Head Down, Hoody Up

Head down, hoody up - That's how some middle school students enter the art room on the first day of class. This is NOT where they want to be; what they want to be doing. Sleeping, music, texting, gaming, maybe even reading a good book are all preferable activities. Art class is scary, the potential for leakage of authentic self, great.

First day of school: I will station myself in the hallway, greet and smile, exchange a few hugs with returning students, try for eye contact with the newbies - so hard to reach into, beyond the lacquered shell of young teens. We'll get there, step by tiny step.

Backward portraits are a way to save face for this perpetually embarrassed age group. So is lots of choice within limits. "Freedom is moving easy in harness." I've always loved that quotation despite having to write a timed Senior Essay about it some 35 year ago....

Technology will help me increase options. Have a friend snap your own rear-view portrait and work from your phone or class iPad, or have a friend pose and create a portrait of someone else which feels safer....unless you have to pose.

But when it's all done and up, the pride and fun as we identify who's who, artist and model. After all, everyone likes a little positive attention, even if eye contact is still a challenge.


Art Style and Art Movement

Understanding  and describing artist's unique styles is really challenging for middle school students. Today students looked at a work by Vincent Van Gogh and we discussed the unique way in which he used line, color and texture. These elements are pretty easy to discern. But then we discussed the way in which he divides space across the picture plain. That's when things got a little complicated. We muddled our way through together only to end up with confusion once students were tackling these ideas in their groups.

That's kind of how learning goes. Order is replaced with chaos when new learning upsets the 'working model." Then, for a time there is comfort in stasis, only to experience chaos again with new learning. Here's a video I put together to try and help students understand the terms ART STYLE and ART MOVEMENT.


Working Together for MLK's DREAM

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr and in celebration of Black History Month art students at my middle school and a neighboring school district worked together during February to create art. My friend and fellow art teacher, Holly Lampen,  received a grant to support this project and generously invited my students and me to join her in this creative effort. Hundreds of kids at our respective schools painted designs in individual squares on two canvases. The warm and cool toned squares spell out MLK’s iconic word: “DREAM.” Each school is working on two of the large canvases. The schools will soon trade one half of the work of art so that the final work on display at each school will represent the collaborative effort of Wildcats and Pioneers joining together to make art. Thank you, Holly, for the inspired project!


Color Theory: Hands-On Practice

You're never too old to finger paint, or, in this case, paint by hand! Students had a blast today covering sketchbooks with multi-hued hand prints. I over heard one young man say, "Haven't done that in a few years." In answer, another boy replied, laughing, "I've NEVER done THAT!"
We sometimes forget that not all children come from homes or backgrounds where they have the joy of just playing with paint or nice colored pencils, or even making mud pies in the back yard.
There was a fun twist to this "beginning of the term" activity which required groups to work collaboratively to accomplish the task of covering their sketchbooks with hand prints in primary, secondary and dark and light hues - 8 colors in all. Each group  had five small tubs containing one color of tempera paint: red, yellow and blue, as well as black and white. Each group member took charge of one color. They spread it on their palms and delivered prints to group members' sketchbooks. Then the real fun began as they gently 'high-fived' a classmate, giving palms a little back and forth twist, to create the secondaries as well as at least one light and one dark value of color. They knew they wouldn't be allowed to wash their hands until they were done, so it took some careful planning and coordination.
It was so fun to listen to the kids as they discovered and named the colors they created. There were some surprises such as the 'army' green which resulted from mixing black and yellow tempera. Tomorrow's Art Start questions: Why did black and yellow create a dark green? What does this tell us about the particular black paint we used? What IS black, anyway?


Process vs Product

I've been thinking a lot about the art making process versus the creation of art product. Bulletin board displays of student work may display the fruit of my teaching labors but do not always represent the great learning that takes place.
Separating my ego from the quality of art on display is not always easy. Let's face it, some artwork produced can be fairly devoid of visual interest, for all but the loving parent at home, yet I know student artists engaged and struggled and came out the other end with an acceptance of new ideas and ways of thinking.
Yes, there are a myriad art projects available on-line that will result in 100% cool-looking objects, but this canned approach to art making isn't really for me. I also don't like to sort out the "best" work to exhibit.
Sometimes, I just hand the staplers to my students and have them plaster the hallways with their work. They love it and it saves me a lot of time. However, it may be best not to try this display approach if you and/or your site administrator are perfectionists!


Art Stations

I've experimented with using Art Stations -what we used to call "centers" in elementary school-  this fall as a way to engage middle school students by giving them opportunities to make choices and work with friends. The first go around back in September was definitely a fun way to run class. The kids loved the freedom of moving from station to station at their own pace. However, it wasn't the most expedient way to reach my learning targets for the unit. Keeping track of learning targets and student achievement was difficult without adding more testing- something I am loath to do in the art room.

 So, for the second go around with the next unit I improved the system of checking student understanding after each station. However, it took both my student teacher and myself to keep up with the larger classes. I won't have that luxury in a few weeks when my student teacher moves on.

For the third go around I built the 'assessment' into a more rigorous set of expectations for the artistic end-product and also added a quiz: three questions, short written answer. This helps me meet common core literacy objectives. It was apparent from the quiz and the artwork who 'got it' and who didn't. Now, I just have to figure out what I'm going to do about the students who didn't do well on the quiz.

My basic philosophy of teaching and learning is that every kid can have an "A" if they want it. I see no issue with allowing endless re-do's except, of course, the obvious constraints of time and energy!

Below are a couple of videos which explain the basic set up of my Art Stations as well as more specific nuts and bolts for using Art Stations. The first video gives students a basic over view of the project they will work on as they move from station to station. This project is adapted from "Miss." Her blog, A Faithful Attempt has lots of great photos of student projects. Check it out!

In the following video I explain the details of running Art Stations:


VAN GOGH: The Starry Night - ArtSleuth - S01 E01

Here's a cool, classroom resource. I just discovered Art Sleuth videos on Youtube. They are just the right length for classroom use and not the usual BORING style typical of museum productions. I will show this as a "case" for encouraging my students to delve into the details of artist's lives as they work on their Pizzabox Biographies project.

Pizza Box Biographies Introduction

I've been having fun learning to use Animoto, there's not much to learn, really, since the on-line 'wizard' makes the job so easy. Here, I've created a short animated slide show to give my students an overview for our pizza box biographies project.
I will show this in class tomorrow. My intention is to get the kids excited about the possibilities as well as set a visual stage for my direct instruction over the course of this unit.
I always try to present information in a variety of ways - three is the magic number. So, I will show this intro, then we will go over the project rubric with lots of partner and small group talk, and finally,  I will demonstrate individual steps of the process.


Impressionism BINGO

It's state achievement test time, poor kiddos, so we're playing Impressionism BINGO in the art room while we wait for our ceramic sculptures to come out of the kiln. Click the image below to access the slide show I use while playing the visual BINGO game. Printable game cards are available as a free download at funartlessons.com. Have fun!



A Fun Art Teaching Tool

Many of you may be aware of Animoto's on-line educator service for creating animated slide shows. It is fun and easy. You can get a free educator account for your own use and your students'. I created this video in about half an hour just to introduce our art styles and art movements stations for this week. What do you think?