About this Site and Me

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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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tis the season: Testing Tears and Fears

Hi Friends! 
Have you or another art teacher experienced any of the following?

Unexplained crying?
Temper tantrums?
Toxic gossip?
Excessive eyeball rolling?
Discouragement and despair?
High levels of anxiety?
Lack of interest in normal activities?
Just giving up and hanging on the floor with a pig? A pig.

Yes. A pig. In the school. Pure awesomeness.

Er. Uh. No. Not from the kids.

I actually meant you, your fellow teachers or administrators.

These effects can be found anywhere, especially in classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, the faculty lounge, after school, before school.

What's the cause?
  • Standardized testing
  • Standardized testing
  • Oh, did I say, standardized testing?
We are all beat tired. Spring Break is over. But, the-end-is-not-in-sight-yet-frustrating exhaustion is suffocating
Not going to lie. This can be a rough time.
Every state, district and school handles testing days differently. I get it. The following are some generalizations about elementary testing. But I think most of us are in the same boat. 

Let's talk about the kids first:
Do you see 9 year olds crying or having panic attacks in the hall?
Are they asking for prayers from their church to get through the third grade math test?
Yes. This happens. All. The. Time.
How is this ok?

Maybe you are proctoring a test:
Did you have to attend trainings where you heard "THOU SHALL NOT" and "You WILL be terminated if..." over and over?
Did you have to sign kinda-scary contracts?

Here in Texas, teachers are not allowed to read, knit, touch an electronic device, or stare at the wall while administering a test. Regardless of the number of kids in the room, we must be "actively monitoring" THE ENTIRE TIME. That means your head is always looking at a kid. That means you occasionally meander about the room. It is sheer, boring exhaustion. 

If you are administering a standardized test, you will learn a new level of fall-on-your-face mental exhaustion. Once the testing is over, your body, your mind will cease to function. People (your friends, your spouse, your children, your parents...) will never get it, unless they are art teachers as well. Yeah, I said ART. 

They will never understand the sheer agony of taking an imaginative, creative, art teacher, placing us in a "closet", reading aloud a math (UGhhhhh....who here failed HS Algebra? *raises hand) exam to a small group of wiggling kids who need to use the restroom every 15 minutes. It's like making our creative brains run a marathon, through rain and muck, wearing winter clothing. It's depressing, right? Think about what the kids are going through.

When you get home, you will be a useless slug. Dinner? HA. Your son's baseball game? You might sleep through it. Maybe you will "forget" to take your daughter to ballet... just saying...not that I did any of those things...but…


Maybe you have hallway, cafeteria, recess or bathroom duty:
Do you have signs like this around your school? I bet you do!

The self proclaimed "potty nazis", a most boring job. I used lower case letters on purpose. Because, you know.

There is nothing to make your day longer and stressful than these duties. O.M. GEEEEEE. Especially if these are not part of your normal work day.
THESE WILL BE THE MOST BORING OF DAYS. Sorry. Accept, adapt and find something you can do to make the time go by faster. If you are allowed to, that is.

Maybe you are teaching with a modified schedule:
Your day is going to be all kinds of messed up. Accept it. The kids will be nuts. Usually there is no recess (if you have it) on testing days. The kids will be nuts, super talkative, stressed and/or nervous, and did I say, nuts? They need flexibility, understanding, love and a great time in art. They most likely will not be quiet, so pick your battles.

Are you considering introducing a new lesson to your test takers? STOP. DO NOT DO THIS. The kids will not remember it. You will get 35% at best. And you will pound your head against the wall.

Maybe you are in a unusually bad mood:
Are teachers ignoring you in the hallway?
Do normally cheerful teachers seem angry or irritated?
Is there a lot of toxic talk in the lounge, the halls, etc.?
Is all this rubbing off on you? Because as artists we tend to soak up all the energies around us?


So what's an art educator to do? There are too many testing days to wing it alone.

There is help. You are not alone!

Here are some helpful hints, from me and art teachers all over the country. Relax and know that we are all in this together:

Stop participating in toxic drama. Stop. Just...stop. It will only make you feel worse. It does nothing good for you, the kids, your team, your school. 

Do not get offended if teachers/admin are not as kind to you as they normally are. It's not you, it's the test. 
 Notice how I phrased that. If this is out of ordinary behavior, don't get upset. If someone is always disrespectful to you, and is continuing, that is another situation altogether.

 If your administrators give you a job, do it. This is the time to be a team player. Don't be offended. If you feel your time could be better used, or your team has a different/better solution, schedule a meeting with your admin after testing time, to plan for next year. Do not expect things to change this year. 

If you are giving a test, talk to your family/friends/pets beforehand. 
Make sure they understand you will be out of commission on these days. Get take out, make meals beforehand, arrange for car pools, and cancel anything not important. I am seriously not joking. Once you give a small group oral admin for 5th grade math or science, you will understand.

If you have a modified schedule (your classes are out of order, shortened
classes, mixed classes, etc), let me gently, gently suggest this is not the best day
for the "test taking classes" to work on their project, no matter your art ed
philosophy. They will not be engaged. They will be nuts. Instead, consider
having fun, easy and chill-out one day art lessons ready. For example: 

A few years back, I decided to let their projects "sleep over" and we did zentangles. It was the best idea I 've ever had:

Relaxation and silence- but not the test-taking quiet- the art-making calm. So nice.
They loved it. 

Or, consider having Free Choice Center Day. This will allow the kids time to chat and collaborate, which they have not been able to do all day.
Either way, this is relevant, critically important, art making.

Just chillin, making art, whether it's digital or traditional. It's all great. It's all important.

Of course, you can stay on track with non-test taking grades. But be flexible and understanding with your older grades.

Warning: The following ideas are for teachers who work in schools with a trusting, supportive atmosphere. If you do not work in such environment, do not read as your eyes will literally roll out of your head.


Consider organizing a potluck on testing days, or bring in doughnuts, or chocolate, whatever. Testing affects THE WHOLE SCHOOL, not just the testing teachers. So make sure this is a school-wide thing.

Create Teacher Motivations, have the kids hand them out. Here's what our Library Assistant does, she is a total rock star:

Host an "after testing",  after school, teacher art class. Let them come and create some art. Do some mini lessons, let them relax and embrace their creativity. Again, this is school-wide. We hosted a wreath-making class and the teachers loved it.

Organize a much needed happy hour! Coffee or adult beverages, doesn't matter.

Get with your PE teacher and organize a "Mission Impossible" for teachers. Or volleyball. Or dodgeball. Super fun stress relief!


Regardless of any schedule changes, or your duties during this time of the year, keep in mind this is temporary. These tests do not determine who our kids are, and they certainly do not determine what kind of art teacher you are. Yes, I am well aware of the high stakes of high stakes testing, as my state basically started this madness. I am telling you it doesn't matter. Stop stressing.

Do your job well, adapt, be flexible, don't get your feelings hurt, don't participate in toxicity. Notice I never said be a doormat.

You are awesome, you are a rock star, you will get through this with a (tired) smile on your face and back to rocking the art room soon!

It's all worth it!

Friday, March 6, 2015

Design Education in the Elementary Classroom: the Cherry on Top of your Art Sundae.

 A few years ago, I noticed an abundance of mandala-inspired graphic tees and hoodies in my classroom. I was already planning to do a lesson introducing radial symmetry to third grade, so I thought: hey, let's use this current fashion as a reference. I gave the kids a job: they were to pretend they worked for Target and they had to create a new t-shirt/skateboard/snowboard design using radial symmetry:

Julianna, 3rd grade

While they worked, I talked about art careers ("Could you imagine doing this as a job? How cool would that be? Most of this is done on computers, so you need good drawing skills!"). It took no time to add Design Thinking to the lesson. I didn't leave anything important out: 
  • I still introduced, reviewed balance, pattern, line, shape and color (radial symmetry = great math integration).
  • I still introduced the proper way to use markers and color pencils, and explained the necessity of high quality design (technique and aesthetics).
  • I still was able to show and explain examples of mandalas (history and world cultures).
  • The kids had student choice within the assignment (media).
I simply started the lesson with a job, a product (the Big Idea, the metaphor, etc.).
Liberty, 3rd grade

Anna, 3rd grade

They had a blast, and they were totally excited about the idea of creating a product for people. These third graders absolutely loved the idea of creating something for others to enjoy.

Welcome to Design Education: the idea of using design to create products to make the world a better, or prettier, place.

Today, Design Education is a THING. What we used to just call graphic design has morphed into a plethora of design careers:

 “Apparel Design, Architectural Design, Environmental Design, Exhibit Design, Fashion Design, Floral Design, Footwear Design, Furniture Design, Game Design, Graphic Design, Industrial Design, Interior Design, Product Design, Transportation Design, etc.” *

Repeat after me, most of the jobs our students will have haven't been invented yet. And we know that the majority will involve creativity, innovation, design. It's crazy, right? We need to get these kids ready to be the creative, innovative designers of their future. 

The beautiful this is that you don’t have to sacrifice anything to add Design Education to your lessons. All you doing is adding another layer, making your lessons richer and more robust. That cherry on top.

Start by looking at your kids. Drive around their neighborhood, look at their community. What's missing? What's a problem? Or use global issues, current events. It all depends on your kids, your school, your community (be sensitive, be knowledgeable, be respectful).

When I taught in an urban elementary school, my kids lived in a food desert-there were no grocery stores close by. The only place to get food- chips and candy really- was the corner store. They also didn't really have playground- it was broken, on blacktop, surrounded by chain link fences. Could they create their own playground? What else could be a part of that space? A garden?

Could you imagine the kids creating their answer to these issues? Collaborative collage murals, paintings, digital art, ceramic reliefs?

And what if this work of art was presented to the school board? The mayor and town council? This art would not only teach the elements and principles, but also community involvement, empathy, creativity and innovation. What would be the long term impact of such a lesson? 

Are stray dogs a problem? How about a dog hotel (never said this had to be realistic!)? Check out the fictitious, “Dog Island" *website for inspiration and a good dose of digital citizenship.

Shoe design is a huge thing right now, especially design-your-own. While you are doing that shoe-based art project, ask the kids what they could add to the shoe design that would help their community or the world. Talk about upcycling, sustainable resources, odd materials. You will be surprised at their answers, regardless of the age group.

Today, in my suburban school, we have three STEAM labs, student iPads and Mac labs. It is easy to include Design Thinking to many lessons. I added Design Education to my Free Choice Centers Challenges for early finishers. From architectural design (create a lakeside restaurant with a fun place for the kids), to creating a dog park, to clothing design for the future. They draw these or build them in Minecraft.

Adding design to your lessons is not about giving up anything, it’s about adding student-led creativity, community and world awareness. It’s about getting our kids ready for a future they create. Who doesn’t want that cherry on top?