Wednesday, August 20, 2014

art goes back to school



In the back-to-school preparation frenzy, art education is the last thing on many, if not most, teachers' minds. And yet, what could be more fun... and even relaxing... than a little art during the first week of school? Best of all, teachers can find out a lot about students' fine motor and other skills, as well as their work habits and level of responsibility and concentration. 
One of my favorite things to do as an art teacher was to start the year with a little multimedia exploration. I set it up like Kindergarten stations, with four different media on four different tables for 1st and 2nd graders, and 3 different media on 3 tables for Kindergarten. Students started in one place and took their papers with them to the next station and added to their design. Kindergarten students used the same paper for the whole exploration, while 1st and ends used two sheets of paper, mixing two media on each paper.
First and Second stations included all of these, and Kindergarten stations were the same, minus the paint:
• tempera paint with brushes and straws for blowing
• crayons
• colored pencils with shapes to trace
• construction paper, scissors, and glue
It took a little extra thinking to decide in which order to arrange the stations for rotation, because each group of students started with a different media, and I wondered how feasible it was going to be for those who started at the paint table. In the end, I decided to just not worry about it and see what happened. Before starting the activity, I quickly introduced the materials at each station and explained the procedure, including making a point of explaining to students that they would keep the same paper when they moved to a new station. Other than that, I didn't really give any earth-shattering directions, because I really did want this to be an exploration.
An interesting side benefit of this activity on our first meeting day was that it gave me an instant overview evaluation of important skills: use of scissors, glue, and brushes; painting technique development; pencil and crayon grip; and fine motor and eye-hand coordination skills. It even revealed what kind of sense students had in putting together a composition, including whether or not they thought about what they were doing. It was especially interesting to see some students just start cutting shapes and gluing them on the paper at random, while others would spend time arranging their shapes just so while gluing, or giving slow, thoughtful attention to how and where they applied paint to paper, or how they lined up shapes for tracing.

Some students were obviously organized and/or methodical, and some students were obviously less so:

For those teachers and administrators who think art is just an extra for random Friday afternoons before vacations, I propose that there is much to be learned, by students and teachers, when children make art. Teachers can learn much about individual students' fine-motor skills, spatial sense, responsibility, and more, and students can learn how to develop concentration, practice motor skills, and more.... not the least being able to express themselves and create a little beauty for this world.

So.... how about starting the school year with a little mixed-media exploration? My store at TeachersPayTeachers has lots of art lessons for teachers who don't have art background. This mixed media exploration is included in the bundle Start With Art, and you'll find a couple of free art lessons, too! Check it out!
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Monday, August 4, 2014

start with art

I don't normally use this blog for direct marketing, but since TeachersPayTeachers is having a site-wide Back to School sale (Aug 4 & 5), and since I have a store there, I thought I'd take the opportunity to blatantly peddle my Start With Art lesson bundle designed for elementary classroom teachers who are not necessarily art teachers.

This collection of five art lessons is a great way to start the school year with lower grade elementary students. It introduces the elements of design -- line, shape, color, pattern & texture, and space -- with open-ended explorations designed to allow students to use a variety of art materials and techniques. And... it gives teachers a great opportunity to observe students motor skills, work habits, creativity, and responsibility!

Start With Art is a big seller in my TpT store, and it's 20% off for two days -- August 4 and 5. With the TpT promotion code (BTS14) you save an additional 10%, for a total savings of 28%!

Check out my store, and while you're there, download my free resource, Making Time For Art. It's filled with ideas and suggestions for incorporating more art lessons into the classroom. Enjoy!



Monday, June 23, 2014

got chalk?


Left to their own devices and given a few simple materials, kids will make art on their own. Shouldn't this tell us something about our innate need to create, to beautify, to express ourselves?

Give a Kindergartner some sidewalk chalk and leave him or her alone and some happy things might happen! These two sidewalk chalk drawings were done by Kindergartners at recess on two separate occasions. In each case, no adult told them what to draw, how to draw it, or made any suggestions.
I love the sun's rays and am impressed by their evenness of distance from each other as well as their length. And the sun's face is just too cute! The drawing of the person was done on a cloudy day when rain was threatening. It is hard to tell from this photo, but the drawing was much larger than life size, stretching across the sidewalk to a length far beyond the height of its artist.

But one does not need to be a kindergartner to enjoy sidewalk chalk art. Just today, taking a short break between starting and finishing this entry, I stepped out to the grocery store, and found this drawing on the sidewalk just outside the grocery store door. Considering it's careful symmetry, I'm supposing this was drawn by someone far beyond Kindergarten, a reminder that art really is for everyone, that personal expression can be spontaneous and very public, and that with just a little sidewalk chalk (or a crayon, or whatever!) anyone can make our world just a little happier, just a little more fun, just a little less boring.

Seeing this on the sidewalk outside the grocery store was a happy surprise that made me smile. I hope many others smiled when they saw it, too!

Got chalk?
Got a sidewalk?
Go out and make some art!
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Sunday, April 13, 2014

looking at art with kids

With the idea that I would have students do some "mystery paintings" of faces.... white crayon on white paper with watercolor resist overlay.... I started out by having them compare two works, one by Pablo Picasso and one by Paul Klee. I chose these two works because I intended to have them do a contour drawing of a face and then use color blocks of watercolor over the drawings, and these two works are perfect examples.

We started with my standard question: "What do you notice?" I charted the students' responses, encouraging them to identify whether their "noticing" was of the Picasso, the Klee, or whether it applied to both of the works. I asked students to use the artists' names rather than saying "the one on the left" or pointing and saying "that one" or "the round one" or "the pencil one." Those attributes that applied to both were charted down the center. Since these particular second graders are familiar with Venn Diagrams, they understood right away how to read this finished chart after I added the "boxes" around the lists.

On to the students' art making...

I started with a short demonstration of the "mystery painting" technique, drawing a large face with lots of lines for hair and showing students how I could almost see the drawing if I held the paper up to the light. I added a line pattern in the background for interest, and then modeled painting in blocks of color. I emphasized that I was not following the lines, but letting the drawing come through on its own as I painted.

Then I switched gears and decided to invite them to draw anything they wanted with white crayon on white paper. Together we brainstormed subject matter:  animals, flowers, landscapes, and... of course.... faces.

As they drew, I reminded students to press hard with the crayon and try to use the whole paper, either adding more to their subject matter or perhaps including a pattern in the background for interest. As they were ready, they painted over their drawings. 


These were just plain fun to do. Watercolor resist is a popular art-making activity and really does not need a lot of prep or explanation, but the introduction with these two art works gives an added art-appreciation and art analysis dimension to the lesson.

Looking at these two art works helps the students see how a face can take up a whole page, and to realize that one doesn't need to "follow lines" when painting. It also gives students the opportunity to see and talk about representational abstract art, and to become comfortable with the idea that a face drawing does not need to be absolutely realistic to be successful.

This art-making session ended with students writing about their art work. I gave them the choice of simply telling about their own process, describing how to create a "mystery painting," writing about the difference between Picasso's and Klee's faces, or comparing their own art work to either Picasso's or Klee's. Most students chose to just write about their own process, but two students did write comparisons... one compared his art work to Paul Klee's, and one compared the Picasso and Klee faces.

All in all, a successful lesson, during which a good time was had by all!



Friday, January 31, 2014

what can you do with a heart?

What can you do with any shape, really? One would think it's pretty easy to just decorate a shape... any shape... with lines, patterns, color.... but what I've found lately when substituting is that kids seem to be getting less and less creative at a frighteningly increasing pace. Giving them free reign with a blank piece of paper seems like such a good idea on paper, but I've found that many need a little push of some sort... some examples, some modeling, sometimes even a whole lesson, or at least a mini-lesson, on drawing patterns or borders.

One day in a second grade class, with a little free time to kill, I just thought I'd have students draw a large heart and make it beautiful. The word "decorate" just didn't seem right to me, but it was precisely that word that finally made the difference. I did do a little modeling to begin with, just to give them some ideas, and invited them to use as many colors as they wanted, as many designs as they wanted, and to fill the paper completely.

One of the only requirements was that they had to draw the heart freehand, so we would have a variety of heart shapes, not a set of cookie cutter hearts all the same. I wandered around as they were working, suggesting that they think of patterns they could use, and giving a hint now and then about using bolder colors or perhaps outlining the heart for emphasis.

It was interesting watching them work. While most of the students really got into it and showed some thought in their designs, a few seemed at a complete loss as to what they could do with their heart. When I teach art lessons to kids, I always emphasize how artists usually create a plan, think about what they want to do and choose colors carefully. There are so many times that I see students just slap something together, or don't really look at the space they have to work with. It's very intriguing.

In the end, the results of this activity were interesting. We only worked with crayon on this particular day, but if I had planned it out beforehand I might have had some watercolors available, or some scraps of paper, especially decorative paper, for them to use to enhance their hearts even more. I might have done more modeling (as much as I hate to!) or a short lesson on patterning, or bordering, or ways to combine different types of lines. I guess I just really believed they would do all that all by themselves. They did produce some fun designs, and they had a good time, and maybe that's the best thing.

The most interesting thing of all to me in this whole lesson is that this is the same class that created some beautiful Zentangles just a few weeks before. I fully expected that would carry over to this activity, and it did not, but maybe that's ok too!







Friday, October 25, 2013

drawing on halloween

One day while looking through some images looking for something (I don't remember what), I saw a little orange and black witch profile art piece that got me to thinking. I had a subbing day scheduled the week before Halloween in a second grade class in which the students are particular adventurous, so I figured they would be a good group to try out a new lesson that would require them to use a viewfinder, make preliminary sketches, draw a large version of one of their small sketches, then crop their design, paint it, and frame it. I had visions of bold, black contour drawings with bright orange textured background, and lots of options for cropping.

It's hard to get some kids to draw something bigger than their pinkie, and I wanted them to draw large, and boldly, giving some attention to placement, scale, background, and detail. That's a lot for a second grader, but we went slowly and used pretty much the whole day for the lesson.

We started with a picture walk through the book Look! Look! Look! by Tana Hoban, then I taught them how to make a small viewfinder. I had them look at my face, move the viewfinder closer and further away, look at their own hand, and look around the room in general. This was to give them an opportunity to look at the environment the way an artist does, blocking out unneeded parts and just experimenting with placement in the viewing window.

The next step was generating a list of Halloween nouns, for them to use for ideas for drawing. This was followed by having them fold a piece of scratch paper into fourths and do four different small drawings. They chose one of these to draw bigger on a white paper, using only a black crayon, with instructions not to color anything in because these were contour drawings. I let them know that we would be painting them later.

Next, they made a cropping window and placed it over their drawing to help them choose how to crop their composition. This was kind of like using a giant viewfinder. They drew a pencil line for the cropping lines, then sponge painted inside that square with orange watercolor.

By now it was about one hour before the end of the day. There was just enough time left to cut on the pencil lines to trim the excess off their drawings and mount their "close up" compositions on black paper. And to show off.

After we had a chance to look at everyone's work, I had a few students choose someone else's picture and tell what they liked about it. They were remarkably articulate! "I like the collar." "I like the pattern in the background." "I like the spider web." "I like that it looks scary."

This turned out to be a pretty successful lesson with a lot going for it. The students were intrigued by the viewfinders, and I was thrilled to see that hardly anyone drew tiny pictures. I think making the preliminary sketches (and modeling that process) helped a lot. If I had wanted to stretch this lesson out even further, I could have had the students do all the measuring for their cropping window mats; I would definitely do that if I were teaching this to an older group. And just to show how great this class is, they put all the painting sponges back into color-coded baggies with no mistakes!




Saturday, September 28, 2013

just plain fun... and a little geometry!

 On a day when I was subbing in a second grade classroom, wanting to do an art activity but not in the mood to bother with a full-blown lesson, I decided to focus on shapes and patterns. Usually when I do a patterning lesson, I get into a whole "math chat" mode and ask a lot of questions about what patterns are, how we know, and other identifying information. This time, I just put up a sheet of butcher paper, labeled it "Patterns in the Classroom" and asked students to describe, with words, patterns they could see around them. The key here was describing with words. I specifically asked them not to indicate what they were looking at, but simply to describe a pattern they found. As they described what they saw, I drew the patterns, as I understood them, on the paper.

Once we had several examples, I talked about how even if what I drew wasn't exactly what students saw, we still ended up with some interesting patterns. U explained that is called "getting an idea" or "getting inspiration" -- that the patterns they saw could be changed to create new patterns.

The actual art-making part of this activity was very simple:  Trace some shapes onto white paper (I had brought my collection of cardboard and plastic shapes with me) and then color in the resulting spaces.

I introduced the words overlap and intersect and modeled tracing a few shapes to demonstrate the meanings of the words. I made sure students understood that each shape needed to overlap at least one other shape, so that all the lines would intersect. I then explained that each resulting shape/section would need to be filled with a pattern, and that no pattern could be repeated. And just to throw in another math concept, I asked them to trace an odd number of shapes, more than two and less than ten. They traced the shapes with a pencil first, then colored the spaces in, and then went back and outlined each original shape with a black crayon.

Students had cleared off their tables, so I just tossed a lot of assorted shapes in the middles of their tables and they went to work. As they got down to it, the classroom became quieter and quieter. There was some real concentration going on! A few students were not working real carefully, so I reminded them to be sure to think about what they were doing, and to slow down. I always tell students who rush that I am going to want their work to look like they were thinking about it. That generally works.

This was an easy, easy lesson that needed no prep at all. It would be great for a substitute (well, I was substituting!). I happened to have shapes with me, but I would bet that in most primary classrooms one would be able to find some shapes to trace. If not, students could make their own, with each student making one shape and then all students at that table sharing each others'. And there's no rule that says they have to use geometric shapes, but I do think the resulting shapes from overlapping are very interesting and it would be a great math extension to have them name all the resulting shapes, or some additional art concepts could be included by having students use all warm or all cool colors, or some other defined color combination.