Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Math + Maker Night! Project Explore- Flynn Elementary

Last November, I was lucky to attend the Cougar Cub Inventor's Workshop at Richmond Elementary, where I am the Art teacher. Being a person who loves to to make things, and is interested in learning higher tech skills, it was so exciting to see young students getting their hands on all of that artsy techie goodness.
Magic wand testing
I had the chance there to meet Tricia Finkle, head of the Vermont State Science Fair, and knew at once my Flynn students would have to bring this type of event to Burlington. After proposing the idea to principal Graham Clarke, the annual Flynn Math Night has been merged with Project Explore to create a Math + Maker Night.

Project Explore's thirteen 5th graders have been working hard to learn, and to learn to teach, an array of processes that will be available to the Flynn community to try.  All families K-5 are invited, many teachers and volunteers will be present, and there are learning opportunities for all ages and skill levels. Here are a few of the things you can look forward to trying.

Balloon testing
Balloon races! Students went through an inquiry process of trying different balloon shapes (round, tubular, pear-shaped, long and wavy) and varying numbers and locations of attachment points to straws determine which balloons would travel the farthest and fastest. They also drew on and bedazzled their balloons with markers and adhesive rhinestones.

Paper arts, such as origami and hexaflexagons, were popular for their seeming simplicity.  Students were stunned to find out how difficult and math-heavy these art forms are, but once they got the hang of it there was no stopping them. They look forward to sharing their knowledge with you!

Another station will be making marshmallow and toothpick prisms. This is a great activity for all ages, because designs can range form the simple to the complex. My students worked in groups with straws and play clay (much harder materials to control) to build both the tallest and smallest prisms they could.
Opened up at the top, this group turned it into a triangular prism.
It was surprising and frustrating how easily these objects fell down!

After making conductive and insulating doughs, students experimented with lighting up different sculptures using parallel and series circuits. Being an art teacher, I put emphasis in each of these learning processes on the creative process and overall aesthetic.

You might wonder why the battery pack above is missing a AA. Not for lack of one- we didn't want to overpower it, so we simply took one out and inserted a bit of pipe cleaner wire to continue the circuit in its absence. The next week a student told me he tried it with his remote control, and that he could successfully remove a battery, replaced with a wire, and have it still work just as well. 

When Tricia is involved in this type of event with a school, she likes to provide Professional Development to the teachers, so that this learning is fully integrated into the classroom, and isn't just an occasional after-school night event. First grade teachers are doing a unit on light and shadow with students, so we got together as a staff and made LED badges.

 Using what is essentially an LED throwie in a bottle cap, we customized our badges to have different designs, patterns, and colors.

The materials needed were relatively basic, and don't they look great?

Here is a close-up of one in progress:
That foil lightning bolt will block the light, making the pink, translucent tissue paper glow.

And one finished:

Back to the 5th graders, they have much more in store for you!  Jittering cups stretched their knowledge of circuitry, adding in pressure switches and vibrating motors.

Feathery, google-eyed, fully festooned robots buzz and whirl across the floor

And, of course, the magic wands. Whizz bang pop! My favorite, perhaps. Come hang out with us and make magical art come alive.  Your wand will be as magic as you make it!
Wrap it in feathers, ribbon, or washi tape! Rhinestones look great glittering with the RGB bulbs.

 Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Kindergarten Tea(cup) Parties! RES

 Kindergarten artists have celebrated the firing of their teacups with our annual Art and Tea Parties!

Aren't they sweet?
 Each year here at RES, Kindergarteners create a teacup. They begin with a small pinchpot for the body, and add coils for the foot and handle. We fire them after class, and the next week they coat them using food-safe glazes.  One week and another kiln load later... tada!  Tea time!

Sip sip!
Art and Tea Parties are just what they sound like- we color, paint, and sip our warm cupfuls. Not everyone wants tea each year, but I think the chai was far and away the most popular choice I have ever made. 

 There were actual squeals of delight and hand-clapping when I told students the type of tea.  
My favorite review: "It tastes like if gingerbread cookies were a drink!"  

Students finished up past paintings if needed, and responded to this drawing prompt- 
"It's cold outside- where do you wish you could be today?"

It has been below zero for days, so while some students wished they could be outside sledding, snowboarding, or making snow angels, other wished firmly to be in the desert, or in front a fire with a cup of cocoa.  Or, in the case of one student today: "I wish I was at the beach, building a sand castle, and drinking tea!"

Finger Puppets- RES

Stop me if you have heard this one before:

A duck, a rock star, a turtle, and two fancy cats walk into an art room...
Oh, you know that one?

An owl and a cyclops walk into an art room....
That one too?

Okay, well here is one you have surely never heard:  A business elephant, a troll, a fairy, a chef, Santa, and a handsome monster walk into an art room.  And they created a play!  Because they are finger puppets, silly.

Over the last several weeks, third graders have carefully crafted clay heads, fabric bodies, and glittery, buttoned-up, bespectacled little masterpieces, and are in the process of collaborating to create stories involving their different characters. Before they began work in clay, artists used a short character development form I created to assist with the process of  developing personality, abilities, and the appearance of their characters.

The stories are beginning to take shape, and students will be using iPads to record their performances. Stay tuned for videos of their theatrics in March!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"I'm Done!" RES

Teachers accommodate a wide variety of skills, interests, and work paces in each class of students.  This means that there will always be children who finish their work early and need options at different levels of time duration. 
Looking at a book together
 Some students like to cozy up to a pillow and read an art book, and many like to color in their sketchbooks. Each class in grades 1-4 has a class shelf on which I keep a file box inside which I keep a sketchbook for each student. RES artists make sketchbooks in September and use it all year.  I do not give "free draw" paper, because I find that if the paper seems disposable, most students treat their work quality accordingly. A sketchbook demonstrates a respect for their work, that it is permanent and to keep, which in turn increases the quality.

This year students bubble painted their covers
When students are finished early, they can draw on a new page in their sketchbooks, go back and add to an older work, or make a "carpet choice." Carpet choices include many options, some intended for quiet solo work, and others geared toward partnering with others.

Mustachioed man!
In this independent activity, students use a magnetic wand to move around flakes of iron to create silly faces and features on the image of a man.

Buddha Board
Another solo activity, this is a water painting board used with a bamboo brush, called a Buddha Board. I wish with all my heart I had another five of them.  It is hands-down the most popular carpet choice! All it takes is water, and the drawing slowly dries and disappears as the artist works. Soothing, impermanent, and cathartic, it's all about letting go.

The computer is another popular solo choice, with several different painting and color theory programs, as well as a fun game called Cargo Bridge, which is essentially CAD drawing for kids with little characters to test out the designs.

Sculpture pieces
A solo, group, or parallel play activity, these sculpture pieces are made of interlocking cardboard and include small plastic clips as well.  Students can try to build tall structures, or can re-imagine the pieces as segments of things like rocket ships and robots.

At work on a group mural
As I mentioned above, Kindergarteners do not have sketchbooks.  There are, however, many opportunities for students to draw.  This is an example of a group mural that allows students from different grades and classes to work during different time frames toward a common goal. The image was sketched in pencil and colored by dozens of different artists.

Another way that students draw outside of their sketchbooks is to use mini white boards with a rainbow of dry erase markers. They can do this on their own, as a pair drawing together, or as a group playing our art class version of Pictionary.

In the art room we also love our tub of pattern blocks, with which students not only create amazing flat designs and quilt-type blocks, but with which they also build creations such as castles and houses.

I have heard arguments before that free-choices after a lesson are so enticing that students will rush to finish in order to do these. While I can certainly understand that concern, it rarely comes up, because we discuss that very concept when we introduce the choices- they are for extra time, after a project is finished, and 1. There is often no extra time in a class period, and 2. The same choices are there each week, so students won't "miss the opportunity" to do something because they are still working on a class project.

Some art teachers state that it is their responsibility to teach and guide the art-making, the whole time, and that they prefer not to make space in their classrooms for student-guided drawing and artistic play. What I do know is that all of these things, in my opinion, are art making, and grow creative thinking. Building, patterning, designing, coloring, and physically manipulating objects all build visual and fine motor skills! So play-on, my little artists!

(Just as soon as you have finished your project.  And pushed in your chair.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

But, It's Art Night! RES

 I will begin with the quick Public Service announcement that tonight is the Concert and Art Night at RES for grades 1 and 2!  The Art Show begins at 6pm in the library and K-2 wing, followed by the concert next door at CHMS at 6:45. 

Now, this is where I would typically say, "I hope to see you there!" because 1. I love Art Night, from the bottom of my heart, and thus 2. What kind of nut would miss Art Night?!  Hearing students talk about their process, challenges, and triumphs to the throngs of wonderful family members and friends who attend is one of the highlights of my year.

Thanks for helping me express myself.
As it turns out, I am more than a smidgen snuffly, and have been taken over by this cough/laryngitis thing.  If you, like me, are a talker at heart, you'll know this is awful, because I have a lot to say and wish I were there to tell you.

How can I tell you about your child's year in art? How can I tell you about her amazing flexible thinking, or his incredibly observant attention to detail? Or how he always pushes in his peers' chairs?  Or how she carefully notices and gathers tiny handfuls of forgotten and scattered beads from the far reaches of the classroom and puts them back into our jar?

Your children are incredible, and I am blessed to be their art teacher. Thank you for sharing them with me each week in class, and thank you for coming to Art Night- I am truly so sorry not to be there. 

One more thing- pottery (clay leaves and coil pots) can go home tonight with students, as well as grade 1's dream catchers.  Sweet dreams!

If you take some pictures, please email them to me, I will love to post them here on the blog!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Art Teacher on a Snow Day- Take Two!

Oh, snow days, you are such a little gift. 

My kids can stay in their pajamas.
We can go sledding and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows afterward.

I can craft.

Applicious and dinotastic

It's the little things, like time to make my boys new lunch bags, that make me really happy on a snow day. That, and not having to drive anywhere. As I have mentioned before, unanticipated time off means (to me) extra time to make wonderful things.  

Recently a student asked me a sweet question: 
Student: How did you get to be so good at art, Mrs. Elliott?
Me: Well, I practice a lot.  I make things every day.
Student: Even at home?!
Me: (Laughing) Yes, even at home!

In fact, I really look forward to it.  Working on art projects at home gives me ideas for things to do at school, and then working with students gives me more ideas for things to work on at home.

A colored pencil work of mine.
It's a wonderful cycle of creativity, and I don't think I could do either- be an art teacher or be an artist- without the other to inform and inspire the work. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Making Mistakes Beautiful- RES

"Can I have a new piece of paper?" "I need to start over." "Oh, no! I just ruined it."

These are things I hear every day in the art room, and if you are an art teacher, or likely any type of teacher at all, you hear these things all of the time from your students too. What is a teacher to do?

Kids know I have more paper.  
That's not why I refuse to give them more. 

I hold out because I know they can fix it. Because I am their cheerleader, and their classmates are too. 

And because, if a child is going to take away anything at all from my art classes, I hope it will be the ability to think flexibly and solve problems creatively.  

Flexible thinking isn't easy or natural-feeling for many children. It's a skill, and it's one that can be taught.

Image via

Each year I read the book Beautiful Oops to my classes.  As the pages of mistakes, possibilities, and solutions go by, students are amazed by the creative prowess of author Barney Saltzberg. You can watch a video read of the book here. I spend the rest of the year, in every project, trying to support students in their own journeys to harness that open-minded attitude about artistic outcomes. 

Sometimes a mistake happens because a classmate accidentally drips paint on another person's paper. Sometimes a student erases so hard it makes a hole, spills the water cup across their work, or draws a shape in a non-erasable media that they don't like or didn't intend. Accidents happen, and are part of life, especially an artistic life.

To that end, I model what happens when an artwork has fallen victim to a "terrible mistake."  Sometimes I let a student scribble on an example I am doing. In front of the whole class.

Then, I ask the group to help me solve the problem. What could this perceived problem turn into? 

How does this translate to their own work? When they make a mistake (Oops!) they can ask peers for help to find solutions.

Oops. This rolled truck had been carrying 14 tons of paint; in Brazil in 2012, via Bored Panda
Last week, my first graders were drawing their homes. One of the young artists was terribly concerned about a "mistake."  The artist pouted and asked for new paper, seeming a little distressed.  
Here is what it looked like at the time:

Pretty good, I thought.  But I am not the artist, and not the one feeling a terrible mistake had occurred. In the end, I actually have no idea what the big mistake was, because when I suggested that the artist fix or change whatever part was a concern, in lieu of new paper, the artist took a sharpie and scrawled a large circle all over the center of it. Repeatedly. Oops. Even bigger problem to solve now.

I took that moment to pull out Beautiful Oops to read again to the class. I also asked a classmate of this student if we could recount his own story from last year, when the same thing happened to him. He was game, and even found it funny in retrospect from the vantage point of being a year past the event. 

Last year, he had drawn an owl, and "ruined" it.  He was in Kindergarten.  Unable to think of a solution, I invited him to come "ruin" mine as well.  And try, he did.  Big, red, angry scrawls all over my picture.  There were many bugging eyes and gaping mouths among my Kindergarteners that day as they watched their peer go about destroying my artwork with that crayon. 

When he was finished, I asked the class to help me fix it, to re-envision the red lines to become something new. After their initial moment of shock, they came up with all sort of suggestions, and in the end they made my owl have red feathers all over.  A simple and beautiful solution, actually.

Back to the artist of the house with giant scrawled circle.  After sharing this story, I invited this artist's peers to make suggestions to change the problem into something beautiful. The ideas came right and left.  "Draw a meteor hitting your house!" "It could be a giant snowball hitting your house!"

The artist found those ideas hilarious, and feeling much cheered that the original vision could be something new and different, created this:

"The Big Snow Ball"
Wonderful and unexpected, this cool work of art never would have happened without the mistake. Bravo! Cheers to flexible, creative thinkers everywhere!