat), and rewriting some lessons by aligning them to science and social studies curriculum so I could really hit integration hard, as I love integration. It's that connection she talks about at the end of the video. (*You have to do it right, though! Research first so you don't sacrifice the importance of art on its' own merit)

I also backed off solely focusing on the elements and principles, as those would be taught alongside, and just not be the superstars. I made the idea the superstar. I added metaphors and questions to my project intro.

The castle lesson: This is a 3rd grade lesson. Create an architectural work of art using geometric shapes (typical Elem art project) with landforms (science integration). See how easy it is to integrate?

I switched my approach and just casually asked the kids as soon as they came in, if you could create a castle anywhere, where would you?

 Here are their responses within the first 20 seconds, blurted out with excitement.
More on that terrible example later. There is a reason for that, I promise.

See? They have great ideas. They don't need me to dictate those parameters.

Ok, then I looked around a saw the panic and excitement. That glorious ambiguity. They wanted to make THAT CASTLE NOW, but how? I knew they needed guidance. They are 8 years old.

So I gave them some basic criteria:

  • Where is this castle?
  • What kind of castle are you imagining? Sand? Medieval? Underwater? Ice? (Oh, and no copying of Disney castles allowed... so yeah, no Frozen ice castles, which made some of my girls a little mad...)
  • Landforms (3rd grade science integration) they are currently learning about landforms in class, so they need to add 2-3 in this castle landscape. Could you have mountains and canyons with an underwater castle? How about forests and plains on another planet? What would that look like?
  • Mood: here is where I brought in the art history because I cannot give that up. I created a short presentation of castles around the world, with some medical paintings thrown in for good measure. Then we talked about the mood of the castle. How does it feel? What would a sleepy castle look like? How about a sad and lonely castle? An excited castle? Then the kids realized this would probably be best explained by their color choices.
  • How to build (this is where I bring in the elements and principles: overlapping geometric shapes) to create 3D.
  • Use your imagination

To start:

These kids were buzzing with ideas. They needed a way to plan and organize their thoughts.
First: use the iPad to research castles (I did not allow clip art), for a few minutes
Then: create a Thinking Map (flow chart) to organize ideas. Or they could write notes. Whatever their choice, the kids need to learn how to take their great ideas, organize them and save them for later. This could be done on paper or iPads.

Examples of a Bubble Map

Once they had great ideas that meant all the criteria, then the sketch:
3rd grade student example of castle sketch. This shows the power of having technology at their fingertips.

Once they were happy with the sketch, then onto the final:

 The kids are creating these castles on black paper, with black outlines (oil pastels) and using chalk pastel for color. This will be the first time we will be using chalk pastels, and they will be great for expressing mood, blending and visual interest.

Alright. So this is MY LAME EXAMPLE. I did this on purpose. I promise.

The kids and I talked about my example:

Me: Does the castle meet the requirements?
Kids: no, there is no overlapping, and not enough geometric shapes. It's kind of boring.

Me: Does it have landforms?
Kids: yes, but they are not very detailed. Like, we can't really tell what kind of landforms they are, except for the water.

Me: why did I make a LAME example?
Kids: so we wouldn't copy?
Me: Yep! I did this so you could see what the black outlines and chalk pastel look like. You can do better.

And they did.

Color will happen in January, as we are in the 2 week stretch before our Christmas break. Stayed tuned!

Monday, December 8, 2014

'twas the weeks before Christmas break... (or, what these weeks look like for art teachers!)

A re-post from last year...worth repeating!

The Holidays are upon us. 

Ahhhhhhhh, so sweet!

The weeks before the holiday break will probably be the hardest weeks of your professional career (equal to it? The last week of school. But at least there is an huge end in sight!). If you are new to teaching, or new to elementary, there are some super important things to consider. 
Typical behavior this week, amiright?

Lesson #1: TV lies.
That precious joy radiating from angelic children's faces is FICTION. TV has ruined us all. Kids do not show excitement with wonder, delight and sweet giggles. Nay, nay, there are tears and fights and back talking and temper tantrums from YOUR BEST BEHAVED KIDS. You will have steam coming out of your ears by Thursday. 

How to deal? Repeat after me: PICK YOUR BATTLES. These kids are exhausted, beyond excited and burnt out. They are going to be irritable, cranky and teary. Try being understanding and patient. You are the adult in the room. Try to not lose your cool and punish out-of-character behavior (unless, you know, you have to). Wait until January and if the poor behavior continues, then deal with it. Chances are the kids will come back more refreshed and ready (hahaha) to learn.

You better watch out, you better not pout....

Lesson #2: Do not expect their best work this week. You won't get it. You will only make yourself cry.
This is NOT the week to introduce brand new and shiny content-rich curriculum. It is a waste of your and the kids time, as you will have to reteach all over after the break. The kids will not remember one thing. Re-read Lesson 1.

You do not have the kids full attention right now. You can't compete with the upcoming season. And you are going to get maybe 75% effort and attempt.

However, this is NOT the week to "just let them have free time". Unless you want a migraine that makes you cry and vomit, that is. You don't, do you? 'Cause those are the worst!

What to do? Here are some awesome things I and other Art Ed teachers have done over the years, depending on each different class/student situation:

  1. Get out those art games you bought/made and never have time for. Divide the kids and have competitions. Or have 2 game stations and rotate halfway through. Yes, this is the louder option. 
  2. 1 Day Project-Observational Drawing. Elementary kids LOVE to learn how to draw. They really want this important skill, plus they can practice over the vacation. Have the kids draw from life. Here are some fun things to consider:
    1. winter/holiday/Christmas decorations (Dollar Store is the bomb, the cheesier the better!)-ornaments and garland, snowmen, etc. Great way to discuss composition and various perspective (birds eye view? View finders?)
    2. ski equipment
    3. winter stuff: gloves, scarves, mittens
    4. Boots and slippers-they LOVE drawing shoes! Great texture lesson!
    5. Holiday lights. Try turning them on and having the kids draw on black paper with colored pencils or oil pastels. Great way to observe light and color, transparency, highlights, etc. I do this with 2nd grade up.
    6. Holly branches, pine cones, acorns, etc. Again, look for interesting composition: make all the branches go off the paper on 3 sides, overlapping elements, that kind of thing.
  3. Holiday Lights: there are lessons for this all over the Internet. Basically, make a template/stencil of a holiday light bulb, trace it multiple times in a strong composition, and using pastels or metallic crayons (etc), add color and glow. It works best on black paper. Check these out:
    1. art with Ms. Gram
    2. buggy and buddy
    3. Pinterest has a ton of ideas as well
  4. Snow, snow snow! Read a beloved snowman book or show the movie, "The Snowman". Bonus, these works of art can be displayed throughout the winter season.
    1. snowy landscapes, talk about weather, time of day, value, tints, etc.!
    2. snow people:
    3. "a snow ninja", kinder, acrylic painted papers
      "a snowman at night", kinder, acrylic painted papers
      1. showing emotions
      2. showing 3D using shadows
      3. doing a fun activity
      4. in a nighttime landscape
      5. throughout the seasons
      6. from various perspective points of view (bird's eye, worm's eye)
      7. throughout history (Science/Social Studies integration)
      8. in different biomes (Science/Social Studies integration)
  5. Here's the lesson I got from my student teaching days at Cranberry Pines ES, Medford, NJ, back in OMG 1990: Kirigami paper ornaments.  I do this every year on this week as the kids basically demand it of me. They love it, I love it- it is fun, cool, teaches REALLY important fine motor skills that more and more kids are lacking AND uses up a bunch of scrap collage papers.

Here's the link:Kirigami ornaments

This teaches kids kinder and up how to (yes, I have to assist the younger kids with drawing lines, but I will not fold or cut for them):

  • fold paper more than 1 time
  • cut folded paper
  • symmetry
  • 3D paper sculpture/paper craft
  • follow directions carefully
  • use scrap paper to create collage details
  • utilize imagination and creativity

Whatever you do, make sure it takes the entire class time to do your 1 day project, so no "down" time which leads to tears and other problems.

Avoid playing Christmas music. I know, I know, they are cute and 'tis the season, but what you will really get is an out of control sing along that ends with tears and other problems (plus, the non-Christians will silently thank you).

Breathe deep, take care of yourself, drink lots of water, pick your battles, take a nap when you get home, and we will ALL GET THROUGH THIS WEEK TOGETHER!

Bring it!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Holiday Art around our School

 Check out some of the sweet holiday crafts happening around our school today.

 One of the many things I love about Donald is our amazing parental involvement. Our PTA hosts an "Elf Alley", where kids can sign up to create various holiday crafts that they can give as gifts.

I remember back in the day, there was a special store at the mall for kids to purchase cheap-o gifts for  parents. I remember the magic of buying a tiny crystal angel for my mom and a terrible tie pin for my dad! I was so excited.

But look at what our PTA does:

This is sooooo much better! Handcrafted gifts! Parents and grandparents LOVE getting these handmade gifts.

Also, since the PTA has this covered, I am off the hook for any "Holiday" crafts in the Art room, and I can continue with my curriculum! Thank you!

Down the hall, Kinder is creating personalized Christmas/Winter Tree sweatshirts. Such a special work of wearable art.

These PTA and classroom teacher sponsored holiday crafts are an important part of our school culture. They really help build community and create long lasting, meaningful childhood memories.

Both my kids went here to Donald (yes, I was their art teacher... it's therapy for them later on) I know I loved it when they made these tree and snowmen sweatshirts, and I cried a little when I opened their handcrafted Christmas ornament on Christmas morning.

So even for a hardcore art teacher, these holiday crafts hit me in the heart.