Monday, January 19, 2015

The STEAM Initiative: February's Stepping Stones

For February's Stepping Stones in Arts & Activities Magazine, I focused on how important the arts should be included in the STEM idea that's gaining popularity.

Across the country, many school districts are catching on to the idea of STEM to encourage 21st century skills and innovative thinking.   STEM is an educational perspective focusing on four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematic, applied in an interdisciplinary approach. Rather than teach the subjects in four different classes, STEM integrates them into a cohesive unit, which attempts to mirror real-world scenarios.  But in order to really achieve real-world applications, we need to factor in creative thinking skills.
Over the past few years, many educators (not just art teachers) have been pushing for changing STEM to STEAM (including the A for arts) to truly meet the standards of 21st century skills.  According to Susan Riley from Education Closet*, “STEM alone misses several key components that many employers, educators, and parents have voiced as critical for our children to thrive in the present and rapidly approaching future.”
To properly implement the STEAM approach, we need to be sure to include standards from different disciplines, which create interdisciplinary connections.  We also need to include assessments for all the disciplines reached.  And believe it or not, many of us have already been doing so already.
S We teach science in art.  When introducing lessons about landscapes, living forms, or the human body, we identify and describe elements in artworks reflecting these subjects.  My students can tell you what fins are for on a fish when creating an ocean-themed project, or what animals can camouflage to hide from predators in a pattern project.  We are also tapping into science standards when working with materials.  Through the use of artistic materials, we are performing experiments and manipulating the ingredients to create something new.  Clay is a prime example.  When you first work with ceramic clay, it is soft and damp, but once dried after your project is created, the clay is hardened and ready for firing or painting.
T We teach technology in art.  Even if your school has little to no resources for hands-on technology in the classroom, you still have some form of modern day conveniences within your room.  Currently iPads are the next wave in digital arts.  Schools that can provide iPads for each student are able to enhance students’ digital skills with artworks created from sketchbook apps.  If you have a laptop and a projector in your room, students are familiar with the technology used to display images and utilize online resources for project inspiration.  If you have a camera in the room, you can share with students how to document their work, or even how to take different types of photos to identify elements of art.  Even an overhead projector is an element of technology that students can interact with.
E We teach engineering in art.  We know of engineering as a branch of science and technology that focuses on the design, construction, and use of machines and structures, but it is also the action of working artfully to bring something about.  It does sound like the arts can fit into this category, but when STEM is talked about in a curriculum, many times the “creating” part of engineering focuses on the mechanical aspect.  In art, we design, construct and many times use our artworks from our imagination or from subjects that inspire us.  We can be architects designing drawings of buildings, fabricators constructing mechanical artworks, or mini scientists designing robots.

A We advocate for the arts in education. Even though the arts have been pushed aside with the “race to the top”, NCLB, and common core push, we are still the glue that holds the bridge together.  When advocating for the arts in your schools, share how you tap into core subjects in your lessons, reinforcing what students learn.  This can be done while you show how you keep the integrity of the art standards.  Display your students’ work around the school, share it in the community, and show your administration the importance of the arts in STEAM.
M We teach Math to the students.  We use geometry, symmetry, perspective, measurements, and more, all while scaffolding these skills as the grade levels advance.  Are you gridding to create larger scale projects?  You’re including mathematic standards within your lessons!  While you are assessing student work that requires the use of shapes, symmetry, and measurements, we are also assessing on the math standards.
So how can we change from STEM to STEAM? Consider presenting your findings to your board of directors and curriculum director.  It’s a lot of work, but nothing can change unless you shine the light.  STEAM encourages collaborative effort.  If you approach your staff and share ideas of working together, over time your classes will be like a laboratory, a room of discovery and innovation.
*Susan Riley, CEO Education Closet

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What Do You Do With Your Split Classes?

Do you have a split level class in your school?  SInce my first year of teaching, I've had around one to two classes per year of split level classes.  I've had K/1, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, and 5/6.  I've learned quite a few things with having split level classes and I'm always wanting to learn more.

A few years back I had a K/1 class, which was a challenging class.  I did have a classroom, which helped.  There is a wide range of abilities between the two grade levels, and trying to teach one or the other was challenging.  My kindergarten curriculum  has over 20+ projects, with almost one project a week to introduce elements of art, principles of design, and fine motor development.  My 1st grade students already created all the kindergarten projects, and having to redo the entire curriculum was out of the question.

I decided to teach two projects at once.  I designed my seating chart to split kindergarten on one side and 1st grade on the other side of the room.  I started with kindergarten while the 1st graders focused on worksheets or coloring pages.  After giving my instruction to kindergarten,  I let them pass out their materials, then I instructed the 1st grade side of the class.

Depending on the day, these procedures worked, but both grade levels demanded my constant attention for different reasons.  There were days when the kindergarten students were wanting my attention when I needed to help the 1st graders, and vice versa.

With other split grade levels I currently teach or have taught, I decided to split the projects most of the time, but not for every lesson unit.  When I do two projects at once, I attempt to make the challenge a little easier by doing two projects with the same materials, or demonstrating two projects with the same subject matter.

For example, If a 4th and 5th grade project required oil pastels, I would teach both projects at once to save on material management, even on a cart.  Here are the two projects I am currently teaching to my 4/5 split class:

4th Grade are currently working on a still life drawing using oil pastels to show highlights and shadows (tints and shades)

5th Grade are currently creating the famous banyan tree project seen on Pinterest and other art teacher blogs.

I had also done the same with my 2/3 split class using model magic clay:

2nd Grade students used primary color clay to make their secondaries and browns to complete a cheeseburger (inspired by Claus Oldenburg's Two Cheeseburgers)

3rd grade students also mixed colors and created a Joan Miro inspired creature

If one or both of the grade levels enter into a project that requires my full attention, I do have both grade levels complete the same project.  I do this mostly with clay projects because of the amount of prep, set up, and clean up needed.

Although this is a 3rd grade project, I have 2nd grade students make a coil pot along with the 3rd graders.  The above picture was a pot made by a 2nd grade student, and below by a 3rd grade student.

In 3rd grade, I introduce coil pottery to the students.  in my 2/3 split classes (which I have almost every year), I do the project with the 2nd graders too.  When those 2nd graders advance to 3rd grade the following year, they create the project again, but challenge themselves to add more to their project.  Those students also take on the role as peer helpers, assisting other in class with the construction of their coil pots.

I also like to introduce new projects with split classes.  This helps me to see the range of abilities with the students and to see which level would be best suited for the project.

Sometimes both grade levels enjoy the project!  The above image was created by a 2nd grader, and the one below by a 3rd grader.  Both are colored in completely, both added a good amount of detail, and both understood the concept of Picasso's cubist face.

So now that you'e seen some of my methods of instruction, here's a few extra tips that help in managing split classes:

1. If you are teaching two projects at once, split the grade levels apart with seating arrangements.  This will make it easier with set-up and clean-up with each grade level.

2. Stick with the same material, or at least the same subject you are instructing.  This will also make it easier with set-up, clean-up, and prep time.

3. If your classes are challenging with classroom management, it's okay to just do one lesson instead of two.  You don't have to be a superhero pushing yourself to the brink.

4. Have fun.  Don't look at split level classes as a burden, but a fun experience to try new things.

So you've seen some of my methods, how do you handle your split classes?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Combining Elements of Art With Core Subjects: January's Stepping Stones

For January's Stepping Stones, I focused on how to combine elements of art with the core subjects.  In January 2014, I was given a great opportunity to present to my district how the arts infuse core subjects within our own curriculum.  I took the opportunity to also share how core subjects and classroom teachers in our district can combine the art standards within their own lessons.

To view my complete article, please visit January's Stepping Stones column.

How Teachers Can Connect Arts Into Their Lessons 

1. Dance and theater are artistic ways to combine the arts and physical education.  With an emphasis on “body movement,” students exercise imagination and creative skills. (Emphasis on Dance and Physical Education Standards)

2. Have students draw what they hear while listening to music.  This encourages students to visualize sounds and practice their craftsmanship! (Combined with Music Core Arts Standards)

3. Create projects they could interact with!  Instruments, Rube Goldberg projects, etc… (Next Generation Science Standards)

4. Instead of writing out our answers in graphic organizers, why not draw what we are saying? (ELA Common Core Standards)

5. Writing can be more than just sentences!  Instead of coloring pictures, fill the images in with words! (ELA Common Core Standards)

6. Create a visual demonstration of the math problem. (Math Common Core Standards)

7. Use grids to encourage measurements and proportions. (Math Common Core Standards)

8. Are your students presenting?  Have the students be the presentation. (Drama Core Arts Standards)

9.When teaching history (or any subject), pick an artist that reflects the time or theme. (ELA Common Core)

10. Encourage creative practice through technology. (Technology Standards)

11. Have students practice their compositions through photography. (Visual Arts and Media Arts Core Arts Standards)

12. Encourage visual literacy! (ELA Common Core)