It's no secret that the reason this section of my blog has been blank for over an entire year has been entirely due to Covid-burnout. After losing my classroom and taking on more responsibilities and challenges due to the unique pandemic-situation, writing about it was just one more thing to add to my already full plate. As I type this, the annoying responsibility-monster in the back of my brain is reminding me that the summer is already halfway over and I need to prepare for another possible crazy year of teaching art. Before I let the responsibility monster to totally hijack my summer, I am taking a moment to reflect on the good things that came out of this whirlwind year....
1. My Airstream- themed art cart was a huge hit!
2. The outdoor classroom provided the opportunity to explore some Andy Goldsworthy-inspired art.
3. Students seemed to really enjoy the projects, even with a limited amount of supplies.
4. Art-Chopped Challenge allowed students to think outside the box and create with what they were given.
5. Having no students in my room enabled me to finally start organizing and personalizing the art space.
6. Visual Journaling enrichment was a blast and even resulted in whimsical creativity contests like designing paper towel wigs for my foam heads!
7. I can add "Survived a year teaching during a pandemic" to my resume!
With the Coronavirus shaking up....well, everything-changes needed to be made. Not knowing what supplies students had access to or what they had for time, I created a curriculum that hopefully is able to keep art in their lives, even if it is just for a little bit.
Did you know that many great artists worked from home- even some from beds and wheelchairs due to sickness and injury? Henry Matisse a great Fauvist painter soon became immobile in his later years and began creating art in a totally different way- using scissors to cut shapes and make fascinating abstract paper cut-outs. Frida Kahlo originally wanted to be a Doctor before her horrible accident that left her crippled. Wanting to give her something to pass the time while she healed in bed, her family provided her with paints and canvas- and soon she poured her soul into her paintings, becoming an artist icon. These stories show how important art can be in a time of crisis. The first assignment I asked students to complete is to watch a virtual tour of an artist's house- I included Monet, Kahlo and Dali, and I asked them to draw their work place- it could be inside their room, or a drawing of the outside of their house.
I was super excited to see that my new classroom was equipped with awesome ceiling black lights, so obviously I took the opportunity to create a number of spooky black light art projects during the month of October- with some fun Halloween music to amp up the atmosphere of course. Our focus for this project was everything bones! The fourth graders created animal skeletons and skulls to go along with our nature unit and the fifth graders learned about Dia De Los Muertos and created black light sugar skull portraits. It is amazing to see all of the crazy ideas the students come up with on their own. In addition to all my regular classes I have 3 "enrichment" blocks where I see some classes twice. The fourth graders enjoyed a fun game of "The Exquisite Corpse" which we decorated with neon hi-lighter and the fifth grade create some Yayoi Kusama inspired patterned pumpkins- which I highly recommend getting more than one stapler to put together, preferably one that doesn't jam every four seconds :/ I know everyone will be sad when we move on to other non-black light art, but I plan to have a longer more intense black light project when we have our Art Night in the Spring- stay tuned!
It seems so crazy that the entire month of September has just whizzed by without my noticing. I wanted to write a little bit about what we have been doing in class these last few hectic weeks. In fourth grade we started practicing drawing nature from observation after a few short drawing exercises. One of my favorite things to show students are the before and after drawings from Betty Edward's "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". These examples show that inexperience is inexperience no matter what your age. Students were flabbergasted that some of the childish portraits I initially showed were actually done by inexperienced adults- as if when you get older you're not just automatically skilled at something- WOW what an idea! Students were even more surprised when I showed them the end results after these same adults attempted to draw again after training. The point I was trying to get across is that art is just like any other skill, it takes practice and hard work to reach mastery- no one is gifted with INBORN TALENT! Inclinations and personal taste, maybe...but TALENT is the dirty word I would like to abolish in my art room. Talent implies that things cannot improve with practice and it undermines skilled artist's years of hard work and dedication.
After we learned some basic drawing skills we began our leaf/nature drawings. (images coming soon) 5th grade completed the same drawing exercises, but instead of drawing leaves from observation, they took on the challenge of drawing their hands. For the 5th grade assignment we are creating narrative drawings that are personal and express our connection with nature.
Every job has its merits, new found skills and knowledge, but when I leave a place after some time, what truly sticks with me are the relationships that I have built. Relationships not only with my wonderful unique students, but with my work-family as well, the people who I could vent to, make coffee runs with, and form a series of inside jokes that can never be replicated with another group. When I came back from Italy, my job search finally came to an abrupt end as I accepted a new position as an Elementary Art Teacher in Barrington, RI. I was left with two short days to get my affairs in order and to say goodbye to Pathways where I had worked for over five years. I didn't understand how emotional I would become as I parted ways with all of my students and teachers who have worked in the trenches with me. I left with a promise to keep in touch and to visit when I can. (my first visit back will be today in the afternoon!)
Moving into the public school district definitely has its perks, a CLASSROOM for starters! Also mentoring programs, a somewhat stable schedule and yes...I will admit the SUMMERS OFF are a huge (and very NEEDED) perk of teacher-life. I am just starting to learn the ins-and outs of my school, the wonderful people who have taken me under their wing to show me the ropes, and navigate all of the websites needed to streamline teacher stuff (SO. MANY. WEBSITES.) In these few short weeks I have met some wonderful students who are making this transition an easy and exciting transition, so as difficult as it is to leave my comfortable nest at Pathways where I shared a tiny office with a group of hilarious and unforgettable people, I am looking forward to starting this new journey with fresh eyes and reassurance that I have chosen the right profession.
I realized that I had never done a space-themed lesson so this week we learned about the Solar System and we created these bright space-scapes on black paper. I was amazed to see so many students adding their own robots, space-ships, and colored planets!
This week we talked about how graphic design appears in our everyday lives and what decisions graphic designers need to make in order to convey their message. We used stencils in all different shapes to create layered backgrounds with stamped patterns on top. We talked about how you can use a stencil repeatedly to create patterns and different shapes.
Who doesn't think sharks are the coolest? I may have missed actual Shark Week, but I have been wanting to do a shark related project for awhile now. After learning about all the cool things about sharks (did you know sharks can go through over 30,000 teeth in their lifetime?) we made a JAWS-inspired paper shark collage with our own fun backgrounds. I even told my scary great-white shark-encounter story from a few years ago when I was kayak fishing off of Race Point beach on Cape Cod. Seeing a triangular fin behind you in a kayak with two bleeding stripers in the back will certainly make you paddle faster than ever!
There are so many things that can be done with architecture, I may end up creating an entire architecture unit, but for now I wanted to introduce students to architecture and create these small paper buildings. For this project we re-purposed painted watercolor paper for our colorful house backgrounds. We added windows, doors and other embellishments to our houses and talked about the artist/architect Hundertwasser who designed a wacky colorful house.
Although our school goes throughout the summer, we have a week off for the Fourth of July and then another week mid-August (I've planned a trip to Italy for that one!) For the week before vacation we made sand fireworks using glue and bright colored sand. I have done this project before and it was very popular so I decided to do it again. One tip- do not buy colored sand from the art/Kid-craft section, instead find $2 bags in the terrarium/plant section at craft stores. It's also helpful to use spice shakers to shake the sand onto the glue.
I am currently an elementary Art Teacher in Barrington, RI teaching 4th and 5th grade, previously I worked for over 5 years as an art teacher for students on the autism spectrum and other special needs. Posts from August 2019 and earlier are from my previous job.