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Mona Lisa Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Doing what you love is freedom. Loving what you do is happiness.” – a recent (and timely) fortune cookie

I am blessed to have engaged middle school students in artmaking for the past 16 years and facilitated third and fourth grade students in regular education for 7 years before that. I just retired from full time teaching on February 12, 2021. Although it seems longer, I had just 23 years in. Teaching was something I came to later in life following a 20 year career in the offset printing industry. I say “came to” as if it was easy, and it wasn’t. I’ll write about that another time. Today I want to write about my retirement journey and acknowledge the many kindnesses extended to me on my retirement.

I could measure my career in pencil stubs…

Retiring in the middle of the school year is a little weird. Going into 2020/2021 I was fully caught up in teaching remotely and without much planning, expected to retire at the end of the year. I hadn’t given it much thought, really. I thought about retiring last spring when my district offered a small incentive, but having spent the previous three months completely caught up in teaching during a pandemic, I didn’t trust myself to make a good decision at the time, especially under pressure of a deadline. Instead I dug in, spending the summer working on the Mendon-Upton school reentry plan, the MA Arts Coalition COVID-19 Reopening Guidelines for Massachusetts PreK-12 Arts Programs, and the Massachusetts Art Education Association Guidelines for Visual Art Education In Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, as well as preparing instructional material for the school year.

For the past couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with teacher candidates at Massachusetts College of Art and Design as a portfolio reviewer and as a Teaching Practicum Program Supervisor. I was proud to engage in this minimally part time work with aspiring art educators for my BFA alma mater, Mass Art. In early-November, my director there asked if I’d be able to take on more than one teacher candidate for Spring 2021, because with so many students having deferred for the fall semester, there were a lot for the spring. This is the moment when I gave serious thought to retiring from my full time job.

The opportunity presented itself at a time when I had been teaching remotely for 6-7 months to lower middle school students who had been learning remotely from March to June and again from September to October. In October my students returned to school in a hybrid mode, with two sets of cohorts attending school two days a week and all attending synchronously from home on Wednesdays. Due to health concerns, I continued to teach remotely. Highly invested in my students’ success, I worked day and night to maintain communication with them and develop materials for both remote and hybrid learning models. I’ve written about teaching during the pandemic in many posts, especially in this one: Project Planning During A Pandemic.

The Four Part Project Plan

In my personal life, I was helping my husband, Dick, get back on his feet after sudden open heart/bypass surgery in mid-September. I wrote about this event and the impact on our little farm and me in the post Thanksgiving: On The Farm With A Little Help From Our Friends And Family. He was under weight-lifting and other restrictions through mid-December. Meanwhile, we’d been looking out for my mother, who is 93 and lives in an independent senior residence, since the start of the pandemic. We’d been watching an uptick in COVID numbers in the area all fall. While the residence management group’s response to the pandemic is commendable, during the nationwide early winter surge in mid-November, they suddenly had a small surge of their own. We brought my mother home to live with us on November 21, thinking she’d be with us for the holidays, and we ended up not bringing her back until January 15, 2021. As veteran empty nesters, this had a big impact on our lives.

My remote learning classroom became a guest room, and I moved my teaching space upstairs to my studio. I am thankful to have been able to teach remotely throughout the twist, turns, and pivots in education during the pandemic. One’s workspace becomes increasingly more important as the numbers of hours in front of a screen add up.

Peacock room remote classroom
Remote Classroom

Moving upstairs was fine, really. I would go up at 8:00 and come down at 10:07 to make tea during the 7 minute break between classes. I’d go back upstairs until 12:00 when I’d come downstairs for lunch. Back upstairs at 12:50 and would stay until the work was done – usually 4:00. It was very quiet there and Dick and my mom could go about their business downstairs without needing to be quiet. It was odd being in my studio space, which is where I normally I go to lose track of time with creativity, to work and follow a strict schedule of classes and breaks instead.

Upstairs studio remote classroom

Back to November and hearing about the need for Program Supervisors at Mass Art – I began to think more about the viability of retiring from my full time position and working part time for the college. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that retiring is a big deal! I spent a lot of time going over budgets and pension calculators, meeting with my accountant and talking to Social Security about that prior career and the money paid into the system. I met with my superintendent to discuss my exit plan, which was to retire on the Friday before February vacation and the day after my 63rd birthday. I planned to mentor my replacement for the first two weeks of the second semester, with all new students starting on February 1. I would have closure with my first semester students before they moved on to new electives. I would have plenty of time to mentor my replacement

My superintendent assured me that it was a clean break, so I put the plan in motion. It was exhilarating yet nerve wracking. Pushing the send button on the email to the principal and personnel office brought to mind the MailChimp “sweaty monkey finger”, which I knew well from my webmaster work for the teachers union.

MailChimp’s “sweaty monkey finger”

Once submitted, the exit plan began to take shape. It was during this time we brought my mother home to live with us. We celebrated Thanksgiving, my mother’s birthday – pandemic style. There were lots of twists and turns in remote teaching, with schedules changing constantly to accommodate holidays and weather. On December 11, I put together the packet of forms for retirement and sent them via registered mail to Springfield. It took them six days to get there! I could have driven there in 1.5 hours! But that was how the mail was working during the holidays in 2020. On December 17, I released the following note and photo on my social media.

December 11, 2020 – an auspicious day

I was deeply appreciative of the the many messages, comments, and emails from SO many colleagues, friends, and family. My students were working well at this point in the school year. We had our familiarity and they were eager and enthusiastic. The last of the art supplies I had ordered for art kits finally came in and we were able to put together the supplemental kits with watercolors, delivering them to all the remote students and distributing them to hybrid students in school. You can read about that process and the watercolor projects that followed in Color Me Impressed. Because I wanted to keep the flow going and keep my exit aligned with the regular, planned end of our time together, I was waiting to tell my students until just a week before the end of the semester, so it wouldn’t feel like yet another disruption in my their lives.

Supplemental art kit pickup for those who didn’t get them in school

While everything I had control of went according to my exit plan, the hiring of my replacement was out of my hands. The position wasn’t posted until January 6 with a deadline to apply one week later. I did what I could to share the posting with all of my statewide art education affiliates to help build the candidate pool. I deferred from being on the interview committee because I wanted my colleague to choose someone he was comfortable working with. I learned on January 15 that a replacement had been found! He had done his Field Study II Pre-Practicum with my colleague a couple of years earlier, so he know the school and they already had a friendship. Unfortunately, he couldn’t start until February 8, which would give us just one week together before I retired on the 12th.

My first semester students and I wrapped up with a student created art show using Adobe Spark Page and Padlet, which you can read about in Miscoe Hill 5&6 Artists Showcase/Semester One. I’m especially glad we did this because I won’t be there to showcase the artwork later in the year. I sent a formal announcement of my retirement through email to all my students’ families, thanking them for their support over the semester (and longer for 6th grade students) and talked to my classes about it. My kids were kind and encouraging, some were excited for me, and some were sad. Knowing they were moving on to another class anyway helped. I received so many grateful emails from families including well wishes to sustain me through the transition and beyond. Some even sent digital gift cards for coffee and shopping. Much appreciated! Thank you!

One of my students, Jake, sent a packet in the mail that just made my day! The back story is that for Christmas, Jake had asked for ducks and a pen to keep them in. We are in a suburban/rural area and many families have small farms like ours or at least chickens. As it turns out, Jake’s neighborhood isn’t zoned for ducks, so his parents met his wishes by giving him some rubber ducks in a basket for Christmas. God love him, Jake’s good humor prevailed. He accepted the substitute, proudly showing it off in class after the holiday. In his gift packet to me, he included the sweetest note ever, a graph of his farm stock, a photo of his latest acquisition, a logo he designed for me, a mini personalized watercolor kit, and a promise to keep in touch. See for yourself:

As I welcomed the new students for term 3, I submitted grades for term 2, as always. I had been hoping to go over the grading platform and process with the new teacher as I did it, so they could get an overview of how it works in actuality, rather than in theory. We couldn’t do that because he hadn’t started yet, but I was able to set up class lists, schedules, Artsonia profiles, and Google Classroom classes for him during the first week of the semester. I also I set aside my tutorials for the drawing app we were using so he could have some practice and catch up quickly.

During this week before retirement, a big box was delivered to my doorstep. I knew I hadn’t ordered anything so was completely surprised to find it there! My art teacher colleagues in the district had coordinated a wonderful assortment of goodies and treats and super interesting items from Box Fox. I had so much fun opening everything! Thank you MURSD Visual Art educators!

Thank you MURSD art teachers!
Look at these cool things!

On Monday night, February 8, I suddenly received several texts asking if I was watching the school committee meeting. While I often do watch the meetings on YouTube the next morning, this meeting wasn’t even on my radar as there was so much going on. I quickly tuned in just in time to hear my former student, now School Committee Student Representative, Owen, finishing this commentary:

Owen during the 2/8/21 School Committee meeting

I was so surprised and touched by Owen’s words and even more so by the acknowledgement and inclusion. Thank you, Owen!

Mr. Williams had started earlier that day. I carved out opportunities for us to meet frequently over Zoom during the week to try to make up for lost time. I was working remotely and he was at school. I introduced him to the classes on Monday and Tuesday as students settled into class. On Wednesday, all classes were synchronous, and Mr. Williams took the opportunity to introduce himself and tell his story with examples of his artwork. On Thursday and Friday, he took over the classes and I mentored via Zoom and helped with the concurrent classes.

Thursday, February 11, was also my birthday. For for first time in almost a year, Dick and I went to Boston. The Museum of Fine Arts had reopened and was hosting a big Basquiat show. We had the museum to ourselves, it was so quiet!

It was so good to see the old friends at the museum:

I arrived home just in time for a delivery of flowers from my son and his partner – to wish me a happy birthday, happy retirement, and happy Valentine’s Day. They were beautiful and included my favorite Star Gazer lilies.

Beautiful flowers from “the cherubs”

I also remember celebrating my birthday over a take out Cheesecake Factory dinner and thinking “tomorrow is the big day”. Kind of a funny thought on your birthday!

The final day dawned and with Mr. Williams at school to teach in person and with no concurrent classes on Friday, there was no need for Zoom classes. I spent the day being available to him and we did text back and forth and met over Zoom during his prep. I had already starting saving files from my school Google Drive. I continued to work on this for over two weeks. For future reference, if you ever leave your job, know that the process is super time consuming. The only way to do it in bulk is with Google Takeout, and even that is cumbersome. In fact, I am still organizing my personal Drive, trying to create appropriate hierarchies of files. Thank God I didn’t REALLY start using the district Drive until about 3 years ago. I always used my personal Drive prior to that.

Dick made a special early morning trip over to Rocco’s Donuts to pick up a special treat for retirement day:

Early in the day on my last day, I sent my final email to my colleagues at Miscoe Hill School. I adapted the video I had made for our school community shortly after we went remote in 2020, which included greetings from all of our staff, by combining it with a “Miscoe Farewell” video that I recorded in front of a green screen. I sent the video via email to thank everyone for making me a better person for having worked alongside them. They replied with SO many well wishes and notes about our time together! I will miss the many fine people at Miscoe Hill!

Miscoe Farewell

My principal had reached out earlier to inquire about having my colleagues do a drive-by parade to recognize my retirement. I declined for one big reason – it was the Friday before February vacation – I knew how much our teachers needed a break after working in hybrid, synchronous, and concurrent modes for months. I expected the last thing they wanted to do after work on the Friday before vacation was to participate in a drive-by parade, which seem quick and effortless, but take way more time than they appear to, especially if you make signs and stuff – and it was too cold! She acquiesced and instead asked me to send her a photo of myself for a project she was working on. So, stepping away from all that and wishing to feel some of the freedom that retirement promised to bring, at the end of my last scheduled class time on retirement day, Dick and I took off for Point Judith, RI, to enjoy the expanse of open water and fly kites in the open sky:

Lobster Kite in open sky
And I got to wear this wonderful ear warmer – a retirement gift made by art teacher colleague and friend, Chelsea!

Talk about a breath of fresh air! Of course the cold beach was deserted and as I took my kite for a walk, I started to think about the future even as I appreciated the past. I remember realizing I was glad to have worked through the pandemic over the past year, to have experienced the twists, turns, and pivots through the different learning modes and sudden schedule changes. I also realized I would miss out on the eventual “return to normal” and it hit me then that I was actually glad not to be a part of it. I had a sinking feeling that the “normal” we returned to would be so much less than what it could be. After all we’ve experienced and learned, we’d return to “the way it always was” when it could be SO different. It was an epiphany (a month late by the Catholic calendar). On the way home, I posted a final goodbye on my social media, including my well wishes to Mr. Williams:

While we were at the beach, my friend, colleague, and former teachers union co-president messaged me to see if I was home because she wanted to drop something off. Of course I offered to swing by her house, but she insisted on coming over. Marie stopped by a little later on with a jar of beautiful flowers, a card with a block print made by her son (a favorite former student), and a container of her world famous chocolate chip cookies. Dick almost literally squirreled away the cookies before I could get a photo!

Marie’s flowers
I will take care of this special piece!

At this point I was amassing quite a floral display with birthday flowers from my Dick, multi-celebration flowers from my son and his partner, an amaryllis that had bloomed at Christmas and was blooming AGAIN, and now flowers from Marie, too! It was magnificent!


Much to my delight, one day during February vacation, there was a knock on the door. It was my colleague and friend, Brenda, who was my mentor during my first year of teaching in 1998. From 1998 – 2003 I taught third grade, and Brenda was a third grade teacher, too. She had moved to a different school shortly after that, but then moved back to Miscoe Hill to teach fifth grade a few years ago. There she was standing on my front porch with flowers in an upcycled bottle. The bottle was from the Miscoe Springs bottling plant in Mendon, and as such shared the name of our school. The Miscoe Springs bottling plant was established in 1899, was sold in the 1980s, closed and auctioned off in 2013. Definitely a local landmark and a very special bottle.

Flowers in a Miscoe bottle! Thank you, Brenda!

This arrangement of flowers was a wonderful addition to my flower display, which were so vibrant and colorful especially against the backdrop of cold snow outside the window:

On February 16, the Tuesday of February vacation, Dick and I went to school to return my now empty laptop and iPad:

iPad and laptop

And to take one more walk down the hallway and through the classroom:

The Last Walk

And one last selfie for the road:

One last selfie…

Knowing it would be my last time in the school as an employee was a pretty intense feeling. Over time, your workplace becomes a second home where you go for the majority of your waking hours. The routine of the work week is what you plan the rest of your life around. I’d become so ingrained in the daily schedule that I swear, if you locked me in a closet with a blindfold, I could tell you when 45 minutes (the equivalent of a class time) had passed. I always struggled with this as a creative person. Planning the focus on a project around these prescribed blocks of time not only for me, but 500 kids a year, robbed us of the freedom to fully immerse ourselves in the creative process. I am curious to see how this lack of a formal schedule plays out with my creativity in my semi-retired life.

A few recent schedules

At the end of the first week in March I found out why my principal had asked for a photo. She stopped by my house to drop off this PERFECT representation of my alter ego and me – on the socials, anyway! She had it made at Masterpiece My Face. They did a great job of blending the images together and deleting a couple of chins (hehe). I love it!

I’ve been plucking away at this post for a few weeks. My part time work for the college kept me busy early on as I got caught up, and is starting to give way to more free time this week. I’ve accomplished some big organizational projects already, and have many more to tackle. The weather is warming and Dick and I walk almost every day. We’ve seen some sights, having made a goal to get out and about one day a week. Going forward, I’m hoping to use this blog to post about those little getaways. Speaking of this blog, the host, WordPress, has eliminated the option to use the Classic editing tools, which I have used since 2012. This just happened a few weeks ago, so I’ve learned how to use the block editor with this post! So, I’m already learning new things!

My colleagues returned to in-person school yesterday after being hybrid since October. I’ve seen their posts on social media and they seem happy to be back. I bet the kids are very excited. I wish my former school community a safe, fulfilling return to physical school that’s filled with smiling eyes over masks, engaged learning, and renewed camaraderie. It sure is good to hear school buses on my street again!

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The Show Must Go On! Right?!

Sharing out my presentation on the many options for Virtual Art Shows from the Art Education & Technology PechaKucha at the National Art Education Association virtual convention yesterday:


The Show Must Go On! Right?! Video – Drive: https://tinyurl.com/AETGentiliNAEA21

YouTube: https://youtu.be/AbRkplpOLlo

Resources: https://tinyurl.com/AETGentiliNAEA21Resources

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Miscoe Hill 5&6 Artists Showcase/Semester One

It’s not our art, but our heart that’s on display. – Gary Holland, Contemporary Artist

As most of my readers know, I’m retiring from the Mendon Upton Regional School District in the middle of this month (I’ll write more about that in a separate post). I won’t be fully retiring as I’ve accepted a part time position with Massachusetts College of Art and Design. We just finished up our first semester at Miscoe Hill Middle School. Normally we would have a big school art show at the end of the year. I’m not sure that will happen due to the pandemic, and I won’t be around then to ensure student participation, so my students have each created their own Artist Showcase in Adobe Spark Page and pasted the link on our collaborative Artists Showcase Padlet here: https://padlet.com/MonaLisaLivesHe/nv8trxe81cvve4ku.

We invite you to take a look by simply clicking on the links above. 

Once you’ve clicked through the individual postings, return to mine (Alice Gentili) and as you scroll through the page, click on the buttons beneath each entry to see the matching blog post, overall lesson plan, and all resources. You can view the Padlet by clicking below but the thread width is limited – you’re better off clicking the links above. All of the projects are posted lower in this thread. By clicking on each project you can see the corresponding blog post.

Made with Padlet

these are all the projects we completed over the past two terms. Click directly on each photo to see the blog post for each, including overall lesson plan, resources, reflection and student artwork:

Summer Memory – Click on the photo to see the post

Every Day Drawing Challenge

Digital Drawing With Autodesk Sketchbook

Painting Over Photos

Making Collages by SuperImposing Photos

Art Kit ZoneDoodle

Digital ZoneDoodles

Colorful Prisms

Symmetrical Snowflakes

3D Modeled Snowflake

Watercolor Painting

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Color Me Impressed/Watercolor Painting

“If one says ‘Red’ – the name of color – and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.” – Josef Albers

Claire G

This last project for Semester One took a while to come to fruition thanks to delays in receiving the art supplies I had ordered for my students’ art kits. Although I had ordered pizza boxes and styluses (we are 1:1 with iPads) for every art student in the district in mid-August, I wasn’t able to place my supply order for the art kits until September. Most items came in by mid-October, except for the watercolors, Ebony pencils, and sharpeners, which arrived in mid-December. As soon as they arrived, we made up art kit supplements in the small white bags we had left over from the art show two years ago.

See the paper bags but also see the traditional individual school desk in the art room. Such a foreign item when we are used to tables for five.

Because we were in hybrid mode at the time, Cohort Two students were intended to pick up their art kits at school on Thursday 12/17 and Friday 12/18. But there was a snow day on December 17. I had intended for the Cohort One students to pick them up the following Monday and Tuesday, but there was a sudden change in schedule and the Cohort One Tuesday kids were in school again on Monday and on Tuesday the Cohort Two Friday kids were in school again, so my Monday and Thursday classes were without opportunity to be in school. Distributing the supplement art kits in school would have to wait until after vacation. Meanwhile, on Monday, December 21, my husband and I rode around the two towns distributing the supplement kits to my Stand Alone Remote students. We started at 3:00 and got home at 6:00. Although initially pretty easy, it was more challenging as it got dark around 4:30. It is hard to see house numbers in the dark.

3 hours of main streets and back roads of our regionalized towns

With that accomplished I was beyond ready to engage my students in some hands-on art making once my Monday and Thursday groups of students could get their watercolors when we returned the first week of January. Imagine my surprise and dismay when the superintendent called on New Year’s Eve to say that due to increased Covid cases in the area, we would be fully remote for the first two weeks of January! Gah.

My classes were immersed in a Snow unit (read more here) anyway, at least through the first week and a half after the break, and I would have to try to get the watercolors to the kids who needed them early in the second week. Throughout this pandemic, my guiding rule has been that I would not introduce a project unless I knew for sure the kids had everything they needed. So, I set up another art supply pick up opportunity after school on January 11. I’m so glad I did. About forty art kit supplements were picked up that afternoon!

My faithful partner keeping me company

Some families had watercolors at home or chose to pick up inexpensive kits at the store, so we were ready to start!

This unit had been designed to introduce a few skill builders around the concepts of value, shading, and color theory, including warm and cool colors, monochromatic colors, and complementary colors. The unit would then move on to introduce the medium of watercolor and culminate with a watercolor painting.

I had started the unit early in December because I thought the watercolors were going to arrive earlier than they did. We started with shading using regular #2 pencils (I had hoped to use the Ebony pencils) to create the illusion of prisms using simple geometry (point, ray, angles, triangular prisms) in different values of gray.


Shaded Prisms

My students were happy to be working in their sketchbooks and brought them to and from school with some success. The Shaded Prisms skill builder was accomplished either at school or at home, using the same materials at both places – sketchbook, pencil, eraser, blending stump. As you can see this would have been an ideal project for the Ebony pencil. Overall, the kids did really well with this. They generally enjoy learning how to make things look real and 3D and this was satisfying for them:

Ryder B

Julie C

Claire G

The next step in this project was to introduce color. I was preparing to release this on Monday morning, December 14 and planned to snip an image of a color wheel from the Internet as I posted it on Google Classroom. Believe it or not, Google went down that morning! I couldn’t search for anything, nor could I post to Google Classroom. I ended up making this in Word:


And was eventually able to post the assignment after a couple of hours, with these three exemplars.


Singular Cool vs. Warm

Multicolor Cool vs. Warm

During the Wednesday classes where I we alternate between the Monday/Thursday or Tuesday/Friday classes, we looked at the work of Okuda San Miguel – especially his work at the Seaport in Boston.

Okuda San Miguel

I had been to see it with two of my granddaughters in the summer of 2019 and just knew my students would love his work with triangles and animal symbology:

In Google Classroom, I posted the project with the color examples above and this description:

Follow the directions for making shaded prisms, except instead of shading, add color, choosing from the options on the Colors image attached:

🌈 Monochromatic: Different shades and tints of the same color

🌈 Complementary: Triangles in one color, Background in a complementary color

🌈 Cool vs. Warm: Triangles in warm colors, Background in cool or Triangles in cool colors, Background in warm

🌈 A la Okuda San Miguel: Multicolored as in the squirrel below

I hoped this was wide open enough for students to evaluate the options enough to understand the difference between them and to know there were no limits to how they could engage with the concept. Here are some of the results:

Sloane R

Dahnia C

Cody K

Sadia D

While I love the way the kids handled the choices, I especially appreciate the ones who took the step to imitate Okuda San Miguel!

As mentioned above, we took a couple of weeks off from this unit and shifted to the snow unit while we waited for the watercolors to be delivered. Once I knew everyone was all set and with just two weeks left in the term, we resumed the color unit using watercolors. We started with color mixing – both on paper and in the cover:


And an example of student work:

Emmett K

I was able to release the final project assignment information with plenty of time to get it done. I wanted the kids to have a chance to make this painting within their own time constraints, so I offered 3 examples of different levels of engagement:

In case you hadn’t noticed, this is the year of “Among Us”

Rather than make a tutorial video, the kids really had all they needed, so I simply assigned it in Google Classroom with the exemplars:

This project will give you a chance to flex your color mixing muscles with watercolor:

🖌 Use a ruler and pencil to lightly draw a grid on a clean page in your sketchbook (in-school AND at home 1/19 &1/20)

🖌 Draw a simple shape across the middle of the grid (heart, star, bell, clover, etc.) (in-school AND at home 1/19 &1/20)

🖌 Use watercolor to add colors in each section, warm or cool in the shape and the opposite in the background (at home 1/21, 22, 25, 26)

🖌 You will have two classes (1 at school, 1 at home + asynchronous time) to work on this, so choose the best level of difficulty for you – 3 examples below.

🖌 You can use any shapes or themes you want (like my Among Us, Circles, Heart or star, 1 Among Us, sun, etc) but you must put your shapes on a grid

🖌 When finished, take a perfect photo and turn it in to Google Classroom and Artsonia (www.artsonia.com/ )

Make sure to bring your sketchbook, pencil, and ruler to school on Tuesday and Wednesday this week!

And the kids went to work. The favorite part of my job is looking at student artwork on Google Classroom and on Artsonia. These watercolor paintings were a delight! Here are just ten or so and the rest can be seen in our Artsonia gallery.

Rachelle R

Zach D


Lillian P

Jake G

Jacob C

Cameron H

Ava T

Toni C

Avery B

Ben M

Although teaching during the pandemic is challenging in many ways, scheduling instruction and the timing of projects has been the most challenging by far. When my students are in school two days and out of school three days on different schedules, I have found the at school/at home model to work best. This is when there are two projects being completed concurrently – one at home with art kit materials and one at school with the iPad. For this project, I asked students to bring sketchbooks, pencils, and blending stumps to school to start the shaded prisms. I’d say about 70% of the kids were successful with that. The other 30% were given a piece of paper and a pencil at school.

Knowing all students would be remote for the first two weeks after vacation allowed for full on use of art kit materials (watercolors) for everyone, which was perfect. While I know kids need to see each other and parents need to work, which is why we adopt the hybrid model when we can, a fully remote program has benefits, too. With remote learning, we eliminate the bounce and the hop of hybrid with a more consistent, smooth delivery of instruction, access to materials with art kits, and additional contact with the teacher. During hybrid learning my students have synchronous learning once per week, during remote learning, they have it two times per week. While we can continue to discuss the pros and cons of the various modalities, I’ll just be really glad when we can stop thinking about all the variables and resume full time in-school learning.

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Celebrating Youth Art Month 2021

“Whereas, The arts are an essential component of a basic education and are one of the six core subjects as designated in the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993; and…hereby proclaim March to be, Youth Arts Month…”

So reads the second clause of the Massachusetts Proclamation for March to be known as Youth Arts Month. How exciting! While this proclamation is from 2019, I’m happy to say that March of 2021 will also be Youth Art Month. And the Massachusetts Art Education Association is once again sponsoring a Youth Art Month exhibit. Due to the pandemic, this year’s show will be virtual.

Massachusetts Youth Arts Month Proclamation

I just submitted my six entries into the exhibit. It was hard. Over the course of these last two terms, my students have created approximately 1700 art works. Each teacher is permitted to exhibit six pieces. I wish I could have included many more!

Making the challenge even greater is the situation we’re in during this pandemic. Normally, I would have physical artwork to photograph in what I hope is its best light. And then I would have the artists stand with their art so I could take a photo of both of them together. I am teaching remotely this year and there is no physical art being made in the classroom due to Covid-19 prevention protocol. Students have been creating physical art in their sketchbooks at home with the materials in their school-supplied art kits. They also make digital art on iPads while in school. This means the art I see is in photos taken by the students that are uploaded to Google Classroom and Artsonia, our online art gallery.

Fortunately, I have talented kids in my classes, and they made it easy for me. Without further ado, let me present the Miscoe Hill 5&6 Artists for Youth Art Month 2021:

MA Youth Art Month 5&6 Artists 2021

And here’s a closer look at the terrific artwork:

Lia Romano – Summer Memory 2020

Corbin D – The 3D Modeled Birthday Party

Madison D – Every Day Digital Drawing/A Messy Desk

Mihir B – Digital Symmetrical Snowflake

Jack S – Art Kit Cover ZoneDoodle

Maxwell Bennett – Digital ZoneDoodles

These artworks will be on display from March 15 through the end of April in a virtual exhibit with a link to be posted soon. I will share it as soon as it’s ready!

The proclamation at the top of the page continues from “Youth Arts Month” to…”And urge all the citizens of the Commonwealth to take cognizance of this event and participate fittingly in its observance.” I invite you to do just that by congratulating this year’s Youth Art Month artists and viewing the show once it’s posted. I can’t wait!

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“Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards.” – Dylan Thomas 

This excerpt from A Child’s Christmas in Wales has long been my favorite way to think about snow. I love when the snow falls exactly as Thomas describes, along with the energy, curiosity, and wonder it brings no matter how it falls. I had been noticing while teaching remotely this fall that some my students had become less curious and less apt to go beyond the bare minimum with their artwork, which is something I’m not used to. They seemed to be intent on satisfying criteria and checking off assignments on a list rather than taking the time to wonder, explore, and investigate. I know learning (and teaching) during the pandemic is challenging and my 10-12 year old students were focused on navigating the changes as they shifted between remote and hybrid modes and back again. In the process, education had become for some a perfunctory process with expectations within boundaries and nothing more. Some of my students struggled to keep up in all their classes, not just in art class. Yet they are children. And that’s just sad.

In an effort to meet the diverse learning and scheduling needs of all my students and to lure my classes into an exploratory approach to art making, I changed the projects I assigned by establishing a baseline effort to be turned in (keeping it really simple) yet inviting (almost challenging) the kids to go as far as they want in the direction they choose with the project. The phrase I keep using is “NO LIMITS”.

Teaching remotely and not having consistent contact with students due to the asynchronous periods in their schedules and disrupted weekly schedules to accommodate (at least cerebrally) holidays and vacation, I also sought a way to keep the focus or topic consistent as we went through a few different projects. This is the thematic approach we used in the late 1990’s in education. Because it is winter, because we live in New England, because it is truly fascinating, I chose SNOW.

Mrs. Gentili – I made this snowflake by using my stylus on my iPad in the Sketchbook app. It was fun yet I did a lot of math. I like how it came out and I’m going to make more.

We used the theme of snow to flex our muscles with technology, starting with making symmetrical snowflakes using the Autodesk Sketchbook app on iPads. The base exemplar is above and the tutorial is below:

By inviting students to make and submit as many snowflakes as they desired with the NO LIMITS approach, many students submitted several, many made more than they submitted. Click on one to view this slideshow of just ten of them and you can see the rest on Artsonia:

During synchronous classes, I shared my screen as we took a look at the Snowstorm Padlet I had created for us all to contribute to. Many of them contributed, enjoying showcasing their art alongside the artwork of their classmates.

Here’s a look at the blizzard we created as a standalone image:

Our collaborative snowstorm

I started the SNOW theme on December 21, just before the winter break. Expecting my students wouldn’t be traveling or be over busy as with many winter breaks and would have lots of time at home, I shared this pattern for making snowflakes at home with scissors (no shared supplies at school):

Some of the kids were able to make the paper snowflakes when attending class synchronously from home during studio time when they had finished the other projects:

Students were also invited to visit www.weavesilk.com to create 6 sided snowflakes using the site’s pretty astonishing web platform and the symmetry slider there. Try it out, you’ll be amazed:

For another at home activity, I shared the recipe for growing crystal snowflakes that we used to explore states of matter in my third grade classes twenty years ago: Make Your Own Crystal Snowflake 

During the two weeks on either side of the winter vacation week when I saw my Wednesday “Week A” classes together one week, and my “Week B” the next, we used our synchronous classes to learn about Vermont photographer, Wilson Bentley – better known as Snowflake Bentley. We watched some videos and discussed Bentley’s contribution to science. Here is the Youtube playlist.

Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley

3D Design

Upon returning from the break, the first few days were set aside to continue the SNOW investigation. Then I introduced a 3D design/modeling project continuing on with the theme of SNOW – the base “exemplar” is above and the tutorial is below:

It’s worth noting we used TinkerCad to design these snowflakes. We usually use Morphi app, which has more capabilities and is more intuitive for my 10-12 year old students. It also doesn’t have all the pre-made forms that TinkerCad offers. I like my students to work with basic forms so they experience a more structural thinking. Although I have three 3D printers at school, due to the pandemic and my teaching remotely, we are not able to use them. I always appreciate the power of teaching 3D modeling to my students to introduce them to the concept so when they encounter it later on, they will have familiarity. Plus, teaching kids to think in 3D terms engages those kids who are simply “3D kids” – those who love LEGOs, blocks, and other building tools.

The kids took to the concept readily and generated regular snowflakes as well as “NO LIMITS” combinations of snowflakes. Click on one to view the ten as a slideshow:

Although the base designs are pretty great, some of the kids went well beyond the base in their exploration and creation. You can see the collection on Artsonia.

Corbin D modeled an entire birthday party scene, complete with a pool, snack bar, arcade, entertainment, photo booth and so much more. The birthday child is purple with a purple hat.

Between the amount of time Corbin spent modeling it and my missing socialization and dreaming of parties like this, I was blown away by this piece! I invited Corbin to talk about his artwork as we shared it with his class. They were pretty blown away, too!

As I wrap up this post and prepare to publish it, I realize that despite the challenges to learning and teaching caused by the pandemic, my students have rallied. As an educator I am pleased to be able to foster community between them/us, even though we are never in the same room and are always separated by a screen. Projects like this with many activities centered around a theme offer opportunities for every child to find a niche and create successfully.

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How I Spent My Winter Vacation 2020

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” Maya Angelou

As I closed up my virtual classroom for the winter break on December 23, I posted the retooled image above. Eleven days stretched before my students and I as we put away our schedules for a long winter’s rest. And it’s already Sunday night, January 3, as I begin writing this. We return tomorrow. Gah.

I’ve been writing occasional posts about this pandemic life we were living in 2020 and now 2021. This is a time at home with our immediate families, which as of November 22, includes my mother. We brought her home from her congregate senior living residence to ride out the surge months of the pandemic. 

We spent the Wednesday, December 23rd early release day making Christmas cookies together:

I learned early on as a teacher that the first three months of each school year were challenging and tiring. My mantra over the years has been, “Just make it to Thanksgiving” at which point everyone has settled in from the back-to-school whirlwind. Typically I would go into the holiday break just about exhausted. However, there is no exhausted like teaching during a pandemic exhausted. 

In one very Clement C. Moore moment late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, I heard sirens close by. Unusual for our suburban/rural area, I went to the window to see what was the matter and this is what I saw:

I welled up, I’m not even kidding. Thank you to the Upton police for that spirit boost.  

Christmas activity normally fills the first half of vacation for my family and me. Although socially subdued, we maintained many of our traditions, including spending Christmas Eve with my son, Dylan, and his partner, Anna Theresa. My son works with the public and is extremely cautious about keeping my husband, Dick, and me stay safe from Covid. Of special concern for him is his nonagenarian grandmother. Rather than visiting in the house and sharing a meal, we visited in the summer gazebo, working around masks to nibble cookies and sip mulled cider.  Although  there  was  snow  on the ground, it  was a warm night at 55℉.

And we bundled up my mother:

At one point my son whispered conspiratorially, “She looks like Baby Yoda with his cup”. He was absolutely right.

We couldn’t go to mass on Christmas Eve, so we watched it on TV later on. After a day in the kitchen baking pies and bread, we maintained our tradition of picking up Thai food to enjoy after mass. And then settled in for a long winter’s nap.

The morning brought light from the tree and warmth from our tree topper. About the tree topper – in 2019, I retooled a 3D model of Baby Yoda (everybody’s angel) that I found on Thingiverse by hollowing out the base to use as a tree topper. I 3D printed it in pink and glazed it with sparkly ModPodge. I love it. About the tree – we usually put up a big tree in the family room and the vintage tree above goes in the dining room window. Not this year. We didn’t put up the big tree at all. We put this smaller one on top of the wood stove in the corner of the family room to afford more space for the three of us. Also, because so many things about this year have been a challenge, my white wired tree lights suddenly stopped working, so we substituted green wired lights from the big tree for them. Sh!tshow. Sorry!

Despite the challenges and as evidenced by the video above, Santa did find his way! Here we are below, each with our favorite gift. If you had a chance to see the post about Dick’s new love of reading, you can see why he is smiling so happily here: 

Santa brought my mother an iPad Pro to replace her big desktop computer, which has grown old and tired. She is catching on quickly to using the iPad for reading her Kindle books and checking her email, as well as playing solitaire and meeting with our large family over Zoom.

My mom zooming on her iPad as seen on my laptop from a different room

Santa knew the way to my heart with this Baby Yoda Chia Pet!

Once you get past the stockings and gifts, Christmas day is all about cooking. This year was no different. We made all of our traditional Christmas food: ham, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole (for Dylan), glazed carrots, rolls, and three kinds of pie. Because we couldn’t eat together, I packaged up half of everything for Dylan to pick up and enjoy with Anna Theresa at their apartment.

This photo reminds me that the Amaryllis I had planted Thanksgiving weekend opened it’s first blossom on Christmas morning. And continued to open a new flower every day for 7 days. A Christmas miracle!

With Christmas over I looked forward to my favorite day of Christmas vacation – the day after Christmas – better known as Pajama Day. This tradition harkens back to when Dylan was young and after going from house to house to visit family on Christmas, we would take the next day off for him to play with his toys. Today, the joy for me is in having time to relax and not cook, thanks to all the leftovers. This year, my mother and I attended a couple of virtual art tours on Zoom. We appreciated having the guides share their knowledge and I learned some new information about pieces I was already familiar with. 

Time off also gives me time to read. I love to read but struggle to stay focused when my mind is busy with other things. I get up early to read every morning while my mind is fresh. I’ve been reading Moby Dick for a while and vacation has given me a chance to make serious progress toward finishing it. Ironically, the book has become a symbolic Moby Dick for me as I try to make headway with it. I planning to participate in the New Bedford Whaling Museum Moby Dick read-in next weekend for the final push.

Having come into vacation from teaching remotely, I was looking forward to being away from the laptop screen to make  something with my hands. As I considered what to make, I realized my current limitations: 1. There was no point in glazing pottery because it is too cold outside to fire them in my unheated pottery studio. 2. Mental fatigue from so much record keeping, planning, and preparing instructional videos had sapped my creativity. 3. With my mother in the peacock room (my usual virtual classroom), I had lost access to my 3D printers. 4. And by moving my virtual classroom upstairs to my painting studio, I had lost the space I needed to spread out my stuff and go wild – which is the most fun about the creative process, isn’t it? 

My niece, Meg, had sent me a paint-by-number Mona Lisa earlier in the fall. I couldn’t think of a more perfect project to embrace at this time! I would sneak away for a couple of hours almost every day after Christmas to plug away at it. I haven’t done a paint-by-number since childhood and I found it really relaxing, like a jigsaw puzzle with paint. While painting I binged on The Crown, listening more than watching, but still getting it. I loved this little guilty pleasure! And Mona came out pretty good, too:

I found that I had renewed eye energy in the evening and could work on the embroidery samplers I’ve acquired in an effort to refresh my embroidery skills. When I was a young mother I used to sew and do needlework a lot. Last winter break (2019) I had completed a piece for the Tiny Pricks Project that spurred my interest in refreshing my skills. The piece was included in a show of needlework at The Foundry in West Stockbridge in January 2020.

While I’ve been making face coverings (100+) throughout the pandemic, it was nice to take a break from them to work on embroidery. Embroidery is easy to incorporate into the home setting, especially while watching TV with the family.

Our final “event” for the holidays was the traditional New Year’s Eve feast of New England steamers, clam chowder, lobster, and garlic bread. Nothing like bi-valves and crustaceans to bring in the new year:

This was my original stopping place in writing this post on Sunday night. Once we returned to school on Monday I put it aside to focus on school. I’m happy to say I returned feeling refreshed and ready to greet my students. Although everyone’s vacation was modified and toned down by the pandemic, I expected my students to have found moments of happiness despite the limitations imposed on them. Without much planning, I created a Jamboard template for the kids to record their happiness take aways.

We reentered school in full remote mode after vacation. In remote mode, I have 8 different classes which are split between two days, 4 different classes each day meeting twice a week. In hybrid mode, those classes are divided in half to make 16 classes, 4 different classes each day meeting just once per week. I was glad to see all my students over the first two days this week. The Jamboards they added to display their happiness moments. Although there were 8 Jamboards, I accidentally cleared the first board before saving a copy (oops) so I’m sharing just 7 Jamboards here. Enjoy the happiness!

 A couple of kids made mention of being glad 2020 was over. Significant point, although as I wrap this up on the Thursday morning following the certification of the Electoral Presidential vote and the violence and chaos that interrupted the process, I have to say that so far, 2021 isn’t off to a better start than 2020 ended. I’m not sure where the events of the past 24 hours will fit as I meet with my students throughout the day today. I expect to share the same advice with them that I’ve shared with my students for 23 years – If you want to make change, make sure it’s positive change for everyone. To effect positive change, you must work within the system. If you don’t feel strong enough to do it on your own, ask others for help. Devote your energy to learning the process for change and follow the rules until you can peacefully change them. Persevere. Never give up. 

In closing, I wish all my readers a refreshed start to 2021. Let’s make this a truly happy new year.

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ZoneDoodles Hybrid Style

“The proof is in the pudding” – Cervantes

This is a follow up post to Project Planning During A Pandemic where I get to showcase student work while reflecting on the assignment. As described in the linked post above, planning for hybrid teaching is challenging and I have been experimenting with different approaches to teach the concepts, keep the kids engaged, and not drive them or myself crazy while doing it.

As described in the linked post above, the objective of the ZoneDoodle Art Kit Cover project was developed as a way to incorporate both typography and line patterns to personalize student art kit covers, which for the most part, are being kept at home with just the sketchbook and few tools going back and forth to school on the one day each week when the kids have their art elective. My few students who are in school four days a week have an art kit at home and at school.

Thanks to a COVID related grant, we were able to purchase 2000 blank pizza boxes so every art student in the district could receive an art kit. The Art Kit Cover lesson was a good way to personalize the kit and help foster an attachment to it. Also, one day this pandemic will be under control and our lives will attain a new normalcy. If students hold on to them, the art kit covers can become a keepsake or memento from this time.

All of the lessons, demos, and tutorials for this project are in the Project Planning During A Pandemic post. In all, the project went well. The Thanksgiving holiday break was both helpful as a bridge between phases of the project, and a disruption in flow. Consistency, cohesiveness, and frequent check-ins are necessary always, and even more so with hybrid learning. With nearly 160 students who I see just once weekly, I am challenged to provide those necessary components. Despite the challenges, the kids rallied. As usual.

Here are just ten of the finished art kit covers and the rest can be found on Artsonia.

Rachelle R – I personalized my Art Kit by adding different things and the big thing in one of the sections is supposed to be an apple and I tried to fix it and it did not turn out right and i my opinion it kind of ruins the rest of the cover but other than that mistake I think that I did a pretty good job.

Jordan MP

Hudson C

Max L – I personalized my Art Kit by creating designs that were original to me. I didn’t use any examples on my Art Kit.

Kaitlin N – I personalized my Art Kit by doing a bunch of weird doodles it was hard to think of all of them but I of them all by myself it was hard tho

Corbin D – I personalized my Art Kit by making Devenney stand out from all the zone doodles. Most of the zone doodles I pick from the pdf, but some of them I made myself. I made the right size sections that are able to fit my zone doodles. I put two of my favorite zone doodles in because it was fun making them and to me they were really cool and I wanted them to be on display. I even gave some ones I’ve never done before a go. It turned out looking really god with the new types of zone doodles. I think this was really fun and that zone doodles are really cool even if you try new ones too.

Sloane R

Jack S – I personalized my Art Kit by using graffiti inspired letters for my name and extremely colorful doodles.

Maxwell B – I personalized my Art Kit by Adding my own designs to a Zone Doodle.

Sam C – I like how all the swirls and little lines are in my art kit cover.

Meanwhile, as the kids were working on their Art Kit Covers at home, they would work on Digital Zone Doodles on iPads using Autodesk Sketchbook app when they were in school. This part of the project was easier to monitor because it was completed synchronously. After the initial check-in at the start of each virtual class meeting, I would open individual breakout rooms during studio time, which enabled me to check in, see the student’s work, and offer encouragement or assistance. As you’ll see below and at the Digital ZoneDoodle gallery on Artsonia, the kids did an outstanding job with this project.

Antonia C – Image 1: I love all of the different colors on it. I like how neat some of the zone doodles so I tried for that’s style. I would not change anything but if I had to I would and more colors. This art work surprise me how neat it was.
Image 2: All I did in this art work was change to colors of the zone doodles and it remains the same figure. The colors are almost all from the original piece but in a different place
Image 3: For this art work I did not do much. I had finished the second one today and was playing around with sketch book and I found a color adjust tool and I played with it until I got something like this.

Charli C – My favorite pieces of this artwork are the rainbow spiral, and the herringbone pattern. My least favorite is the boxes with the sunset colors behind them. I think I could have done better on that one. One concept I learned is that zonedoodles are pretty, but take some time. I’d I could do this again, I would add more color and different patterns. I would also make some of the doodles more intricate.

Chris W – My favorite part is the zone doodles in it.
Do more creative designs because most of them were zone doodles of lines.
Don’t give up.
I used sketchbook.

Max B. – My favorite part was coming up with and making the doodles themselves. My inspiration was to take a more simpler look and not to much complexity. I would change a few doodles and make them not as messy and a better design. I learned how the predictive stroke helps a lot and how to color and make my own Zone doodles. I was surprised how neater it looked than my other artworks. First I made the border then the lines then I made the doodles and then colored them.

Lia R – This is my Digital Zome Doodle comepleted on Autodesk sketchbook. My zonedoodle has many different parts including clouds, tiger stripes, bricks, and much more. My favorite part was the section with all the small shapes fading from yellow to purple. I liked this because i spent lots of time on it and i love the colors. If i re-did this, i would choose some different patterns.

Emmett K – My favorite part of this artwork is the piano zone that I did. My least favorite is probably the earth one. I would change the zone where I did the blobs with shapes on them. I learned that there is a tool to help make lines smooth and straight and that helped a lot.
I am surprised how the red zone came out too. I hope you like it. : )

Ryan P – My favorite part about my work is the where I blended in with the white lines.
I just did what ever came to mind.
I would change where the purple and black lines are some purple got onto the black
It takes awhile to finish a art project
Nothing really surprised me
I made a zone doodle I just did what ever came to mind I tried to as creative I could.

Mia ML

Liana C – I made this artwork by starting with some doodles, then I used fill color and filled them in!
And it turned out really well, I am very happy with how this did come out!

Tim R




Thanksgiving: On The Farm With A Little Help From Our Friends And Family

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward

In my Home Time series of posts written about summer vacation during a pandemic, I introduced you to my husband, Dick, in this post and our little farm in this post. In the post about Dick (and his new love of reading) I wrote about his sudden open heart/bypass surgery in mid-September. Here we are ten weeks later and I am so happy to say he is doing exceedingly well in overcoming this setback! We are incredibly grateful to his skilled surgeon and medical team for the excellent care they provided him throughout his operation and subsequent recovery. I am also incredibly thankful to a a small circle of friends and family who pitched in to help us maintain our hobby farm during Dick’s convalescence. This post is about them.

In the post above about the farm, I introduced you to our pets – the alpacas, goats, and chickens, and to the many backyard birds who rely on our bird feeders. All of the animals rely on Dick for their basic needs of sustenance and shelter. The farm is fully his hobby, which I get to enjoy by taking photos and giving petting and feeding tours to the small children of our family and friends. As a kid who grew up in a development in suburban Framingham, I acknowledge farming as a spectator even when it’s right in my own back yard.

Farm living is the life for me?

When Dick was admitted to the hospital, I took over the farm chores. He was in there for a full week waiting for test and catheterization results before he had his surgery. I would take mental notes while he described the details of his hobby farm chores, basically consisting of food, water, and stall cleaning. And then I’d report back the next day, sometimes only to learn I had misunderstood and shorted the poor alpacas a full cup of food or given the cracked corn to the doves instead of the chickens, for instance. I’m happy to report they all survived.

The feeding wasn’t too bad. In fact after spending the day looking at a laptop, it felt good to be outside, and socializing with the animals was always welcome. I could tell they knew something was up and wondered where Dick was. The other thing about feeding is as you do it methodically, you find shortcuts (like dragging the hose 40 feet closer to fill the 5 gallon buckets so I didn’t have to carry them quite so far) and considered other ways to improve upon the system. I also saw things I didn’t normally see before I took over the farm chores, like this hawk flying overhead:

Or this 4-leaf clover I chanced upon the day after Dick’s surgery. I couldn’t resist making it more magical with the Plotaverse app:

Or these volleyball sized mushrooms that I never knew grew near the compost pile in the pasture:

During that first week before his procedure, Dick also let me know we needed hay. We had just a few bales in the barn and they wouldn’t last long. And he expected we would also need grain and feed within a week or two. As with the farm operations, he detailed every element of purchase and storage once on the farm. This was coincidentally the second week of school for me and although it was a delayed start due to the pandemic, I was in meetings or PD classes every day until 2:30 at which point I would feed the animals and go right to the hospital half an hour away to visit with Dick, usually not getting home until late evening. I wasn’t sure how to manage all of this and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

Dick’s open heart/bypass surgery was scheduled for Monday, September 14. I am the type of person who has to stay busy when there’s something big going on that I have no control over. I worked until 2:30 preparing for the first day with students to take place two days later. The district was fully remote then and expected to be until October 13. I had a lot to do to set up class materials and curriculum. I knew I couldn’t visit Dick on the day of his surgery, so I asked my friend Bernice to help me go get hay. I picked her up in Dick’s truck and we drove to the hay place. My instructions were to get 10 bales of “second cutting” because the animals didn’t like first cutting (more new knowledge). I had trouble backing the truck up hill to the open doors of the tractor trailer so I jumped out and asked the hay guy to do it. I watched as he hopped in the truck alongside a startled Bernice and deftly backed it into position. Ten bales later we drove cautiously back to the farm where it took an embarrassing amount of attempts to back in right outside the barn doors.

I forgot to mention Bernice had hurt her left shoulder the day before. The bales of hay were too big for either of us to carry alone anyway, so we each took a twine on either side and carried them in that way. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked!

Thank you Bernice!

The second day, with excellent news about Dick’s surgery, and knowing I would be at the hospital after work, I asked our son, Dylan, to pick up the grain and feed at the local Tractor Supply store for me. His girlfriend, Anna Theresa, joined him in the “night shift” adventure and after a full day of work they purchased the 50 lb. bags, delivered them to the barn, and dumped them into the storage bins. 

Thank you Anna and Dylan!

The Night Shift

Once the barn was restocked with hay and feed, it was business as usual in the barnyard for the time being. Dick came home on Monday, September 21. He had many restrictions on mobility and weight limits. He was sore on the inside and suffered the other indignations of recovery including strange sleep habits and lack of appetite. He carried a little pillow around for counter pressure when coughing or sneezing. Yet he was SO happy to be home!
Two days later he started coming outside while I fed the animals to get fresh air and sip his daily tofu/banana smoothie. If this were a cooking blog, I’d share the recipe here. It’s not, so it will suffice to say add a 2″ block of silken tofu, one banana, strawberries, milk, and a little ice cream to a blender and blend. It’s really tasty and contains lots of protein and potassium, which are excellent for healing. 

By early October, Dick was able to help with the feeding, while I filled and carried the water. It was a joy to all of us to have him back!

Meanwhile, the grass kept growing. With pride, my husband, Dick, has tended the landscaping, mowing, pruning, and raking of this yard for 40 years. His particular specialty is pruning. He has a time table, developed over forty years as a small business landscaper, for when each tree or shrub should be pruned. Before his surgery he was on target to meet his timeline except for the red maple in the front yard. I had recruited a company to take care of the lawn and leaves while he recovered, and they agreed to tackle the red maple, too. The twin owners of Bartlett Brothers Landscaping are former art students and former members of the town Boy Scout troop through which my son earned his Eagle rank and with whom I worked as a merit badge counselor. 
The young man in green in the photo below, Tyler, and his twin brother, Matt, own the landscaping business we hired to take care of the yard this fall. Tyler came out one day and trimmed the red maple, which is something Dick has been itching to do for weeks. I snuck this shot while the two of them were talking. Afterwards, Dick told me he was telling Tyler that he always prunes the maple by hand (Tyler used gas pruners). Tyler couldn’t believe it when Dick told him he would snake the ladder up through the middle of the tree and climb up and trim from the center with clippers. 

Thank you Tyler!

Mid-October is the time of year when we New Englanders “batten down the hatches” for winter. What this means for us on our little farm is to trim all the perennials and pull the annuals, stock up on hay, rake the leaves, and shelter the animals by enclosing the chicken wire walls in storm windows. Dick and I were able to take care of the gardens ourselves.

Annuals pots emptied and washed

Stocking up on hay means filling the barn with 60 bales of hay to last the winter. Dick knew his weight lifting restrictions wouldn’t allow him to do it. I knew from my recent experience with Bernice, that the bales were too big for me (and my allergies). Dick gave it some thought and decided our son, Keith, was well suited to the task. Keith readily agreed and came down from New Hampshire on a Saturday in late October to get it done.

Keith (joking): This is so heavy
Dick: Stop being a baby

They made three trips to the hay place (where I’m sure Dick had no trouble backing up the truck to the tractor trailer) and then back again, filling the barn with 60 bales of hay. Once at home, they had an audience:

Keith was a trooper, single-handedly carrying every bale from the truck to the barn, when he could have been climbing a mountain as he often spends his weekends doing.

Thank you, Keith!

Raking leaves is usually an autumn pastime for Dick. A few hours a day he would spend, rake in hand and a big trash barrel on his shoulder as he brought the leaves to the compost pile in the pasture. Our yard is ringed with trees and there are a lot of leaves.

Dick and some of his leaves a few years ago

The Bartlett Brothers pulled in on a mid-November Saturday and proved to be a collective force against nature with their crew of workers, 80% of whom are former students. Not only is their work ethic admirable, but watching them was a great way to spend an afternoon. So entertaining!

Thank you Bartlett Brothers!

The animals watching the leaf blowers (and me)

We usually plan to have all the winterizing done by mid November, just before the first snow. Mother Nature had a little surprise for us this year, with snow before Halloween:

That snow was completely gone within a couple of days. But it was a clear sign that it was time to winterize the barn. Fortunately, our son, Dylan, had a Saturday off in mid November and came out to spend a few hours with Dick putting up the storm windows and boards. 

Thank you Dylan!

I am truly amazed that during a year seemingly made more difficult at every turn thanks to the pandemic and a coronary incident, we preserved the annual timeline for winterizing our little farm – with room to spare because of the help of our family and friends.

The hatches are battened down

On this day before Thanksgiving, I am pausing to count my blessings in a custom that dates back 400 years in Massachusetts to when the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth. Nearly a year later, the Plymouth Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest with a festival. They celebrated survival, as well as the hopes of good fortune in the years ahead. 

The Biggest Little Farm – a must watch

As we gather tomorrow at our own small yet bountiful Thanksgiving festival, we will celebrate surviving this challenging year and our hope for continued good health in the days to come. We will also celebrate our good fortune in having friends and family members who respond to our calls for help not only with ambition and skills, but with big smiles and cheer to share. We are thankful for all of them!

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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Project Planning During A Pandemic

“The devil is in the detail” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Anonymous

When I was asked to come up with a “light and fluffy” art project for a segment of my students recently, my mouth dropped because it hit me hard that I don’t know how to do that. I was rendered speechless. And it got me thinking. 

I’ve been teaching art for nearly 17 years following 7 years as a regular classroom teacher with six years in third grade and one in fourth. And that followed a twenty year career in the printing industry (another story for another post).  As an elementary educator who listened hard to Dr. Howard Gardner in the mid-1990’s, I am someone who has internalized his statement: “I think that we teach way too many subjects, and we cover way too much material, and the end result is that students have a very superficial knowledge—as we often say, a mile wide and an inch deep. Then once they leave school, almost everything has been forgotten. And I think that school needs to change to have a few priorities and to really go into those priorities very deeply.” (Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences)

Consequently, I’ve never been a “one and done” teacher. In writing curriculum and planning lessons for my lower middle school art students, I always tie together the acquisition of at least a few skills within a project. This allows for multiple concepts to be embedded within a final project, giving the students an authentic purpose for combining and utilizing the skills. Applying the skills to a project requires problem solving and decision making. Over the years, many of our projects have been collaborative and have utilized the design process. I have researched and employed the principles of Project Based Learning as well as STEAM curriculum design in my curriculum development. All of my projects include the three phases of Explore – Create – Share (search “Project Based Learning” on this site for examples).


Because I teach both fifth and sixth grade, I technically loop with my students, so instead of differentiating lessons by grade every year, I have created a two year curriculum that changes often. There are many ways to teach concepts and because I enjoy creating curriculum, I rarely repeat lessons. I usually teach common or similar material to both grades, adjusting for newness to materials or technology by grade level. 

All of the above is well and good when we are physically in school during normal times. Teaching art during the COVID-19 pandemic requires something completely different.


Having taught throughout the early pandemic education chaos last spring and worked on school reentry guidelines for statewide arts organizations almost all summer, I know the limitations of wonky schedules and prohibition of shared materials during the pandemic. I teach 18 different classes during hybrid time, with my original 8 classes divided in half to accommodate in-class physical spacing plus two new fully remote classes. On Wednesdays, the original 8 classes plus some of the fully remote students alternate coming to class weekly. It is worth noting that this juggling could have been reduced if students were limited to one elective per term rather than two electives each semester. Students would have experienced 4 electives this school year either way. This would have simplified everything for the students and the electives teachers and allowed for better relationship forming with the more frequent interaction. I proposed this to my administration in August and it was rejected. I simplified my own program in every way I could.

Here is how I simplified:

  • Common curriculum for every class
  • One Google Classroom class per grade level (75+ students in each rather than 18 different classes)
  • One posting for each project on Artsonia for both grades to upload to
  • Checking attendance on class lists plus maintaining one roster of all 150+ students listed alphabetically to record assignments
  • With the help of a COVID grant and my regular budget, I purchased and distributed art kits for all students so I could plan lessons based on materials I knew everyone had in the kit

These simplifications have helped a lot. What I couldn’t anticipate was the sudden jolt created by the district going from fully remote (starting on September 16) to hybrid on October 13. The fully remote period had gone exceedingly well. I was able to get everyone enrolled in Google Classroom and on Artsonia. The kids learned the necessary fundamentals of photographing their artwork for upload, how to upload, and our system of communication and resources within Google Classroom. They learned if they hadn’t turned in an assignment they would receive a reminder email from me the day after it was due and another email also addressed to their guardians if it wasn’t turned in the next day. We met twice a week as robust groups of 20-30 students where we began to build community in our virtual classes. And then we went hybrid.

Remote to Hybrid 

The day before we entered the hybrid mode I watched as my class lists shifted and changed right before my eyes – in real time. Twenty new students were added to my roster. October 13 was like the first day of school all over again. It created a jolt that shook up everything we had accomplished to date. Suddenly I only saw my classes only once per week, which diminished the instruction from introduce/practice/check progress to introduce/practice. Most challenging for me AND the twenty new students was the sudden switch of schedules to include students who hadn’t had the foundational experiences the others had benefitted from. And these students’ schedules were so packed there wasn’t time for remedial sessions with them.

Because of medical concerns, I am teaching remotely while the school is in hybrid mode. My students and I are supported by an in-school monitor for the class who is responsible for making sure the kids are doing what they should be doing academically and maintaining protocol in the physical space. I see his motion around the room in the backgrounds of my student Zoom screens and sometimes he pops into a student video to ask me a question or say hello. He has become a trusted educational partner.  

Remote Classroom

For the past two months I have been hyper conscious of the way I introduce and assign work. During our fully remote first month we began to get into a rhythm. I could introduce a project at the start of the week (because I saw every class on Monday or Tuesday) and could check in and provide studio time during the second class of the week. Kids are used to Monday – Friday schedule, and they were comfortable with this. During hybrid mode (this past month), I have taught half of my classes on Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursday and Friday. Because the second group is on their own on Monday and Tuesday, I had to shift away from the comfort of the Monday – Friday schedule. Many student routines were upended by this shift. They are 10 – 12 years old and although incredibly resilient, most are just learning these independent organizational skills.

I experimented with a few different approaches and tried to balance the in-person introduction to projects with the independent introduction so both cohorts took turns with each situation. I’ve taken notes and spoken with the kids to get feedback. Over the past two weeks I’ve implemented a unit planning change for hybrid mode. I almost hesitate to say this, because the moment I do, we’ll end up being back fully remote…but, I think I’ve got it! 

Remote Classroom


I’ve come up with a way to plan that looks like it will be successful during hybrid times. I’ll go through it now to help you understand and because I want it written down for myself for the next time we make this shift from fully remote to hybrid. We’ll start with the situational realities of teaching to three modalities:

Hybrid students in our electives classes are:

  • In school 2 days
  • Fully remote synchronously every other Wednesday morning
  • Fully remote asynchronously 2 days 
  • In art class (physical) once a week
  • Expected to be in asynchronous art class once a week

4 Day students are:

  • In school 4 days
  • Fully remote synchronously every other Wednesday morning
  • In art class (physical) twice a week

Fully remote students are:

  • Fully remote synchronously every day
  • In art class once a week (synchronous) 
  • No asynchronous art class time scheduled

Needless to say, keeping 150+ students engaged and knowing exactly where they’re at in order to support them has been challenging. I have rosters by class, sorted into Cohort One, Cohort Two, 4 Day, and fully Remote students. My fully remote students are integrated into my hybrid classes, they simply attend through Zoom. I have rosters by grade level in alphabetical order to keep track of completed work. I check both Google Classroom and Artsonia multiple times a day. I honestly think this is the best I can do with an ever-evolving roster.

The Four Part Project

Essentially, what I’ve learned over the past month is that to be prepared for these multiple modalities and unique situations, I have to design lessons that can bend and flow. Or lessons that at least have a few parts to navigate between. With that in mind, I recently developed the approach pictured and described below.

I’ve created a 4-part project with a skill builder practice at home and a skill builder practice at school – both with different materials because the art kit stays at home except for the sketchbook. I’ve developed two final projects – one to be done in school or synchronously on iPads and one to be completed during asynchronous times at home. Right now it’s working!

In order to know which to introduce during a class, I keep not only a plan book, but class lists broken down by cohort and remote with notes at the top of each section about what was introduced during each class – basically the plan in the plan book and the reality on the class list. For example – while Cohort One is at school, they practice ZoneDoodles in their sketchbooks with a pencil preparing for the Art Kit Cover ZoneDoodle project that they’ll complete at home. Meanwhile, Cohort Two is home learning about and practicing Typography on their own. Both practice pieces get turned into Google Classroom. The next class for both cohorts, I check in on the practice work and then introduce the Digital ZoneDoodle project and allow time to work on it in breakout rooms. While that’s happening with one cohort, the other is woking on Art Kit covers on their own. These exercises are planned for 45 minute synchronous classes and the expectation is that the kids will take another 45 minutes asynchronously. 

It is important to note that I make short instructional videos rather than doing the same live instruction 16 times. The problem with live demos is that they inevitably differ as students ask questions, timing within classes differs, or I forget to include something. By making a video using my phone to record and iMovie to add narration, delivery of instruction is consistent and centralized through posting the videos on Google Classroom. Let’s break down this unit:

Skill Builder Practice at Home – Typography: 

Share the at home (asynchronous) practice assignment in Google Classroom – 

With the four attachments below:

Font Worksheets PDF – click here to download

Link to Typefaces PDF – click here to download

Skill Builder Practice in School – ZoneDoodles:

Share the in-school (synchronous) practice assignment in Google Classroom

With attachments:

ZoneDoodles PDF – click here to download

Final Project at Home:

Share the at home (asynchronous) final project to Google Classroom:

With attachments: 


Final Project in School:

Share the in school (synchronous) in Google Classroom:

With attachments:

Link to gallery of ZoneDoodles from a few years ago.

Early Finishers

A couple of weeks ago I introduced the Every Day Drawing Challenge to all of my students and shared the 365 drawing prompts with them. They have already completed one response drawing and uploaded it to Artsonia so they know the routine. It is likely that some students will finish their projects before others as they all work at different paces. Early finishers are encouraged to make another response drawing and upload to to the Artsonia gallery.


Although students will accomplish all four of these assignments, there are still some subtle differences. The regular hybrid cohorts are reminded each time we meet synchronously of the four parts and how they mesh together. I give brief intros sometimes fast forwarding the videos so they know what to expect without taking up our precious time watching videos they can watch on their own. This is a modified Flipped Classroom approach. The fully remote students technically don’t have a second art class in their schedule, so I ask them to allot 45 minutes during whole-school asynchronous time on Wednesday afternoons. I hope this actually provides a little brain break from academics for them. Meanwhile, the 4Day students are working on the Digital ZoneDoodle during one in school class and their Art Kit cover in school during their other weekly class. The 4Day students have an Art Kit at school for this purpose and an Art Kit at home should we suddenly go fully remote again. All of the other students are keeping their art kits at home because they are too easy to leave behind at home or school and excess travel will cause wear and tear.

I look forward to sharing the work from this project with you at a later date. With the Thanksgiving holiday break approaching, my 18 classes are especially divided, and my school has shifted the Tuesday Cohort One schedule to a Thursday Cohort Two schedule, which means because I actually have four cohorts, I’ll see the Thursday group of classes three times while I see the other three groups two times between now and December 4. Interesting. And one more things to plan around. But, as I mentioned above, I think I’ve got it! 

Questions and Ideas

We are all meeting the expectations of many different routines and schedules, not to mention our different demographics. I’m curious how you are managing your planning during this time. Feel free to reach out to me on the socials or at amgentili@me.com. Best wishes!


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Every Day Drawing Challenge 2020 Edition

“Drawing takes time. A line has time in it.” – David Hockney

A long, long time ago shortly after iPads were first released by Apple, under the vision of Superintendent Joseph Maruszczak, my school district made a commitment to include iPads in instruction. We were early adopters in the public school sector.  We started in the fall of 2012 with a rollout of iPads to half of our 7th grade students who comprised one team of two at the grade level. I was teaching fifth and sixth grade then and petitioned the superintendent for a class set of iPads to keep in the art room. I had seen other art educators embracing the digital platform for its ease and accessibility. For those of us accustomed to creative technologies like Photoshop and Wacom tablets, the iPad offered a way to make digital art and photography without all the expensive hardware and software and with the mobility a tablet affords. Besides, artist David Hockney was painting on an iPad!

He said, “Yes”! In early November the iPads arrived. What excitement! What joy! What device management! Watch this: Miscoe Art 317 iPads. The iPads were a huge addition and extension to the lower middle school visual art programming options. But where to start? In order to learn how to use an iPad, I decided to challenge myself with daily digital painting: 365 iPad Drawings/My Year Creating Digitally: All in One Gallery

It was a good experience, one which I continue to draw from in my teaching and continued learning. I’ve shared about it professionally and each year I give the challenge prompts to my students to use for inspiration for warm up work, early finishers, and as an ongoing challenge.

Click on the photo to see the daily prompts

I shared the Every Day Drawing Challenge prompts with my students in a an assignment in early November. We are straddling learning modalities this fall of the COVID-19 pandemic, shifting from fully remote to start the year and shifting to hybrid on October 13. While the kids are in school two days a week we cannot share art supplies, so I worked with my district to purchase supplies for art kits, thanks to a COVID grant and my own art budget. After one Wednesday afternoon of making up art kits…

Assembling art kits

And another Wednesday afternoon of distributing them…

Distributing art kits for remote students

Every student has a sketchbook! To get them started with the Every Day Drawing Challenge, I shared a tutorial video and asked that they choose one prompt from the whole 365 and create one drawing to submit:

Mrs. G – #31 Draw something you collect

Students worked on the drawings at school and at home where they added color with colored pencils  or crayons based on their choice and availability. They interpreted the prompts freely, sometimes personally, sometimes more traditionally, yet always with their own point of view:

Ryder B: #69 March 10 Draw your computer

Max B: #333 November 29 Draw a pie

Jack S: #338 December 4 Draw an Owl

Jenna I: January 3 #3 Draw a purse, wallet, or bag

Max L: January 9 #9 Draw a bit of organized chaos

Rory G: March 22-#81 Draw Something that Makes you Happy

Thomas C: November 7 Draw something military

Donato S: 365 day challenge prompt: Nov 10: Draw some thing u look up at from below.
(I drew me looking upwards)

This child was prolific in her responses:

Ana K: Nov 6- draw an eye Nov 7- draw a truck Nov 8- draw a soda can Nov 9- draw your favorite food

My students will have these prompts throughout the remainder of our time together and are encouraged to continue to upload their artwork to our Artsonia sharing platform as they create more drawing responses. I’ve limited this post share to ten drawings, but you can see the other 100+ on Artsonia at this link: Every Day Drawing Challenge on Artsonia  Enjoy!

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Making Collages By Superimposing Photos

“Things are not always as they seem; the first appearance deceives many.” – Phaedrus

Superimposing photographs is a technique used to augment and transform a visual reality. This technique is commonly referred to as “photoshopping” named after the original program that made it possible – Adobe Photoshop. Today, superimposing photographs can be accomplished with other apps, including Sketchbook by Autodesk, which my students have readily available on their iPads. Our students are 1:1 with iPads in our district.

This project is the third of three projects designed to introduce my students to most of the tools in the Sketchbook by Autodesk app. You can read about the first, which was a 3-part project, here: Digital Drawings And the second, here: Painting Over Photos (Rotoscoping)

The Pollinators

I prepared a tutorial video to show the superimposing process. As with everything so far this year, this video documents the process and how to use the tools. It is without foresight and vision, and just came together as I worked. I haven’t time this year to create great artwork for demos, so I’m staying focused on the message and clear delivery of information rather than the aesthetic.

This is a relatively quick project – it is designed for two 45 minute sessions – one live with me over Zoom and the other asynchronous. It doesn’t take long to superimpose a couple of photos, yet as always, students are free to take the project as far as it takes them. Here is an example of a student who had a plan and was willing to put in as much time as was needed to realize his artistic vision. Here is Jack C sharing his artwork and method in a class discussion over Zoom.

Something I’ve come to enjoy is viewing student artwork in either Google Classroom or on Artsonia. I am often amazed by the way students use their artwork to share their views and their voices. Below you’ll see work by a student who used the technique to make a clever political statement:

Caelan S – Caelan S – So I saw this meme of trump eating kfc with a fork so it got me thinking I thought it would be funny to have him eat the Declaration of Independence. It not like I don’t like trump but it is just funny hahahaha. But I thought this would fit with the presidential election.

And a student who chose to represent the emotional impact of bullying as an appeal for more love and less hate:

Sadia D. – I made this by using photos that mean something, erasing parts I don’t need and layering the photos. The photos I used were a woman covering her ears and background of words that come from bullies. The theme would be not to bully or else it wrecks self confidence. I feel that we need to stop the hate and spread some love. A couple of surprises that came to me were that how it looks like her shadow is showing a tiny bit in the background. I would change the background to give it a little bit to give it more color to it.

The student artwork below expresses an imaginative thought and also wins the heart of this art teacher:

Avery B – Tell us how you made this.: I got a picture of a paint pallet with a brush, an easel, a cat with a beret, and a landscape painting for what the cat would paint. I also used wood for the background.
Tell us about the photos.: The wood is the background, the cat and the art pallet are together as one to make the cat look like it’s painting.
Tell us about the theme, if there is one.: The theme is an art cat!
Tell us how you feel about it.: I’m very proud of myself for making this.
Tell us if there were any surprises.: I’m surprise how there were pictures of cats with berets on.
Tell us what you would change if you were to do it again.: I wouldn’t change anything! I think it came out nicely.

Enjoy some Doritos with the astronauts having a picnic on the moon:

Emmett K – I made this artwork by using photos of astronauts and picnic objects. If I would change something I would add in a checkered blanket or a basket. I am proud of how this turned out. I was going to add a alien but it did not work out good so I made this.
I hope you like it.

This student, previously a reticent artist, came alive with a depiction of his favorite sport:

Zach C. – I made this by getting the background then grabbing two pictures of football players, The photos are of a football and two football players, The theme is Football, If feel good about my work I think I did a good job, There are no surprises , And I would add a person catching the ball if I were to do this again

And then took it the next step as he pursued his idea:

Proving to be this year’s trend, it seems no assignment this year will be without Among Us CrewMates:

Giacomo G – I made this piece of art by combining a lot of Among Us photos. I did leave another hidden Easter egg but this one is easier. I put a lot of time and effort into this piece and I hope you like it. There was one surprise with this piece because I ended up getting rid of all the real world stuff and switched it to among us things. In the end I hope you really like this piece


Talk about augmenting reality! This one is pretty terrifying:

Jack B – This takes place in New York City. Iron man finds Hulk in Hulk Smash mode. Iron man follows Hulk. They band together to fight crime. They are keeping the peace in New York City while causing destruction.

Especially in comparison with this pastoral woodland creature piece:

Caleb P.

With The Mandalorian streaming a new season on Disney Plus, Star Wars imagery is in a cozy second place for middle school trends this year. I love the effort Jason put in on this one (and the color of the background):

Jason C – I found pictures on safari, cropped them and erased what I didn’t need. There is the Star Destroyer, Death Star, X Wing, ATAT, R2D2, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. This is Star Wars theme.

This piece by Ashley is truly lovely, until you notice the spider. Suddenly the tranquil imagery begins to feel a bit threatening:

Ashley M

These are just ten or so pieces of artwork out of a hundred. Please go see the exhibit in the gallery at Artsonia to see the rest. If there was ever a time to question reality, this is it!

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Painting Over Photos (Rotoscoping)

“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” – Walt Disney

Rotoscoping is an animation technique that animators use to trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame, to produce realistic action. Originally, animators projected photographed live-action movie images onto a glass panel and traced over the image.

This project is the second of three projects designed to introduce my students to most of the tools in the Sketchbook by Autodesk app. You can read about the first, which was a 3-part project, here: Digital Drawings 

Not only is the technique of Painting Over Photos to create animations, it’s a great way to learn to use and apply the many brushes in the app and to learn about the importance of carefully arranged layers – both critical thinking and problem solving in one exercise with a little bit of creativity and self-expression mixed in.

The assignment was to open Sketchbook with a photo (any subject matter) and add a layer right away for painting an outline. Next steps are to:

1. Add a layer between the first two for “sketchy painting” (finding lights and darks)

2. Duplicate the outline layer, place it under the “sketchy” layer and flood fill a medium tone.

3. Delete the original photo.

4. Add a background.

All these steps can be seen in the tutorial video:

This project was due on Tuesday, October 27, when Halloween was definitely in the air. Although I don’t plan projects around holidays to respect the cultural diversity of my student population, the students themselves often choose to include holiday imagery. Using Sketchbook to carve a pumpkin is fun and there’s no mess! Here are a couple of Halloween projects:

Max L – My favorite part of this artwork is the night sky background. My least favorite part is probably the nose, mouth, and eyes. They didn’t look as 3D as I thought they would. The inspiration for this was that I wanted to find an object with lots of different shadows and colors. One of the concepts I learned was moving layers behind layers so you could color fill without effecting the other layers above it. When I removed the real photo background it surprised me because with the texture and color from before, it looked like there were a lot of random places with different colors. The first step was to outline the pumpkin. Next, I used the paint tool to fill in spots where I saw different shadows and coloring. I duplicated the outline layer and color filled it. I then moved it under the paint so it didn’t interfere. After that I added the starry sky background and the textured ground.

Taryn L – If you can’t tell this is a dog in a pumpkin costume and it is really cute. This assignment was a little tricky so I hope it came out the way it was suppose to. Even if that is not how it is supposed to be it looks cool. Either way I’m proud of this drawing.

On the other hand, this one, by Ekakshar B., is much more personal and documents this moment in history, the time of the 2020 pandemic. Yet it also seems to send a message of hope and optimism with the “sun shining on me”.

Ekakshar B – This is my digital drawing of my self. I am currently wearing a mask in this picture because of the current times. Towards the Left side of the drawing I tried to make the colors brighter so I could show that the sun was shining on me. If I were to change anything on this picture is that I would make my eyebrows a little less big. That was my self portrait hope ya liked it!!!
Also if you look at it from a distance it really looks like the sun is shining on me.

Many students identified immediately with the cartoon/animation possibility with this medium, gravitating toward a fun and cheerful approach, while others chose to paint over photos of pets, would-be pets, and references from the visual culture:

Kieran G – Nyan cat. Nyan cat. Nyan– Oh! Hi! I was just doing some meditation in space with the Nyan cat. We were flouting to the Amun’s us spaceship.

Maxwell B – My favorite part of my drawing is my kitty and drawing him. I wasn’t sure what to draw so I thought about my Kitten and thought why don’t I draw him? I feel like I could make Scooter my Kitten In he drawing more shades and textured and maybe work on the overall drawing of him. I learned how to use layers and textures to draw over pictures. I was surprised that it was hard to texture and add shadows to Scooter. To make this drawing I started by having two layers one with the picture and one with the Outlining then I added color then adding texture and shadows then a nice background to top it of.

Madison D – My favorite part is All of it because this is a picture of my work desk.
I don’t think i have any thing bad to say about it.
My inspiration was the photo that i accidentally took
The one thing i would Change are the pencils the lines started to merge into each Other and didn’t look good.
I learned Concepts of how to trace.
Nothing surprised me.
When i was looking for photos I found a photo that i accidentally took so i started to draw it the flower, pencils, markers.

Lily T – My favorite part that I did in the piece was drawing the arms and the salad bowl. The hardest part to make that looks even remotely decent was the face, the nose and mouth were really hard to do. I like to call the drawing: “Where did my soup Go?” Because there’s a lidl but no liquids. I used a stock image to draw over because stock images are random and funny.

Ava T – My favorite part was tracing the outside of it and my least favorite part was coloring the yellow part of the shirt
I’m not really sure, I just kinda thought it would be funny
Probably the face, I don’t really like the eyes. It’s just messy
I learned this is much much much much harder than I thought, I don’t know ??
How honestly difficult it would be to color this picture and that how well I kind of liked it ??
I put the picture in then I made a new layer and traced the outside then I colored the shoes, shirt face and pants then the background and the little honey drips.

Skylar G – I love the rose, my least fav is the background, I just love dogs that is why I made this, I would change the background because in my opinion it is horrible.

Nina P – My favorite part of the art is the main orca. I learn a lot about lighting and shading because the original picture had a sunset and the lighting was different to normal lighting. The way the art came out surprised me.

Ryder B – My favorite part was filling in the dark spots and outlining everything. I created this artwork by drawing over another photo in sketchbook. I learned that i like drawing people. The inspiration was that the character the art is based on is from a show.

Danny B – My favorite part was trying to match the colors and finding a way to make it work. I liked that it came out amazing!

There are so many excellent artworks responses to this assignment. I’ve already broken my own self-imposed rule of showcasing ten images in a post by including twelve in this one. All of the rest of the eventual 100+ can be found on our online gallery at Artsonia: Painting Over Photos (Rotoscoping)

I hope you go there to see them! Enjoy!

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Digital Drawings

Digital technology is the same revolution as adding sound to pictures and the same revolution as adding color to pictures. Nothing more and nothing less. – George Lucas

Over the past two weeks, the Miscoe Hill students in grades five and six art classes have been learning to use the Sketchbook app by Autodesk. We began with the basics of drawing tools, flood fill, and layers with this tutorial:  Students were given the week to practice during studio time after the introduction and in their asynchronous time later in the week.

The second week we followed up with a tutorial on adding layers, changing opacities, and experimenting with textures:

Again, students were given the week to practice during studio time after the introduction and also in their asynchronous time later in the week.

It’s worth noting that when I make the videos, instruction is my priority, not necessarily making good art or showing off my skills. What you see happening is the creative evolution of applying tools for the sake of applying tools, in this case covering all the basics to help young art students gain fluency with the digital medium. The result is a meandering stream of consciousness, which I hope helps my students free themselves from the “cookie cutter” approach to assigning one-size-fits-all art projects.

The final tutorial was for adding photos to the existing artwork, which shows students how to add photos in Sketchbook, leading to the next week’s project as well. With this particular exemplar, I added photos that I had in my camera roll with a desire to bring our backyard barnyard and a visit to Maine to my otherwise pretty sedate artwork. In the tutorial video I make preposterous suggestions for what the kids might add:

Mrs. Gentili – This artwork was created with the Autodesk Sketchbook app. I used a bunch of different tools, including the paint brush, felt pen, eraser, airbrush, flood fill, opacities, photos, and texture tool. I did not have a plan when I started this. I let it evolve as I experimented with the tools. I like how it came out especially considering that it was unplanned. If I were to change anything, I would make the window outlines consistent.

 They didn’t disappoint!

As always, I found myself delighted when scrolling through the many artworks uploaded to both Google Classroom and Artsonia. I enjoy each and every one of them and take particular delight in those who take their own unique path or start with something similar to the exemplar and end up with something very different. Here are just ten of the myriad of truly wonderful artworks by 10 – 12 year old art students and a whole lot more can be seen on our online gallery on Artsonia:

Lia R – I uploaded some pictures from “The Lion King”. This drawing was inspired by that movie. The pictures were uploaded from safari. These were the trees, Mufasa in the sky, a faint galaxy, and the Rafiki holding Simba. I drew the rest. I like this art because it looks like there are galaxies and fireflies.

Madeline O – If I could redo my artwork I would fix the lines on the road, and the erase some more parts of the stop sign and the little pond thing. The thing that I liked the most is how some of the stuff in the picture are drawn on and some stuff is a real picture. The thing that was the most hardest to do was the road and mountains because before the picture was there of the mountains the road and mountains were the same color so it was hard to find a different color for the road.

Rory G – I decided do make a kind of abstract city scene. I wanted it to have lots of color and to be pretty unique. I put in some pictures that I had taken and one that I found online. I used a couple of textures to make it really pop. I also used different layers to make the textures and add one.

Michael L – My favorite part is the scene the T-rex is eating a bird and blue the raptor is coming after him. Jurassic world inspired me to make this painting. I might change the background. I learned some of the tools like the line tool, circle tool and the rectangle tool in sketchbook. The bushes pop out because of the shading underneath it looks more 3D as well as the windows and fences.

Caleb R – The Spooky house is my drawing, but it is also my house. The house itself is not a huge home for the mobs, in fact the mobs are always together. Although I think I hear someone at the door. Oh wait, it was just Vamp the vampire practicing his jump scares on the roof. Wow I wonder what’s for dinner, better ask Valk the witch. “Hey Valk what’s for dinner” , I yelled. “Beef stew”, she yelled back. Hey let’s talk to Pump the pumpkin. “Hi Pump”. “Hey I’m trying to scare Victor” Pump said. Victor by the way pretty much just sits in attic all day trying to scare Vamp.

Ana K – My favorite part of this artwork is the outfit (a folk Ukrainian outfit) and my least favorite it the face. My inspiration behind this artwork is my culture.If I had the option to change my art, I would spend more time on the face and the proportions. While making this I learned more about the Autodesk Sketchbook brush and pen options and how to layer artwork. To create this by sketching out a base human, coloring it, adding shading, dress details, then by coloring the background and adding an image of spruce.

My favorite part of this artwork is the images of my cat’s food. My inspiration for this project was when I wanted to draw my cat for summer memory but it didn’t match the theme so I had to change it to a mini-golf course. That made me want to create another artwork of my cat and since this was a open ended project, I decided to draw my cat. If I were to create it again, I would make the background lines straighter. I learned how to change opacity and add texture to objects like the fish. I was surprised that the cat food cans came out as good as they did. I started by drawing the cat with the shape tool and then moved on the the fish. I made the background lines with the straight line tool and then added shadowing, texture, and images. Lastly, I used the fill bucket to color the drawing in.

Emmet K – I got this idea from castles but I did not want to make a regular one so i made this one. I used the artist pen for a lot of things and a air brush for the sand in the air. I am surprised how good it came out. I learned how to add photos, and i learned how to save a pen that I like.

I drew what you see when you get into the app sketchbook. I drew this because I did not know what to draw and I thought I should draw what I see so I drew what I saw. I would draw this again it was way to complicated. At first I was not going to add clip art as the letters but I had to so I did.

Jack P – This is my digital drawing of a house also there is a dog in the window with two little bunny’s and there is a sunset.

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Summer Memories

“Memory is history recorded in our brain, memory is a painter, it paints pictures of the past and of the day.” – Grandma Moses

I am thrilled to be back with my fifth and sixth grade students now that we are back in session again. I am teaching remotely and daily the faces of the kids and their voices bring me joy. Although quite full, the days go by quickly and I feel like we are making good progress.

The kids are working with paper and utensils they have at home because our art kit supplies haven’t yet arrived. The first project, featured here, is to draw a summer memory with pencil first and color using either markers, crayons, or colored pencils. There are quite a few skill builder exercises involved in this assignment, starting with ideation (make a short list of favorite memories and choose one), draw 1/2″ margins on all four sides, sketch lightly with pencil, and add color. Once the artwork is complete, my students learned to take and crop photos of their work and to upload them to both Google Classroom and Artsonia. On Artsonia, students wrote Artist Statements reflecting on their work. Here are just a smattering (10) of the 100+ artworks and artist statements:

The summer memory drawing is about has a lot to do with me and my friends. I’ve found that I do have a lot of good friends who are there with me. My picture shows me playing with bugs, (this is something we did a lot in the summer together), and stargazing. We stargazed a lot at night and it was a great memory. I drew a bucket filled with inspirational words and quotes to show how I’m trying to fill my life with positive things. And all of the planets and stuff in the sky just shows how crazy it felt to have these memories. – Lia R

My summer memory is located at the harbor of the Atlantic ocean. I went whale watching in this picture and we saw 8 whales which 2 of them were calves. I also saw a few that had been attacked by killer whales. There were also a few islands and trust me they we’re huge. The houses on the islands were huge so I believe they must have costed a lot. The people at the sanctuary had named the whales by there fin because every whale had a mark on their fin that no other whale had. I loved this trip and can not wait to go back. – Ekakshar B

The summer memory drawing is about when I was looking out the window and I saw 3 of my favorite birds that I see near my house. Nobody was in the picture it was just birds. The setting is my backyard. I drew it with a pencil then I colored in the picture with crayons. I think my picture came out good for drawing these birds for the first time. If I were to draw this picture again I would add trees and the furniture on my deck and maybe I would use color pencils. – James R

The summer memory drawing is about when I was sitting out side at my grandparents house that is in the cape and we where looking out at the beach. It was so pretty only half of the sun was above the water. It looked so magical. This was definitely a summer I would never forget. – Sloane R.

The summer memory my drawing is about how I remember the beach of when we got there a week or two before school. I feel proud of how I didn’t just make the rest of the page all water and made the sky pop out behind it. There were chairs in the shallow water and we put our chairs in a semi circle. I think this came out really good with the sky, the water and the beach. If I were going to draw this again I would definitely put the other peoples chairs around us and put some people playing in the water, an maybe make the chairs bigger. – Corbin D.

The summer memory drawing is about the sunrise I saw in Plymouth, MA it was around 5:30 am and there was a beautiful sunrise on the ocean. I loved doing the shading. I thought it came out beautiful, the shading looked very nice. If I were to draw it again would change a bit on the ocean because I think I could have darkened the ocean better. I loved doing this project and I am looking forward to doing more. – Sadia D.

The summer memory my drawing is about when I got my braces on. I really like having braces because I like the way they look and also because they don’t hurt as much as I though they would. I chose to draw me with my braces because I really like drawing people. I drew this use colored pencils. I think it came out pretty good. I wish I payed more attention to detail though. – Evelyn C.

I drew myself reading a book in my bed, because it is one of my favorite activities, I think I did a good job but you tell me. I simply drew it from my mind and Made it up as I went along, and when I changed my mind about something it was a good thing I only used pencil when I drew it. If I were to draw it again, instead of the doll I would probably draw a cat and have everything book themed, because that would be my dream! – Claire G.

The summer memory my drawing is about is when I tuned my whole room into a fort. The picture is of a castle in the background and a little tower in the foreground. I simply drew this with some colored pencils, crayons and a colored sharpie that I used for the border. I like this drawing very much and I am proud to say that I made it but I don’t like the background. ( the background is a failed attempt at a blended sunset ) I would have loved to go back and retry the background but I can’t. – Oliver S. (Me to Oliver: Oh, but Oliver, you can draw it again knowing what you’ve learned through this drawing!)

I drew my family’s camping setup. We have our two tents, our two easy ups, and our campfire. We went camping at Sweet Water Forest. I drew this picture with only colored pencils. I think it came out pretty good. If I were to draw it again I would make things smaller because you can’t really see my parents tent. – Taryn L

If you’re anything like me, you feel the warmth and closeness of family in these drawings. During the Covid pandemic so many families spent considerably more time together than they normally would and the kids will always remember this. Some of the memories featured in the drawings are about spending time with family or friends in nature, with birds, stars, and fireflies. I know these memories from my own childhood and love seeing today’s kids enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

There are many more drawings of summer memories on Artsonia at this link. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.


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Couldn’t Make It To Open House 2020?

Couldn’t make it Open House this week? No worries at all!

This is a super busy time of year and one can’t do everything! It was a pleasure to see so many parents and guardians Tuesday night and I appreciate your stopping by Zoom to say “hi” and hear about the 5/6 Art program. If you weren’t able to make it, please know this post contains all that you missed and more (way more).

Here is what the room looks like in a 360 Panorama (click on the photo to see the room): 

I am happy to introduce myself through this video where, as always, a picture tells a thousand words:

And to share the message I relayed during Open House:

To give you an idea of the projects we accomplished last year, you are invited to attend our virtual art show at this link: Art Show at the Miscoe Hill EXPO

Also, feel free to enjoy this 5/6 Art highlight reel, which gives an overview of the projects and program over the past few years:

Also available is information about this school year, including a breakdown of grading criteria and my contact information. Here is a link to the page: Art Class 2020/2021

Speaking of contact information, I have emailed every address I had for my students’ parents and guardians last night. If you did not receive an email from me, please let me know at agentili@mursd.org 

It was a pleasure to meet some of you this week and I look forward to meeting the rest of you one day soon. I hope the school year is off to a good start!



How I Spent My Summer Vacation Five/My Husband’s New Love

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” – E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

This is the fifth in a series of posts written after a summer spent chiefly at home during the time of COVID-19. Except for occasional grocery trips, visiting my mother, or a trip to the wide open beach, we have been home. I’ve put together these five posts to document this Home Time, with a keen focus on the silver linings of the situation. This final post is about my husband’s new love.

When I taught third grade in the late 1990s, Charlotte’s Web was an annual treasured chapter book my class and I read together. Those were the days of Literature Circles*  and the kids would adopt and switch roles as they read the book together. There were many opportunities to check for understanding with this method of learning. When my husband, Dick, told me he’d like to try reading a book for the first time since he was in high school (over sixty plus years ago) Charlotte’s Web immediately came to mind as a good place to start because I knew the book well, and like Fern, we live on a farm.

Sixty years without reading a book, and frankly, being kind of boastful about it! Dick and I couldn’t be more opposite. I read all the time – all kinds of books, sometimes taking turns between two books at the same time. We’ve been married for fourteen years. I’ve seen him read newspapers, especially his son, Keith’s, small town newspaper, The New Boston Beacon. He reads magazines, too, particularly those about farming and horses. If you were to ask him what his favorite book is, he would say, “I don’t have one, I don’t read books.” I would ask, “Really? Never?” He’d shake his head, “Nope. Never read a book except when I was in school.”

In his own little world

When the Covid-19 pandemic closed everything from schools to museums to restaurants, we were suddenly home all the time. Once I got past the fear and anxiety the pandemic induced, I welcomed the chance to be home. Making art, sewing, catching up on projects, binge-watching TV, gardening, and reading could keep me busy for a long time. Dick is a home-body, too, or rather more a farm-body. His whole life he has raised animals. Starting with pigeons and rabbits when he was a boy, to cows, horses, pigs, prairie dogs, llamas, and emus later on, and now with our current menagerie of alpacas, goats, peacocks, chickens, and doves. He has always been an avid outdoorsman, whether farming or as a landscaper, as he was for thirty years. He had his own business, incorporating several trucks, machinery, and crew. With the early mornings and being dead tired at the end of the day, there wasn’t much time for reading.

Recently retired and home all the time because of the pandemic, when in late March Dick mentioned an interest in reading, he voiced concern over not remembering what he was reading and having difficulty with unfamiliar words. My teacher sensibilities kicked in immediately as I wondered if he had a learning disability and if I’d be able to help him work through it.  I asked Dick if he wouldn’t mind reading Charlotte’s Web to help me gauge his abilities. He acquiesced. As he read he would check in after each chapter and we would talk about the book. He would summarize the key events, setting, and plot. It seemed to me that he understood what he had read just fine. When he finished the book I asked if he had minded reading a children’s book. “No” he said, “It was a good story.” Phew. I am still embarrassed about asking him to read it, though.

Once I knew Dick could read just fine, I suggested he read A Walk in the Woods, the story of two friends hiking part of the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. I had read it years ago, had really enjoyed it, and happened to have a copy on hand. He read it and liked it, except for all the facts about the history of the trail that were, in his opinion, non-integral to the story. That’s exactly the way Bryson writes, and different from Dick, I love him for it. In fact, I read two Bryson books this summer – One Summer – about the summer of 1927 (the year my parents were born) and The Body – A Guide for Occupants, which were both fascinating AND full of facts.

I kiddingly refer to Dick and his late uncles as “the last of the Framingham cowboys” because of their love of horses, riding, and all things cowboy. When he was a teen and young adult, Dick would dress as Tonto and ride with his uncle, Lone Ranger (of course), in the local parades. See for yourself:

And here is a live action video of Dick riding not one but two horses:

I was aware of the cowboy and western genre of novels, yet never having read them, I wasn’t sure what he’d like. I did some research and ordered the collection The Steve Dancy Tales by James D. Best for him. It was early in the quarantine and shipments were slow, so they didn’t arrive for a week or so. Then I remembered The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, which I knew I had somewhere in the house. Dick read the book and when I asked him about it, he said, “It’s a good story, but it’s miserable. Nothing good happens.” Yup. Quintessential Steinbeck!

The Red Pony

Once received, the James D.Best series took a little while to get through. It was a joy to see Dick reading with intent. He would happily fill me in on the sequence of events as he read. I enjoy hearing his perspective on plot twists and character pitfalls and triumphs. There were six books in the series plus another I had bought “just in case”.

Reading in the Peacock Room next to a portrait of my father we had placed there for a whole family Zoom meeting.

When he had finished all seven Best books, I downloaded some collections of short stories to the Kindle app on my iPad so he had something to read while another set of books were on order. I couldn’t keep up! As much as Dick never read books as an adult, he is also somewhat of an accidental Luddite, eschewing the use of cell phones or computers. To see this non-computer, non-device using husband of mine walking around carrying an iPad was surreal and prompted reality checks (and photos for documentation) every time.

Around this time, my brother Bill came down from Vermont and stopped by following a visit with my mom. We got to talking about Dick’s new love of reading and he mentioned the author Larry McMurtry and Lonesome Dove. I had the series ordered within an hour of his departure. Dick loved the books. He read them everywhere.

Some of the books in the series were 800 pages long

My personality is such that I need stimulation and am always doing something, whereas Dick has the ability to sit in complete stillness and to find the “zen” in all tasks, especially those most menial (for me), like weeding, for instance. Honestly, there have been times over the past few months when it has struck me how still Dick is when reading. When he is completely absorbed in the storytelling. What a gift.

Maine summer vacation

I asked him what he likes about reading and he said, “It’s like you’re in the story. You’re there wherever it takes place. You feel what the characters feel.” So here we are, essentially grounded by the pandemic, and through his reading, Dick has traveled from the Texas panhandle to Monterey, California and throughout Montana and Wyoming.

Dick’s new love of reading has truly been a silver lining of this Home Time, this time of the pandemic. The timing of it seems almost providential in preparing us for what was to come early this fall.

I started writing this series of posts in August, hoping to have them published by the time we returned to school this September. The day after Labor Day, Dick called his physician about feeling tightness in his chest, neck, and throat. During this time of COVID-19, neither of us was eager to go to a hospital, but we had to have it checked out. Before we knew it, Dick was being transferred from the local hospital to a bigger hospital by ambulance. After a week of every kind of test you can imagine, Dick underwent open heart/bypass surgery.

Imagine my surprise when, the day after his surgery, I called the ICU at 6:30 in the morning to check on Dick and see how he did overnight. “He did really well,” said the nurse, “and he mentioned he had finished the book he was reading and wants you to bring in another one.” I was not expecting to be talking about books the morning after surgery!

It’s been a little over a week now since the surgery and Dick has been home for a couple of days. While he was in the hospital, I cleared a shelf on the bookcase in the family room for his books. Dick’s father made the bookcase for him about forty years ago. In the photo over the bookcase is Dick’s grandfather, who had been a policeman in Italy before coming to the United States.

Dick’s book collection

And here is a closer look at the books. In no time I’ll have to clean off a second shelf for his collection.

A few of these books are 800 pages plus

While I know it will be weeks before Dick is able to participate fully in the tasks of farming and gardening (described in two of the previous Home Time posts), now that he is home, he can at least feel included. Yesterday he came outside to enjoy the beautiful day while I did the farm chores. Soon he will be doing what he can, within his restrictions, to help. Meanwhile he has several books to enjoy to help pass the time of recovery.

Home Time

This is the final post of five posts about the silver linings of Home Time during the quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic. They are recorded on this blog as pictorial essays of our life in central Massachusetts from March – September 2020. Thank you for reading them. I look forward to continued silver linings as we begin to open up the state over the next few months. And I hope you are enjoying your Home Time just as much as we are. – Alice

He is the happiest, whether king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. – Johann Wolfgang Goethe



  • Peralta-Nash, Claudia, and Julie A. Dutch. “Literature Circles: Creating an Environment for Choice.” Primary Voices K-6 8.4 (April 2000): 29-37.
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How I Spent My Summer Vacation Four/Pottery

“I am still learning.” – Michelangelo

Did I just compare myself to Michelangelo? As if.

This is the fourth in a series of posts written after a summer spent chiefly at home during the time of COVID-19. Except for occasional grocery trips, visiting my mother, or a trip to the wide open beach, we have been home. I’m putting together four or five posts to document this Home Time, with a keen focus on the silver linings of the situation. This post is about my pottery work and my progress in teaching myself wheel throwing in a rustic pottery studio in my backyard.

Summer Pottery Studio/Year-round Wood Shop

As an art teacher I have summers off. For years I spent my summers in professional learning, taking classes to stay current on technologies and methodologies and to get to next lane in our contract salary schedule. Having topped off at Masters plus 60 credits a few years ago, I found myself with actual free time during the summer. After teaching and extra-curricular work at the end of a school year, I would always find my creativity needs depleted. With a BFA in Painting and extensive experience in 2D art making and digital work, I had always been intrigued by wheel throwing, especially as something completely different from the flat plane of 2D work. I always enjoyed the hand built clay work I facilitated with my students in school and wanted to extend my clay experience into the summer. So I bought an inexpensive wheel and set it up in my husband’s wood shop (thank you, honey) in one of the barns on our property. I found a kiln nearby in an online yard sale site, added common tools, and I was all set.

Pottery studio area with St. Samuel by Odysseus Wolken

A friend and former student, Sam Odysseus Wolken, who is a working artist in the Santa Clarita, CA area, made the painting on glass the hangs in the studio. We call him Saint Samuel, and he has become my muse.

St. Samuel

Because this summer of the pandemic has been so wonky, especially with concerns around schools and education, I worked a lot more than I had anticipated. I was part of my school district’s working group on reopening our schools this fall. We met several times virtually and contributed to cloud documents between meetings. And in a group of arts leaders from throughout Massachusetts, I collaborated on the Arts Education in the Time of a Pandemic: COVID-19 Reopening Guidelines for Massachusetts PreK-12 Arts Programs. I also facilitated development of the Massachusetts Art Education Association Reopening Guidelines with a team of art educators from across the state. This was important work. I believe that seeing guidelines for teaching the arts with the protocols in place during the pandemic has had a tremendous influence on education decision makers who otherwise couldn’t necessarily wrap their heads around the possibilities. Many districts cut arts positions initially and then restored them as time went by and budgets became more well defined. I am grateful to have been part of the process of keeping the arts alive and vital in schools. In my own district, our advocacy helped to make art classes a part of the learning program and schedule, so different from last spring when we we termed “enrichment” and most sadly, “optional”. I’m writing this two days into the new school year and I already see the impact of being included!

During regular school years, I typically open the studio around Memorial Day. Due to the demands of unplanned remote learning last spring, I didn’t open it up until July 4th. Truly my Independence Day. After working and sorting through the various summer projects a teacher stores up throughout the school year earlier in the day, I would typically go up to the studio around 3:00 and throw until 5:30 or 6:00. A big part of my time in the summer pottery studio is feeling like being outdoors. The large windows that open all the way allow for moving air (with a fan assist) and great moments of changing weather. Especially rain and thunder:

Another big part of my summer pottery work is goal setting. Last year’s goal was to design and 3D print stamps for imprinting on the clay. It was a process through which I learned a lot about designing for 3D printing for a targeted result within the tolerances of clay. You can read all about that in this post. This summer, I had the 3D printed stamps all ready and chose to focus on creating large bowls and plates incorporating consistent imprinting.

Go big or go home

Large bowl

It feels good when everything goes as planned. And it’s crazy frustrating when it doesn’t! You might think throwing pottery is like riding a bike, but it’s not that way for me. It takes about 10 small pots to find the muscle memory and another few to connect it to active thinking. Throw in some inconsistencies with clay and it is pretty challenging. I look at a lot of YouTube videos to help make the steps more concrete for myself and this year I found Earth Nation Ceramics to be super helpful.

When I’m throwing on the wheel, time flies by. I lose myself in the process and emerge relaxed yet rejuvenated. My most challenging yet favorite part of it is pulling up the walls. When it goes well, it feels like flying.

Rather than wearing an apron in the hot summer weather, I have these “clay clothes” that I change into before going to the studio. I seriously get covered with clay and I don’t know how people DON’T! And secretly I think I love it.

Speaking of cleaning up, the studio is without running water. At the end of each session, I’d bring my clay tools and towels into the back yard and use a hose to clean them in a double sink we found at the Brimfield Flea Market a few years ago. This relatively primitive system works pretty well.

Double sink

Double sink

With pottery you have to respect the process. If you throw one day, you have to trim the bottom the next day, or it will dry out too much. If you’re making a handle, you can make it first before throwing or trimming and it’s dry enough to apply by the time you’re ready, after a couple of hours. In summer I build my daily schedule around two things – a beach day each week and pottery.

Pottery with tools

Pasta bowl with tools

After about a week to ten days, the pieces are ready to fire. It doesn’t take long in my double chamber kiln compared to the one at school, which is triple chamber.

First firing

Second layer

Third layer

I bisque fired just three times this summer due to the late start. Here is the bounty of my “labor”:

2020 Pottery

2020 Pottery

I’ve already set a goal for next summer to try working with porcelain. This year I worked with a light brown low fire stoneware with a low grog. I really liked it. Next year I want to experiment with some other clays to see the difference. During the early spring months, I will glaze this pottery to fire as soon as the weather warms up. There is no heat in the studio and pottery has a very low tolerance for temperature changes. Yes, I learned that the hard way. Here are examples of last year’s pottery, all glazed and fired:

2019 Pottery

2019 Pottery

A lot of people spend Labor Day weekend closing up summer cottages, I spend it closing up the clay studio.

Labor Day Pottery studio

When I cleaned it for the last time this year, I savored the time spent in the space, developing craft and getting lost in the creative process. I realized this year how important this time away from the rest of the world has been to my overall health and well being. I realize painting and creating 2D work doesn’t offer the same tactile experience as working with clay, however the time spent immersed in creativity away from all other stimulation is essential. I’ve promised myself that I’ll spend similar time in my indoor painting studio throughout the school year, no matter how hectic this school year feels. I’m grateful for the Home Time necessitated by this otherwise overwhelming pandemic.



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How I Spent My Summer Vacation Three/Family

¨You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.¨ — Desmond Tutu

This is the third in a series of posts written after a summer spent chiefly at home during the time of COVID-19. Except for occasional grocery trips, visiting my mother, or a trip to the wide open beach, we have been home. I’m putting together two or five posts to document this Home Time, with a keen focus on the silver linings of the situation. This post is about Family and how we’ve been able to maintain and support family relationships throughout a summer of social distancing and sanitization concerns.

Mom and Dad 1953

My mother and father met at North Adams State College when they were both pursuing careers in education. My father had already served in the US Navy and went to college on the GI bill. My mother had worked for a year for the telephone company after high school to save money to pay for college.  They both became educators and married in 1953. They then created my seven siblings and me.


My father passed away in 2008, of pneumonia after a few years of living with Alzheimer’s disease. He left a legacy in our family, which has grown exponentially. The photo below includes most of the family as we gathered for my nephew’s wedding in June 2019. Missing are some of my nieces and nephews and their children.

My family 2019

Once the pandemic hit and we were all in quarantine, we didn’t leave our house except for groceries. My husband, Dick, and I took over my mother’s grocery shopping. My mom, Barbara, is a nonagenarian living independently in a senior living facility in a neighboring town. Prior to the pandemic, she had been accustomed to riding in the facility van to shop. When Massachusetts went into lockdown, her residence locked down immediately, pretty much isolating all residents in their rooms from March through mid-June. We were able to see her briefly and from a distance on St. Patrick’s Day, when we dropped off a traditional Irish dinner and some green carnations.

March 17

That was the last time we saw her on the same physical level until mid-June. My mother’s neighbor, Carol, who lives across the hall, would photograph my mother from her doorway when our packages were delivered so we could see my mom’s reactions. She also sent photos of my mother outside during walking time that was carefully structured by floor and exit to minimize the numbers of people outside at one time. Throughout this entire period of quarantine, Carol has been a kind and loving friend to my mother.

Carol’s photos

My mom’s residence management company has been appropriately vigilant throughout this pandemic period. They continually share testing results via text messages and communication regarding protocols and precautions on a regular basis. Locking down in mid-March signaled the end of the large dinner buffets, which were a primary source of social engagement for many residents. Dinners were delivered to each apartment for residents to consume in isolation. Social areas on each floor were closed, ending the small group socialization around games of pinochle, mahjong, whist, bridge and cribbage. It was pretty bleak, but necessary.

Although my family and I could talk to my mother on the phone, I missed seeing her face and worried about her being isolated. We started visiting her from the ground outside her apartment to her window on the third floor. It was challenging at first, shouting so voices carried three floors up to my mom in her open window:

For someone who works with iPads all the time, I’m embarrassed to say it took a full week before it occurred to me that we could talk over the phone and I could bring another device for video recording. I could then send the video to my siblings in other states. I also posted them in social media to help lift the spirits of my friends and extended family. My mother, the queen:

I was teaching remotely throughout this extended period, but my schedule was such that I wasn’t “live” with students until the lunch hour. Preparing for remote teaching takes at least double the time as teaching in person, so I appreciated the flexibility and the opportunity to self-manage my time. I have a habit of getting a lot of work done early in the morning, which dates back to when I was widowed at 35 and single parenting my three year old son. Typically, I’m up and working over coffee by 5:30 in the morning almost every day, which is when I have the most clarity.  It works for me.

Early in the quarantine, my husband and I set up a routine where about every 7-10 days we would arise at 5:00 to get to the grocery store during senior hours at 6:00. We would don our masks and gloves and do our own shopping as well as my mother’s. Once at home we would wipe everything down with disinfecting wipes. We’d repack my mother’s items in fresh bags, label them, and drive the half hour to deliver them to a table at the front of the facility, where they would be sanitized again before being delivered to my mother. We’d have a quick visit and be home by 8:30 to start the work day.

Delivering groceries

A pattern developed where once we had dropped off the groceries outside the lobby, we would park the car and walk over to the spot under my mother’s window and give her a call. She’d come to the window and we’d talk. In lieu of a hug (I think) she always did a little dance or something to entertain us:

When I started mixing the video up with iMovie, which I would do on my phone on the way home, my mother’s inner “ham” emerged:

My family is spread out from all over New England and all the way to California. I would text these videos to my siblings in a group chat that would go on and on. I know group chats can be challenging, yet there was something wonderful in crossing the miles or isolation with this communication. A picture really does tell a thousand words. A video with sound tells a million.

Early in May, my mother received her federal stimulus check. Legally blind, the one thing she saw was the president’s large, black signature on the accompanying letter. She almost threw it away thinking it was propaganda. I posted the video below with the following caption: “My mom got her stimulus check yesterday & thought it was fake because all she saw was the president’s signature. She was going to “rip it up and throw it away”. My siblings & I intervened. Today’s video suggests she may be making plans to spend it”:‬

In this video, I suggested to my mother that she might blow a kiss. She obliged and then added a little “floss” dancing:

This video from early June gives you a sense of the distance and communication challenge between us:

Suddenly, during the second week of June, everything changed! We were allowed carefully scheduled (thanks Polly!) and timed in-person visits in a large tent in the courtyard area of the facility. Elbow hugs were as close as we got, yet we were thrilled and happy to be on the same floor and able to talk from just six feet away!

June 16

Isn’t this festively decorated gazebo so classic? What a wonderful space for a visit!

June 16

And from that day forward I have been able to see my mother almost weekly ever since.

June 25

July 1

Another blessing during this planned visit period, is that my siblings from other New England states would drive as many as three hours each way to visit for just half an hour with my mother. After their visit, they would come to our house, often bringing take out. Like most, my large family is very busy, especially over the summer when good weather prevails, and we often don’t see each other much except around the holidays. These visits with my out-of-state siblings were truly a gift and silver lining.

During the second week of July, the residence shifted into the next phase of quarantine. Residents could leave the facility with a family member or in their own cars to shop and go to doctor’s appointments. Coincidentally, my mother had an appointment scheduled that first week and I gladly transported her. We celebrated her first outing with an ice cream treat!

July 8

This loosening of protocol also enabled us to pick my mother up and bring her to our home to sit outside and visit with other family members while masked and socially distanced.

July 18

July 18

Below: On a trip to a routine lab visit, my mom wore her new baseball mask. A long time fan, she was pretty excited for the Red Sox season opener. However short-lived it proved to be, it was good to have baseball back. The quiet of stands without fans was a little weird, though.

Red Sox opening day

As summer went on, we got pretty good at hosting family visits. We developed a preferred layout for the tables and chairs, grouping each “quaranteam” by table. We purchased individual plastic serving tongs and spoons and placed sanitizer and disinfecting wipes in prominent places. We wore masks for most of the time, taking them off only to eat or drink. Most of all, for every gathering, the weather fully cooperated.

July 25

July 25

How lucky are we to be able to host family gatherings for my mother and her adult children, grand children and great grand children? Talk about silver linings!

August 1

August 1

In the middle of August we were able to take my mother to lunch outside at a restaurant at a local golf course. It was pretty exciting for all of us, and only the second time we had dined at a restaurant all summer.

On an outing in mid-August, we took my mother to get an ice cream before delivering her groceries. The ice cream stand happens to be nearby to where my son works. My son hasn’t seen his grandmother all summer because he works with the public and has been concerned about possibly exposing her to Covid. He lives in another town so isn’t part of our household “quaranteam”. He also works many Saturdays so hasn’t been able to come to the family gatherings outside at our home. While my husband and I were standing outside the car with our ice cream, my son happened to drive by. Seeing us, he pulled over to say hello. Imagine his surprise to see his grandmother sitting in the back seat of the car. Imagine my mother’s delight in unexpectedly seeing her grandson. This is one of my favorite moments of the summer.

August 14

For our most recent visit with my mom over Labor Day weekend, we picked her up and brought her home for a few hours to enjoy lunch and read her Kindle in our screened in gazebo. It was a lovely visit and nice to be able to relax with her and enjoy her company. Also, it made us feel like we were making progress and moving forward and beyond the stressful quarantine. Even for just an afternoon.

September 6

The pandemic-forced Home Time this summer has led to some beautiful moments and memories. While this post is singularly focused on my mother and my family, we have made memories with my stepsons and their families, across the miles between Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Florida, thanks to messaging and FaceTime. We have eagerly tuned in virtually to proudly witness grandchildren receiving high school and college diplomas. If nothing else, the simplicity of life imposed by quarantine and lock down has allowed us to hone in on relationships and family. And from where I sit as I close this post, that’s a silver lining.



How I Spent My Summer Vacation Two/Backyard Barnyard

“I don’t know which is more discouraging, literature or chickens.” – E. B. White

This is the second post about the summer of 2020, a summer spent chiefly at home during the time of COVID-19. Except for occasional grocery trips, visiting my mother, or a trip to the wide open beach, we have been home. I’m putting together two or five posts about this time to document this Home Time, with a keen focus on the silver linings of the situation. This post is about our physical space, a small gentleman’s farm we share with chickens, alpacas, goats, doves, a peacock, and a lot of backyard birds. You can read more about my husband and me and our little farm in the first post in the series.

The video above includes the storm’s fast moving clouds over the roof of the front of the house and heavy rain and thunder as viewed from my summer pottery studio. I’ll write about the studio in a future post.  Other future posts will include family connections and my husband’s recent hobby, all with a focus on the silver linings found in pandemic quarantine – or – Home Time.

Side yard with chicken coop


It is appropriate to begin with chickens because they brought joy to teaching last spring with the Make A Chicken project after we brought home a new batch of chicks in mid-April. They’ve been growing like crazy this summer as you can see in the following photos:

Chicks in April

Chickens in August

Of all these beautiful chickens, one I admire is Snowy, named for her white coloration, which stands out among the still beautiful rusts and golds of the other chickens.


We have four other hens, who we count on for eggs, that reside in the coop attached to the main barn. Our peacock, Lapis Lazuli, lives there, too. Lapis is the last of four peafowl we’ve had over the years. He is one of the original two males and female we bought several years ago. The female, Cerulean, hatched one peachick we named Krishna, after one of my students (from India) suggested the name because the Hindu deity of the same name always wears a peacock feather in his crown. Our Krishna’s father, Pavone, was the first to die and he was followed within a few years by Cerulean and then Krishna. Lapis is getting older, and each year we can see it in the sparseness of tail feathers and uneven display. He is still beautiful, however, as you can see here:

Lapis Lazuli

Aging but still splendid, he is the inspiration for my Peacock Room, a former guest room, now doing duty as my remote teaching classroom.

What I see while Zooming

What everyone else sees while we’re Zooming

One of the best times of the day while teaching remotely is the mid-day lunch break when I can stroll around the farm checking in on the plants and animals. These are our barnyard friends:

Alpacas: Andy Warhol, Man Ray, Ivanhohhoho
Goats: Frida Kahlo & Judy Chicago

The alpacas started the summer with more wool on their backs than usual due to our shearer not being able to travel due to the pandemic.

Needing a hair cut

Finally in early June they were able to be sheared. Shearing day is always a busy day on the farm. And it ends with the alpacas feeling a little underdressed and shy.

Shearing day before and after

The two goats are always eager for snacks, especially those offered by sweet grandnieces:

Gemma and Judy

Gianna with Ivanhohoho and Judy

Josslyn with Ivanhohoho

Gemma with Judy and Frida

Along with our barnyard animals, we always have many backyard visitors, most of them with wings. While I love them all, especially those with bright colors, my favorite are the hummingbirds:

Hummingbird soaring

Hummingbirds at rest