Friday, July 30, 2010

Desk Height

This week I put together a new desk chair - actually a 24" swivel barstool. Since my room is long and narrow, I like to raise my desktop to about counter height. I use 6" bed risers & slip them under the desk legs.

Being of short stature (5'2"), the taller height of my desk (and chair) helps me to see everyone across the room in those very rare moments when I'm at my desk during class. Also, the taller height is much easier on my back when I need to work there without a chair.

I used to have a desk/office chair that would elevate to the needed 24" seat height but it cost $120 and lasted only 1 year. This time, I'm trying a $30 barstool, on sale at Big Lots. Hope it works well for me...

Primary Printmaking

Printmaking with Kinder and 1st grades this past year turned out surprisingly good. These groups struggled to finish projects due to the incessant need to talk non-stop while in my room. I guess I finally did something right because we had a 100% completion rate plus enough excellent examples to fill the large bulletin board in the school office!

Day 1 Printmaking Insects

Students view a variety of insects – either in print form or projected images from the Internet. We discuss the parts: body, head 6 legs, etc. Be sure to tie in your line, shape & pattern vocab as well when describing bugs. Years ago, I found an insect book on clearance for about $10. The images were so great, I proceeded to cut up the book & laminate photos as a resource. I had about 10 - 15 pix for each table group, which allowed for great variety & inspiration.

At the demo table, I set out supplies:
2 pieces tagboard for each student (I used 5” squares}
Pencil & eraser
Insect images

I demonstrate how to write their name (and class code) on the back of 1 piece of tagboard. On the other piece they should draw a small ‘X’ in the corner. The ‘X’ piece is for drawing their shapes & cutting out shapes.

I demo how to start cutting/gluing with the largest part – the insect body, followed by head, 6 legs, etc. To make sure that the body was not too small, they traced a 4" diameter plastic lid and then altered it if that shape was not what they wanted.

Since kinder & 1st study insects/bugs in their classroom curriculum in our state this should be good review of prior knowledge. Be sure to demo how to use glue bottle (as one of my colleagues says “Just a dot, not a lot!”) and safe use of scissors. Introduce the term ‘printing plate’ – explain this is what we will use to create a print of our insect.

At the end of demo, my table helpers get a tray of supplies (same as those used at the demo table) for their table & head off to their groups. I set up my trays ahead of class time and reload & store before next class.

On this first day of the process, they should have a good start on the cutting/gluing – body & head plus maybe some legs attached by the end of the first class. As you circulate the room checking on their progress, be sure to use the term printing plate frequently.

Allow about 5 – 7 minutes for cleanup. SAVE all cut pieces for next week for those who still need to finish. Since there will be sticky fingers, pass out damp paper towels for cleanup – “Fingers First, then the table”. I only let my kids wash at the sinks for VERY messy stuff (tempera, clay, plaster, printing ink). Damp paper towels are for everything else. Otherwise, it becomes a day at the waterpark – water on walls, counters, and floors! Just grab a wad of paper towels (we have the folded kind) and wet them at the sink, wring ‘em out & then peel one or two (depending on level of messiness) off for each student.

Day 2: Printmaking Insects

Review basics from last class:
1. Tagboard piece that we cut/draw on
2. Tagboard piece we do NOT draw on or cut from
3. Parts of an insect
4. Term “printing plate”

Introduce the concept of adding pattern to the body w/cut pieces glued on top of the body. Let them see images again – don’t worry about having them copy a specific bug – they are creating an ‘original’ insect.

When a student is finished gluing bug basics, they could add a leaf or flower shape to their composition if time permits. After all gluing is done; they should brush a thin mixture of glue & water over the surface of their printing plate to seal the surface. Try & get all of this done in class or you’ll have to finish the glue/water bit by yourself. You want everyone present today to be able to print in next class.

Day 3: Printmaking Insects

During this 3rd class, the goal is to have everyone print their first copy. A table is setup as our printing station. Materials on the table include a stack of newspapers that have been cut into 4th's, an inking plate (I use a large plastic lid), 3 brayers (only 3 students will print at a time), printing paper, pencils and the student's printing plate (PP).

Students are called over 3 at a time and sit where I've placed their PP on top of a piece of newspaper. Due to the age of these kiddos, I ink their brayers & hand 'em over. They ink the PP & when finished, they lift the inked PP and I put a fresh piece of newspaper on top of the messy piece. They put down the PP & I center then place the white printing paper on top of the PP.

I show the kids how to make a fist & use their fist to burnish the print by circular movements. If you use printing ink, the stickiness of the ink will keep the papers from moving around. If you use paint, you may need to hold down the paper while they burnish because the paper will slip around...

When they feel they're finished, I go over the edges with my fist. Then the students 'pull the print', write their name on it, put it on the drying rack & washes up at the sink. I only need to lay a fresh piece of newspaper on top of the messy one & we're good to go with the next group of three!

The other students who are waiting to print or have finished their print are involved with Extra Activities (discussed in a previous blog).

Day 4: Printmaking Insects
The goal today is for everyone to print that hasn't already done it. I vary the end project this time - they print w/2 colors of ink, one on top of the other. Start with the kids who did not print the previous class due to absences or not enough time. The process is somewhat the same - ink the PP with first color then layer the second color right on top. Continue with burnishing, etc and use colored construction paper for the printing paper. This is the last day of printing so depending on your time frame & number of students, not everyone may get the chance to print twice.

One of the great things about this project is you can alter the theme - use it for radial balance, large/medium/small shapes, foreground/middleground/background, etc. I've seen many varieties within my district so adapted the process for my students. Let me know how you use it!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Open Studio and Extra Activities

I worked in my Art room for a while this morning. For some reason, the room always looks worse after I leave when working during the summer. I try to sort, reorganize, pitch junk, etc. and usually make a huge mess of it.

One of the tasks today was moving materials that the kiddos use during Open Studio and Extra Activities. I have markers, crayons and colored pencils in containers - enough for each table group to have a set of each. I thought it would be a good idea to move them away from the wires connected to the laptop, the ActivBoard, the speakers, phone, etc., etc. A few too many student artists got tangled up in those wires last year...Now they're on shelves easily accessible to the kids and no wires!

Open Studio is the time before school when students may come to the Art room to use materials freely. When necessary, they can also use that time on their current projects, depending on the media. I open at 7:30 am, then start cleanup at 7:50 so they are out of the room by first bell at 7:55.

Teaching in a low-income, urban district means that many of my students don't have access to art media at home. For many of them, having materials available every day is equivalent to having Christmas everyday! During Open Studio they can use old markers, old crayons, colored pencils, plasticine (oil-based) clay, drawing books, books about artists, scrap paper, Legos, K'nex, tanagrams, glue, scissors, pencils & erasers. Although my school's population is 900+, the usual crowd before school is only between 10 - 25 students, which is manageable.

Most of the markers & all of the crayons are donations from end-of-the-year desk cleanup in the classrooms. I just send out an email about mid-May and get LOTS of donations! Colored pencils are odds & ends from my stock as well as classroom leftovers.

Drawing books are hand-me-downs from my kids, garage sale finds, clearance sales, etc...

Scrap paper for the drawing is usually paper printed on one side - leftovers from the teachers lounge (we have a large plastic tub located by the copiers for misfeeds & misprints) or leftovers from my room.

I also keep a basket of construction paper scraps for those who like to cut & glue. The Art teachers in our district often have unwanted/damaged paper donated to them & occasionally that finds its way into the 'scrap paper' bin on the counter as well.

Books about artists were purchased as a resource by the district...

Legos & K'nex are from home - my boys outgrew them years ago & they were cluttering up the house. I did learn the hard way to remove all the Lego 'people' because the kids just fought over them. They get much more involved in construction and design w/out those pieces. You do have to expect that some pieces 'walk away' or get swept away at the end of the day. I also have a set of tanagrams & some math manipulatives that were destined for the trash that the kids like to build with...

Many kids prefer the plasticine clay over drawing - we never have enough time for more than 1 clay project a year so this gives them an extra tactile kick. I prefer to use only yellow clay - the other colors tend to stain hands & that clay doesn't wash off easily. I use laminated 12" x 18" construction paper for clay mats to keep clean up to a minimum.

Students can also use these supplies for Extra Activities. There are always one or two kids that race to finish their work first and after having them re-work/refine the project several times, I can direct those students to Extra Activities. I also use this option if we are in the midst of a multi-step process and some students have completed the current step and I won't be teaching/demonstrating the next step until the upcoming class. They're able to get extra practice time with materials (same as listed for Open Studio) and it allows me time to help the other students. My 45-minute classes are jam-packed with review/intro, demos & hands-on work so Extra Activities are a treat that usually happens only once or twice a grading period during class time.

I have some teacher-made card games - my student teacher a few years ago made memory card games (thanks Becky!). One set reinforced primary/secondary colors and the other reviewed colors and color names. She used paint chip cards for her color cards and laminated the sets so the cards will hold up for lots of use.

Other memory card sets have been made by yours truly featuring the work of arts we've studied...

Bridget Riley (5th grade/line & movement/British Op Art artist)

I discovered design templates/cards created by artist Ted Naos in the gift shop at the Art Institute of Chicago (#1 son is a graduate) a few years ago. You can layer the cards in an infinite number of ways to create designs. I limit these cards to 5th graders because they are not as sturdy as playing cards & the little ones try to use them for templates with markers - eek! Here's the link to check these out:

The second class of the year, I teach the rules for using the Open Studio/Extra Activities materials: where to find them, how to use them properly, how to put them away correctly, etc. The little ones (grades K-2) get some time on that day to practice what they've learned since many of them may not have been in my room the prior year. (Due to the size of our school, we have a traveling art teacher at our site who instructs the K-2 classes that can't fit into my schedule.) The older students just need a refresher & then it's on to the first project of the year!

Please remember that I did not acquire these materials over night - I bought a few at a time or made use of donations. I believe it enriches the art experience for my kids to have time to explore and manipulate a wide variety of materials/media. At the same time, it reduces discipline issues because they always have something to keep themselves busy with if they finish work earlier than others and it's a great incentive for those who are slow to finish...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Assigned Seating and Table Cards

I stopped by my school last week and saw that my room is finished – floors are BEAUTIFUL! Of course that SHINE will not last to the end of that first school day but I’m going to enjoy them while it lasts…

So now the real work begins – getting everything back into place. I have two, count ‘em, two storerooms to clean out! That alone may take the rest of the summer break…

One of the first things I’ll do to take my mind off those storerooms (did I mention I can be the Queen of Procrastination?) is to attach table cards to the tables. I use Harry Wong’s (author of First Days of School) technique of assigned seating from Day One. Helps w/focus that first day when you have so much info to cover.

Students are greeted at my door (they ALWAYS line up outside & wait for permission to enter) and after my initial introduction, are given a card. They are directed to find the matching card that is attached to a table & sit at that place for today’s class.

Over the years I’ve used a variety of card designs to assign seats. Years ago, I assigned a different artist for each table group. The teacher-made, laminated cards (approx 2” x 3”) had a portrait of the artist along with A, B, C or D designation. Once students found their seat, they put together a laminated puzzle (again teacher-made) of that artist’s work. I followed up with a class discussion about the artists and their work.

Nowadays, I streamline the process by using playing cards (no need to laminate!) – two decks will take care of everything. Table 1 has an Ace attached with clear Contact paper in every corner of the table with a different suite (club, heart, diamond, spade) at each place designating a position. Table 2 has the twos and so on until all 8 tables have cards. Not as ‘artsy’ but it leaves me time in that first class to go through the rules, consequences, safety info and a 2D assessment drawing. Time is more precious in these days of pacing guides…

Here’s my secret on passing out the cards – designate one card (position) from each table as a ‘marked’ card. Choose a position that is easy for you to see no matter where you are in the room. I put a small black dot on these cards and keep them on the bottom of the deck I use to pass out. When I see kids having difficulty focusing (due to behavior) during my ‘meet & greet’ routine while lined up, they get a marked card, dealt from the bottom of the deck. This assures that there is no more than one potential problem at any single table. It’s not foolproof but is much better than random selection. Surprisingly, I rarely, if ever, have students switching cards after entering. Everyone is so busy trying to find a match that there isn’t time to see where everybody else is going and make trades…

The card in the lower left hand corner of this pix has been attached to the table. The other cards shown are those given out to my students – the marked cards have a small black dot visible in the upper corner.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Meet and Greet

On that first day of class, I do a meet and greet outside the door to my room. All of my classes line up outside the door, which also happens to be outdoors. Fortunately for the kids, weather is rarely a concern – in our part of the country we have 2 standard forecasts: sunny and warm OR sunny and hot.

This meeting process is a great visual and physical transition from the classroom teacher’s authority to mine. We meet on neutral territory so there is no confusion about who is in charge – we both are! Somewhat like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace! At the end of class, we reverse the process: teachers pick up their students outside where I have them lined up and quiet…

The classroom teacher and myself exchange pleasantries, and on this first day I hand him/her a copy of my special needs list to fill out and return by next class/week. The teacher then leaves so I can continue giving my spiel…

During that first Meet and Greet I say my name, ask the students who are new to our school to raise their hands and welcome back those who are returning. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember the names of several returning students and welcome them by name. I don’t know about you but my brain tends to turn to mush over the summer and although I rarely forget a face, names tend to slip in and out of the gray matter…

The last things I talk about are the art room, how to enter (I use/teach specific traffic patterns) and the seat assignments for this first day (details about that process in the next blog). I’m a firm believer in assigned seating. I spend hours analyzing and using the info gathered from this first class to put together my table groups for an optimal learning experience all year long.

This meet and greet process should take no more than 3 – 5 minutes. Students don’t come in until I have invited them in. Of course they need to be quiet and ready (hands and feet to self, in line, etc…) before that invitation is extended!

Some of you may feel that all of this is a waste of precious class time but I’ve learned you can accomplish far more in less time if your students are taught and know the routines to move smoothly through their class time.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Recommended Summer Reading

If you’re looking for good summer reading to gear up for the school year I highly recommend the following books. They are easy reading, give a lot of easy-to-put-into-action ideas and will help you become a more well-rounded teacher.

The first book is First days of School by Harry Wong. I discovered this book a few years ago and it opened up to me a new way of thinking about the structure in my classroom. I’ve always been a big proponent of preventative discipline and this book sealed the deal. Although it’s geared for a ‘regular’ classroom teacher (whereas we are an extraordinary bunch, you know), the ideas and methods convert easily to our art classrooms. It revolutionized what I do the first 2 class periods of every school year, which sets the tone for the rest of the year…

The second book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, was a real eye opener. The district I teach in is predominately low income – my school has 83% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches. It talks about the unwritten rules of income levels and how we, as teachers, can help our students understand and overcome those unseen barriers.

From a review on People in poverty face challenges virtually unknown to those in middle class or wealth--challenges from both obvious and hidden sources. The reality of being poor brings out a survival mentality, and turns attention away from opportunities taken for granted by everyone else. If you work with people from poverty, some understanding of how different their world is from yours will be invaluable. Whether you're an educator--or a social, health, or legal services professional--this breakthrough book gives you practical, real-world support and guidance to improve your effectiveness in working with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Since 1995 A Framework for Understanding Poverty has guided hundreds of thousands of educators and other professionals through the pitfalls and barriers faced by all classes, especially the poor. Carefully researched and packed with charts, tables, and questionnaires, Framework not only documents the facts of poverty, it provides practical yet compassionate strategies for addressing its impact on people's lives.

Both of these books have been in print long enough that you can find them at a decent, teacher-income-price on Amazon or any other used book site.

Do you have any books to recommend?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Inspiration from World Wide Web

I’ve been web surfing to come up with new ideas for this next year. I discovered new websites and visited old favorites.

I enjoy checking the websites for two of my favorite art education magazines:
School Arts (
along with Arts and Activities (
On their websites, they offer a selection of their published lesson plans as downloadable PDF’s.

I love this site for an introduction to my lesson on mudcloth printmaking, especially since I can use my ActivBoard to have the kids design their cloth:

Everything you ever wanted to know about Eric Carle and his art:

NAEA has a good site for art professionals to share ideas at

Also check out your state’s Art Education Association website (or any other state) – some post lesson plans or recommend websites to help with lesson plans.

Of course be sure to google your favorite art suppliers since many post lesson plans as well:,, etc.

My students enjoy visiting the interactive site to learn about art and I often use the activities along with my ActivBoard.

Many of the great art museums have wonderful sites to explore and learn from. Here are a few:
The Art Institute of Chicago:
The Getty” Smithsonian:

Interested in incorporating more rubrics into your lessons? Check out:

Please share any sites that you rely on for inspiration!

Special Needs list

Starting to update all my forms before the big back to school rush. Today I’m working on my Special Needs lists.

These are checklists for the classroom teachers that help me identify any special needs my students may have that I am unaware of.

We have a diverse school population, ranging from resource kids (those identified as learning disabled) to gifted, monolingual Spanish-speaking students to those who speak fluently in both English & Spanish, and those with medical disabilities.

I created the form using Excel and have check off columns for the following designations: Resource, Speech, Gifted-Language Arts, Gifted-Math & Non-Verbal, Non-Reader, Spanish/Monolingual, Fluent Spanish/English and Medical Needs. There is also a large column for teacher comments.

I copy & paste the student class list on the form and give it to the classroom teacher the first day of class, asking that they return the form by the next class. With luck, I get most of the forms back in the first month.

I use this info in combination w/my first day assessments to help with seating charts. In any table group of 4, I don’t like to have more than 1 special needs student – this includes behavior or learning disability.

The only disadvantage to this system is the highly transitory nature of our school population. Probably 25% of our students enrolled in August will not be here in May. That’s when it pays to have good communication with your classroom teachers.

When a new student shows up, I take a few minutes at the beginning of class or end of class to pump the teacher for info. If the student has been at school for a few days, the classroom teacher may have some insight to behavior and learning abilities. If I’m lucky, the student is an in-district transfer (we have 23 schools in our K-8 district) and I can always touch base w/my colleague who was the former teacher for info. I always take the time to share my observations as well because we all know that our students can excel in our rooms even if they struggle elsewhere.

Well this was a nice diversion but I have to get back to those forms…

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