Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Visual Arts, PYP Exhibition and TAB


At the start of planning this year's Exhibition, I wondered how I could meaningfully and authentically integrate the Arts into PYPEXH while honoring the choice based art philosophy that I've worked so hard to cultivate in art class?  The answer for our team this year relied on mutual support among team members, a commitment to a flexible schedule and letting the students own how they wanted to share their EXH journey artistically.

Here is an infographic I created to share our team's process.  By using our own Arts focused central idea we were immediately were able to dive into art and artists who raise awareness instead of playing the waiting game until the EXH students were able to know enough about their issue to tackle it artistically.

By looking at contemporary art through the lens of raising awareness, students were better connect with how artists can symbolically share their message or use emotion to educate the viewer.  This deeper thinking about the purpose of art really came through when it was time to create and the children in the art room were focused, engaged and happy throughout the process. What more could an art teacher want?  Next year we plan to refine the structure and give the children even more choices and make time for even more opportunities to create.  

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Art teaching in the PYP: from Art Activities to Big Ideas

For years, I planned integrated PYP art units pretty much the same way: looked at the homeroom units in the POI and planned art activities that seemed to match.  The older entries on this blog are full of examples of this.

Where We Are in Place and Time: Greek vases, Egyptian masks, "Magic Carpets"
Who We Are: Self Portraits or Personal Mandalas
How the World Works:  Landscapes

This kind of teacher directed artwork is sure to create beautiful decoration for the walls of the school and it also gives the impression of strong single subject integration with the homeroom UOI's.  But when you look deeper, one wonders who did the cognitive work to create this piece of art, the student or the teacher?  Does a Greek vase that was 80% planned and designed by the teacher really demonstrate student understanding of the Big Ideas of a unit?

Over the past few years, I've worked on taking existing art units and opening them up from teacher directed art activities to concept driven units that give learners an opportunity to choose how to demonstrate their understanding. The key to doing this is to focus on the universal and timeless concept rather than the topic, which is more appropriately used as an example of the concept rather than the driving force behind the unit.

For example, Mandalas are topic which can fall under a variety of concepts.  In the past I used mandalas to fit into a Who We Are unit, you can find the lesson here. This year, instead of focusing on the topic of mandalas, I focused on the concepts of pattern and repetition.  This allowed for a natural integration with a Grade 4 Unit on personal well-being.  Some questions we explored included: how do artists use pattern and repetition, why do artists use pattern and repetition, what connections can we make between patterns in our daily activities and our own feeling of well being?

The provocation for the unit was the same as in the past-- a video of Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala. However, mandalas were used as one example of many artistic interpretations of pattern and repetition rather than a model for students to emulate.

The next step was introducing the children to four specific types of pattern and having them complete a sorting and labeling activity in small groups.  This was a good opportunity to introduce them to other exemplars of pattern like Warhol's soup cans, Islamic art and MC Escher.

Following this, the students independently practiced creating simple patterns with pencil in their sketchbooks using a worksheet I created. This gave me a chance to walk around the room as they were working to check for understanding.

Once everyone was confident, students filled "WOW" proposals for their final project.  I created a Youtube video that took each child step by step through the whole process (we are a 1:1 school and each child has their own iPad.)  That way everyone can work at their own pace and I can walk around and conference individually with children who need some guidance.  It also makes it a lot easier to catch a child up who was absent on art day.

If a child chose to use a media that they didn't have experience with, they needed to get a "driver's license" for that particular media by independently following an instructional video and having me check for basic skills.  One example of the skill based videos we use for in class instruction can be found here.  I also track which media they have experience with and what media they choose to use for WOW projects with a tracking sheet that is in their sketchbook.  This "in class flipping" was a lot of work to put in place but it allows the children to have the freedom to use various media without the chaos of me trying to teach five different types of media skills at one time.

If you are interested in incorporating a more choice based approach to your PYP Visual Arts classroom, please look for our PYP/TAB Art Teachers Facebook group, we would love to hear your ideas.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Over the weekend, my good friend and mentor Andy Vasily interviewed me for his Podcast. I talked a little about my background in education and a lot about what systems I have in place to enable student voice and choice.  Give it a listen!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

PYP and TAB: how I do it

Embedding more choice in my PYP Art Room has been an ongoing journey for the last three years. There are numerous ways to use the TAB approach within the PYP, and I thought I would share what is working in my Grades 3-5 art room so far. Please keep in mind that there are links embedded in this first slide that will take you to more detailed information, YouTube videos and docs that I have created.

Many of the ideas in this presentation were adapted from the TAB educator Johanna Russell whose YouTube channel can be found here. If you are interested in sharing ideas with other PYP Art teachers who are in various stages of their TAB journey, please join our Facebook group to connect.

Created using Visme. An easy-to-use Infographic Maker.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

SeeSaw, Reflection and Flipping

It's taken a while but my students are fairly skilled at using reflection in various forms in art class. A few weeks ago an assignment for an online course made me think about how much time I spent repeating routines and procedures (yes, there are posters but it doesn't stop the kids from asking where to find the pencils.) One of the questions they ask me a lot is: "How do I upload to SeeSaw?" They only upload about 4 or 5 times a year so I understand why they might forget.  Well, this art teacher happened to just finish a course in Flipping the Classroom and as a result I've been creating videos like a wild woman. Check out my YouTube Channel here, there will be many more videos uploaded as I prepare for next year.

I already have reflection sentence starters laminated (don't judge the plastic, 300 students share them) for the kids to take with them as they head outside with their iPads to their "SeeSaw Spots" in the hall to do quiet reflections.  One side is self reflection and the other is peer. I thought it might be a good idea to create a few videos that explained how exactly to log in (I have them scan their class QR code since it's a lot faster and easier than logging into their google account each time) and to have the QR code to the "how to" videos right on the reflection sheet.  So if they forget, it's right there and they don't need leave their SeeSaw spot to come and get a refresher from me.  This is also all part of the "gradual release of responsibility"  model that we are going to unpack as the art room turns "full TAB" next year. But more on that part later.

Here are the links to my videos, Uploading to SeeSaw and Giving Peer Feedback.  One quick note about the peer feedback, by the time artwork is uploaded to SeeSaw it's usually finished.  For this reason, we keep all the SeeSaw peer feedback positive.  Critical feedback is given face to face in class, and we model and practice it.  We consider the peer feedback on SeeSaw more of a celebration of what they've learned and an opportunity to interact with fans of our artistic endeavors. :)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Visual Arts and the PYP Exhibition

PYP Exhibition can present an opportunity for single subject teachers to encourage students to dig deeper into their EXH journey through the lens of a specific discipline. For the past few years my students have created individual projects that are a part of a larger display and though the artworks have shown depth of understanding into their inquiries, I haven't felt a great deal of passion or enthusiasm from the students for what they created.  Through honest reflection and a change in my teaching practice, this years' EXH was different. In my experience through 10 PYP Exhibitions in three international schools, there are three forces that need to be addressed when approaching the EXH: personal relevancy, time constraints and subject matter.

The first constraint: time. At our school, each class does one inquiry together and the students are further broken up into sub groups of their own choosing for more in depth inquiries. The first few weeks of EXH are spent collaboratively choosing an inquiry in homerooms, and every year I can feel the clock ticking as we prepare for the children to reach the point where they can use some of their EXH learning to create something tangible.  By the time they are ready, we've got three or four 45 minute blocks to complete something in time for EXH Opening Night.  No pressure!

The second constraint: Personal Relevancy.  My professional inquiry for the last few years has learning about and implementing the approach of Teaching For Artistic Behavior into my teaching practice.  One of the core tenets of this philosophy is encouraging the students to create art that is personally meaningful.  In the years past, students created work that directly linked to their concepts but they were dry and abstract.  The work itself checked all the boxes but the passion and fun just wasn't there, and what's the point of art without passion?

The third constraint: subject matter.  Obviously EXH artwork should have some connection to the topic/concept or the journey in general.  Choice of subject matter is interconnected with intrinsic motivation and joy. There was a certain magic and energy in collaborative work, especially among pre-teens.  The art room was buzzing when the class that was studying Mental and Physical Health decided to cover half of their figure in emojis.  From an adult aesthetic, emojis wouldn't exactly be considered high art.  But as far as an engaging, fun and representation of the emotional spectrum from a 10 year old's perspective, it was perfect.

Working in a truly collaborative fashion (each class working together to design and create one artwork) allowed us to happily work within the three constraints.  This is how we did it:

Week 1: I introduced the concept of tape sculpture to the kids and asked if this was something they would be interested in doing as a collaborative project.  It's important to note that they had an opportunity to opt outand create something on their own if they wished. They very enthusiastically wanted to work as a team and create art together. We talked about body language and how artists use it in figurative work. Their "homework" was to think about how their topic could be represented in a human pose.

Week 2: After discussing and testing out various poses and what messages they send, we voted on one.  For example, the class that chose to inquire into Play chose to make a figure jump roping. The next step was to sub divide into groups and create the limbs (we used a different model for each body part and then taped them all together at the end.) One class decided that creating one figure didn't fit their topic and chose create a mold of each of their forearms and attach them together to show unity.

Week 3: We continued to work in small groups on the remaining limbs and then moved onto the torso, hips and head.  At the end of class, we discussed decoration and how we could represent the topic with various materials such as found objects or paper mache.  Once again the children voted on and combined ideas regarding what kind of decoration would be best for their figure.

Week 4/5:  The Grade 5 team very kindly allowed me to have the kids for a double block during Week 4 in lieu of their art time during Week 5.  This allowed us to spread out, form teams for jobs that needed to be done (strengthen the tape figure one last time, collect materials for decoration, etc) and we had enough time to complete them.

The students also created artist statements with the help of a kind colleague.  The text was put into and printed on posters which were displayed on easels standing directly beneath the hanging figures.

I would love to hear from other PYP Teachers out there.  How do you incorporate single subjects into the PYP Exhibition?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Stop Motion and Garage Band-- Art and Music integration

Transdisciplinary Theme: How We Express Ourselves 
Central Idea: Storytelling can inform, provoke and make us reflect on our ideas, feelings, beliefs and values
Related concepts: (art and music focus): creativity, techniques, mood

When single subject teachers get together to collaborate, amazing things happen!  Not many third graders out there get a chance to write, direct, and mix a soundtrack for their very own animations. The challenge we created for the students was to create a stop motion animation movie with a soundtrack that expresses a mood.  

Day 1: We explored the concept of stop motion animation and played with different ways to do it.  (Stations were set up with Whiteboard and markers, cut paper, using found objects, etc)

Day 2: We learned about the "tricks" that directors use to express emotion in movies.  Among these were zooming in, pausing for effect, fading to light or dark.

Day 3: Students worked in pairs or alone and they chose a mood to express through stop motion.  They used a planning sheet and then storyboards organize their thoughts.

Day 4: Students decided on a background and created their characters if they wished. 

Day 5: Filming begins!  We used the paid version of Stop Motion Studio.

Day 6: The movies are saved to a shared Google Drive folder and then the music teacher took over.

He introduced the children to mood through music and they created compositions for their stop motions in Garage Band.  Next they dropped their Stop Motions and soundtracks into iMovie and did some editing.

The finished projects were stitched together into a big iMovie and shown to parents in the theater.  It was a very successful unit and I've had many reports from parents of children creating their own stop motions at home.