Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"That" Art Teacher

I don't know about you, but I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what sort of art teacher I'm being right now.  Maybe it's the Pat Quinn workshop I attended earlier in the month when he said "don't get frustrated when kids don't know.  Don't sigh, don't roll your eyes.  Be excited, be happy, be like WHEEEEEE!!!! You don't know? Great, let me teach you again, because that's what I'm here to do!"  I really reflected on my own behavior and what it's like to be the student.  It's part of the reason I go to so many conferences and workshops: I'm the student.  And have you ever been in that class or workshop and the teacher makes you feel stupid?  Seared in my memory: a conference workshop all about origami folds.  The presenter says "Just follow the handout, and you'll be fine."  Totally thought I was, but when he asked for volunteers and I raised my hand, he came over and said something like "Well, these are all wrong.  Nothing I can do with this! Who did it correctly?!"  I wanted to crawl under the table and dig a nice deep hole.  
Early in my career co-workers and parents would say, "Oh, you must've had an amazing elementary art teacher!"  Nope.  I do not remember that woman smiling ONCE.  All of my memories of her are her sitting behind her desk.  My mom has three identical everything from our elementary careers: a pre-cut pumpkin with triangle eyes from me, my brother, my sister.  A paper scarecrow on a stick from me, my brother, my sister.  The only project I remember enjoying was a day where she literally shoved a black paper at us and said "Make something out of the scrap box!"  As an adult, I can think about and wonder what sort of unhappiness was going on in her life, but as a kid, I just didn't enjoy art at school.  Flash forward to upper elementary, I enjoyed my teacher and art. . . .and then the allegations of sexual misconduct/abuse came out.  Uuuuuggghhhhhh.  I called my high school art teacher when it all surfaced (I was in college) and said "Please tell me this isn't true!" to which she replied "I'd love to tell you it isn't true, because we as art teachers don't need this, but I think it is."  My high school art teacher was (and is) amazing.  She even took me to college when my mom couldn't, so my first few days of art school were spent with Mary.  More than 20 years later, I still call her, and she picks up right away, joy in her voice.
I want to be remembered by my students as someone who loved art, loved them, loved being there everyday.  But I'm human, and I have a cold and a toddler and a preschooler and two young adults and a grandchild for gosh sakes!  So what does that mean?  It means I have to keep it in the forefront of my mind: what kind of art teacher am I being today?  A rockin' one? Or "that" one???  Time will tell, of course, and I've come to realize that perception is more important than reality many times.  I just hope their perception is a good one.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Not Repeating Last Year

Last May, I was firing the kiln until the next-to-last week of school.  All because I didn't work in a clay project with third grade.  So, this year I decided to get 'er done early.  
My third graders learn about art history, who the first artists were, dig like archaeologists, learn about Egypt and sometimes the Greeks and Romans (depending on how quickly the year goes).  Right now we're learning about Sumeria and the Tell Asmar Figures. They always make paper people to decorate the halls, and I contemplated not doing that lesson to do a clay one, but I'm so dependent on that lesson later (for the paper folding and attaching techniques) that I kept that lesson AND we made small clay figures too.  
I was too busy to remember to take photos of our wet/in process clay figures, but here's a shot of them, fired and still in the kiln:

I cut a hunk of clay off for each student, had them cut part way up to be legs, gave them more to mold a head, arms and details and then used block tempera + gloss medium to paint them:

I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. I did have a few who didn't score and slip well enough so their heads didn't stay attached, but I also had a few who went wild with details:

I often feel like I rush them too much with clay (40 minutes is NOT long enough), but I just don't have the space to store them for them to work on them for multiple class periods.
Clay project in third grade, DONE.  If I'm firing that kiln through the end of May, it won't be due to third grade this year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Art + Writing

Zach Stoller over at Thomas Elementary Art wrote this post about writing in the art room, and it got me thinking about how I've incorporated more and more writing this year.  I keep some "When I did this project I learned" sheets ready to go in a box in my room, and we'll often add then to the bottom of our projects because I really do think it's super valuable to see what students learned written out in their own handwriting.  Sometimes we use a mad libs sort of prompt on the smartboard, like the writing we did here for our Animals on our Heads:

Or this sort of prompt writing from fifth grade, who's finally finishing up themselves-as-president portraits:

Hard to read,  but it says: "President Smith was president from 2046-2054.  During his
presidency he went to the moon, Helped 7036 poor familys get food,
invented the first solar computer car and a lot more!"

"President Rumsey was president from 2046-2054.  During his presidency
he gave world peace, stoped world hunger and stoped all wars."
And some more fifth grade work because it's so very good:

In a nutshell: she stopped world hunger and was a famous, well-liked president.

He helped people who needed help.  He gave money to people that
needed it to buy stuff.

She was very busy! She saved pandas from extinction,ended poverty,
ended world hunger, sent all males to Jupiter (!), gave scholarships
to girls and "was the best prsident America ever had."

She improved school food (making it "better, not as gressy"),
made homeless shelters bigger, and made "maturtie leave longer than 6 weeks."
(I used the maternity leave example in my explanation to them about what I would do.)

I love portions of this one:
". . .she ended wars very mean.  She also made world peace.
She became the best president in the hole intiver univers."

A portion reads: "She found a cure for cancer, ended poorness, and made it a law to bully.
She was a fantastic president."
As for spelling, it never bothers me if it's "inventive."  Spelling is hard! And so not my job to be the spelling police. Don't you remember how tricky spelling was in elementary school?  I found it impossible.
Writing and art go so well together, I don't do it with every project, but I do it with many of them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

African Masks

Very recently, Mr. E posted about the masks his students were making. He used plaster strips, and you know how something like that comes up and you think 'wow, I never thought about doing it that way!' It was totally that moment for me.  I hadn't done African-inspired masks in several years, so I was excited to make them with students again.  Because I have the tiniest art room, I have to stagger sculptural projects between classes.  My other sixth grade group made their funerary figures and then faux gelli printed while this group worked on their masks. I have my students papier mache them.  We start with one balloon per pair of students, and papier mache three layers: a newspaper layer, a phone book layer and a brown school paper towel layer.

To make it easier to work with, each pair gets a bucket (old ice cream tubs, I save everything and our house went through some serious ice cream eating there for a while) with their names on seperate pieces of masking tape.  I put two pieces of tape on each bucket and write their names on them once pairs are decided. When the three layers are dry, I cut the shape in half and peel the tape off the bucket and put one tape name in each half.  Next they add sculptural elements with recyclables (pop bottles, paper towel tubes, yogurt cups, rolled up newspaper, basically, whatever I have laying around).  I forgot to photograph this step, so imagine greatness in your head.  There's another day or two of papier mache-ing, then we paint them:

After that, I got out some random puff paint/glitter paint pens and some pearl it and glitter it mediums and we went crazy with that stuff:

I have one more day planned for this group of mask-makers, I'd like them to add some fiber elements hanging down to cover their faces and bodies, like in African tribes:

Until then, I'll just enjoy them.  Even though they do take up some precious space in my tiny room.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Just When I Think Things Are Going Along Smoothly . . .

This conversation happens: it's 9:13 at my second school.  I'm trying to get fifth graders to clean up instead of wander the room/visit with friends/write on the ancient rolling chalk board.  I say "I need you to clean right now! I have to be at my other school teaching second grade in 30 minutes!"  Fifth grade boy turns to me and says "Wait, you're a teacher?!"  No words. NO WORDS.
Also yesterday, we're painting our pigs and houses and everyone's just working when I hear something at a table.  First grade, sweet little girl with long blond hair and blue eyes says to the others at her table "You know guys, snitches get stitches!" I say "WHAT?!" and she repeats "Snitches get stitches" and adds "y'all" at the end.
This is a day in the life, art teacher friends!
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