Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Maker(ish) Me

About a year ago, I took a dive off my comfortable, low-tech beach into rather high-tech waters.
I have learned basic circuitry, adding both lights and motors, and can now solder.  I am blogging and even using Twitter.  Lots of fun projects have come out of this learning, but recently I have felt that I sort of have hit a wall, and that it was time to learn something that has forever sounded scary and above my head- programming. Yikes, shiver.

John Cohn, mad scientist. Photo- Wikipedia.
But when I saw a listing for an LED headband workshop with John Cohn, it was over- attending was a must. SO much of a must for me, that even though the class was full, I showed up at the right place and time with crossed fingers that maybe there would be a spot for me- and there was!

The amount of information in this man's head is unfathomable, but despite his advanced understanding of all things tech, he is very patient with people like me who are beginning at zero.

John helping a a child and mom solder teeny tiny spots on the headband they made
Using a 9V battery, an Arduino, and an LED strip, I soldered and coded my way to making a fairly fabulous headband, which can be changed in the future to be, say, slow changing red and green for the holiday season, or flashy and fast red, white, and blue for July 4.  And it seems sort of/maybe likely I might actually be able to do that by myself.

Rainbow princess!
And it changes colors, which in a darkish space changes the light in the entire room, which is pretty extreme.

Blue Period.
Being able to change the color in the room is sort of a superpower, my own personal Rainbow Brite moment.
And now the world shall be a rainbow! Bam!

In the end, I turned my headband into a belt, actually, which I then decided to should rock for the December Generator Social, which was all about wearable technology.  To go with the belt, I made a pair of light-up ruffles to put on my heels.  This design came from Becky Stern, of Adafruit, in one of her fantastic tutorials. The thing is, I tried and failed three times with the conductive thread following Becky's directions.  I don't know why, but my battery case, no matter how snugly I sewed around the battery, never had enough pressure to make the contacts stay on if I wasn't pinching them.  As I was about to go to bed, visions of a paper circuit appeared, and figuring that sleep could wait, tested out the idea.  Success! Solder, copper tape, a folded piece of paper, some tape, and a battery lit up my shoes for me!

Glow shoes!
This was kind of a big deal for me, because creating a circuit truly of my own design represents a huge step- I finally understand a material and process enough to be able to not just copy designs, but to create an original idea, like a circuit I have never seen before, and have it succeed.

My feet all glammed up and ready to go out!
At the Generator event there were lots of great ideas and interesting, inspiring people. On display: Light-up sewn houses! The structure was made out of stitched felt houses, dipped into liquid starch. Each house was positioned over an LED throwie, which is basically just an LED and button-cell battery.

Lauren Larken from Flynn Elementary's afterschool program wore a tiny sweater swag! An LED throwie attached to a small angel ornament and bit of pine.

Proving brooches can be hip.
This teacher hacked her "ugly Christmas sweater" with LED's for the blinking tree lights, and included a tiny vibrating motor to ring two silver jingle bells.

Jenn Karson of UVM's maker space and founder of VermontMakers spoke on some of the things that make wearble tech appealling, including several dichotomies- elements of the visible versus invisible, soft and hard components, as well as disciplines that are traditionally areas highly genderized- sewing for women, electronics for men.

Masks by Eric Roy, who has automated parts of his leather mask-making processes by using a laser cutter.
Handpainted leather masks
 Blinking scarves, crocheted light-up headbands, high-tech winter hats, LED embroidery...

Nance Nahmias, Generator's Outreach Coordinator, all decked out

LED trimmed embroidery and applique.  Rudolph's nose has never been brighter!

At right, Lucie deLaBruere, of CreateMakeLearn
 In the above picture, Jill Dawson is pictured at left, and her hat was amazing, because she coded it to project a little holiday tune from the speaker (and she coded the tune itself), and the LEDs blink in time to the music. Outstanding!

So, this interest of mine has evolved for one very clear reason- my own son.  He is interested in all things electrical and mechanical, and in order to support those interests I needed to grow a little knowledge.  So that's how I found myself playing with SnapCircuits a couple years ago, trying to catch up with him and learn a thing or two.  

That's what is great about kids- not just my own, but all of my students as well- is that the relationships are so cyclical.  They bring ideas and interests, and in order to foster them more fully, I learn new things, then share my new learning with them, and in turn they teach me more or ask great questions, which leads to more learning. And that's what lifelong learning is all about- inquiry, and sharing discoveries big and small with others.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Six-point snowflakes- RES

'Tis the last school day before vacation, so it was time for a little fun and levity in the art room. The structure of ice crystals is radially symmetrical in six points, so I enjoyed teaching my fourth graders today how to fold their paper to make scientifically accurate snowflakes. Or at least, more so.

Now this is where art and science meet, because I am pretty sure this one above would be impossible in nature, because the structure, as I understand it, is built around a small particle in the center, like a bit of dust, and this one has no center at all. But it is still beautiful! If you have a minute to read more about it, the section on snow formation in this Wikipedia entry is totally amazing.  Did you know about cloud seeding?!

Back to the six point flakes: making them is as much an exercise in origami as it is in cutting.  Instead of describing it myself, I will let this excellent Instructables tutorial walk you through it.

 Now, I am not a purist, and yes, I let my younger classes fold the traditional eight-point flakes, but it is really worth noting that when the group is old enough and ready, that they are very excited to make these.  The pride these young artists take in their work is wonderful, and many students asked me to hang theirs in the art room (instead of bringing them home) so that their work would be on display to others in the school.

This technique also means that you never end up with the dreaded square snowflake, because if you fold it correctly it already will begin as a six-point star. Most of us have had the square flake happen many, many times before it got any better.

So don't despair, lovely, lacy snowflakes are in your artistic future.

Yes, the above one was made by a ten-year-old.  No, I do not use templates or patterns to make snowflakes in art class, although you'll find plenty of those online, and there is nothing wrong with them for practicing fine motor skills. But if you want to encourage your students (or yourself!) to make snowflakes as unique, as, well, snowflakes, try it without a template.

Hang them in the windows or from the ceiling. Make a garland.  Deck out a mantle or tree. 

Create something wonderful this season.
Happy winter!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Modigliani Self Portraits- RES

Fourth grade artists at RES looked at the artwork of Amedeo Modigliani to see how he leveraged color, proportion, and textures to show emotion in his subjects.

 Although Modigliani's portraits are not terribly, um, uplifting, they are certainly effective in showing how someone is feeling. The empty eyes, long necks, tiny mouths, and cool palette he used most often lends an air of sadness to the subjects.  Those sloping shoulders and vertical brushmarks in the background create an undeniable downward pull that accentuates the feeling.

Students has a great discussion of Ms. Hebuterne here, and came away deciding that she was dressed up for some sort of event, like a party or dinner out, given the clues of her fancy up-do, the necklace, and nice dress. Despite the sense that she was somewhere social, students decided her posture, expression, and color palette made her look terribly bored and lonely.

Pulling in many of those themes, some of the RES artists chose to also portray sadness, using blue in the skin tones and leaving those eyes vacant and unavailable.  That was not the assignment, however.  The goal was to use their knowledge of color, expression, body language, and mark-making to create a self-portrait that is showing a strong feeling- any feeling. The variety created are rather remarkable, with their varied approaches that all clearly still nod toward Modigliani as inspiration.

 What makes this translate as happy and calm? Note the artist's choices. A straight, alert posture, perky ponytail, colorful shirt, relaxed smile, eye contact, warm skin tones.

 This one crops off the left side of the page, very effectively showing that the subject is unsure, even slinking away.  The tiny pursed mouth, the sideways glance.

 This one is most effective in person, but the reds in the skin, the tight mouth, the stiff posture, and dark eyes show an inner anger that almost boils, without relying upon cartoonish eyebrow or eye angles for the drama.

 The level of electrified excitement this portrait shows is emphasized by the frenetic line quality, bright, almost uncontrolled color choices, the wiggly posture, and giant alert eyes. Can't you feel how this person has ants in his pants? I keep expecting it to leap off the page and do something sort of naughty.

 This one has really incredible aspects I wanted to note- that shadow on the neck under the chin is sophisticated in a way that moves beyond a heavy outline. Also, this was the only artist to try to draw herself in three-quarters view.

 The directness of the sadness and eye contact seem noteworthy here.  Despite the empty eyes, he seems to be looking right at you, confronting and questioning.

 This one is barely holding it in. Even without a full body in the image, can you picture the curled fists with white knuckles? The ordinariness of the Celtics t-shirt is a great choice, because it makes it seem even more unexpected that this person is so furious at this moment.

The elements of this one that seem particularly effective are the heavy eyelids and the mark-making. The long downward pull of the pastel marks on the face and the avoidance of eye contact show intense hopelessness, almost a resigned sadness that doesn't need tricks like tears to be effective.

These, of course, are not intended to look exactly like the artist. One of the primary challenges in self-portraiture is the self-consciousness that students feel when they are trying to make it "look real."

The intentional abstraction of reality in this project eliminates that stress from the beginning, and eases students into self-portraiture more as a vehicle for expression than one focused solely on realism.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Art Calendars to Benefit RES Cafeteria- RES

Done with your holiday shopping?
I didn't think so.

But one way to be done a little sooner, to support RES, and to show everyone you know what amazing artists the school has, is to purchase a calendar or set of cards featuring artwork by RES third and fourth graders.

Calendars and cards are reasonably priced, and the proceeds will go the cafeteria for even more farm-to-school deliciousness. The cards in a set of six feature the Vermont birds made by third graders

SO colorful!

So fill up someone's heart with art this holiday season, and help the school cafeteria make even more amazing options available to students.  Add color to your life and  to student plates!

Maybe even challenge yourself to make one recipe each month with the fruit or vegetable shown!

Thank you for your support!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Art Critique and the Internet- Project Explore Flynn Elementary

The first session of Project Explore has begun at Flynn, with grade four in the morning and grade five students in the afternoon.

Grade four began with a very loose "assignment" of drawing either their home or a self portrait, with about twenty minutes to work on it.

One of each- the drawing of a house is drawn as a map
Needless to say, not all of them were done, but that was not the point. The idea is what we did with the drawings.
Wait, I am not done! No worries.
Students then had to comment on each others work.  Whoa, we can say anything? Well, I said, you tell me.
Students had a lot to offer-  
Guys, say only nice things.  
But what if I think it's ugly? 
Then you gotta tell why.  Like give a reason.
What should I say if it isn't even done?

I let them think about it, and handed each student three sticky notes- they wrote a comment for three other people, that way in the end everyone would have three comments on their drawings. Responses varied in quality of course- the class favorite-to-hate was "I like your hair because I do."

I like your hair because I DO?!  What does that even mean?  Why does someone like the hair I drew? That one is stupid.

Maybe so. Critique is a tricky beast.  Why is it a "stupid" comment? Because it is empty, and the students sensed that. It doesn't create a dialog. It doesn't improve anything for the future of the artist.
And so, students categorized the comments they received onto a chart of "good" and "bad" comments.
Some comments, on both sides, we startlingly similar
 So much is subjective in art, including the quality of critique. One student disliked being told that her work was good because of the high level of detail- Too general, she complained. Which part do they even like?
Another student with the same comment, likely from the same author, loved it- It makes me feel good about myself, and that makes me want to draw more, so I put it under the good comments. It was encouraging. 

This student felt this comment was "good" because she has been doubting if the hair color was working
From this, students created a list of what they thought made for a valuable critique comment, regardless of if it was a positive or negative observation about the work.

Their list
At this point, a lightbulb went off for a child in the group.
Mrs. Elliott, that is EXACTLY the deal with the internet. This is how you have to comment on stuff on the internet.  Like YouTube, or Facebook.

Oh, these kids. Connecting the dots. Nice work guys.

SO, this whole exercise was actually...paper blogging!  Which is really just the same as art critique, and is a beautiful segue into one of their main goals of this session- blogging. Creating their own blog (we are using KidBlog.org) on an area of passion that they will research, make art about, and connect to their own learning. Stay tuned, you will find them at http://kidblog.org/ProjectExploreBlogs/

Light-up Unicorn Magic- Project Explore Flynn Elementary

This week the fifth graders at Flynn began working with me.  They are terribly frustrated that they do not yet know what their "theme" will be, and that I am making them figure it out, although I think they'll be onto me in a couple of weeks. Maybe you, lovely reader, will guess it first.

Anyway, students began by drawing something that lights up.

Robots light up! Oh, yes, they sure do.
Apparently, so do hot air balloons, unicorns, and spider eyes.
(Yikes. Spider eyes. Just imagine it.)

Next, I gave everyone an LED and battery to play with, to discover how it lights up (or not), and what else they could stick into the circuit and have it still work.  Scissors, pliers, barrettes, yes. The chairs they sat on, no. Wire? If they could figure out how to connect it.

Some tape + pressure, in a circle with the battery and LED.  You know, circle. Circuit. Don't worry, I am new to this too.
Their goal with the wire was to create a one-touch pressure switch that would allow me (and them, and anyone else) to turn on the LED with a light touch.  

If I am making this sound like it was easy for them, it was not. It took most groups well over an hour. Some of the partnerships are still working on it, but a few finished.  So, what did that have to do with the drawing they made?

Yay!  Paper Circuitry.

Doesn't this make most every other drawing seems woefully, well, in need of electricity?

This stole my unicorn-loving heart.

These are on display at Flynn both inside and outside of the main office.  
Go check them out!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Art Teacher on a Snowday!

Here in Vermont, outside of my front window, it looks like this right now:

Naturally, I made a snowman. Immediately. Yes, before shoveling.
The sleet/ freezing rain/ snowish stuff caused school to be cancelled today, and is still coming down.
So therefore.... project time!!!

Bodycare extravaganza.

Peppermint Body Butter
    I really prefer my bodycare items the way I like my food- understandable, with real ingredients. But whoa, does that ever cost an arm and a leg. Enter my love of blogs- I went straight to my search engine and found Wellness Mama, whose website is full of recipes and directions for people like me who have never done this before. 
Lemongrass Hand Salve

  What does this have to do with art? Well, arguably, making stuff, problem-solving, and thinking creatively makes people artists, which in my brain makes this a wide a category inclusive of writers, gardeners, painters, cooks, knitters, scientists, seamstresses, brewers, dancers, engineers, musicians, and many other hobbies and professions.  

Lavender Room Spray and Lavender Bath Salt
   Phrasing art-making in this context helps remove fear and stigma in the art room about who "is" and "isn't" artistic. A common question I ask students is "What did you create in the last week?" The answers are always awesome and varied- coloring a birthday card, making cupcakes, programming a game.

Lemon Honey Sugar Scrub
Using ingredients like shea butter, essential oils, and beeswax, I have created lots of little holiday gifties for loved ones.  I used recipes but changed them in my own ways. Not a bad way to spend the snowy day.  My house smells terrific.

What have you created recently?  What projects are you working on?