Sunday, December 21, 2014

10 Creative Art Teacher Tricks That Really Work: December's Stepping Stones

For this month's Arts and Activities Stepping Stones, I focused on 10 creative art teacher tricks that really work.

When browsing social media, we always see the lists of tips and tricks that work for some, but fail for others.  Sometimes you never know what will work until you’ve tried it yourself.  I’ve gathered a list of ten tricks that have worked for me after a few years of working out the kinks.  Many ideas were found in random places , and as weird as they sound, they’ve actually made material management much easier.

1. The trick to keeping your displays from falling off the walls: For years, I was always trying to find that perfect adhesive to help posters and displays stay up on the walls.  I’ve tried everything from rubber cement, blue sticky tack, masking, and packing tape.  When I saw that painter’s tape and hot glue was the key, I was skeptical, but it truly worked.  The posters stay up no matter how hot or cold it gets in the room or in the hallways!  Just place the tape on the walls, run the hot glue gun across the tape, and place the poster on top!

                                       (photo used from

2. Saving on dry-erase erasers: Pompoms really work when glued to the cap of the markers! I was worried at first because I have a daughter at home that likes to pick stuff off of everything.  You hot glue a pompom on the cap of a dry-erase marker, and you have an instant eraser!  Surprisingly my students never attempted to take the pompom off the cap!

3. Dry-erase boards will save you on paper!  If you have coloring sheets or paper for students to use once finished with a project, students do attempt to take more than they need.  By the end of the school year, you’ve run out of paper.  Whiteboards are very inexpensive, especially when you buy a large melamine panel at a home improvement store and have it cut down to 12 x 12 pieces! 

4. No access to a sink?  Try using a water jug with a spout! This year, I do not have a sink in my room, and the idea of not having instant water flow did make me nervous.  I was also anxious about using water buckets or jugs to pour into cups, which would spill all over and use up time.  I was trying to come up with a way to dispense water into cups, and the idea of the portable water jug came to mind.  Since the water jug has a spout at the bottom, it makes it easier to dispense water into cups for the younger grade levels, and prevents spills when pushing a cart from room to room.

5. Tired of managing paint and water cups with primary grades?  Try mixing the paint and water together.  I discovered that creating a “paint wash” makes it easier for the young ones to paint without splashing water all over the table! 

                (Image borrowed from the blog Fine Lines.  I love to see art teachers thinking alike!)

6. The paint storage trick:  Many times I’ve seen teachers using plastic cups with lids to store paint, which saves on waste.  I again was unconvinced because as much as I told students not to mix paint, I always had the select few that forgot to wash the brush and mixed the paints anyway.  After being in a smaller space and limiting my budget, I finally tried it an loved how much paint I was saving! 

7. You can make your paintbrushes last longer with conditioner!  I didn’t believe it, but it truly worked!  I have not needed to purchase new paintbrushes in quite some time!  When washing brushes, use a little dot of conditioner to scrub the brushes.

8. Tired of clogged glue bottles? In the past, I would soak my glue caps in warm water to remove the glue clogged inside.  After a few years of fighting the clogs,  I found that soaking bottle caps in vegetable oil prevents glue from clogging inside!

9. Even though it takes some time to prepare, creating caddies or bins of basic materials saves on a lot of hassle with dispersing supplies.  My stress with handing out materials lowered since I started using caddies.  Also, keep the scissors all the same color in each caddy.  It saves you a few arguments over which color they get!

10. Save box lids to store pre-cut materials for future projects.  Since my first year teaching, I’ve saved materials for projects in box lids and labeled them for future use.  This made prepping much easier when I prepare the project again.  If you have the storage space, I recommend it.  I had little storage space at my previous schools, but I still managed to stack the pre-cut material box lids for re-use!  If you have a pop/soda machine in your teacher's lounge, you can also ask if they can save the boxes the cans are saved in!  They're just a little smaller than the copy paper box lids, but work just as well!

No matter what trick you discover, find what works best for you in your teaching environment!

Here's the link to the site that inspired me to try these hacks: 31 Genius Hacks for Your Elementary School Art Class

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Maintaining Rapport with Colleagues: November's Stepping Stones

For November's Stepping Stones, I focused on Maintaining Rapport with Colleagues.  To often issues arise with co workers that could have been avoided, and at times, we need to be the beacon of light that brings the peace and warmth to a workplace.

When working in a school setting, you have colleagues you interact with for a good portion of your day. It’s awesome when we help each other grow in our profession, but friction can hit due to instructional differences.  It is important to maintain relationships with those you work with because students can see when there are disagreements between adults.   I listed some of the most common roadblocks art educators may have with different colleagues and how we can work to have a positive professional relationship in our school setting.

Administrators are extremely busy people, and as much as they say we are an important part of the school, they also have the rest of the staff to think about.  With so much coming down from the top, they may not be thinking about art needs, let alone the specials with immediate situations.  I have found that the best way to maintain rapport between the art department and administrators is to advocate effectively. 

Secretaries are amazing people who do so much for our school behind the scenes that we don’t see everyday.  There have been many times when an art teacher needs information only provided by the secretaries, but sometimes we’re not able to get what we need in a timely manner.  Patience, understanding, and communication is always key.

Custodians make sure our environments are physically safe and effective for teaching.  They clean up the spills, unclog the clay out of our sinks, and even sweep up the remaining glitter left after a day full of art projects.  Custodians appreciate it when we communicate with them.  If you’re going to have a messy day with paint and clay, let them know!  

Specialists are in the same category as art teachers.  They’re frustrated when they feel isolated and unheard.  As a result, we each feel protective of our spaces and can snap when toes are stepped on, especially when art supplies and musical instruments are crammed in the same closet.  Understand that they may feel the same way you do when you’re frustrated, and if spaces are shared, communicate to alleviate further disagreements, and collaborate to create a more positive working space.

Paraprofessionals are staff that we may work with the most because they’re with the student while you’re instructing.  One of the common frustrations is that they try to do the projects for their students.  I find the best way to support each other is to communicate your expectations right away.  Understand adaptations will happen and explain how they can assist you and the students during your class time. 

Classroom teachers have their students for the biggest part of the school day.  When they have specials classes, it is their own time to plan.  One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from art educators about classroom teachers is the lack of respect they feel they receive.  To improve this relationship over time, always share what your class has made in art and ask questions on what they’re learning to promote future collaboration opportunities.  The more you advocate the connections between core subjects and the arts, they more respect you receive.  

To alleviate future unpleasant confrontations, always communicate effectively.  You’re not always going to please everyone, but being a shining beacon of light can help others to shine as well. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

2015 Winter STEAM and Arts Integration Online Conference Registration is Open!

Are you passionate about igniting student learning through the arts?  Then be a part of the 4th Connectivity Online STEAM Conference offered by Education Closet!

What is the conference about?
The winter conference will focus on how to make the shift to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) integration. The growing movement of adding the Arts to STEAM while integrating the Common Core State Standards is essential in ensuring our students not only grow into critical thinkers, but also empowered creative, imaginative, and innovative citizens of the future. This year’s conference will showcase discussions, practical strategies, research, tools, resources, and demonstrations available for educators and leaders that can help them implement STEAM effectively in their classrooms, schools, and districts.

When is the online conference?
The virtual conference will be held live on Saturday February 7, 2015 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (EST) from wherever you are located.  Sessions are provided by leading educators, administrators, businesses, and researchers in the field. Each presentation is between 15-30 minutes in length and follows three strands: mini lecture sessions, hands-on strategy sessions, or demonstration sessions. There will also be break periods so that you can network with others from around the world, ask questions and explore the virtual exhibit booths by some of the globe's leading #ArtsEd Tech companies.

What's in it for me?
Because Education Closet highlights educators and leaders who are using STEAM practices in the field, everyone walks away with ideas that are meaningful and relevant to their teaching.  Each session is hand-picked to deliver high-impact information so your time is maximized throughout the event.  And with over 1,000 participants from all over the world, you'll be able to forge connections with others who share your passion for this work!

How will I be able to attend?
Education Closet's approach to this professional learning environment is through a virtual event space that will be provided by ON24, a global webinar-based platform to enhance participant engagement. There are no complicated downloads or software needed.  You'll receive one link to access the entire conference from any device, including your tablet or mobile phone. 

What if I can't watch the day of the conference?
All information is archived on a password-protected website after the event for 1 full year for registered participants.  You'll be able to access every session, all of the handouts and even the virtual exhibit booths whenever it's convenient for you.  Use it for small or large group PD throughout the year with your school or district!

Will I get professional development hours from this?
Each participant at the conference is eligible to receive a certificate for 8 hours of professional development participation.  This is available immediately after the event is concluded for live participants, and can also be earned through watching and commenting on the presentations in the archives.

First 500 participants receive a mailed TinkerKit of sample products, services and coupons worth over $200!
Early Registration is available from November 1-15, 2014 at $85.00 per person.
Regular Registration is available from November 15, 2014 to January 30, 2015 at $99.00 per person.
Learn more and register here:

Education Closet's Connectivity conferences have been a great resource for me to incorporate STEM ideas into my own lessons. With the inspiration of the STEAM integration, I have also been able to share more of the arts with other core classes.  Thank you for your ideas, Education Closet!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

3rd Grade Perspective Pumpkins

During the fall season, I like to tie in our love for pumpkins while reinforcing the idea of perspective!  In the beginning, I share with the students a picture that demonstrates foreground, middle ground, and background.

The main objective is for students to demonstrate their knowledge of perspective using foreground, middle ground, and background within their pumpkin patches.  Adding Halloween elements are optional since not all students celebrate the holiday.

-10.5" x 16" dark blue paper
-5" x 16" dark green paper
12" x 18" orange paper for frame
-thin cut black paper strips
-orange paper for pumpkins
-green paper for leaves
-yellow paper for stars
-brown paper for stems
-black marker for pumpkin lines
-brown or green yarn

On the first day, I start by explaining to students how to start with the background first.  Students add the dark green paper (ripping the edge for a rough, grassy hillside or cutting a wavy line), then add the black strips for fencing.  Students can create whatever style fence they wish.  We end the class by adding stars in the sky and a moon to shine on the pumpkins.

On day 2, students start adding the pumpkins.  I inform the students that we need at least 6 pumpkins in three different sizes to show perspective, small, medium, and large.  Students should place the pumpkins where they would show near or far in their projects.  Once pumpkins are complete, students can add the yarn for vines and leaves to cover the vines and pumpkins.

Day three is to add final touches, drawing the lines on the pumpkins, or adding additional decorations, such as ghosts or pumpkin faces.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Benefits of Having a Mentor: October's Stepping Stones

For October's Stepping Stones in Arts & Activities magazine, I wanted to focus on the benefits of having a mentor, even if you've just transferred to a different school.

What is a mentor?  If you’re entering a new school, it’s good to have someone with prior knowledge to help you adjust to your new environment.  A mentor can be a co-worker, a fellow art teacher in the district, or a group of teachers, such as an art team.  There are many benefits to having a mentor when you begin at a new school.  Even if you’ve been teaching for years, it’s always good to have a helping hand when learning a new school environment. 

A mentor should welcome you to the family.  When you’re working in a new school, you are starting off with new faces, both staff and students.  He/she can introduce you to the staff, give you a tour around the school, and show you the ins and outs of where everything located.  

A mentor will be one of your go-to people with questions.  When setting up in a new school, you will have many questions that need to be asked, such as where the closest copy machine is located.  Visual art mentors are especially handy to help you with idea exchanges, where to get supplies, and where to look for professional networking.

A mentor can guide you with curriculum design.  If you've been teaching for some time and already have lessons in place, a mentor can inform you on what concepts students have previously learned  (which saves you from teaching a project the students may already know).

A mentor should inform you of your responsibilities as the art teacher.  Sometimes when you enter a new school, your mentor should be the one to inform you of any additional responsibilities as an art teacher, such as monthly displays for the district or props for school musicals.  

A mentor reduces your feeling of isolation.  With so much to plan and projects to prep, we can easily become isolated in our instructional spaces.  A mentor should be able to talk with you during your challenging times and offer construction advice for when we feel isolated throughout the school year.

A mentor can offer wisdom and learning from past experiences.  As a mentee, you may benefit from listening to the lessons that your mentor has learned along the way through their past experiences…both their successes and failures.   

A mentor can help you with reflecting on your art practice.  Having a mentor helps you to test your ideas and discuss your points of view in a safe and confidential environment, outside of the fears of evaluations. 

Working with a good mentor actually enables you to develop good mentoring behaviors and become a guide for others in the future

To view the complete article, please visit October's Stepping Stones.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Celebrating International Dot Day!

"International Dot Day", a global celebration of creativity, courage and collaboration, began when teacher Terry Shay introduced his classroom to Peter H. Reynolds’ book The Dot on September 15, 2009.
"The Dot" is the story of a teacher who challenges a doubting student to trust in her abilities  to “make her mark”. What begins with a dot on a piece of paper becomes a breakthrough in confidence, which has gone on to inspire countless children and adults around the globe.

To celebrate, each grade level has created a project that is "dot-like."  Once projects are completed, they will be displayed in the halls of our school!

Some projects took at least 3 class periods to complete, but by the end of September, our school will be filled with dots galore!

This is just the start of the many dots to display!

Kindergarten Dot Paintings
Inspired by the artist George Seurat

-white paper (any size you wish to cut)
-paint dots (can be found in Nasco, Triarco, or Michael's Arts & Crafts in a hurry)

After showing the painting "Sunday Afternoon" by George Seurat to kindergarten students, I shared how pictures can be made just by using dots.  Using "paint dots," students filled their paper with colorful spots! 

Total time: 1-40 minute class period

1st Grade Mandala Paintings
(Thank you, Cassie Stephens, for your project idea!)

-small paper plates
-black permanent marker
-neon tempura cakes
-water cups
-table clothes

After sharing mandala designs with 1st grade students, we created our own mandala-like designs within a plate and painted with bright colors!

Total project time: 1-40 minute class period

2nd Grade Abstract Drawings
Inspired by the art of Wassily Kandinsky

-white paper (cut to square)
-black markers
-colored markers
-a round container for center circle

Students were introduced to the art of Wassily Kandinsky.  Wassily used many geometric shapes and creative lines to fill his artwork.  2nd graders were asked to do the same, all while listening to music to inspire movement in their drawings!

Total project time: 2-40 minute class periods

3rd Grade Mandala Drawings
Inspired by sand-made mandalas

-white paper
-a round container to trace circles
-black markers
-colored markers
-square colored paper for frame

Students were introduced to sand mandalas.  As nice as it would have been to actually make one with sand, we stuck with drawing our designs and adding bright colors instead.

Total project time: 2-40 minute class periods

4th Grade Metal Relief Dots
(Cassie, I thank you for this idea too!  I had to try it!)

Yes, you can use coins as examples!

-cardboard or poster board circles
-foam shapes (when I order them now, they are stickers)
-aluminum foil
-spray glue
-permanent color markers

Students were shown examples of metal relief, like coins and jewelry.  Relief is when you have dimension within a flat piece, which creates texture.  When creating their relief, students used foam shapes for the dimension, then (once covered in foil) colored on top with patterns and designs.

Total project time: 1-40 minute class period

5th Grade Radial Symmetry
Inspired by Stained Glass Window Designs

-black paper (cut into a circle)
-foam shapes (with or without stickers)
-colored paper for frame

Students were introduced to radial symmetry.  Examples were shown of many stained glass window designs, as well as kaleidoscope patterns.  Students created their own radial designs (split into four quadrants) using the foam shapes to demonstrate their understanding.

Total project time: 2-40 minute class periods

6th Grade Zentangle Patterns

While searching on Google, I came across tons of zentangle patterned circles.  This was not my image, but I'm using it as an example of what I wanted my students to create.  So to the original artist, you inspired us!  Thank you!

-white paper circle
-skinny black marker
-zentangle pattern packet with examples
-colored markers
-colored paper for frame

Students were shown zentangle pattern examples and where they may find patterns in the commercials they watch or the clothing they wear.  Students create their own zentangle pattern circles, teaching them patience and care with overlapping patterns.

Total project time: 3-40 minute class periods.  The students LOVED their work!

What did you do for International Dot Day?