Monday, July 30, 2012

Boxes of Hope with 4th Grade

In my curriculum, I introduce clay in kindergarten.  I start with Play-doh, forming shapes, and showing how to make 2-dimensional shapes into 3-dimensional forms.  In first grade, we advance to paper (using strips of paper to form shapes).  In second grade, we use Crayola model magic to make simple forms, bug in third grade, the ceramic clay is introduced.  Third grade is the year the students become really excited to use this special clay, and learning responsibility with the materials.  I start with making coil pots, and the students covet their creations.

In fourth grade, we start to get into more challenging methods with the clay, such as the slab technique. I will go over the previous projects with the younger grades another time, but the focus of this post is with the fourth grade level.  I thought of the idea while trying to plan my "Art Over Time" entry for national board certification, and it was a joy seeing the projects come to life.

The materials you need are:

-Ceramic Clay (your choice for your kiln)
-Air dry clay (for teaching from a cart or no kiln available)
-Glazes (I use low fire)
-Clay Tools
-Tablecloth (I use canvas material for easier clean up)
-small cup for water and clay (slip)
-Tempura or acrylic paint
-Paper box template

Due to lack of space, I do not use rolling pins or slab stick.  I instead teach the students how to use the palm of their hands to flatten the clay (without pounding the clay).

This is also a six week project (40 minutes for a class once a week).  With a high transient rate at out school, I provide materials for students to adapt or "catch up" if absent or transfer in late.

Day 1:  Introduction to the Project

I start by sharing a Power Point I created about Pandora's Box.  I explain the history, the myth, and share the cutest video I found created by a student.  When my kids see that someone their own age created an animation of a Greek Myth, they love it even more:

(This is found on YouTube, and I thank the student and teacher who created this animation!!!)

After the PowerPoint,  share why the students learned about Pandora's Box:  the students will create a slab box from clay that will contain an object of "hope."  The "hope" object can be a symbol of something they love or enjoy, such as a pencil for drawing or a music note for music.

With the remainder of the class, I have students practice making a 3-dimensional shape using a square box template.  I found a template from Google images, but you can search for your own:

       (This image is from another source, you can create your own or borrow this one as I had)

I show the students how to cut the box shape out, then how to fold up the sides and glue together.  You will be amazed with how many of your students ace the directions and how many struggle with the challenge.  Make sure you help those who need assistance, and offer to those who finish early to help their classmates.  When class is over and clean up is finished, I have the students take the boxes with them, even if they didn't finish gluing the sides.

Day 2-4: Creation of the Box and "Hope" Object

The next time I see the students, I review the project objectives.  I then demonstrate to the students how to create the slab box design using the slip/score process.  After years of teaching this project, I learned that the fastest way to get the box finished is to draw a "tic-tac-toe" design in the clay, which gives you your center base and four sides.   I also show how to create a lid the same size as the base of the box by placing a finished box on top of the rest of the flattened clay they have, trace, and cut.

Some students finish the box in one day, and if they're ahead, I ask them to take toothpicks and draw designs in their boxes to add additional details.  Overall, it usually takes two days to complete.

After the third day, I take the boxes to the kiln room.  In my school I share the kiln with the jr. high, so we plan projects according to when the kiln is available. If a student has not finished the box or was absent, the project is put in the kiln with the objects below after the fourth class.

On the fourth day of project, I share with the students how they can sculpt their little "hopes" out of clay.  Since they've had previous experience creating shapes out of clay, I show them how they can make little sculptures or flat shapes with the clay.

Now at this point, if a student has not made a clay object, they use air-dry clay so they will not need to wait another week or two for the clay to come out of the kiln (confusing, but that's how we manage our lessons!)

On the cart, I use air-dry clay for all steps.  Instead of glaze, I use tempura or acrylic, depending on the space I have with the materials on the cart.

Day 5: Glazing the Boxes

When the slab boxes and lids come out of the kiln, it's time to glaze.  I set up my glazing tables by sets: Warm, Cool, Neutrals, and Stone Colors (rust, peacock, etc.).  Students can move from table to table to work on colors, but they cannot move the colors from that table.  It's teamwork and responsibility, and knock on wood, I haven't had a broken project yet.  (Hint:  Make sure you remind the students not to paint the bottoms of the box and lid!!!  Especially if you have students that transferred in or were absent.)

When students finish, they go to a table with no glazes and use the resource library I provide with books, how-to-draw designs, and art games.

Day 6: Painting the Hopes

When the little objects are out of the kiln, I always have casualties.  Students forget to use slip to join pieces together, or something was made too thin.  After hot gluing the breaks, I use tempura or acrylic to paint the hopes.  The students know the project is almost done, so once they are finished, I have them write a paragraph about the choices they made about the project.  The main questions are:  WHat is your "hope?" and "Why did you choose that object to represent your hope?"

Once finished, you can display their work with their paragraphs, which works as an artist statement!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Challenge of Classroom Management

I've been pondering how I can try and offer advice on what works the best in managing an art class with both classroom and cart.  The truth is that not one single trick works for everyone.  Every single art class is different with unique students, behaviors, and enthusiasm.  I have explored ways to create rules for the class, standards for behavior, routines and procedures, and much more.  Throughout the year, it can change depending on the climate of the class.

I would like to offer tips and suggestions for what worked best with me, and throughout fall I will be posting visuals of my classroom(s) that display reminders, rules, etc.

Create your Rules.  In the beginning of every year, create your list of rules.  As king or queen of your classroom (or cart), you must set the rules straight from day one.  Your rules also set your routine throughout the year.  How should the students enter the room?  How should they be ready when you push that cart into the room?  Should they be listening while you're talking?  What are the consequences for disrespect?  I notice that even after 6 years, I am adding new rules or refining ones in place.  I do notice that students I have had throughout the years are now familiar with my routines, and they have been making great improvements in their behavior, artwork, and following directions.

Create Your Time Schedule.  Make time for your lesson, and be sure to create time for passing out materials and cleaning up.  I've heard some art teachers have worked out with their co-workers to clean up after their allotted art time, but our schedule's too tight in our district.  Within 40 minutes, I take attendance, discuss, instruct, demonstrate, guide students during  project, and clean up.  I allot the last five minutes for clean up, and they must be done before I even look at any positive rewards.  Yes, the students also create some awesome work in that time.

Create a Mantra.    Does your school have a universal message that can be used in your class?  In my district, we use the three R's: Respect Yourself, Respect Others, Respect Your School (then we sing R-E-S-P-E-C-T).  This theme is repeated many times throughout the school year to help promote self-respect and pride in one's manners.  I always start with a discussion of how the three R's can be used in the art room.  There are so many mantras that can be used within the art room that are more art-related, and if you're on Pinterest, I have them saved in a board!

Control Your Noise.  This is the area I struggle the most with because I believe students should be allowed to interact while they are working on their projects.  I also have difficulties creating my own work without background noise, like music.  The students know their noise level must be kept down, but many times, they forget or ignore the rules.  I'll be the first to admit I become embarrassed when the principal walks in because a student shouted out loud and it was heard in the hallway.  There are some ways I keep the noise down.  First, I use a "Yacker Tracker," a handy noise detector that looks like a stoplight.  When the detector reaches red, I give only one warning.  If it reaches red again, they lose their star for the day.

This video also shares a great trick for controlling noise in the classroom without verbal reminders.  It's from (I found this on Pinterest...see how awesome that site can be!)

Reward Systems.  Recently, I switched to star rewards for each day.  If a class reaches four stars, every student receives a token prize, which can be candy, or pencils, art samples, or stickers.  For some teachers, I've heard they give free art time.  My students get some free time when they finish projects, but with all the fun projects to make, I run out of time to do all my lessons by the end of the year!  I kept track of my stars on a chart large enough to keep all 21 classes and site all the weeks of the year.  Gosh, I wish I took a picture of that covered at the end of the school year. I'll have my new picture added in a few weeks!

Prior to the star system, I used a game called "Picasso Pic."  The object of the game was to start a class with 5 numbers on the board, representing 5 students that could get picked.  Each student sat at a seat with a number.  The numbers were then written on poker chips and placed n a box.  If a class became too loud, they lost a number.  If a multiple students were misbehaving, another number.  At the end of clean up, the numbers on the board represented the number of students picked.  You pick a number out of the box, that student received a prize.  I found many flaws with this game and decided not to use it anymore.  First, students were getting picked over and over, while others waiting weeks and weeks.  I tried to keep track of who was picked and who wasn't, and it became a hassle.  Second, since some students didn't get picked for weeks, it wasn't fair.  Third, I got tired of students taking too much time to pick out of the box.  Lastly, I had prizes stolen.  This game does work in other schools, but not in mine.

With my grades K-3, I use Class Dojo, which is an online point-based classroom management system that has worked wonders.  You enter each students name in a class, and while you have that class, you can add or subtract points depending on the student's behavior.  I like to give rewards for most points earned every three classes.  Students want to earn their points, and when I randomly announce a point given, I love seeing the room give a silent cheer!

Understand That You Are Not Perfect.  After 5 full years, I still change strategies for managing behavior.  The reward system is nice, but then you may have one or two students that continue with their behavior.  This is where you have to keep on your game.  Is the student teasing others?  Notify the parent.  Is the parent difficult to reach on the phone?  Write a letter.  Are there issues with a group of students?  Separate them!  Still issues?  Repeat the previous statement.  Sound like I'm complaining?  Well, it happens!  Teaching what you love is awesome, but you still need to manage your classes.

Seating Charts.  If you're on a cart and move from room to room, you're golden.  The chart's in place!  Communicate with the classroom teacher on any changes or designated spaces for students in the room while you're giving your lesson.  If you do have a classroom, create charts.  I create 21 different charts, and they have to be done in pencil.  I draw a floor plan, photocopy it, then write the class name and students in their table places.  When I need to switch, an eraser will help you in modifying your seating arrangement.  In my situation, if the chart is not in place, the students' behavior was different.

I have much more to share, but it is late.  So many strategies to write about...

If you would like to visit my board of Tips to Manage Classroom and Cart on Pinterest, please visit

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bringing Artists to the Classroom

My students get totally excited when I tell them I know quite a few working artists.  When I tell them that they know one already, they say, "who?"  Then I show them the work that I do and they have that jaw-dropping look again.  Moral of my story is, show your students you know more than what you teach!  Since I create outside of the classroom, I've met many great artists in the field, and they always say they are more than willing to share their work with the students.

As a traveling art blog, I want to share that this is an idea that can promote your work in the schools.  Students see that art is a valid career after school, and they can follow their dreams.

Invite an Artist in the Community.  If you know someone personally that lives in the community or have heard of a local artist, invite them to the school to talk in your room (or room to room on a cart).  Make sure to approve the visit with the administrator first...they may want to have an all school assembly!

Communicate by Mail!  If you are unable to invite the artist to the school, consider sending letters or emails.  For example, I communicated with a  friend of mine, Terry Border, who is known for his Bent Objects (visit for more information).  You may not have heard of his name, but if you've seen this image in Target in the cards section, you've seen his work!

I contacted Terry and asked if I could do an after school art project inspired by his Bent Objects.  After he gave permission, I shared his work with my students, and they went to work making their own little sculptures.  Here are some of the results:

At the end of the project, I shared my students' work with the artist, and he was so happy to see that students created their own artworks inspired by his work!  He then mailed an autographed poster that hangs in the art room still.

Create an Online Chat.  I recently had the joy of having an artist friend of mine, Cliff Roth, communicate via Google+ hangout with my 5th grade students.  I used this idea as an after school art project to introduce caricature art to my students.  Cliff Roth is now a famous Google+ artist, known for his "Speedpaint Hangouts."  Cliff arranges the hangouts to help him create portraits within a short span of time, helping him refine his digital drawing skills and sharing his work with others.  You can view some articles and interviews here:

Cliff and I arranged a time to set up the live hangout on Google+ after the school day had ended.  I set up my laptop, projector, and speakers, and made sure the technology department was aware of the arrangement (our tech guy even sat in on the interview!)  I had the students ask questions to Cliff about caricature art and how to create a caricature, all while watching Cliff create a drawing of the school principal!

When we finished the interview, students were paired up to draw portraits of each other.  In the end, we took a group picture with our work and mailed Cliff a huge thank you card for talking with the students!

Just remember know matter how you bring the artist to the room, make sure you and the students thank them!

If you have another way to bring the artist to the room, please share in the comments!  You can also use Skype if it's available in your district!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Action Painting for 3rd Grade

Have you ever had your students tell you they just don't get Jackson Pollock's painting style?  Do they tell you they can do that at home "in five minutes?"  I had to quote a famous book with that one since I read it to my kindergartners on their first day of school (Olivia by Ian Falconer)

If you ever get a chance to, spend some time reading Olivia to your kindergarteners.  It's a cute book that shows imagination, and even work of artists, such as Jackson Pollock and Edgar Degas.

At the end of the year for the 3rd graders, I like to bring back the idea of action painting.  I feel that at this stage, 3rd can handle expressing themselves with action painting without going overboard with a paint mess.  Also, to saw on a big mess, I just stick with watercolors for faster drying and quicker clean up.  Here are the materials I use:

-Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
-Watercolor paints
-Watercups with water
-Newspaper to cover the table (or tablecloths if you prefer)
-9" x 12" white paper, preferably 60 lb. weight

I use this lesson within one day since I see the students for 40 minutes.  At the end of the year, kids are  want to get outside and play.  This project is good for giving them a little movement with their bodies and their artwork.

Start the class by reading Action Jackson.  Once finished, ask questions to the students on what action painting is and how Jackson created his artwork in that style.

Once finished with the discussion, show the students how to create an action painting by demonstrating different ways to drip or flick the paint off the brush onto the paper.  Make sure you take the time to explain about containing their excitement, or you may have extra clean up around the room!

Have the students make their paintings!  Since watercolor paint dries quickly, students can take their paintings out of the room that day, or drop them off later once dry.  You can even use this as your last project of the year to display around your art room or hallways.

I like this project because it's another simple one for traveling from school to school.  I have watercolor paints and paper at each school, I just carry the book with me.  SInce I have a bad habit of forgetting materials, I took the time to order a copy of Action Jackson for each school library (so if I forget, it's already there).

Are you wondering what elements or principles are used, or even the standards?  Movement is the number one principle of design.  Through paint splatters, students are demonstrating movement in their work.  Space is another one since I ask the students to fill their space with their artwork.  Empty areas means more room for creativity.  Responsibility with materials and using them safely and effectively is a state standard and one I push in each paint project, even through 6th grade.

Here are some results!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Simple Art Room Fixer-Uppers

With traveling to three schools, I was extremely lucky to have one art room at one of the schools.  I do share it with the music department, but the storage is packed with supplies.  With this being my sixth year in the room, I asked permission to re-paint the cabinet doors since they were due.  After permission was granted, I took the doors off the hinges and brought them home (after covering up the cabinets with plastic) and handed in my key for the summer.  Here's a before picture, so you can see how badly this was needed:

I discovered something quite helpful: Latex paint peels off really good in 100+ degree heat.  After going stir crazy in my house and planning my pictures, I went into the garage, set up a sanding space, and went to town.  After peeling the top layer and sanding down the others, my cabinets were clean slates and ready for painting!

In case you're curious, I apologize, but I do not have pictures of the original cabinets being sanded.  It was hot, I was ambitious, and I forgot the camera to take before/after pictures.  When I re-install the cabinet doors back on, I will show you the before pictures from the cabinets still in the classroom!

Here is the end result!

Cabinet Set #1: Piet Mondrian.  I introduce Piet as my kindergarteners first project, teaching lines that go up/down and sideways, as well as primary colors.  What better way than to have it painted in the classroom to remind them!

Cabinet Set #2: Henri Matisse. I introduce Henri to my 2nd graders, then re-visit in 6th grade.  I enjoyed "The Fall of Icarus" for it's simplicity and use of organic shapes.

Cabinet Set #3: Keith Haring.  I love Keith's style and messages he shares in many of his artworks.  As the first project with my 5th graders, I show them how to draw in Keith's cartoon style while trying to convey a positive message for their community.

Cabinet Set #4: Vincent Van Gogh.  Can you tell I saved the best for last?  I had so much fun painting this one!  I put both doors together to create one whole image!  I introduce this image in 4th grade, but re-visit in 5th grade as well.  There's so many projects that can be made due to this painting's inspiration.  I also can't wait to hear the students say "Whoah!!!" when they enter the room!

In August, I will be making my way back toe room to set up and organize materials for the next school year.  Please stay tuned for viewing the cabinets in their spots next month!

If you are blessed with a room to use, have some fun with it, but make sure you have permission first.  Expect that your work may not last forever, but enjoy it while you can.

And here's a set installed!

Stay tuned for Part 2 in August!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gyotaku Fishbowls for Kindergarten!

One of my favorite projects to do with kindergarten is my gyotaku fish bowls.  The word "gyotaku" is Japanese, and refers to the process of creating fish prints.

Here's a link to a short video by the artist Naoki:

While searching through the Nasco catalog, I found a set of simple rubber fish used for "gyotaku" stamping for kids.  The were the same size and shape, which saved on students fighting over which fish was better, and even though they're different colors, I tell the students that the color of the fish doesn't matter, it's the color ink you use to make your print.

The materials you need:

-10.5" x 16" white paper, cut to form a fish bowl shape (see finished example for shape)
-12" x 18" colored paper for frame
-Markers (I choose crayola washable, the students will get their hands covered in marker ink, there's no way around that!)
-Gyotaku fishies (I ordered mine through Nasco, order enough to be sure each student receives one)
(Hint: You can order in a set of seven and get a package of markers with it to start you off)

The Lesson:

I start off the project by showing my students pictures of Gyotaku fish prints,a nd explain how fisherman would use this process to record their catch out at sea (since they didn't have cameras back then!)  After explaining about the process, I show students how to decorate their fish bowl with crayons.

Shapes: Show the students how to repeat circle for stones at the bottom, or how a rectangle and a rainbow connect together to make a treasure chest.  I teach this project to the kindergarteners in the beginning f the school year, about three weeks in (I see them once a week), so they're excited to make a bowl, but still learning their shapes.

Lines: I show students how to use wavy lines for water and for water plants, like seaweed.  Again, since it's a beginning of the year project for me, the students are still learning their lines.

Color:  I tell the students that before I give them their fish for stamping, They need to color their fishbowl...nicely!  In my district, many students have not had preschool or early childhood experience, so they're still learning to color in the lines.  Most of my projects reinforce the practice of coloring in the lines to improve craftsmanship, as well as patience.

Once the students finish their coloring, I give them a fish.  I tell them to color the side without the letters, since Nasco fish have "nasco" printed on one side.  I do have students that forget, so I get a bunch of "nasco" fish in their bowls.

I tell the students to print as many fish as they can in many different colors.  The students are shown how to use markers to color the textured part of the fish, then how to turn the fish over to create the stamp.  The end result looks like this:

Not every fish bowl will look like this, but the students will have tons of fun stamping!  If you travel, remember to bring your fish with you from school to school, or make sure you order some to keep at every school.  It's an easy project for traveling, and the students have a ton of fun making it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Klee Kastles

This blog was developed after I had been NAEA's "monthly mentor."  After I completed my month of posts, I still had more to say!  I told myself all school year that I would start to share my project ideas that work well with traveling and cart, and now that it's summertime, I have the time to do it!

The first project I would like to introduce is one I use with my second grade students.  I consider this an easy-going project, which means I don't cart around loads of supplies for one project.

The reason I love this project is that I'm not only introducing an artist (Paul Klee), but I'm having students design their own castles using shapes, which goes along with a state fine art standard!

                                                        (Castle and Sun by Paul Klee)

The materials I use:

-Black Paper cut to 10.5" x 16"
-12" x 18" Colored Construction Paper for frame
-Oil Pastels
-Posterboard (spend time cutting shapes out of poster board that you can re-use for years)
-Containers for the shape stencils (depending on your method of dispersement, I use plastic ziploc bags filled with shapes for teaching from a cart, and plastic bowls in my classroom)

Shapes to cut out: Squares, circles, rectangles, triangles, archways..whichever shape you wish!


Have you ever watched Nick Jr?  They used to have a "trip to the museum" with Moose and Zee, where they visited different paintings.  That short is what inspired me to create this particular project.  The sad part is that I can't find the link to the video, so if you find it, please share it!!!

Moose and Zee visited Paul Klee's Castle and Sun and shared with the kids how the painting was made with beautiful shapes and colors.  After watching my daughter stare at the painting on tv, I not only thought about taking her to the art museum, but I wanted to have my own students create their own castles!

I first shared the image of Castle and Sun to the students.  I asked what shapes they saw, and what they thought the painting was about.  It's fun hearing what the students say!

After sharing some information about the painting, I then show the students how to start their picture.  I hand each student a black paper, their shape stencils, and ask them to use white oil pastels to trace their shapes.

I first start by showing how to trace a shape, but also how to use different shapes to build the castle.  After the demonstration, I have the students get to work.  It should take about two class periods to complete stenciling, coloring, and framing.  I choose to use simple 12" x 18" colored paper for a basic frame for an easy finish.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Make Time for Your Own Art!

It's summertime!

I know everyone's heard the phrase, "It must be good being a teacher, you have summer's off!"

I like to keep my comments to myself when I hear that, but everyone has different plans for their summer.  Some schools are year round, so educators still continue to lesson plan.  Many of my co-workers still spend the summer collecting materials for the next school year, create Power Points for future lessons, and research for their curriculum.  I'm no different!

Creative Multitasking!  While I'm browsing on the laptop, I have a habit of making my way to Pinterest, which is a great place for finding ideas for home and work.  If you have not heard of Pinterest before, I recommend it.  You create "boards" that save links to other sites and blogs that are useful, such as art teacher blogs, lesson plans, and even recipes for the home.  There have been moments this summer where I was creating a recipe from Pinterest while organizing my sites for 4th grade lesson ideas! Go to to start!

Create your own work.  Between the lesson planning and house chores, I like to use summertime for creating my personal artworks.  Creating your own personal work helps to refine your techniques while expressing your own creativity.  If you choose to work with a specific medium (such as acrylics or oils), use your time to create your own work.

                             (Relief: My Response to Passing National Board Certification, 2011)

Professional Development.  Summer is also a good time to take classes for yourself.  Many districts require professional development time, and what better way than to refine your own skills!  Look at what's available in your area...would it be the park district, a local university?  A zoo?  There are many opportunities available to help you gathers those professional development hours while you're refining your own techniques.

Join a Group!  I'd like to recommend joining an artist group online.  You can meet other wonderful artist around the world, discuss works of art, and critique each others pieces.  I have been a member of the artist group World Artist Network for a number of years, and we've grown into a wonderful artist community.  With the help of the artist group, I have been able to post my own works of art for suggestions before the finished state.  I noticed a change in my art style with the guidance of my artist friends.  There are many art groups available online, through Facebook, Google +, Twitter, and other sites.

Participate in a Challenge!  In the artist groups, many times challenges are posted to help exercise your creative skills and techniques.  In the World Artist Network, we had weekly challenges called "Digital Animal Drawings" that gave artists a chance to play with digital images or creating drawings.  Many times, we found humor in the works created, but it was wonderful to see so much work posted within the week.

                                                       (Ostrich, Digital Drawing, 2011)

International Drawing Day!  At the end of the school year, there is always a day dedicated to creating drawings from around the world.  Drawing Day 2012 was on June 4th, but for next year, recommend to your students to create a drawing on 2013's date.  There are many sites available to post your drawings from that day, but for more information, please go to

                         (Chloe Shells from Coldwater Lake, Graphite on Paper, June 4th, 2012)

Enter a Show!  When you have a good portfolio of work, you may consider entering your work into a gallery or an art show.  Participating in public shows is a positive way of showing your school and students that you are active in the art community.  Many times, your school may even promote your shows to the community so parents, faculty, and students can see what work you can do!  (an aware that if you teach elementary, your parents may not want students to see questionable images. Know your professional responsibilities).

                     (Featured in the Southtown Star from Mokena's Annual Quilt Show, 2009)

Offer to Teach a Class in your Local Community.  If you don't want to take a class, maybe you want to teach one!  Even if you teach elementary, you may want to take a turn at instructing adults by instructing beginner's painting or sculpture classes at local places, such as galleries or park districts.  It's a change of pace, and you may gain more ideas for your own lessons in the classroom.

Plenty of ideas, and only three months to use them all!  I can't help but take time to create in the summertime, especially when my daughter wants to paint next to me when I'm working with watercolors.  I love having the time to work with my own child most of all.  Have a Good Summer!