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 Canva.com 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.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

PYP, TAB and single media

One issue that arose straight away for me as I began my choice based art journey was how I could really delve into one particular medium with my students.  I was particularly worried about a finicky medium like clay or more complex printmaking.

Would reference materials (handouts/QR Codes/posters at a Studio Center) and a 5 minute demo be enough for the kids to learn technique and processes and not create a whole class full "kiln bombs"?  I wasn't convinced that it would.

In the end, the whole grade level "did clay" but in a way that is different than I've ever taught before. In fact, two whole grade levels are currently doing clay and it is one of the most fun units that I have ever taught due to the creativity of what the kids are coming up with and the overall level of engagement in the room.

Ceramics then and now...which class would you rather have been in as a child and which is more pleasing to an adult aesthetic?


On the left are Greek pots-- a few years back I collaborated with a homeroom unit on Storytelling and the children learned about how the pictures on the ancient Greek pots told a story via the paintings on them.  We also delved into form and function and how each pot was shaped differently depending on what it was made to carry.  Each child chose a traditional form to create and wrote a story that was painted on the pot.  I loved that unit. *sniff 

This is the part of TAB that I struggle with the most, because there is a part of me that feels like the kids are missing out on that important and deep exploration of the historical context.  I am reminded of Ron Richard's work on the Cultural Forces that define a classroom and one of them is Time.  Time to dig deep and to formulate and share thoughtful responses to a topic.  A five minute Art History lesson no matter how well intentioned isn't enough.  

Maybe the answer is that TAB teachers have to work harder to get their students to make connections between what they are making and other artists, whether those artists happen to currently live in your community or lived in Athens in 500 BC.  I would argue that traditional art teachers have it easy (and I feel comfortable saying this because this is the way I taught art for most of my career)-- study Ancient Greece and make a Greek Pot, study Ancient Egypt and make a sarcophagus.  

What a TAB art teacher, and more specifically a PYP/TAB art teacher who uses a concept based curriculum might do is introduce the concept of an artifact and ask the students-- if people 2000 years in the future found broken shards of your ceramic piece, what information would it give them about your life?  What makes you say that? What did pot shards tell us about life in Ancient Greece?  How do we know? How can we find out more?  This will certainly take more time than a 5 minute demo and I would consider that time well spent.

At the end of the day, if you are teaching conceptually and through exploration does it really matter if they make a Greek pot or a dinosaur plaque or a mug for their mother's birthday?  What tools can we as teachers use to gauge understanding without micromanaging creativity?  

Here is a start: a general rubrics.  I leave this Ceramic Rubric up on the SmartBoard as the kids are working and refer to it often.  
We also put a lot of thought into planning the project.  Everyone had to start with either a pinch pot or a slab and they used the Studio Habit: Envision to create their work in their mind's eye.  As they worked, their sketchbooks needed to be open to this completed page so that I could help them and have an understanding of what their goal was.  This was a critical piece as it allowed me to help them much more efficiently and it kept the kids on track.  

I will certainly post a follow up with all the pieces that they've created.  If you're looking for more information about TAB and single media, check out this blog post by Jean Barnett.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Art Room Procedures Using Stop Motion

I think that creating videos is something that all art teachers have deep in the basement of their to do list.  Unfortunately for me at least, they rarely get done.  It's something about the lack of free time...or the inability to hear a recording of my own voice without cringing....or the complete inability to make the said non existent videos funny and engaging like this one:


Link to funny and engaging video I will never make

Link to my video which does the job and makes most 4th graders laugh

As I was making sample stop motion animation videos for my Grade 3's, I thought it might be fun to make my own stop motion for the clay routines for my Grade 4's that I repeat 800 times a day like a deranged parrot.  Here is what I came up with-- it's rough-- but it works pretty well and took me about 30 minutes to make.  And the sound effects make it funny for me.  Stop Motion Studio Pro for the win. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Digital differentiation using iPads

I've done mandalas with kids for ages, and this year with my emphasis on choice they had total freedom in media and design.  Some of my Grade 4's chose to create large and loose compositions with with big swaths of paint while others chose to be very detailed oriented with colored pencils and lots of shading.

As a result, some children were finished literally weeks before their peers.  I gave the early finishers a challenge: digitally add your mandala into an image in a way that it looks like it belongs there.  This is a classic low entry point high ceiling activity in that a child could just plop a mandala onto any background or use the various tools within the app (or even jump between apps) to create their desired effect.

This was right around the time of the US election so there was a lot of Trump related art, which I did not object to as long as there wasn't any violence involved in the image.  It actually started some good conversations about how things that are on our minds tend to bubble up to the surface when we are free to choose what to create in art, whether we are conscious of it or not.  The beauty of self expression!

Here are some of the completed collages:







Thursday, November 17, 2016

Self portraits and TAB in a PYP art room





The Grade 5's are starting to finish up their self portraits and looking at this project over the last three years through the lens of my professional inquiry into Teaching For Artistic Behavior, it is striking how much more personal their work has become.  The personalities of each artist shine through, and isn't that the point of a self portrait?

Though this is not "pure TAB" of course because the subject of a self portrait was given to them by yours truly as a part of a Who We Are PYP Unit, it is a long way from where I started this journey on 2014.  A few of my early finishers were given an opportunity to have a go at the collage center or the drawing center and some were absolutely stumped when given no guidance about what to create.

In that regard, there is still work to do.

I overheard a few of the kids commenting about how happy they were with the ability to use "anything we want." They were heavily influenced by each other (very authentic creative collaborations) and most were keen to share their new discoveries with their classmates as they were happening.  Many of them jumped back and forth between digital and traditional tools which was really fascinating to see considering I just introduced them to both ArtSetPro and Baazart a month ago.  They are digital natives indeed.

The central idea of this project was: "Self portraits send a message about who the artist is or what he/she wants to be."  I love that the students were so free to interpret this however they wanted and the journey was evident through their reflections, which are based on the Studio Habits of Mind.

Here is one sample reflection from a student who made himself a vampire:


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Road to Choice: a self portrait in more ways than one

When I think about my journey into choice based art, I wonder why it took so long.

For many years, I had heard about TAB and I knew deep down that it sounded like the right way to go but I let fear hold me back. Fear of students making artwork that looked like junky, and I would look like a bad teacher as a result. Fear of losing control of the behavior in my classroom and looking like a bad teacher as a result.  Do you see a pattern there?

At the end of the day, my decision to transition to choice led from an understanding that it's not about me.  It's about letting my students develop their artwork from their creativity and passion in a way that is meaningful to them.  When the teacher dictates the idea, the medium, the color choice, the skills, down to the size of the paper, the teacher is the one doing the heavy cognitive lifting and the teacher owns that learning, not the student.

I am still inching towards my goal of a choice based classroom (crawling on my hands and knees some days) but I know that it is the right thing to do.  Teaching one subject in the same way for 15 years will do that to you.  Today I thought I would share the evolution of a self portrait project over the course of three years: 2014, 2015 and currently.


The 2014 portraits fit the model below created by Melissa Purtee over at Thoughts on Arting to a tee.  

Last year's group had to choose to represent an emotion, their culture or a memory and there was criteria for each.  They also could choose colored pencils, watercolor pencils or paint.  I didn't have a Drawing Center or resources to support a huge variation in media choice like I do now, so it was pretty chaotic.

This year...we are still experimenting with media (many kids are loving Art Set Pro on the iPads) but the overarching understanding is that self portraits reflect who the artist is or who they want to be.  I've given examples of 4 paths that students may choose to take, with a lot of variation. I look forward to documenting the process and watching the kids experience creating art that has intrinsic value to them.