A Time to Plan, A Time to Reflect on 2017/2018

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together” – Pete Seeger (Ecclesiastes)
“A time to plan, a time to reflect” – Alice Gentili 

The first day of school will be here sooner for some than others. This post is part of a series of posts by the Art Ed Blogger’s Network and the topic today is The First Day of School.

Today is Monday, July 9, as I write this here in Massachusetts. Our last day of school was just two weeks ago today on Monday, June 25. On Tuesday and Wednesday that week, I participated in Professional Development on Project Based Learning (excellent!) and on Thursday I spent the day working to facilitate new Arts standards with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (important!). After working all week, Friday was finally a beach day; I worked only on my tan.

Project Based Learning professional development

The reality of summer vacation began to sink in last week, the week of the fourth of July. Actually, it came on pretty strong as a week of solid 90°+ humid days. I set few goals except to not set alarm clocks, to walk daily, and retrain myself to read for pleasure. And get back to the beach.

Sand Hill Cove beach, South County, RI as viewed through Tiny Planets app

So, here we are, two weeks after the last day of school and I’m not quite ready yet to write about the next first day of school. Instead I’m choosing to reflect on the past school year with a look-back at memorable moments unique to the 2017/2018 school year. Over the course of a school year, there are many sweet and sublime moments to be enjoyed in the classroom and in the greater school community. Some are a big deal, others are simple, yet important. I’m limiting myself to the standard countdown of ten. And that rhymes with “zen”.

My one word for the school year 2017/2018

Last September, I posted the graphic above as my one word for the school year. I wanted to provide opportunities for my students to immerse themselves in the creative process while exploring a variety of art media with limited attention to the final outcome – a continuation of a focus on process, not product. I added additional options for choice in each project, while providing creative constraint for those who were not quite ready for all-out choice.

10. First Days

For example, students in classes during the first days of school last year used plastilina modeling clay to form objects to represent pleasant summer memories, or something they were looking forward to in the new school year, or free choice. And chances are, that’s what we’ll do as we start the next school year. It gives the kids a chance to keep their hands busy while they get to know the art room space, make small talk with new classmates, and ease into basic routines and expectations.

9. Abstraction and a concrete mess

Within the first month of school we made sketchbooks/discovery logs as we do every semester. For the cover, the kids were using watered-down tempera paint to splatter paint and to experiment with dripping and blowing it around with a  straw. There were probably 40 cups of paint that made it safely through class after class for a couple of days without spills until in the middle of class one day, I (the teacher) knocked a few of them off the table to land with a splash on the floor. The puddle was huge and the vibrant colors swirled together. Once the kids had recovered from their shock and relief that no one but the teacher was to blame, they grabbed their iPads to take pictures of the beautiful mess. Naturally, I called for custodial help and with mop and bucket, it was taken care of. See for yourself in this video:

8. Fifty Yard Line

In October some teachers and administration attended and/or presented at the annual Massachusetts Computer Using Educators (MassCUE) conference at Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots. On the last day, one of the parents in our district who works at Gillette made arrangements to bring us through the team area of the stadium and out onto the field. This was a completely unique, exciting, and memorable moment!

Mendon-Upton takes the field at MassCUE

7. Meet the Press

Part of my responsibilities as Department Chair for the district K-12 Art program is to share news of our students’ participation in art shows and exhibits. I usually send a press release to the local newspapers and asking them to call me if they have questions about what I’ve sent along. This year, a reporter from the Milford Daily News called to speak with me about the Youth Art Month art show, held by the Massachusetts Art Education Association in Boston in February and March. When the reporter called, I was in the middle of a class, but as luck would have it, two students who had work going into the show were in the room at the time. I handed off the phone to them and in the video below you can watch them being interviewed.

Needless to say, I enjoyed stepping away from phone and handing it off to them – they did a great job! Here they are in the group shot with the other Youth Art Month artists:

Youth Art Month 2018
Kate, Natalia, Madison, Mirabella, Kayla, and Ethan

6. Mandalas

When the spring semester started up in January, the new classes spent their first days making sketchbooks/discovery logs. For the cover, students created Mandalas with compasses, rulers, protractors, pencil, and marker. Many of the projects in our art curriculum satisfy the requirements of STEAM, which is the combining of two or more disciplines from Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, and I wanted to focus on blending math with art specifically for a project. I chose Mandalas for their high interest factor as well as the application of symmetry, balance, repetition, and pattern in the artwork.

I knew there would be challenges because my students had little experience with compasses and protractors, and this project was especially complex for some of my special needs students. We approached the project as a community of learners with everyone helping everyone else, and although the mandalas turned out splendidly, they are remarkable to me because I witnessed the caring, cooperation, and collaboration of my students with one another. For example, one student would hold the compass while another spun the paper, or one would hold the ruler still while another penciled in the line. They kept an eye on each other and helped to make sure everyone was successful.

5. Mardi Gras Hats

This project stands out because it is the first time I’ve done it with kids. Many years ago, at a Ben and Jerry’s Folk Festival in Vermont, my son, then three, and I made these hats. He held on to his for years. I was always struck by the fun process and the recycling of materials to make art. At the festival, just about everyone was walking around with them on their heads, adding a sense of play and fun to the day.

I limited the project to the Art Club, and although I would love to have all my students make one of these hats some day, I’m not sure where we would store them while they dried. We simply crinkled brown paper grocery bags until they were malleable, then rolled up the edge to create a brim. After that it was all about freeform painting and dripping and splattering. So fun!

Mardi Gras hats

4. Hall of Lights

Our school art show is held in mid-April as part of a showcase event for the work done in electives classes. My colleague and I fill our art rooms with art to create a gallery. Our classrooms are clear across the school from the entrance, so to provide a path for visitors we line the hallway with luminaries – paper bags our students decorate in which we place LED tea lights. Although we’ve done this for a few years now, there was a whole new level of enthusiasm from our students about setting it up this year. We had a huge crew of volunteers who we dubbed “Hall of Lights Engineers”. They had the hallway ready in no time at all, and even better, had everything picked up very quickly at the end of the event. Yes, I remember the Hall of lights, but more so, I remember these terrific volunteers.

3. Bucket List Videos

I had the pleasure of traveling to Paris during the April vacation and while there, fulfilled my bucket list item of painting en plein air (outside) in the Luxembourg Gardens.

When I returned, I shared the artwork and my original Bucket List movie I had made years ago in a 1:1 iPad workshop with EdTechTeacher:

I then encouraged my students to create their own Bucket List movies using drawings, iMovie, and narration. This proved to be a wonderful way for students to reflect on their interests and make their inner visions tangible. I’m hoping this brings them one step closer to actualizing the vision. If nothing else, we all got to know a little bit more about each other through these videos. This was a first time project that blended drawing, media arts, and technology, another STEAM project. Here are a few of the fabulous completed videos:

2. Castles for a Friend

I’ve been refining my 3D printed castle unit for the past three or four years. This year, in an effort to help my students grow their empathy for others, I changed it up in two important ways. The first was to have students work with a partner – this had always been an individual project. Kids love partner work and I love that partners can help each other as needed, which makes me more available for the bigger concerns. In the past, students were asked to design a castle using eight classical castle architectural terms. This year they did that, plus they included at least three personalizations based on their partner’s interests, hobbies, and life goals that they learned about through interview. As I facilitated this unit, I was so pleased to see the partnering and the care with which students developed their castles. I’m not kidding when I say the empathy was palpable. Of special note are the partnerships between special populations and their peers and the joyful interaction and acceptance I witnessed.

The castle below was designed by Ethan L for Jake F and after learning about Jake’s plans for the future, Ethan designed the No Homework castle where homework is never allowed, he included a yard for Jake’s dog, and railroad tracks so Jake could practice driving trains to meet his 20 year goal of being a train conductor. Ethan did a wonderful job:

1. My Husband’s Retirement

For most people, a spouse’s retirement would not have an impact on their classroom and school year. When your husband is the maintenance guy though, his retirement makes your Top Ten list of memorable moments throughout the school year. Dick and I met 20 years ago when I started teaching. He was married and I had been widowed five years before we met. He was a good friend at school and a big help always, even for something as seemingly small as removing a mouse from under the plastic container my students and I had trapped it with. When he became a  widow six years later, our friendship grew. A couple of years later we married.

Throughout the past twelve school years we have had lunch together in my classroom almost every day. Early on, when he would go out to get coffee to bring back for break with the maintenance crew, he would bring me a coffee as well. He has been a help in infinite ways, in setting up for our art shows, helping us build display units with our art club, setting aside coveted paper boxes for us, helping me move heavy things, retrofitting an old sheet glass case as a large paper storage unit, even running home to grab supplies or my eye glasses (once) when I forgot them. Not that I need it, but he always brought a treat from the cafeteria to share at lunch…a cookie, or some jello, and in the (good) old days, cake. While I know he has worked hard for a great many years and has more than earned this retirement, I’m going to miss the heck out of this guy at school when we start up again. I’m also going to miss using him as a subject in my silly videos – here he was painting a green screen on a hallway wall and of course I modified it…just another maintenance masterpiece:

Thanks to the Art Ed Bloggers Network for giving me a chance to reflect on the school year we just completed. Now that this is done I can begin to wrap my head around planning for the next one. It will be here before we know it.

This post is a part of The Art Ed Blogger’s Network: Monthly Tips and Inspiration from Art Teacher Blogs. On the second Tuesday each month, each of these art teacher blogs will post their best ideas on the same topic.

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:


  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog, the photos of your students’ artwork, hearing about your husband’s retirement, enjoying your choice of music, and imagining what a wonderfully sensitive, fun, and caring art teacher you must be! I am a Boston born Texan and would love to follow you!

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