Thursday, September 29, 2011

Beautiful Borrowed Blogger Lessons

1st grade butterflies are complete and have received rave reviews! As I told you before, this lesson was from Art Project Girl here. We used crayons for some branches and clouds, and liquid watercolor made from dead markers to create the sky. We cut out and glued the butterflies on the skies, and added white spots on the wings (the kids, who are Monarch experts, told me we needed them!) with Q-tips and white tempera. All done!

And 3rd graders made these funky painted paper "Mexican guitars". They are studying Mexico in their classroom and I just loved this lesson I found here at the Painted Paper blog. The kids really attacked this project with enthusiasm, from making the large sheets of painted paper, to cutting and embellishing. We listened to mariachi music, and got into adding "bling" - buttons, sequins, foam, and yarn strings. Students used scraps of each others' painted paper for the bridge, neck, and circular opening.

I like that each guitar is different. I do NOT use templates when I teach, except occasionally for circles. To make the guitar shapes, we all practiced drawing ovals in the air. Then students drew a stack of two ovals on the back of their painted paper, connected them with a curve, and added a long neck. I think their guitars were pretty successful, without tracing someone else's guitar shapes, don't you?!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

L'Shana Tovah - best wishes for a sweet new year

Rosh Hashana began at sunset tonight, marking the start of the new year 5772 on the Hebrew calendar.

The Rosh Hashana holiday marks the beginning of the 10 Days of Awe, a time set aside for introspection, repentance, and tzedakah (acts of charity), to earn the inscription of your name in the book of life before it is sealed again on Yom Kippur. L'shana tovah, my wish for a good year to all my blogger friends, no matter your faith or personal philosophy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Views from a hot air balloon festival!

There's an annual hot air balloon festival here. My first fall, I lived in a second floor apartment with a porch, and a balloon flew over practically within touching distance. I'd never seen one up close before, or heard one. And let me tell you, the HEARING part surprised me. The sound of a hot air balloon firing its burner sounds like what I always imagined the sound of dragon's breath would be. Awesome. Simply awesome.

Why did my mysterious eyeball photo rotate? Darn. Anyhow, it was shot looking up into a balloon. It looked so cool.

The first time I attended the balloon festival (and every subsequent time) I was amazed. In the early dusk, before the sun rises, watching rainbow colored mountains grow before your eyes - aaaah. If you ever get a chance to go to a balloon festival, it's worth the early morning launch times. Hot air balloons are SO much bigger and prettier than you'd ever imagine.
I shot this photo out of the window of my car, on the way home from the grocery store. I've been living here so many years sometimes I forget the balloon festival is in town. Tonight the winds were blowing wrong, toward the mountain, so the balloons stayed tethered and didn't fly. I was able to park and watch them, firing their burners, taking kids into their baskets, and eventually deflating and packing up, which was pretty cool to watch too. I didn't get to see the early morning launch at the airport, with over 100 balloons, some specialty shapes, or the moonglow over the lake, but I'm glad I stopped at the park for the last scheduled launch of the festival.
This is a former teacher in my district, a couple of years retired, in the basket of a balloon that her business (a Lake George ice cream shop) sponsors.

Will you go to your state conference?

Envious. Jealous.
I was just reading the latest posts at Dan Reeder's Paper Mache Blog (he's Dan the Monster Man, a Seattle math teacher who makes the most AMAZING papier-mache dragons). Dan wrote that he was going to be a keynote speaker at the Texas Art Education Association Convention in Galveston this November, PLUS he's teaching a HANDS-ON papier-mache monster workshop there!!!!!! So I checked out the convention website and discovered the AMAZING Sandy Skoglund is also scheduled as a keynote speaker (that's her work in the image above; below is one of Dan's dragons).

My state conference, which I plan to go to (I'm waiting for my school district's approval, but I'm going no matter what, since I'm teaching 2 workshops), has keynote speakers scheduled I've never heard of.

If you, dear readers, are a Texas art teacher, you MUST go to this conference, even if just to see these two people. If you can't go, send me in your place! I'll put on a fake mustache or whatever it takes! I saw Sandy Skoglund speak at a conference years ago, and she was awesome, and I would LOVE to see Dan Reeder, and attend his workshop. Of course, if he was offering a workshop at my state conference, I'd probably be shut-out. The minute there's a hands-on workshop, the lines begin to form and NY art teachers get really pushy and crabby. We all do love those hands-on workshops, don't we?

By the way - unrelated - you may have noticed a little change in my blog layout. I've decided that you, my readers, are very important to me, but there are a LOT of you! So I've moved you to the top of the blog, where you all fit, because if nobody was reading, I probably wouldn't still be blathering on!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Can I have your ear, please? - a crazy day

Last spring, as school let out for summer, teachers left in the hall some stuff they no longer wanted or needed, and I found this bizarre little box of squishy rubbery ears, feet, hands, and noses. I took the box and promptly threw out the noses (just TOO creepy) and put the rest away until today. My students have begun learning about Van Gogh. Obviously they learned about him cutting off part of his ear. So today, I came across the box of body parts, and had some fun with the 5th graders. I explained what it meant to "have my ear". I tossed the ear to a student and said he "had our ear". The person in possession of the ear had to share a fact he recalled about Van Gogh while everyone else listened, and then toss the ear across the room to someone else. The kids were SO excited to have their turn at having the ear. What a silly fun gimmick! They remembered so many great facts, and had a great time, too.
Meanwhile, the lure of giant sunflowers were the inspiration to teach Van Gogh this year. We have a wonderful new "Roots & Shoots" school garden, and this is where this flower was growing. When the garden was still in the planning stage, I said that if there were sunflowers in the garden, I would teach Van Gogh this year. My friend "C", one of the driving forces behind the creation of the garden, made sure that sunflowers were in the plan.

So early this morning I traipsed outside to the garden and cut this sunflower for a kindergarten lesson. I was recalling an easy sunflower lesson on a post by Art Project Girl that I had saved back when I was a new blogger. Using that lesson and my giant sunflower as inspiration, I changed it up a little and mixed some tempera - a fabulous golden yellow, and a rich leafy green. And then I waited for the class to show up. And waited. And waited some more.

But it was school picture day, and the photographer had gotten behind schedule and the first class was in danger of missing art time completely. And I realized that even if they had shown up on time, painting with kindergartners on picture day was a big mistake (the kids were dressed in their best!). I sadly put away all the freshly mixed paint and took out crayons. The kindergarten teacher called me, upset about the loss of art time, and she asked if we could put two very small kindergarten classes together at one time, so that everyone would get to have art. There was a teaching assistant who would come in to help out, so I agreed.

Everything started out quite well - I don't know the kids at all yet (this was only their 2nd art time), so we reviewed names, and then enthusiastically examined the giant sunflower. I had quickly cut some big paper into tall shapes and proceeded to hand it out. But I had miscounted, and 2 kids were without paper, so I cut 2 more sheets. But while I was cutting, one of the little boys without paper had decided to claim the paper of the shy little girl next to him, and they both had a stronghold on the paper sheet. The T.A. tried to intervene before I got there, and the little boy, a special ed student with a severe speech problem, got upset because the T.A. didn't understand him and he so badly wanted the paper. The paper tore and he started to scream and wail. The little girl looked totally devastated and the rest of the kids froze, wide-eyed, in total amazement at what was taking place. The boy just wouldn't calm down.

Finally, we got the boy calmed down and everyone began to draw, and that's when the wasp arrived.
It flew rapidly, divebombing all around the room. (This seems to be an annual occurrence in my room, but we've never been able to find the source of the wasps.) The kids all started screaming, and one shouted "I'M ALLERGIC!!! I tried to convince them the wasp wouldn't bother them, but since it was landing ON the kids and their papers, and they don't know me well enough to trust me, the only solution was to kill the wasp. Finally it landed on a non-human location. I grabbed a phone book and became a murderous art teacher, whamming the wasp on my first try. Hopefully now I can be a hero to these kindergartners! Or maybe they'll be afraid to come back to art again. What a morning...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

4th grade Marvelous Masks

I bookmarked this lesson from a post at Fun Arts 4 Kids last spring, and I'm so glad I did! I used Lori's idea, but made a few changes to suit me and my students.

At the end of the school year in June, my scrap box was full, and I just could not bring myself to toss it away. Then a retiring kindergarten teacher passed on a pile of cut up paper, and someone else brought me their faded bulletin board paper. It was this excess of paper, plus the great lesson idea, and a great bunch of kids that led me to set this paper aside until now. Here are some individual views of the masks and some more explanation of the process.

I'm not sure the photos do the masks justice. They are HUGE. We started with 18x24" tag, folded in 1/2 and cut to make a chin shape as desired. Then the rules were simple. The mask was to be symmetrical, and was to use warm colors or cool colors. As the masks got finished, some kids asked to deviate from the colors they had chosen, and I let them expand. It looks like a lot of these kids chose warm colors, but these are only 1/2 the masks - the rest will be completed tomorrow and I think there's lots of cool colors in this next batch.

The kids used big foam brushes and watered down Elmer's glue to cover the face with assorted scraps of construction and tissue paper, painting under and over with the glue mix. As a result, the masks feel quite stiff and sturdy. We did this for 2 class periods, and in the 3rd class, the kids used regular Elmer's glue to add smaller details, and then slit and stapled the masks to make them pop out. It's hard to see this in the photos. I gave very little instruction and let them figure a lot out for themselves.

Somehow, it seems the pile of scraps has gotten bigger instead of smaller. How did that happen? Yesterday some girls in the aftercare program came to the art room and sorted it into 3 large cartons: tissue paper, paper in rectangles and strips, and the colorful scrappy mess box.

I'm sure there will be some other grades who will be jealous that THEY didn't get to make these masks, but I chose this group to do it because I knew they could handle the chaos. This is a special group of kids; I first noticed it in their unique responses to learning about Frank Lloyd Wright in 2nd grade, and they continued to amaze me last year with their "fauve fauves" - colorful paintings of African animals that I posted about here. So I knew they were the right group to tackle this project.

I must say, this lesson is not for the weak of heart. You need to know your kids really well and trust that they will be able to handle the chaos. I had to smile, earlier this evening, reading a good post by another art teacher about organization. She had the materials for each class/grade in a box lid, and it looked like it would work well, IF ONLY I USED STUFF SMALL ENOUGH to fit in a box lid. My art room yesterday, before the girls helped sort the paper, looked like a hurricane had torn through the place. One whole table was piled in mountains of scraps (no exaggeration here) and was therefore unusable for kids to sit at, and my counter was piled with a big box of cut up painted paper for another 3rd grade, as well as trays of yarn, buttons, and sequins they were also using; also oil pastels, scissors big and small, bottles of 2 kinds of glue, a big bucket of glue/water mix, soggy foam brushes, and of course the stuff that SHOULD be on the counter, like the paper cutter, the CD player, a bucket of Sharpies, the 6th grade to-be-graded box full of passports.... you get the idea. I think a 1st year teacher might have gone into hiding, or picked another career. I have a couple of college students who will be coming in for some observation time and I hope the chaos doesn't scare them off. A few box lids would have been like putting a band-aid on an explosion.

I guess, when it comes to art with kids, I subscribe to the "go big or go home" philosophy. Thank goodness no administrator stepped foot in my room any time yesterday. By the time I left for home at 6:30pm (way too late, I know) it was starting to look a little less frightening.

I can tell you, the 4th graders LOVED making these masks, helped each other, and scrubbed every inch of glue off the tables at the end of each art class. (We did not cover the tables; the masks were so big and the tables so crowded that a layer of newspaper underneath would have just made it worse, I think.) Thanks, Lori, for the inspiration for this project. Now will someone PLEASE tell me what to do with these giant cartons of scraps?!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

6th grade Passports

My 6th graders are an odd "in between". As of 2 years ago, they are no longer considered elementary; they are now part of the middle school (which is pretty simple in my school, since we are all in one building). Even though they are now "middle school" for most else, they still have art class and music class with the elementary art teacher (me) and the elementary music teacher. They are scheduled just as they were for elementary art - two 40 minute classes in a 6 day cycle.
But now I have to put a number grade on their report card, which is a real challenge. We tend to do rather large projects in 6th grade, and so I don't have much completed when grading time comes around, since over a 10 week marking period I may have seen them 15 times. So my solution was to use the passports for grading.

They had a set of requirements (yup, written on a BLACKBOARD) for getting the best grade for their passports. They will have a similar list for every project they do. They know their grades are based on following directions, completing their work as required, using best craftsmanship, using materials appropriately, cleaning up their messes, positive attitude, participating in class, and using best effort. I suppose this should all be on a rubric, but since they are only a small part of my student load, I feel I have to leave it a little open-ended because of the time it takes to grade. Maybe the person who becomes the next art teacher will have a better idea, a better way.
We assemble the passport with "half holes" punched on the spine of the pages. The pages and cover are stacked together open, and a rubber band is threaded from the center of the book, up through the holes, and a cut-off meat skewer gets slid through the ends of the rubber bands on the outside, as you can see on the passport below. You could sub string or yarn for the rubber band, and a pencil or a twig or a drink stir stick for the skewer. It's such an easy construction and works so well!

I like to always give the kids ways to earn extra points - so I have given them the opportunity to add a picture - they may bring in a photo, or draw their own. Last year a couple of kids did humorous drawing of themselves that were a wonderfully creative solution.

When each project is done, the passport is filled out first by the student, then written in by me, and finally assigned a letter grade and a "stamp". I convert the letters to numbers to average at the end of the marking period.

I must admit, I was terribly spoiled by last year's 6th grade. These kids radiated, they sparkled, and I swear you could see the creative genius bubbling over. They are the kids whose altered books I showed you last year, plus their tooling foil African inspired masks, and especially their plaster bandage sculptures of people in motion. They are an immensely talented group of children, smart, without any snarky attitude or chips on their shoulders. This year's 6th grade however is different. They are also sweet, loveable kids, with lots of enthusiasm, but they lack the creative "zip" of last year's group, and they struggle academically. They think they are doing a fabulous job on their passports; I do not. I think their lettering is slopppy but boy are they trying hard. I am going to have to pull back my expectations a little, and then I think they will shine. They all LOVE art. Anyhow, the passports are just the beginning. The kids could come a long way this year, right?

Friday, September 16, 2011

B is for Butterfly - Monoprint Monarchs

I got this fabulous idea for making butterflies with folded paper monoprints from Art Project Girl.
It was SO easy. I used these microwave dishes (below) for paint - orange in one side, yellow in the other. (This dish is partially washed. My 4th and 5th graders love to wash dishes during lunchtime or during aftercare.)
The kids started painting a "B" on the right side of their papers with yellow, then filling it in and painting it again with some orange (same fat brush), folding and printing after each time they added paint. The yellow just really brightened up the orange and the kids loved it. After that, they used a smaller brush and some slightly watered down black tempera (in another dish), and they retraced the "B" and added designs, printing again after each addition. We (obviously) reinforced the meaning of the word "symmetry", which is currently on my Vocabulary board.
The kids will cut the butterflies out in their next art class and I think we'll be sponge-painting skies to glue them on, so they can fly to their valley in Mexico. Maybe we'll give them some branches to rest on, too. This lesson was/is particularly timely, because the 1st graders are currently learning about monarchs in their classrooms and are waiting to see a chrysalis hatch. Next week they will be going on a field trip to the Up Yonda Farm Environmental Education Center to visit the butterfly garden.

Interestingly enough, the kids told me that the butterflies should have white spots on them and I said no. But I just looked at monarch pics and they kids were (of course) right; there are white spots on the black on the wings. So I think we'll take a Q-tip and paint some white spots when we glue them on the skies. And the kids want to add eyes, too, so it may have to be wiggle eyes. I hope the wiggle eyes don't ruin the look.

Thanks, Erica, for a terrific lesson.

Monday, September 12, 2011

"I'm So Tired"

This song pretty much says the way I feel tonight.

My school year has just started, but I already recognize that my schedule is poorly planned. There are days that seem smooth and easy, and days that are a wild roller coaster, such as today, when I taught 2nd grade (2 classes), 4th grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade (2 classes), all doing different things. By the time I got to the staff room to grab some lunch, nobody was left in there at all. Tomorrow's schedule includes 2 classes of 3rd grade, a different 4th grade class, and more 5th grade classes, so I tried to prep the paint and paper etc before I left today, but I was just so tired my legs just didn't want to be standing any more.

Of course, I had a busy weekend, with my son home for a visit before moving into a new apartment in Boston. We went to the lake, ate good food, cooked s'mores, played Bananagrams (he beat me), went kayaking, and even took a couple of nice brisk swims (though initially unintentional) in the chilly lake. So maybe I was overtired to start with.

On the flip side, my 6th graders are off to an awesome start on their passports, which I will show you and explain in a post when they are done. My classes have all been on best behavior, very enthusiastic about everything in the art room, and are excited about what we are doing and what I have planned for them. It's going to be a great year.

So hopefully with a good night of sleep I'll be singing a different song tomorrow.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Ha ha ha ha ha ha..... This looks like me I think.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cleanup, cleanup, everybody clean up! or - "Sponges and Placemats and Mess, OH MY!"

Or maybe I should call this post "The Big Spill".
The sponge is one of my art room "must-haves".

I just finished my first (wonderful) day with kids and now have been reading stuff on other blogs about organization and cleanup, and am a bit puzzled/surprised about the extreme differences in our ways. Let me say now: I'm a gal who is NOT afraid of big mess. As a matter of fact, the ONLY mess that scares me is that left by glitter. It creeps me out, by the way it reappears... and reappears... days after you've used it. So glitter has been banned from my room for many years (though we do use glitter-glue, and I love other sparkly shiny stuff). But every other art material is welcome, and I especially love papier-mache, plaster bandage, and large tempera paintings.

I order LOTS of sponges every year, and I have a big basin full of them at all times. The kids all know that they have to SQUEEZE all excess water out of the sponge prior to washing tables or "we will have a flood and the room will fill with sharks, fish, whales,and octopi" (everyone giggles here). The kids also know that if paint spills on the floor they need to tell me IMMEDIATELY and I will show them how to clean it up (SCOOP with the sponge; wash out the sponge; repeat), but will not get upset about it. After all, it's an art room, and everything (kid included) is washable. As a matter of fact, a popular phrase in my room, when there is a paint accident is "it's OK, I'm washable!" This is because I've told the kids that they were made to be washable so they could come to art class. Sometimes we cover the tables with newspapers when we paint, but more often, we do not, since everything will wash off the tables anyhow and the kids love cleaning them! We do cover the tables for papier-mache or plaster bandage, and sometimes if we'll be messy with glue, and then we can just roll up the messy paper and the table is (almost) clean underneath.

My students are required to have their own art shirts, that are stored in their cubbies in their classroom. I send a letter home about this every year, and explain (to parents) that if they cannot provide, they should contact me and the "Art Shirt Fairy" will deliver a shirt to the child's room. If a child is irresponsible about bringing his art shirt, I may exclude them from messy activities (in particular papier-mache, acrylic paints, and thick rich tempera). If this seems mean, realize that it's no different than telling the student who forgets his sneakers that he cannot participate in phys. ed. classes. It's all about responsibility. I know some of you have smocks in your room that you use for everyone, but not me. I do not like clothing sharing for hygiene reasons (for example - HEAD LICE). And my tables are rather high for the younger kids, since they were originally from the middle school art room, so when they paint they tend to lean over them.

ANYHOW. Several of you talked about using place-mats when painting and I was befuddled by this. What kind of place-mats are these and how big are they? (Are they paper, or plastic, or what?) Using place-mats must mean that all painting is done on small paper? (I love 18"x 24", bigger than most place-mats.) Don't the tables need washing anyhow, from containers of paint, water dishes, paint mixing, drips, etc? I hope those of you who use place-mats can clarify this stuff for me. Maybe I'm really missing the boat somewhere...

Speaking of mess - we've all seen those cool projects using shaving cream for marbling. I tried it out the other day and it's great. But everyone who has posted these lessons has spread the shaving cream on a tray of some sort. Based on my trial run, I'm going to spread it directly ON THE TABLES. The great thing is, when you are done and sponge it up, it also cleans the tables!!

Also, a lot of you have talked about making student folders for organization, but I don't have a folder for each child, especially since a lot of work is 3-D, or relatively large. Also, after work is displayed, I generally send most of it home, saving some for special displays. Some work even goes home immediately if it is not going to get hung up. I can't imagine storing everyone's work from all year. We crank out a LOT of art over the space of a year, and I'm afraid my art room would overflow and then the film crew from Hoarders would arrive.

OK, I've rattled on enough. I've been getting lots of messages lately from people asking me to get their message out on the blog, but I'm not dealing with it tonight. Too much I should be doing. So if you are waiting for my response, be patient please. And if this is your first week back in school, I hope your start is as good as my day was today!

One last quick question though - our staff spent Tuesday in training for an anti-bullying program we're going to be using. It was an interesting day but overwhelming day, and I'm wondering how it has worked for other districts. Is anyone out there in bloggy-land using the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program? If so, what do you think?

Thanks everyone! Happy Weekend!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chihuly inspired earrings & a new art room poster

In the waning days of vacation, instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, I made myself some new earrings for my "back to school wardrobe". Even though they are opaque, these crazy earrings remind me of Chihuly.

And then I made these, too:
I think the black and white reversed pair is fun, and the spirals are lightweight and go with everything.

And then I made this poster for the art room:
I got the idea for this poster from another blogger last year, but I don't remember who, so if it was your fabulous idea, please let us all know! I started using this concept when making wampum belts with my 4th graders. They had gotten needy when it came to getting out tangles, and tying knots. Having them turn to their classmates for help rather than immediately tugging on me for help really was a lifesaver. Plus it gave them confidence about their ability to help each other. So this year it will be on the wall to use with every class, instead of just when I remember to tell the kids.