Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Starting Off the School Year on the Right Foot

It's July, and the last thing many of us want to think about is going back to school.  But, summer is for planning out our next year ahead of time, and even I've been chilling on the couch gathering my plans for the first week of August.

For this month's Art Ed Blogger's Network theme, we're all discussing how to plan the first week of school.  For September's Arts & Activities Stepping Stones column, I will also be sharing a few more tidbits of advice for starting fresh.

So let's say your first day back at work is mid-August.  When is a good time to start setting up?

I personally like to give myself the entire week before.  After 12 years of teaching, I learned that giving myself more time to plan works better in my favor, especially with having young kids at home.

See the above photo?  That was a nightmare.  Always be prepared in case your space looks like this!

I spend the first two days taking down the board coverings, unpacking the supply boxes, rearranging furniture, and setting up my floor plan.

The next set of days is for designing bulletin boards and displays, setting up the centers and supply bins, and organizing resources.  Decorating can take up quite a bit of time, especially when you walk in without a game plan.

The last set of days are set up for paperwork, seating charts, and first few weeks of lessons...and every year, there is something I still need to copy right before the students come in.

For the first week of school, I meet my classes for the first time.  I start off with giving each child an assigned seat.  Not everyone does this right away (which is okay), but in my case, I find it demonstrates to my students that I start off orderly and planned, and in return, my students are more receptive to learning.


Students are also introduced to our class "Art Jobs" board, which changes each week.  Each table is given a specific job to accomplish for that day.

I also spend some time discussing expectations with the students.  One of the examples I go over is the "No-No" and Yes-Yes" board.  It makes the students laugh every year when I talk about the floating houses and blue sky lines.

After each class discussion, I give each student a blank paper and give them time to work on their first drawing, which is a self portrait.  It's my beginning "pre-test" for my SLOs, which demonstrates growth over time.  For each grade level throughout the year, I design a "post-test" portrait drawing to measure growth over a few months.  All portrait drawings are saved each year until the end of the students' 6th grade year.  As a farewell gift, I hand back their portrait drawings collected since kindergarten, and they giggle and cry over their artworks created since first attending the school!

After completing all the beginning portrait drawings, we spend the next week of classes working on our International Dot Day projects!

When I was on a cart, I needed to plan my classes in many other ways.  In the past, Ive written about how to set-up when you're expected to teach from room to room.  Here are a few articles I'd like to share for my cart peeps:

The Pros and Cons of Teaching from a Cart

Choosing Your Cart and Finding Space

 This post is a part of The Art Ed Blogger's Network: Monthly Tips and Inspiration from Art Teacher Blogs. On the second Tuesday each month, each of these art teacher blogs will post their best ideas on the same topic.

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Developing Your Summer Art Classes!

Hello teachers!  For many of you, we are on summer break!  Most of us take the time to chill out and catch up on our PDs and make time for our own art.  Some, like me, continue to teach summer classes.  For the past few years, I've offered summer classes at a local art studio.  Some have been successful, while others were low attendance.  If you're interested in offering classes over the summer, I would like to offer some advice with planning and prepping.

1. Plan your projects in advance.  I find that picking and choosing classes can be very tricky while you're heavily involved during the school year, but the earlier you plan what you wish to teach, the better prepared you are for your classes.  If you're working with a studio, park district, or gallery, your collaborator would also want your class descriptions to plan their next few months as well.  Park districts especially want their classes listed a few months in advance in order to notify the community of upcoming events.

2. Prep your materials in advance.  If you're borrowing non-consumables (like brayers or brushes) from your classes, make sure to pack them up and return them once you're done in the beginning of the school year.  I normally create a checklist before closing up my room and return everything when I head back to set up in August.

3. Prep your examples in advance.  My summer art classes normally take about two hours each day, so projects are more involved than my 40-minute classes during the school year.  As your first year teaching summer classes, you may be spending quite a bit of time creating al the examples, but over time, you will find yourself creating fewer since you may be repeating projects.

4. Decide what you want to charge.  Most paint party classes range from $25-$35 for a two hour class, which covers materials, space rental fees, and a little for you to cover your time (or babysitter). It's good to try and keep a consistent amount so parents know what they can spend.

5. Figure out what time you wish to offer your class.  Classes can be offered any time throughout the day, depending on when you're available.  I was only able to do morning classes, and our studio owner held afternoon classes.  We've discovered that it really depends on when parents are available to bring their children in, so sometimes I have full classes and other times I have 2-3 students.

6. Don't overdo yourself!  Remember this is your break too!  Teaching summer classes is a great way to explore new lesson options with multiple age levels.  It can be fun to teach to a different crowd, but remember not to overdo yourself.

Have fun with your summer classes and PDs!

Here are a few successful classes I've offered in the past!

 This post is a part of The Art Ed Blogger's Network: Monthly Tips and Inspiration from Art Teacher Blogs. On the second Tuesday each month, each of these art teacher blogs will post their best ideas on the same topic.

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Connecting to Nature with Art: June's Stepping Stones

This month, teachers are closing up their classrooms, or already enjoying the beginning of summer break. If you’re still in session or out of the classroom, June is a wonderful time to begin reconnecting with the natural elements and be re-inspired to design lessons for the next school year. Summer break is my time to recharge, and the best way to do that is by being outdoors and enjoying nature as often as possible. This month’s theme is natural environments and I’d like to focus on how to use nature to reconnect and be inspired for the next school year.

(Walking a labyrinth is a god way to clear your mind while being outdoors.  Labyrinths can be found at many conservatories, preserves, or wellness centers.)

Connect to Earth by taking care of your physical self. We put forth so much extra effort during the school year that it takes a toll on us physically. If you do not keep up with a daily routine, consider stretching exercises. Spend time going outdoors, observing your surroundings. Do some yoga, meditate, or just sit in the shade to relax. Besides exercise, summertime is also when most of us have time to create. If you don’t have space at home, look for a local art studio to have a space for yourself. Practice new techniques or create new pieces from what materials you love to work with. Consider bringing some clay home to create sculptures for yourself, as well as examples for your classroom.

Connect to Air by exercising your creative thinking and imagination. The element of air represents thinking, designing, and learning. In the summer months, consider taking your professional development courses to increase your knowledge and experiences. Take time to learn something new. Write down any ideas that come to mind, so when you have time to pursue it, you will not forget the lightbulbs that lit up in your brains. Completing professional development will not only help elevate your status where you work, but builds your confidence in what lessons and processes you teach.

Connect to Fire by igniting your passion for the arts. At the end of the school year, many of our candles are burnt on both ends. It’s not just teaching, but all the extra activities that happen around this time of year, such as graduations, recitals, and more. With feeling worn out, we lose our passion for what we love, which for us, is anything having to do with the arts. Use this time to rekindle your passion. Visit a museum or gallery. Be a student and take an art class. Watch a dance or musical performance. Last summer, I discovered fire dancing, which has become popular as outdoor nighttime performances.

Connect to Water by recognizing the emotions and feelings you put into your work. Are you feeling burnt out after a challenging school year? It’s okay, you are not the only one! Sadly, criticism of showing outward emotion is real, so we tell ourselves to bottle our sensitivity inside. If you feel this way, use this summer to release your emotions constructively through your work. The more you do for yourself, the better you’ll be for helping others. This is why it is so important to take time for yourself, even if you’re a parent of kids any age. On the flip side, if you have a special place to visit (like a vacation spot), you may find inspiration for your own artwork or lessons you teach just by being in a place that makes you happy! For example, our family cottage is on a large lake. I love to sit on the picnic bench with a watercolor pad and paint the scene I see before me. Just by sitting and painting the nature around me recharges my batteries and helps me to recharge for the next school year.

Connect to Spirit by being yourself and recognizing where your inspiration comes from. One of the great joys of being on social media as an educator is that we have found so many ways to gather ideas and resources to use for our classrooms and curriculum. Ideas are inspiring and help motivate you to design more authentic projects for your students. Connecting with other art teachers has also been important because we’ve developed a community support system. This summer, when you’re planning for the following school year, design lessons that inspire both you and your students. The more excited you are about the materials you teach, the more students will be inspired as well. Be yourself and your work will be authentic too.

I wish the best of luck for those who are completing their school years, as well as those who continue to teach throughout the summer. You are all amazing educators and deserve the time to take a step and breath. I look forward to the amazing works our students will create in the following school year!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Fitting Sculpture into Your Art Classes: May's Stepping Stones

Three-dimensional artworks are some of the most fun, yet challenging projects to make in an art class. No matter what material you work with, there are many factors to consider when planning your lessons and creating products that are more than paper or canvas.

For this month’s Stepping Stones, I’d like to focus on planning sculpture projects in your classes. If you are a first year teacher or in a new teaching environment, there are factors to consider when planning your lessons and creating successful projects.

1. Know your space. Not everyone teaches in a permanent art room. Many are on a cart, travel, or share a space with another teacher. If you do not have a space of your own, this is where you get to be a little more creative with planning.

But first, check your space to answer the following questions. Do you have the resources available to work with ceramic or air dry clay? Is there space to work with paper sculptures or papier-mâché projects? Do you have space available to construct a 3D form? Spend some time exploring your space to see if you have the ability to create certain types of sculpture projects.

2. Know your storage. After you judge whether or not your space is a decent place to build 3D forms, plan where you wish to keep the student projects stored during the week. If you’re in your own room, plan to keep labeled bins, boxes, or labeled shelves for stored projects. If you’re on a cart, discuss ways you and the homeroom teacher can store bins or projects away from student hands. If you’re in a temporary space, work with your administrator to find places to store artworks when you’re not at the school.

3. Know your budget. While browsing the art-supply catalogs, you may notice that sculpture materials are some of the expensive items in your supply lists. Although it may be challenging to squeeze clay, glazes or tools into your lists, they are essential items to help a student develop their artistic skills.

Moving students from 2D to 3D is a good step to help with their spatial awareness and creative thinking. Sculpture materials may be on the high end of your budget, but find a way to squeeze in what you can. If it’s a struggle to fit sculpture materials into your budget, consider creating a “DonorsChoose” project. A little extra work advocating for materials can really help with supplies for your students!

4. Explore with the materials available. No matter what your budget is, you can find ways to create sculpture projects in your classes. But before you hand students a wire spool and ask them to create a 3D form, practice what you wish to have your students make. Take the time to create the project yourself before sharing it with your students. In doing so, it will help with working out any complications your students may come across when building their own projects.

5. Explore ideas on social media and blogs. Are you stuck on what to make for your sculpture lessons? Trying to find an artist to teach your students? There are multiple blogs and projects shared throughout art groups on social media! Teachers are always sharing pictures of projects, along with lesson details to help other teachers interested in taking the projects on with their own students! Some of the most exciting projects made in my class were inspired by other teachers around the globe! If you find a project you like, be sure to pay it forward and share an idea that you design down the road! We all work together to share amazing ideas with our classes!

6. Start small. One of the mistakes I made as a first year teacher was not budgeting the space I had available when student projects had to dry or be stored during the week. While pushing a cart from room to room, I underestimated the amount of space I had available and ended up creating projects that were too big to store. Whether it’s paper or clay, make the judgment call on what space you have available and test out how big or little to make the sculpture projects. After creating a few clay or paper sculptures, you will become aware of what space you have and how much further you can go.

7. Consider Collaborations. Sculptures do not have to be individual projects, you can also create collaborative projects that can be installations around your schools! A few years back, the teachers worked together to create a recycled sculpture art walk! Each class created a concept, collected the recycled materials, and created life-sized sculptures that were displayed throughout the school.

Have fun exploring with the 3D materials you have! Your students’ imaginations may surprise you!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ideas for Early Finishers

Please check out my previous article, "Ideas for Early Finishers" from Arts & Activities Magazine

Your students are in the middle of a project, but some of them are starting to approach you with finished artworks.  There are quite a few options you have for your early finishers that would work for you and your students.

Encourage students to enhance their pieces.  If your students followed all the objectives and finished far ahead, encourage your student to add more. Sometimes those extra finishing touches can make your student’s piece stand out! This is a good opportunity to do a formative assessment with your students to help them see their work from different perspectives.

Use this time for students to write artist statements or self reflections.  Since our school uses Artsonia, I have students include an artist statement along with their artworks.  If you use Artsonia, consider using the student mode for students to add their statements directly to their artworks.  You can also use Google Classroom with the intermediate grade levels, which makes it easy to copy and paste artist statements into Artsonia.

Create worksheets related to the project.  This also works as a good wrap up to a unit!  For many of my projects, I utilize worksheets to help build upon the objectives of the lesson.  

Create a resource center.  A resource center provides additional materials for students to use independently until all the students have completed their work.  Your resource center can be as small as a bin on your cart, or as large as a shelving unit in your room.   In my room, I have an art library shelving unit filled with many options for students to use once they have finished with everything listed above.   Your resource center can hold many of the items listed:

Coloring pages are not just for the kindergarteners! Even though I encourage the kindergarteners to practice coloring in the lines, all grade levels enjoy time to just color without worry.  

Blank paper is always good to have on hand.  There will always be a handful of students to want to use the time to practice their own drawing skills, and what better way to help inspire them to use “How to Draw” books.  

Scrap paper is another resource to have on hand since many kids enjoy making their own collages.  After trimming down paper for project sizes, I always have a pile of multicolor scraps that students love to use.  And if you teach them paper sculpture?  Your scrap bin will empty out faster than you know!

Art games can be fun and educational, without disturbing other students to are completing their artworks.  I have a bin in the art library containing games that students can play with two or more people, such as Art Lingo (a visual bingo that helps students with their art vocabulary), Hue Knew! (to help students match colors), Tangoes shape puzzles, and art puzzles.  The games are labeled in baggies for easy clean up with the art class is finished.

Art-inspired books are also a good resource to have in your stash.  Students love to borrow books from the art library, and many times, I catch them creating their own artworks inspired by the books they read!

What do you do for your early finishers?

Art Teacher Blogs

This post is a part of The Art Ed Blogger's Network: Monthly Tips and Inspiration from Art Teacher Blogs. On the first Tuesday each month, each of these art teacher blogs will post their best ideas on the same topic.

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:

Friday, April 6, 2018

Celebrating Earth Day in the Art Room: April's Stepping Stones

Earth Day is celebrated on April 22nd, which marks the anniversary of the start of the environmental movement in 1970. On that day, we find ways to take care of and replenish our planet. Earth Day is now the largest secular observance in the world, celebrated by more than a billion people every year. There are many ways to recognize Earth Day within your classroom, as well as ways to conserve your materials and give your part in helping the earth. No matter how to try to help the planet, you can be an advocate for Earth Day!

Include recycled projects in your lessons and classroom. There are plenty of project ideas you can find in blogs, Pinterest, and online forums that incorporate recycled materials. Think about what materials are easy to collect yourself, or use materials that have been donated to you. Bottle caps make great murals, and they also make great bug sculptures for Spring projects. If you plan far enough ahead, you can have letters send home to parents asking for materials, such as paper towel tubes, newspaper, unused paper plates, washed out containers, 2-liter bottles, or more! You can also collect recycled materials to use in the art room for water cups, plates, containers, and storage bins. As beautiful as the room could be with color-coded, purchased storage bins, recycled containers will achieve the same purpose.

Design gifts that continue to grow in the classroom or at home. There are many projects that can be designed in the art room that can continue to bloom at home! Ceramic projects (pots, cups, or vessels) can hold plants and can grow seeds (chia seeds, grass, etc.). If you do not have access to clay, you can always use milk carton containers to design, or any other vessel that can hold seeds and plants. You can also have students document the growth of a plant from seeds by having them sketch the stages of growth from seedling to full flower, which ties in science.

Explore the world of earth art. One of the most popular “Earth Art” lesson ideas is inspired by the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who is known for his artworks created from natural elements. Earth art is also known as “Land Art” or Earthworks,” where artists use the natural landscape to create sculptures. Earth art comes directly from the source, such as stones, water, dirt, and tree elements (branches and leaves). Other Earth artists to study would be Robert Smithson, Nancy Holt, and Richard Long. April would be the perfect time to take classes outside to create individual or collaborative earthworks within your school grounds. If you receive permission from administration, you can use any collected leaves, branches, rocks, soil or water. Creating a collaborative Earthwork would be a fun project and a beautiful addition to any school or community!

Create a collaborative outdoor rock garden. A very popular collaborative school-wide project that’s been successful in many schools is the rock garden, inspired by “Kindness Rocks” or the book “Only One You” by Linda Kranz. Rock gardens make a beautiful addition to any school and leaves a lasting memory. The project can include all faculty and students within the school. Although rocks are a natural element of the earth, rock gardens are created with painted images on each rock, along with an acrylic spray coating to keep the colors lasting. If you’re ever interested in creating a rock garden of your own, first bring the idea to your administration, then contact local landscaping companies for possible donations. Many would be more than happy to donate pebbles needed for your garden! Please remember to not collect rocks from state and national parks.


Teach your students to watch their waste. Do you have students who want to throw the paper away after one little mistake? One of the main rules I share in the beginning of the year is to watch the waste with paper, paint, and other materials used. Students are shown how to turn their papers over if a mistake is made, as well as how to save space with colored construction paper when creating collage projects. The best way to have students watch their own waste is to follow by example. Make sure to remind students to watch what they use, especially when it comes to paint and construction paper


Recycle! If your school has a recycle program, make use of it! Create a recycle bin and guide students to watch where they place their waste at the end of class. It will help them to remember to recycle throughout the day!

Even with all the consumable materials we use for lessons, we can still teach our students how to be aware of their waste and help take care of our planet. One step at a time!