Friday, April 15, 2016

Visual Arts and the PYP Exhibition-- A conundrum

An Exhibition Night auction of portraits taken by Grade 5 Students in Cambodia-- 2011
I had a PYP Coordinator years ago who was fond of saying, "Exhibition is just another Unit Of Inquiry."  This always had us Grade 5 teachers laughing-- a wonderful thing to say in philosophy but an entirely different one in practice.  For us arts teachers, there can be a lot of pressure to facilitate the children to produce something that both encapsulates their Exhibition experience and is a show stopper for Exhibition evening with parents.  It may not be philosophically the point but it's reality in a lot of schools.

For me, the conundrum is this:  like most strong conceptual Units of Inquiry, Exhibition has the potential to provide an opportunity for powerful visual arts integration, but... meaningful integration takes time.  If you have a very full schedule at a school that doesn't have a lot of wiggle room for change, this can be a massive challenge.

Exhibition is typically a 6 week unit, if it takes 3 weeks for the students gather enough information to decide on a specific issue to tackle, and another three to take action on that issue, when do they create a piece of art that demonstrates that new understanding, especially if their dedicated art time is 45 minutes a week?  Does the piece of art even need to demonstrate their new understanding?  Wait a sec, how important is it to have a shiny finished piece of art to display and that tear jerker song to sing for parents on Exhibition Night?  Is it the process or the product?

Reflecting on Exhibitions past, it's becoming clear to me that the most meaningful Exhibition and Visual Arts integrations are the ones that are the most organic-- and it means every student might not have a piece of art on the wall for Exhibition Night.  Here are some suggestions for the arts teachers who-- like me have struggled to figure out where the arts fit meaningfully into the Exhibition.

  • Idea 1: Collapse your schedule if you can-- if you are at a school where you can do this, you are very lucky indeed.  If some students choose to take action using the Visual Arts, go with it.  At one previous school, a small group of students painted a mural at an NGO sponsored school for children who were scavengers at a garbage dump.  It was a powerful experience, and while I was out with my small group of Grade 5's, my other art classes were simply cancelled.  In another Exhibition at the same school, the students interviewed and took portrait photos of impoverished people that they encountered on the street.  This would not have been possible without a very supportive relationship with the homeroom teachers and the ability to cancel my other grade level art classes for a few afternoons.  I blogged about the experience here.
  • Idea 2: Wait until a natural artistic opportunity arises and jump on it-aka The Big Ole Leap Of Faith- this one also relies heavily on the relationship between the homeroom teacher and the Visual Arts teacher because they have to be willing to approach you with a crazy idea in the middle of you "doing something else with their kids" for Exhibition and you have to be willing to (with the support of your admin) ditch whatever you were working on and follow their lead.  One crazy idea that I heard this week," My kids want to turn my classroom into a real fast food restaurant but they will be serving reality (diabetes, obesity, etc) instead of actual food.  Can you help?"  We had the kids vote whether to continue on their Visual Arts exhibition project (more on that later) or ditch the whole thing and make McDonald's in their classroom. Guess what they chose?  I'll give you a hint, I'm lovin' it.
  • Idea 3: Focus on the student's personal Exhibition journey rather than their Exhibition topic-- this is a great way to go because you have lots of work with from Day One.  Symbolism, abstraction, emotive colors and forms, photography-- there are so many ways the kids could take this. It could be a powerful opportunity to integrate language arts, music or dance as well.
  • Idea 4:Plan to give the kids more art time towards the end of the exhibition-- I wish I had thought of this one sooner.  It's hard to demonstrate new understanding visually when you don't have the understanding yet! This year's Visual Arts component of the Exhibition was supposed to be a mixed media piece that demonstrates deep understanding of their topic using symbols.  Great idea in theory until I realized that there is no way the students will have time to complete their work in my class, considering they are just getting to the "meat" of their Exhibition topic now and I have one of my precious 45 min weekly blocks left.  At the start of the unit, we were twiddling our thumbs (aka working on something else) and waiting for groups to be sorted and issues to be chosen.  Clearly, my approach this time around was misguided.
The more I look over this post the more I think that flexibility and time are the two most crucial elements for single subject teachers to maximize the transdisciplinary potential of the PYP Exhibition, or really any Unit Of Inquiry because...after all, the Exhibition is just another UOI, or is it?

How do you integrate the Visual Arts into the PYP Exhibition?  What are some of the biggest issues that you have faced with the Exhibition and did you solve them?  I would love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

It's a blog revival

I had just about given up on this blog.  My teaching philosophy has changed a lot over the years and a lot of the older content on this blog is very teacher directed, in a "25 versions of the same thing" kind of way.  Over the last few years, and through coursework in Cultures of Thinking and the various models of Choice Based Art Education, I am working to do the following:

  • leverage student voice and personal relevancy in their art making
  • actively encourage collaboration (in art creation, idea generation, and formative assessment)
  • use the Studio Habits of Mind to foster a culture of critical thinking 
  • take a purposeful step back to allow the students to own their cognitive and creative work
After a long conversation with the wonderful @andyvasily at EARCOS in Manila last week (he is joining our staff here at KAUST and I cannot be happier!), I decided to keep the blog as evidence that teaching is an iterative process, even after 17 years and five countries. 

I thought I'd share one example of "then and now" in action.  On the left is a group of Vejicante Masks that I made with students in Phnom Penh way back in 2007.  Why I was doing Puerto Rican masks in Cambodia when there is a rich tradition of masks in Khmer folklore is the topic for another blog post! On the right is a group of masks that my 4th graders here at KAUST recently finished.  Certainly much more variety and evidence of student choice on the right.  Their Studio Habits of Mind based reflections often shine an interesting light on the rationale behind the artistic choices they made.

Could I take this even further on the choice spectrum and open it up more to how the kids choose to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts?  Absolutely and I look forward to the challenge.

How has your teaching philosophy changed since you started?

And a few more shots of the masks for the Pinterest addicts among us:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Claim Support Question in the Art Room

As a provocation into a unit about expressing identity through portraiture with my Grade 5's, we tried a new (to me!) Thinking Routine, Claim Support Question. 

I consider this routine one cognitive step beyond See Think Wonder because it forces learners to give rationalization to their claims about a piece of art.

I started with a Chuck Close portrait and did a few examples with the kids, but the depth of thinking wasn't what I had hoped.  Claims along the lines of "he looks old" with support of...wait for it..."because he looks old."  I wondered if this routine was better suited to middle or high school.
Take One with Claim Support Question-- Magic 8 Ball says "Outlook Neutral"

When the next group came in, I changed my strategy.  First I created a visual to get my point across...

Second, I simplified the language:
Take Two: Magic 8 Ball says, "Outlook Good"

The responses in the second group were much more specific and supported by what the children could observe, which of course was the point.  I can't help but wonder if the language I used diluted the thinking too much or made it too similar to See Think Wonder.  I also wonder if I could differentiate a bit and give the simplified version to the kids who need it.

Here is part of my hallway of portraits, students wrote their "Claim Support Questions" on sticky notes.  I like to post things like this so the students can see that process has value, the hallway is not just for finished products.  It also opens up the conversation about Thinking Routines to teachers or parents who may not have experience with them.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Poster love

Tis the season for new starts and new posters. :)  I found a classroom expectation matrix from Art At Becker Middle School and adapted it to meet my needs for Grades 3-5 and a high ELL population--simple yet engaging images, clear language and specific examples.  I put it all together on, printed it poster size using an regular old printer with and voila it's wall ready with no trips to a print shop.   Can you guess what image the kids are going to like the most? ;)

And another one.  I am dipping my toes into a TAB art room model this year and am apprehensive about the quality of work I'm going to see.  I found a photo of W.O.W artwork descriptors on Pinterest with a dead link (please let me know if it's yours) and I used the info to create another canva poster.

Here are the originals that I played with:

(No source...please let me know if it's yours and I will credit you)

Monday, June 8, 2015

Using PicMonkey to organize the art room iPads

We've been using the iPads a lot lately-- my Grade 3's made claymation movies, my Grade 5's went to the local grocery store to do stop motion animation with whatever they could find-- it's been a blast.

Organizing the content, however, has been less fun. The problem lies in the kids remembering which iPad they used when they return to class for Day 2 of a project.  Some would forget to write it down or forget where they wrote it down--- it was a disaster and class time was lost to kids flipping through every iPad to try and find their content.  Not good.

Enter one of my late night Pinterest sessions and I saw a post here where the teacher created wallpaper with the number of the iPad on it. Genius! How had I not heard of that?  I gave my Grade 5 students a challenge-- create new wallpaper for the iPads using  They did not disappoint, and with some of the wallpaper they created, I don't think forgetting iPads will be an issue any more (especially Black #4, yikes!)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Goldsworthy Gone Wild


Transdisciplinary Theme: How We Express Ourselves
Central Idea: Artistic expression can be inspired by nature
Lines of Inquiry: Patterns in nature (form), using natural materials in art (function), reactions and responses (connection)

The Grade 4 artists dove into the land artist Andy Goldsworthy with a See Think Wonder routine that explored this piece:

A recurring theme that came up through all classes was that it might be an ancient sculpture or something with religious significance. Curiousity piqued, they watched a short film that took them on a journey with Goldsworthy himself and showed his process.  I had to stop and start a few times to do some Scottish to American English translation. ;)

In May, I had a good fortune to be able to attend a workshop led by the wonderful Ron Ritchhart who is one of the authors of Making Thinking Visible.  One of my many takeaways was about a specific thinking routine called "I used to think...and now I think..."  I've had this routine fall flat before and Ron's suggestion was to make sure that the routine immediately followed a particularly rich experience. The kids were still abuzz about uncovering some of the mysteries of Goldsworthy's work, so we gave it a go.  They did the routine individually in their sketchbooks but to focus their responses a bit I encouraged them to have two words in one or both of their answers: "nature" and "art."  We got back together in a circle and shared our how our thinking had changed.  The kids' answers had a lot more depth this time and the importance of sharing with peers was another big takeaway from the workshop.

The next class was a field trip.  An important part of Goldsworthy's in situ natural pieces is the way he integrates the natural landscape.  It felt contrived to introduce the kids to this style of art and then make them create using the playground or soccer field as their canvas.  So we went to the beach/mangrove area near where we live.  The homeroom teachers had already collected natural materials with their students that I had dropped at the beach in preparation for the activity.

Students were able to work in groups or individually over a large expanse of sand and what they created was up to them.  I spent the time on the bus encouraging them to let go of preconceived notions of what they should create and try to think on the spot.  When the time was up, they took the art iPads and photographed their work from various perspectives.

Once all the photos were uploaded into Google Drive, I thought it might be fun to give the kids a one class period to experiment with digital manipulation using PicMonkey.  This is where things really got interesting.  The kids absolutely loved it and were inspired by each other's discoveries.  This is a tiny sample of what they made:

The next thing I knew, one of them found the collage feature and started exploring it.  Once one of the kids figured out that you could take a photo of your collage and use it in a new collage, it was all over, the room was buzzing.  I stepped out of the way, changed my lesson plans for the next few classes and let the kids do their thing. By the end of three class periods with their laptops and PicMonkey, the kids had created their very bold and graphic collages, all from the photos of their in situ nature sculptures.  "Artistic expression can be inspired by nature."  Yep, it sure can.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Giant Pop Art Portraits

Central Idea: A self portrait reflects both the characteristics and emotion of the person who creates it

Lines of Inquiry: how artists express emotion, the process of creating a portrait

It all started with a selfie.  After having a look at various portraits and the elements that make some more interesting to the viewer than others, the Grade 5's used iPads to take 3 or 4 selfies and uploaded them to our class Flickr account.  The next step was to digitally create a line drawing of that picture.  We used an online stencil maker program.  Once the children had a line drawing they were happy with, we uploaded that image to to create a large image using A4 pieces of paper.

Once the pdf files were printed (most of them were made up of 9 pages), piecing them together was the next challenge.  A large piece of paper was put on top of the line drawing and the tracing began.  Some children needed help choosing only the most essential details to create their face.  Once they had a drawing they were happy with, we outlined the pencil in black glue and let them dry.

The next lesson was looking in depth at how artists portray the light and shadows on faces.  Children practiced shading on blank face worksheets and decided on bright color combinations for their final piece.

Kids are thrilled with the results of their effort.