Friday, October 28, 2011

Trees, Texture, & Van Gogh

My 3rd graders know everything there is to know about Vincent van Gogh!
They noticed that his swirls of paint looked thick and bumpy, and we reviewed the word "texture". We discussed how our paint is not thick enough to make a bumpy texture like van Gogh's, so we used glue and sand (an idea "borrowed" from Katie's and the wonderful artwork she posted here: Adventures of an Art Teacher). I posted about this briefly last week.

A word about the tree above on the left - I'm SO proud of this young artist. He does not have much fine motor skill, and after painting the tree and sky, it was an absolute mess. You couldn't find the tree anywhere. On the final work day, when we touched up colors and outlined with black as desired, I really encouraged him to locate his missing tree and sky. He went to work and in the end it's my favorite of all the paintings. I love the off-center placement of the tree; I think it looks pretty sophisticated, don't you?

The process - to begin, the kids drew their trees, added some bark texture, some ground texture, and some swirls in the sky (all with glue) and shook on some sand. When it was dry, in our next our class, they painted, beginning with warm colors in either the sky or tree. The following art class it was cool colors, in the parts not previously painted. The tree directly above on the right was done by a boy who was absent when we did the glue and sand. So he added glue and sand to his tree after he painted it, when the paint was still wet. It's totally different than the others, but still really cool! In the final art class, the kids added more color where needed and then used thinned black tempera to outline and highlight texture as desired. I'm in love with these paintings!
The tree on the right was done by a young gal who has been refusing to wear her art shirt (a fast rule in my room when there's 23 kids painting). But I wanted her to participate. I gave her markers and a wet paintbrush and this is her result - really interesting I think! And now she's back in her art shirt :)

Four of these were shown individually above, but not all so I thought I'd post as much of the board as I could fit in my lens. Each tree is SO unique!

Food for thought about drawing trees with kids-
Many of you post about drawing/painting trees, using the "V" or "Y" method. The problem is, when I look out my window here, every tree has a distinct trunk that continues, narrowing, to the top of the tree. Actually, with all the woods out my window, I only can see ONE tree that has a "Y" trunk, though there are plenty of "Y" branches. So unlike the rest of you, I generally don't teach tree drawing that way. It happens that THESE trees in this post all head right off the top of the paper, solving the problem of "how to end the tree". Maybe it's cheating, but they look pretty good, don't you agree?

Hopefully soon my 4th graders will be starting those charcoal trees that you all liked so much last year. Maybe we can try to include the tippy-tops!

Alex Beard & Monkey See, Monkey Draw

My second graders looked at some artwork by Alex Beard, who is on display in my room along with M.C. Escher, as many of his paintings are sort of tessellations. We read his book Monkey See, Monkey Draw. We did an activity often done by Alex Beard when he works with kids, which is a simple lesson relating to the story. The children traced their hand, and then had to turn it into "something". The only rule: NO TURKEYS.
Michael made this adorable deer.
Thomas is still working to finish coloring his awesome dragon.
Peyton made this great tiger -hmmm it seems to have 5 legs. At least I hope they are all legs...

Some kids made dinosaurs, flowers, trees, and more, but MANY of them, perhaps inspired by Alex Beard's peacock image hanging on my bulletin board, decided to make peacocks.

As a result, I decided we needed to paint some peacocks. We watched a great video of a peacock showing off his feathers, and examined some real peacock feathers close up. We have now begun drawing peacocks for a shimmery painting, with sparkly crayons for resist.

Will blogger like me better today?

First snowfall, out the art room window. The ground was white by the time I got home.

This morning, just some ground cover left. Brrrr.....

Not too much snow, compared to some pics I saw posted by a Colorado blogger, but still, our first of the season and baby's it's COLD outside.

Yeah! Blogger let me upload photos today!

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Anyone else having blogger issues tonight?

I tried uploading photos of today's snowfall (YES, SNOW!) shot out my classroom window, about 16 times. ERROR.

Then I tried uploading photos of a project with results that have me exceptionally excited. I really want to share these photos with you all!!!

I removed all the photos from my laptop and re-loaded them in off my camera. Then I tried to upload them to blogger again. I tried some of the same photos, some different ones.

Error message after error message after error message.

I've been working on it for hours, all through the finale of Project Runway, and this is all I have to show. Nothing. (Though, speaking of Project Runway, if I was tall, skinny, long-legged, and flat-chested, none of which in the slightest bit even remotely describes me, I'd love to wear Anya's gorgeous flowing outfits.)

Rats to Blogger. How come everyone else has been posting photos tonight?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

back from Lake Placid and my brain is full...

I spent the past weekend in Lake Placid (where the 1980 Winter Olympics were held). I was there to attend my NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) annual Regional Leadership Conference, learning about the new regulations regarding teacher APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) and the associated contractual ramifications. Hence my overstuffed brain. (The photos above and at the end of this post were shot on the way down through the "Cascades", coming out of the mountains toward the highway on the way home.)

So I want to talk about the APPR. But first - here's the early morning view out of my hotel window. In front of the mountains is Mirror Lake, which sits directly next to the main street of the village. While the autumn leaves are still rich in gold, rust, orange, burgundy and olive here at home, further north in Lake Placid, nestled in the mountains, there's barely a leaf left on the tree, and I'm sure some of the 46 High Peaks already have snow on top. Winter comes early in Lake Placid, and spring comes late, but still, Lake Placid and nearby Saranac Lake, Keene, and Keene Valley are all lovely picturesque villages.

Back to the APPR: Here in NY state we have new legislation regarding the APPR. I don't want to attempt to explain it all, (I'd have to write a novel), but I'll try to lay out a few basics:
  • 20% of the rating will be based on student growth on state assessments. For non-tested subjects (such as ART) growth will be measured by district-wide student growth goal setting process. (What does this MEAN? Who decides what this process is? No answers thus far...)
  • 20% will come from multiple locally-determined measure of student achievement.
  • 60% will come from the state teaching standards using multiple measures: a rubric, observation, and evidence collection.
  • Only the first 20% comes directly from the state; the other 80% must be collectively bargained. (We have our work cut out for us; our contract expires this June so we should begin negotiations this winter.)
  • For the 60%, the state has approved 9 possible rubrics (that align with the NY State Teaching Standards), and boy, are these rubrics intense, running about 35 pages or so each. Yikes. It will take forever to simply READ them all, and then we have to select one and determine how to assign points, and negotiate it all with the rest of our contract items (such as salary and health insurance).
  • Then there's the TIP (teacher improvement plan), TED (Teacher Evaluation and Development system) and probably a few other acronyms that aren't occurring to me here.
Meanwhile, what are the NY State Teaching Standards? Truth is, I didn't know until this weekend. (Hint: they are NOT the same thing as the NY State LEARNING Standards.) Here they are , greatly simplified:
  • Knowledge of Students & Student Learning
  • Knowledge of Content and Instructional Planning
  • Instructional Practice
  • Learning Environment
  • Assessment for Student Learning
  • Professional Responsibilities and Collaboration
  • Professional Growth
So you see why my brain is so full. I now have to turn this info over to others to figure out where we go from here.

If I needed a good reason for my decision to retire in June, this would be it. I'm so discouraged. Don't get me wrong, I think there are good parts to all of this, but it is SO weighty. I think our administration will be bogged-down with walk-throughs and observations and filling out rubrics, and I think the teaching staff will be very stressed trying to jump through all the hoops. And I don't think it will make better teachers or improve student accountability. Teachers will be so worried about the kids showing progress, and scoring on standardized tests, and keeping track of everything with evidence binders and such, that I think the open-ended exploration that happens in art, and the wonder of creative expression will be much harder to find. And teachers who allow this exploration instead of worrying about covering every point on the rubric will be getting poor evaluations and maybe a TIP. I'm not interested.

Unlike many of you, who maybe had some extensive training in educational philosophy and practice, I grew up and went to college in the hippie era which preceded a lot of the stuff you've been using. All pretty loosey-goosey. Over the years since then, I've seen all sorts of research come and go, all sorts of initiatives be enacted and become obsolete, and I've become a little cynical. We spend a lot more time on data collection and assessment, but I don't think we're doing a better job because of all of this stuff. As a matter of fact, I think the kids are often shortchanged because we are so worried about meeting the standards.

Enough to think about? Time for my nightly cup of tea.......

1st grade skeletons

My first graders used paper straws and Elmer's School Glue to make these cute skeletons, and then used construction paper crayons to embellish. We started with a "T" for the spine and shoulders and then added bones according to the pose. I like the way some have fingers, and wow, look at all those toes and ribs on the skeleton to the right above!! Holy moly!

OK, on the vertical image below, what do you think was intended by those red circles? Honestly I didn't even NOTICE them until I added the image just now. Oops!

60 Minutes on Vincent van Gogh

A couple of bloggers have posted about a 60 Minutes segment on Vincent van Gogh, and others have commented to tell me about it! (THANKS!) One of my students even cutely tried to tell me about it: "Mrs. B, I saw on TV that Vincent van Gogh DIDN'T cut his own ear off!!!" That's definitively NOT what the segment says, but I appreciate the attempt on my student's part to recall what he had seen. The segment sheds some doubt on whether Vincent actually shot himself.

I spent much of the summer reading a compilation of Vincent's letters to Theo, and from his obvious extreme mental instability and severe depression, I had never doubted the suicide. I don't think this new evidence makes much difference though; whatever really happened that day, van Gogh died, and I doubt he would have lived much longer anyhow, given the extremes of his mental illness and likely temporal lobe epilepsy.

Anyhow, if you haven't seen it yet, check it out here, and make sure you also watch Part 2 and the Virtual Tour. It's well done and there are images that you may have never seen before, information you may have never heard.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Blob monsters and shaving cream?! - 2 "borrowed" projects

I've been borrowing from other bloggers again! Even those of us who have been around for a while can still find new ideas and techniques. It's always more fun to try something new, or at least put a new spin on an old lesson, than it is to just repeat... repeat... repeat!

Kindergarten organic "blob monsters" - I discovered this lesson at We Heart Art.
I didn't deviate much from the lesson posted there. Anyone who knows me knows I'm terrified of kindergartners - I'd rather teach a group of any other age. The K's are, basically, "tadpoles" - still developing. I began my teaching career with 9 years of high school art, so switching gears so dramatically was a real struggle. Still, after 25+ years, I still struggle with teaching kindergarten. So I'm always thrilled to find a lesson that is just perfect for these little guys.

Anyhow, about this lesson: We read the book Jeremy Draws a Monster and made an organic shape with a piece of yarn on our paper. We traced around the yarn with a crayon, and then got imaginative. We first talked about how to make eyes look like eyes, etc, but mostly we just had fun imagining. Some monsters were silly, some mean, and each one was unique.

I liked this lesson so much, when we had a little extra time in first grade today, we did the same exact thing, only we used construction paper crayons on colored paper. The results were again adorable and the kids really were proud of their monsters. Unfortunately I sent the artwork home and forgot to take pictures!

And here are some silhouettes on 9"x12" paper marbled with shaving cream and liquid watercolors. I do a silhouette project with 5th graders every year, usually on a watercolored paper, sometimes sprinkled with salt, but this was the first time I tried it using a marbled sky.

A lot of people have posted about making marbled paper with shaving cream. I'd never tried it, but we had a blast doing it. I did do some things a little differently than other people, though. I had the kids tape off a rectangle on their table the size of their paper, and then set the paper aside. I sprayed the shaving cream directly on the table, not in a tray like most others have done. I had a variety of liquid watercolors available, and after the kids spread out their shaving cream (kind of like frosting a cake) the kids dripped the paint on and used pop sticks to swirl it around. We were trying to make Van Gogh-like swirls, but some kids got carried away and swirled too much. In the end the results were still useable, and most kids got to spread their cream out a second time and do a second print. They picked which one to use for their silhouette and saved the other to use at a later date.

Cleanup was maybe the most fun of all. The kids used squares of cardboard to squeegee the excess shaving cream off the tables, and gathered up mountains of it in their hands. They were enthralled. Then, I passed out sponges and the shaving cream, even with paint in it, worked as a wonderful table cleaner and the room smelled fabulous too! It was so easy to clean up, that I can't imagine using some sort of tray. My tables are easily washable and everyone was happy.

By the way - the little bits of shine and sparkle on some of these pictures are scraps of metallic contact paper I have, or, as in the crown on the Statue of Liberty, metallic paint dabbed on with a Q-tip stick. The contact paper doesn't show true color in the photos - the stuff the kids used was either plain mirror-like silver, or silver with sort of a holographic look that has a pattern of tiny circular designs that look like little CD's (hence the moon and reflection in the lighthouse image).

The black is Sharpie (for tiny details) and India ink. The kids love using it. I find that the concept of silhouettes is a challenge for some kids to understand, which is why I try to incorporate a silhouette lesson with my 5th graders somehow every year. I was surprised this year - no roller coasters, only one city, no castles, only one bridge, no trains, only one howling wolf, no helicopters, etc. I had an image box they could sift through and I couldn't interest anyone in the cupolas and weathervanes I had. This group of kids really struggled with ideas but in the end I think they did pretty well.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Advice please?

I've said this before. I'm a great computer USER, but I'm extremely technologically ignorant. That goes for internet stuff too. I'm a dinosaur.

Anyhow, here's the reason I'd like advice. In the past week or two, I've been receiving a lot of emails that say this: "I'd like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn." Then the email asks me to confirm that I know the person making the request.

Sometimes the invites are 'from' a fellow blogger/friend (maybe YOU who are reading this), and most others have been from acquaintances from NYSATA, my state art teachers association. These are not necessarily people that I know well, but I do know who they all are.

So I want to know, first of all, what exactly is LinkedIn? And what advantage is it for me to respond yes? And does the person the invite is coming from know that they are sending it? Or is it done automatically from some list serve somewhere (such as NYSATA members, or workshop presenters, etc)?

As I said, you are probably more savvy about this stuff than me. I'm pretty clueless. I figured out how to use blogger and I'm quite happy, but then this other stuff comes along and I don't know what it all means. So please, be honest with the advice, but don't use any big techno-words because little old art teacher me won't have a clue what you're talking about!

Thanks, friends!

Two little surprises

My 3rd graders are currently painting textural trees, using Elmer's Glue-All and playground sand, and tempera paint. Today we had two fun surprises.

First: one boy used a LOT of glue and sand. In his previous art class, he painted over the dried glue and sand, using warm colors tempera. Today we looked at it, and here's how it dried (below and at the top of this post). How cool is that?

Then: the kids are are painting without washing brushes (the water you see on the table is just for keeping brushes moist). Last time they used was warm colors, today they used cool colors. To keep the paint colors as clean as possible, I showed them how to dip their brush in to the color without stirring. One boy discovered an interesting drip had occurred in a dish of green paint. The drip had formed a lovely flower! He had to take it from table to table to show everyone!! Here's closeup photo of the drip.

You'll have to wait till next week to see the finished work. These kids have art class again on Monday and will put on the finishing touches then, touching up with both warm and cool and adding some black to the textures as desired. I will post them when they are done. But I can tell you now - they are pretty awesome!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Layered Landscapes with Swirly Skies

I'm so happy with the results of this project. My 2nd graders were fascinated learning about Vincent Van Gogh, and had a great time imitating swirly skies by using our multicolor crayons (the kind I made by melting crayons into a muffin tin) for layers of texture rubbings.

When the skies were complete, the kids each tore a couple of 8"x18" construction paper in half horizontally, and used the torn pieces to create 2 layers of a landscape. Then we discussed "near and far", and how things close up look bigger, and far away look smaller (kind of a primary lesson in perspective). They cut scraps of paper to make houses, trees, and more, making big ones for the front layer, medium ones in the middle, and small ones in the distance. We used crayons and markers to add details when the glue was dry. I was impressed at how well the kids got the concept, even adding in some roads and sidewalks, narrowing as they recede. Aren't they terrific?