Monday, September 29, 2014

On Joy In Learning

There is a great deal of effort that goes into researching whether children are scoring highly on tests, and how to make those scores higher. There is also a lot of time spent in Human Services circles on why students are depressed, angry, or bored.  I wonder often why it is that we don't spend our time trying to measure joy?

From Education Week:
"No matter how frequently or how beautifully you describe the joys of childhood, those who are making education policy will not be deterred or persuaded. Their agenda is competitiveness. They are in the throes of data-driven decision-making, which has become a sort of mantra that takes the place of actual thinking." 

So that's what I worry about: Are we letting children even have "joys of childhood" anymore?  And, by "children", I mean K-12.  Teenagers need joy too, as I wrote about here. Is the replacement of toys, music instruments, dress-up clothes, and stuffed animals in childhood classrooms with math manipulatives and leveled reading books creating a love of school?
I don't know. But I think we need all of it.

Here is what I wonder: 
Why do we always have to have joy couched in another, measurable, agenda? 

If a project in art turns out to be too tedious, joyless, and not fulfilling to the majority of students, I scrap it. Done deal. I will find another way to teach those concepts the next time. Joy, itself, matters.  It matters to me because happy students are engaged and focused people who are delighted to be learning. 

Weaving project begins- an expert enthusiastically telling me all he knows about spiders.
Let me be clear to those who would say that it is too easy to find joy in art, and too hard to insert into, say, math. In my years as a daily and long term substitute in K-5 classrooms, I have taught many, many math lessons, and I try to approach it with the same excitement and wide eyes that my wonderful 4th grade math teacher idol, Mrs. Callie Alexander, approached her classes.

We all remember a Mrs. Alexander, that one teacher, the educator who instilled joy into that subject you thought you disliked. The teacher who made learning joyful.  Not because it was measurable, required, or part of a test, but because seeing your students' joy is cyclical- it becomes the teacher's joy, which in turn becomes student joy, ever forward into a love of learning which drives itself- not towards a test, but towards curiosity, investigation, and true understanding.

Loving Leaves- RES

It's hard to let go of the leafy green of summer, so in the Art Room we are doing our best to celebrate their glory before they are gone.
First Grade Leaves
First Grade is making scientific drawings of leaves.  Much like in our Shoe Game, the goal is to learn how to draw what you see in great detail. The students drew on half of their paper, and then played a matching game- all the leaves were up on the white board, and another student tried to match it to the drawing in hand. They offered each other feedback about how to improve the drawings, and then students returned to their seats to redraw the leaf.
Before and after peer feedback
 Second Grade is making clay leaves. I wrote more about them in this post.

Clay leaf
Third Graders have been making reliefs out of leaves, foil, and paint. They have learned to burnish down the thin metal over the leaves, and relieve the surface of paint to let the leaves shine through. Much thanks to blogger Cassie Stephens for this approach to relief.

Leaf Rubbing

These can be done in any arrangement, but a single layer works best

They look wonderful grouped together.  These will be mounted on colorful textured cardboard backgrounds.

Fourth Graders are making leaf prints in between sessions of making and glazing bowls for the coming Harvest Festival in October.  
Negative of image at left, positive at right
These positive and negative leaf and flower print are created by taping acetate to the table. Students roll out ink on the acetate, and then place leaves on the ink. A first paper is placed over the leaves and ink, and the resulting print is the negative you see above at left. The leaves are removed, and a positive print of the leaves is taken, the one at right.

Those tiny dots are individual hydrangea petals
Kindergarteners will be getting outside in Art next week to look at trees to observe their structure, and to talk about what is happening with the seasons. They will be making their own leaf-inspired collages out of construction paper and crayons.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Clay Leaves- RES

These are a classic!  Second graders are making clay leaves.

These students chose to create leaf tiles, as opposed to bowls
 If these look familiar, you are right- these are not new, nor my own invention.  In fact, I am pretty certain that leaves have been immortalized in stone, since, well, fossils.

But that doesn't dissuade me, because grade 2 students love this every year, and it can't be "old" to you if it's your first time trying something.
Ka-pow. Blue maple leaf. Why not?

What are the educational goals here? Making clay leaves and leaf bowls explore the beauty of nature, teaches the structure of a leaf, shows skill handling clay, and teaches the technique of draping a slab.

Supplies needed: Clay, rolling pins, wooden sticks, needle tools, bowls, boards, leaves
 First, gather some large, gorgeous leaves.  Think outside the tree here- maple and oak trees are lovely, but so are the leaves from eggplants, sunflowers, rhubarb, hosta, and morning glories.
Students rolling clay and pressing leaves
After the clay is rolled out between the two sticks (to maintain ideal thickness), the sticks are removed and a leaf is places on the clay, and rolled again.  The needle tool is used to cut out the shape of the leaf.

Sunflower leaf

Afterward, students chose to either keep their leaf flat, like a tile, or drape it into a bowl. The clay then went through its first firing, called the bisque firing.
Glaze fills in the veins
Next, students explored ways to glaze their leaves. One option, shown above, was to glaze the entire leaf a single color, and then wash it with a sponge to leave the glaze in just the veins. Students could layer another color on top, and then leaves were fired again in the kiln. 
Ready to go in the kiln for the glaze firing

Students could also use their imagination- what about a polka dotted or striped leaf?  What about a turquoise-veined leaf glazed over with pale yellow?

Emerald green hosta bowl with black veins

Light green maple bowl with yellow spots

Bright yellow leaf with black veins

They can be functional (spoon rest, candy bowl, trivet) or purely decorative. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Making Is Thinking

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” John Dewey

Today I attended a summit on the state of the arts in Vermont. The event, Envisioning Arts Education in Vermont, was hosted by Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier and organized by the Vermont Arts Council.

Photo via
The goal of the day was to discuss ways to bring the arts to the forefront of education K-12. This was a meeting that included many stakeholders, including teachers, legislators, administrators, the Vermont Secretary of Education, members of the business and non-profit communities, and funders. I won't delve here into the nitty-gritty of the work we were doing around standards, funding, and inclusion, and instead will tell you the part that, arguably, relates most directly to what I do each day with students in the classroom.

You see, there is so much we already know. We know that the arts promote the 21st century skills we need students to have.  These skills include critical thinking, working as a team, creative problem solving, analysis, planning, and experimentation. We know that the arts improve test scores.  This has been shown through studies again and again since the 1980's.

Secretary Rebecca Holcombe
Much more of interest to me is the briefly touched upon point that the arts can be used to build resilience, now called "grit" in at-risk youth.  This got me really thinking, and here is what the day really made me reflect upon: that students need and deserve a safe place where risk-taking and failure is encouraged.

"Grit" is a newish trendy word in education, popularized by the TED talk of Angela Lee Duckworth.  Frankly, I am glad it is getting attention. What I think grit looks like, really, is the ability for a child to say to themselves that risk-taking is okay, failure is fantastic, and the resulting knowledge gained will be more fully learned through work that is real.

Art puts in a child's hands the entire responsibility for doing, and therefore the responsibility, facilitated by the teacher, to learn, reflect, and distill new understandings.

As I talked about in this blog post from June, frustration, confusion, experimentation, and inquiry are welcomed in my room with open arms, because they are the best avenue to lead to both resilience and true understanding of content. Nothing makes you understand electricity like struggling to light up that LED and then finally succeeding, and nothing gets you to understand the process of making paper like forgetting to insert the screen and having your pulp fall into the water, only to have to begin again.

So come on in to my art room friends. Please, take some risks when I give you something to do, make some mistakes, and learn something new.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Art in a Blender! RES

The art room at RES is big on saving materials and recycling what we can't save. Sometimes the pile of construction paper clippings gets big, really big.  And being at heart more of a tosser than a hoarder, it's exciting to give it all new purpose and clear some space in my cabinets.

And so, third graders are working on making paper here at RES!
Unmolding the paper from the screens
 The process is pretty simple, really. You take scraps of paper, and put them in a blender with lots of water.  Scraps can be from other art projects or just all the junk mail you got today. You can add glitter, leaves, tea, spices, flowers, seeds, or fragrances to your homemade paper by throwing it in the blender with the paper scraps. Give it a whirl until it is somewhere between chunky and uniform, then pour the pulp into your paper deckle.
Freshly pressed!

By varying the scraps, blending time, and additions of glitter, RES students made an amazing and beautiful variety of textures and colors.

Almost dry
There are lots of things to do with handmade paper. These will be made into journal covers.

Here are few close-ups:
You can see the texture of the screen if you look carefully.

Just enough pulp to hold together all that glitter!
Two colors of pulp made in separate batches and pressed together.
Using pink, red, and white scraps mixed with glitter. Color mixing in a blender!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Shoe Game- RES

My classroom is a little smelly today.

 There are shoes on the tables, and piled on the floor. 

Oh, don't worry, it's supposed to be like this.  We are playing the shoe game!

What is the shoe game? So glad you asked.

The shoe game begins with taking off one of your shoes, and trying to draw it. We discuss the importance of drawing what you see, not what you think you see, or what you wish your shoe looked like.

All of the details are important.  Holes, symbols, stripes, letters, textures.  The more information you include, the better your drawing will fare in the game.

Let's back up a moment.  Why are students drawing shoes? Because they will be studying plants in Enrichment, of course. Scientific drawings and science notebooks will be important to that study.

But what do shoes have to do with scientific drawing?  Well, shoes look all sort of similar, basically, just like plants look similar. Instead of stems, roots, and leaves, shoes have soles, straps, laces, and tongues. Drawing a specimen requires you to pay close attention to the details.

The shoe game is an exercise in scientific drawing.  Learning to really observe the shoe, finding what you see with your eyes, and marking it down with a pencil.  It's the triangle of successful observational drawing.
You can see it in action here. Look at how she is looking, really looking, at that shoe.

So, the game is this.
1. Draw your shoe. Give the drawing to your teacher.
2. Put all the shoes in the middle of the carpet, and circle up around them.
3. The teacher hands you a drawing that is not your own.
4. You try to match the drawing to one of the shoes in the pile.
5. Sit down when you have a match.
6. Go around the circle, and discuss if it is a match.

Hunting for the right shoe.
Sitting down when they think they have found the right shoe.
I ask a lot of questions about what the guesser saw in the drawing, such as:
What details did the artist include that helped you identify the correct shoe?
What details did the artist not include that could have helped you identify the shoe sooner/correctly?

This exercise benefits the artist: Did he or she offer clues and accuracy to help the viewer identify the correct shoe?
This exercise benefits the viewer: What details really need to be focused on to use a drawing as an identification source?

Essentially, the class made a field guide to their shoes. This game works with many other objects as well- sea shells, rocks, animals......and PLANTS.  First grade will do a great deal of instructed, scientific drawing in art this year.

I think this game is fantastic. And it elicits lots of giggles about how stinky we all are.  Give it a try!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Bubble Painting and a Recipe- RES

Bubble painting our sketchbook covers in Art class!

Want to try this fun project at home?
First, make up some containers of bubble paint.

Most any wide-top, deep container will do, I have used empty plastic yogurt quarts here.
Mix the following things in the container: 
1/4c. Tempera paint (vibrant, dark colors work best)
3T. dish soap (Dawn works well here for strong bubble surface tension)
1c. water
Stir well, and find a straw!
Folding paper in half for the book cover.
We practice blowing air out a straw. Taking half of a minute to do that is very worthwhile.  I am pleased to say that no one ended up with paint in his or her mouth.
The soapy mixture bubbles right up.

When the bubble have risen above the edge of the container, gently press a paper down onto them.

And look what happens:  A bubble print!

Repeat a few times:

Now try a few more colors. They are transparent, so each colors layer will show through from underneath.

This is what they look like dry. So cool! Great for book arts, collages, and wrapping paper.