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Scaled-up Self Portraits

My district curriculum map for 8th grade has a focus on self.  The students like self portraits but sometimes it is fun to bring in a twist to the typical head shot version.

For this project the students take photos of "parts" of each other.  They think about creating an interesting visual composition with the camera to include parts of the self that have specific meaning.  For example...a baseball pitcher may chose to photograph his arm, a dancer may chose to photograph her feet, a piece of jewelry with sentimental value can be photographed on a neck, wrist, ankle or hand, etc.  I encourage students to include objects of significance as well.  I have a student who loves music, theater and dance and recently starred in the school musical.  His picture was of his hand, holding his I-touch which displayed the advertisment for the play he was in.  I really want them to think about the "why" in their choices.

Once I have printed the 4"x 6" pictures I have the students create a 1/2"x1/2" grid on the picture itself.  Then I have them create a 2"x 2" grid on a 24"x 16" piece of drawing paper. (Don't forget to cut off 2" if the paper is 24"x 18" to begin with).

The students then draw box for box exactly what they see scaled up proportionally.  When the sketches are finished they color with pencils, oil pastels and collage paper to complete.  The results are stunning especially for students who lack confidence in their drawing skills.  This is a project that makes everyone feel successful.


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Product Designs for a Sustainable Future

The next phase of our fifth grade design unit is to develop new products which are sustainable in some way. 

We begin by thinking through the list of designs we saw in our Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum catalog from the Design Life Now exhibition.  We talk about categories that these designs fall under, such as technology, sports equipment, footwear, etc.  Then we brainstorm other categories that we might consider for product design possibilities.  Then in groups the students come up with a new product they want to design.  The product can be something that does not already exist or products that do exist combined in a new way.  I also allow them to design products that can not actually exist on earth at this point in time. 

The students create 3-dimensional prototypes or models of their products using any available materials that I have in the classroom.  They design the packaging for the product and develop a marketing strategy.  Each group is responsible for coming up with a company name and designing a company logo. 

Finally, the students present their products to the class by developing and acting out commercials.  They dress-up and bring in music and props.  They have a lot of fun with this and it really influences the way they think about the products they buy and how those products impact the environment. 

Becoming 2-D Designers: Izze can, oil pastel compositions

I am currently working on a design unit with my fifth graders.  I started the unit by sharing a catalog from an exhibition I saw at the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum a couple of years ago, called Design Life Now.  I show them designs that I know will catch their interest such as ipod, Nike, Roomba robot vacuums, and Clear Blue Hawaii kayaks.  We talk about three important components of the success of the designs.  The companies represented each start with a great idea or new technology, they design cool packaging for their products and have successful marketing strategies.

Next, I bring in a product that they see everyday in the school cafeteria.  I show them an Izze can and talk about how Izze took juice and seltzer and put them together in a new way.  They were able to hit the school market as soda was being removed from schools and they became the healthy substitute for kids who like soda.  Their packaging appeals to kids with it's small can, fun bright colors, sophisticated flavors (mandarin instead of orange) and a clean, contemporary logo. 

The first project for my students, as they begin to think like designers, is to design a large 2-D composition of Izze cans drawn from observation.  We discuss artist's tools and strategies used to create visual interest in a 2-D work.  We discuss using size relationships by including small, medium and large objects in the design.  We discuss placing objects at a variety of angles to include horizontal, vertical and diagonal orientations.  We discuss overlap and including objects, that leave the page, to create interesting negative space.

The students finish the compositions by adding color with oil pastels.

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Stay tuned for the next phase of our design unit...

Handmade Batik fabric pillows (without the hot wax!)

I am currently finishing up a batik pillow project that I do each quarter with my sixth graders but I have done this with students of all ages.  We begin by researching the art of batik and the cultures in which batik is found.  We discuss the process used to create the fabrics and the many functions that the fabrics have once they are created.

The first step in the process for students in designing their own batik fabric, is to experiment with drawing patterns.  I have my students consider the possibilities of making a pattern personal and meaningful by bringing pieces of the students own culture to the designs.  We discuss the use of symbols to create pattern, geometric and organic shapes and patterns, stencils and henna tatoo patterns to help open up as many approaches as possible.

Next the students experiment with resist by creating their pattern of choice using oil pastel crayons and watercolor paint on watercolor paper.  These two steps allow the students to work out some of the challenges they come across in their pattern development before getting to fabric.


For the fabric itself, I give each student a 20" square of white muslin.  I create a wax substitue by mixing equal parts of aloe based lotion and flouride based toothpaste (I buy the cheapest brands I can find!).  The students paint this mixure onto the fabric in the same way they used the oil pastel crayons from the previous step.  The fabrics need to dry overnight (if the toothpaste and lotion mixture is applied in a very thick manor it may take even longer). 


Once dry (even if a bit sticky still), the students paint over the entire fabric with washable tempera paint.  It may appear that the process did not work because the pattern will not show at this point.  However, once the paint has dried overnight, the students can place the fabric in a sink and wash everything out.  They can do this as though they are pioneers washing clothes in the river.  They should scrub all of the paint, lotion and toothpaste off until all slimy areas are gone and no color is coming out of the fabric.  The pattern is revealed as they wash and it is a great "A-HA" moment for the students.  The fabric should be hung to dry and when it is, it will be soft again and ready to sew.


I think it is important to create something functional using the fabrics, so I have my students sew them into pillows.  I find that the first day of sewing is hard for me because almost every student thinks they need lots of help.  They quickly settle in and become more comfortable with the process.  The kids who love to sew or have had some previous experience sewing, end up being the "experts" and help other kids when they are struggling.  Most of the students realize, once they get the hang of it, that it is not as hard as they had anticipated.


My students love this project overall.  Some struggle with certain stages but are very proud of their pillow in the end.   


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Ode to Self: Whimsical Plaster figures inspired by figure drawings and Niki de St. Phalle

A primary focus for my 8th grade curriculum is self.  I like to give my students opportunities to explore a variety of materials and to create two and three dimensional work in the process of self discovery.  This project meets all the criteria.


We begin the project with figure drawing.  Students who feel comfortable posing for the class hold a 1, 2  or 5 minute pose.  We also do some drawing in small groups with one group member posing while the other group members draw.  With the short drawing time frames the students focus on gestures.



Next, I share images of sculptures by artist Niki de St. Phalle.  Her large scale figures are fun and flamboyant.  My students enjoy seeing her whimsical forms.


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Next, the students use wire to create armatures which are inspired by their favorite gestures.  They consider favorite activities and other important aspects of self which they may choose to incorporate into their sculptures.  Then the students add tin foil to give volume and form to the figures.  When the figures are structurally sound the students cover the figures with plaster wrap and paint them.


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My students really enjoy the process and the end products are great!

Indicators of Quality Arts Integration

In speaking with another educator today, our conversation turned to how we would know that a quality arts integration program was being implemented in schools. Some of the indicators of quality are the level of professional expertise used in the training of teachers to integrate the arts in their classrooms and the purpose of the integration. The following example in Georgia caught my blogging eye as on track to provide a quality professional development experience based on these indicators:

Teachers will be given the tools to thoroughly integrate the fine arts (namely dance/movement, theater/drama, visual arts, and music) into their "everyday" classroom teaching as a creative, imaginative way to help students master (as a method for conveying the important concepts contained in the GPS for math, science, social studies and English language arts) the Georgia Performance Standards, in turn raising standardized test scores. (Read the whole story in the Barrow County News )

Using the arts by integrating them into and across the curriculum as a means to improve test scores may be important, but not essential. What is an essential indicator is the purpose of helping students master the Georgia Performance Standards. Arts integration can do this well, but not without some really good professional development teachers:

ArtsNow/Creating Pride, Inc., based in Atlanta, through funding provided by the Harrison Foundation, will import a staff of world-class professionals to provide the teacher training. ArtsNow, in a partnership established with the Auburn and Bethlehem schools in the summer of 2008, will have widely renowned staff teacher-trainers at the January event from a variety of professional and collegiate-level fine arts organizations, including: the Atlanta Ballet, the High Museum Atlanta, Synchronicity Theater’s Playmaking for Girls Program and nationally-recognized music consultant Maribeth Yoder-White.

So the chance that arts integration will be successful rests squarely on the quality of those who are delivering that professional development, their expertise in their art and the instructional leadership of arts integration examples, such as:

Teachers will explore how various fine and performing arts can convey the GPS content to their young students of varying learning styles. Break-out sessions will focus on arts media like printmaking and additive sculpture as a process not unlike creative writing, or addition/subtraction in math; dramatic engagement and non-verbal communication in theater as a way to demonstrate social studies concepts related to culture; music composition and found-sound instrument making that parallels mathematic process and discovering patterns.

It should be easier to tell or predict the outcome of these activities by the indicators of purpose and leadership in professional developmen. There is lots of research to say why this is so important and the key is to get it done right in order to prepare students for the 21st Century:

Research has confirmed time and again that the arts teach children the skills necessary and valuable for the 21st century workforce: collaboration, creativity, imagination and communication.

Cutting the Arts? Why Cut a Critical Link?

P1010004_1 One of the first things that goes, in a down economy, is sports and the arts. Both of these are vital to children and both ride on the economic health of the school and its system. The arts, I have argued, are vital because they kick off higher engagement, higher cognitive functioning and spill over into other subjects in terms of supporting student thinking. We should not be cutting the arts, or sports, because they are critical links in children's educational lives.

Don't get me wrong, ELA and Math are very important too. But our educational accountability is currently organized around testing student knowledge of ELA and Math so they will be the last thing cut in downsizing schools. The arts engage children in ways that are hard to measure and that makes it difficult to argue for their inclusion in a fully funded budget.

P1010178Does that mean that we should not make the argument? We should. Does that mean the arts are less important than other types of learning? No it does not. Will the world come to an end if the arts are cut? Not really, I mean, not because of the arts anyway. Parents with resources will always look to supplement their child's education by investing in arts lessons, piano instruction, dance, theatre games, and such.

What is important to remember is that humans love art because it helps them live a more meaningful life, it helps humans get in touch with their creative side, and it forces humans to have fun as they struggle to create something new and worthy of attention. If you are interested in speaking up, approach the big organizations who do advocacy everyday. Some names to get started with are...Arts Education Partnerships and Alliance for the Arts.

Islamic Pattern Prints

At our yearly foreign film festival my 6th graders watched the movie Children of Heaven (Iran) 1997.

In the movie Ali takes his little sister Zahra's shoes to the shoemaker to be repaired, but loses them on the way home.  The siblings decide to keep the predicament a secret from their parents, knowing there is no money to buy a replacement pair and fearing that they will be punished.  They devise a scheme to share Ali's sneakers:  Zahra will wear them to school in the morning and hand them off to Ali at midday so that he can attend afternoon classes.  All sorts of adventures arise as they try to hide their secret from their parents and teachers.  Zahra even spots her shoes on a schoolmate's feet, but the two become friends.  Ali enters a well-known running race in the hopes that he will win third prize:  a new pair of sneakers.  Will he win?

After viewing the film I have my students research Islamic art patterns.  Then they design their own geometric patterns on graph paper using at least two shapes which intersect or overlap.  (see examples: Download Islamic patterns).

Then my students transfer their patterns onto scratch foam and print a variety of one color prints.  Then they cut out the shapes, fill them with pattern and print them over their coordinating spaces on the printed patterns in different colors.  They end up with beautiful multi-colored prints which are filled with pattern and texture.

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Performance Assessment and the Arts

We often see student eyes look up when an arts teacher arrives in a classroom. We notice how quickly students quiet down as that art teacher starts the class. And we wonder why as the class progresses, students from all levels of academic achievement seem to want to demonstrate their understanding of what is required.

This connection between teacher, curriculum and student is celebrated in arts-integrated classrooms all over America. So how does one know, how do teachers and students know, that their connection is being properly assessed? They know this through the natural outgrowth of this engaged connection, a performance, and its assessment.

Performance assessments have been around for many years. Coming on the heels of authentic assessment, performance assessments have been gaining ground in schools as a more revealing way to assess student learning than standardized tests. Although standardized tests are easy to administer and valid and reliable to score, they promote top-down, one way to think, types of student learning. Performance assessments allow for multiple ways to solve problems, they foster creativity, and promote student engagement by honoring student ideas.

The arts have long used performances, portfolios and exhibitions as public ways to hold artists accountable for their work. Performance assessments as currently understood in schools are refined ways to support student engagement with curriculum. They fall under the highly regarded "project method" as the best way to assess student learning because they require students to engage over time in producing a quality demonstration of student understanding. As opposed to standardized tests or quizzes, which are more of a snapshot of student memorization of learning, performance assessments engage students in the full range of Bloom's Taxonomy: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate and create.

Performance assessments might include observation, interviews, learning logs, portfolios, exhibitions, debates and public speaking of all sorts. The arts promote this kind of learning through a clear goal of public presentation of student work, followed by hours of self-directed preparation and culminating in the public dispay of the work accompanied by a rubric of clear criteria for judging the work.

Performance assessments help the integration of the arts, the integration of multiple skill sets and could be quite useful to all academic work.


Maori Pattern Prints

In my last post I shared my school's tradition of the Foreign Film Festival, as well as information about the movie our eighth graders watched and the follow-up art project.  I want to continue in that vein to share the movie our seventh graders watched as well as the follow-up art project.

The seventh graders watched the movie "Whale Rider".  On the east coast of New Zealand, the people of Whangara believe that their presence dates back over a thousand years.  These Maori people trace their origins to a single ancestor, Paikea, who escaped death by riding to shore on the back of a whale when his canoe collapsed.  From then on, the Wanghara cheif has always been a first-born male.  The cheif's oldest son fathers twins-a boy and a girl-but the boy and his mother die at birth.  The surviving girl is called Pai.  Pai believes that she is destined to be the new chief.  Her grandfather Koro is bound by tradition to pick a male leader, and feels that many of the tribe's problems began when Pai's twin brother died.  Pai seems to possess some special gifts, especially when some whales become stranded on the beach.  Will she overcome her grandfather's prejudice and a thousand years of tradition to fulfill her destiny?

After viewing the movie, I have my students research Maori art and specifically, patterns found in Maori art.  Then the students each choose one quality or trait that is important in their own culture (i.e. strength, wisdom, health, etc.) and, as in Maori tradition, they consider an animal or object found in nature which represents that quality or trait.  Students then develop an original symbol using lines and shapes inspired by their animal or object to represent their important trait.

The symbols are then carved into wood printing plates, similar to the wood carvings found in Maori art, and printed as three color reduction prints.

My students love this project and the results are really beautiful.

Continue reading "Maori Pattern Prints" »

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