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:

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Summer Art Activities: Creating With Nature

Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

And nature provides us another medium with which to create artwork, especially in summer. This post is part of a series of posts by the Art Ed Blogger’s Network and the topic today is Summer Art Activities.

When I think about art making in the summer I do so from personal experience with the perspective of a teacher with the summer off to a parent looking for ways to keep a child actively thinking and creating during the school-free summer months. Summer is pottery time for me because I have a clay studio in an old barn which is not heated, so here in New England, I can only use it the warm months. The clay process demands attention at certain intervals, often of different duration, so time off in summer is perfect for this work.

Summer pottery

With children, combining the carefree days of summer with nature is a recipe for creativity, expression, and (don’t tell them) learning. When my son was seven and I was transitioning to teaching from a career in printing, I hosted six children for an art-based daycare for six weeks in the summer. We would take field trips all over New England to draw and paint on-site. When at home, the children created their own backyard community based on the book Roxaboxen by Alice McClerren with illustrations by Barbara Cooney:

To set up our Roxaboxen, we collected giant quahog shells at Sand Hill Cove in RI, pinecones in the yard, and rocks rounded by sand and salt in Rockport, MA and used them to line the “streets” and define territories. With hammers and nails, the children created seats and tables with old wood scraps and corn crates. They made items to sell and created their own leaf currency for the transactions. They wrote letters to each other and dropped them in the mail box for delivery. They washed “dishes” and hung the towels to dry on a shared clothesline. They helped each other and visited when the work was done. This is how they whiled away the down-time moments of the summer of 1997 and were sad to leave it behind when summer was over.

Doing “dishes”


Working together to set up Roxaboxen

Setting up the Roxaboxen

Learning through play in this child-centered mini-community provided hours of cooperative social interaction and opportunities for problem-solving and creativity. Through their exploration of nature and utilization of the natural materials they had discovered, the children enjoyed meaningful experiential learning and observed the world around them as abundant with resources and possibility.

Using nature to create and make one’s visions reality is inventive and empowering. Over the past few weeks, my after-school art club has had an opportunity to create with branches, sticks, and twigs left behind when trees were felled for a green project (solar powered windmill to generate electricity to automatically water a garden bed) in our courtyard at school. As the students worked to bring new life to the discarded wood, I saw in them the same spark of creativity and purpose I had witnessed with the backyard Roxaboxen project.

Felled trees

Choosing branches for building

After careful selection, we brought the sticks inside and the kids used clippers to cut them to size. We used glue guns and experimented with lashing with twine to fasten them together.

Some of the children worked alone, some worked with a partner, others worked in a group.

Gianni, Alysse, Will, Mirabella, and Alyssa worked together to build a tree house with ladders and a swing

The old tree house

Kylie and Kayla worked together to make a hanging plant basket

Mirabella with her bird and birds nest

Allie with her boat

Tristan and his dream catcher

Alysse’s star wand

Peyton’s mushroom

Baby Dil on Kelsey’s swing

The 5/6 Art Club with their creations

I’m writing this post with two weeks left of school. Beyond the calendar, I know this because in the quiet moments my mind is full with end-of-the-year tasks like grading, inventory, and cleaning the art room.  My classes have projects to finish and just a few more classes to do so. And then it will be summer.

My hope for my students is for time to stretch and explore. Time to call the shots on how they spend their time. Time to be bored and through boredom discover something they’ve never noticed before, hopefully in nature. As our man Cicero said, “Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature”… and so is time well spent. Happy summer!

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:

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Student Engagement and Participation – Art Ed Bloggers Network

“You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.” – Dr. Howard Gardner

This post is published as part of the Art Ed Blogger’s Network series of posts on the topic of Student Engagement and Participation. I’m responding to this topic from the perspective of a middle school art educator in a public school in Massachusetts.

First of all, let’s make sure we are all talking about the same thing. Here is the definition I’m using:

In education, student engagement refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. Generally speaking, the concept of “student engagement” is predicated on the belief that learning improves when students are inquisitive, interested, or inspired, and that learning tends to suffer when students are bored, dispassionate, disaffected, or otherwise “disengaged.” – https://www.edglossary.org/student-engagement/

Although it is true that some students become engaged by the traditional education process itself (listening to a lecture, taking notes, studying, testing, scoring well on the test), it is certainly not the majority and this model typically doesn’t translate to the  art classroom. I would estimate about 10% of my art students would be content to spend their time in class blithely completing artworks or singularly exploring the complexities of various artistic media without socializing or employing technology. In the spirit of meeting this generation where they are, we have to makes changes in the way we teach to engage them with our curriculum and the creative process. In the quote from Howard Gardner above, the two areas on which we as teachers focus are – 1. What we want our students to learn 2. What will cause them to care about learning it enough that they will derive pleasure from their engagement in the learning.

There are standards, our passions, and the passions of our students that help guide us to establish what we want them to learn, but discovering what will cause them to care about it enough to derive pleasure from their engagement in the learning is more personalized and fluctuates over time. With my demographic (lower middle school), I know that students enjoy working with friends, they enjoy screen time, and they enjoy movement and talking. So, my challenge is in finding a way to engage them that harnesses these likes while exposing them to visual art content.

My students come to me with preconceived ideas about art class and often make statements like, “I’m not good at art” or “I don’t like art”, which blows me away when I consider the many ways art is made today, whether collaborative or individual, with a wide range of mediums and scale. Artists are working with light, sound, electronic media, nature, to name just a few. Just like Disneyworld, there is something for everyone. I am also grateful to work in a district where my students have art class every year before they coming to my school, and have developed a strong visual art foundation.

Thinking like this has informed my teaching practice over the past several years. It is with collaborative learning, project-based learning, and 3D printing as an art medium in mind, that I have focused on developing units that meet these criteria as well as embrace technologies well-utilized via iPads in our 1:1 device school. The focus of this work is Design Thinking.

Once each semester, my students are engage in one of the four units as follows:

Fall –

5th grade: Product Design based on the Agency by Design Teaching and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom Thinking Routines and Disposition Development

6th grade: Game Makers Game Board and 3D printed Game Piece Design

Spring –

5th grade: City Planning with 3D Printed Structures

6th grade: Architecture of a Castle 3D Design

Each of these units takes about 10 classes to complete, with classes meeting every other day for 50 minutes. Students collaborate, get their resources from Google Classroom and a Google Site, use traditional and digital tools for creation, and develop some kind of group sharing piece, whether a 60 second elevator speech or a commercial.

Given that all of the other time we have together is spent creating traditional, tradigital, or digital art, the ten classes or so out of 45 total classes is a welcome switch and change of pace. I find this investment in group projects breaks down a lot of barriers  and has a dramatic increase on the comfort level within the class, helping each of my nine classes to become a community of learners. This is especially noticeable after the units are over and we resume a more classic art education approach. My students are willing to try anything and are relaxed enough to engage with art making in a new, different way.

When I first started teaching art, my focus was on providing a classic art education (similar to the one I had) for my students. Over the years, my focus has changed to the students and what they need to know, what they want to know, and how they learn best. I have made choices about my curriculum to include big concepts such as design thinking and systems thinking, because the disposition of being able to think in these ways will help my students navigate through their future education and career work. Yes, I have set aside many traditional art lessons, because I am confident my students are being exposed to them at other times in their education. By embracing the way today’s students enjoy learning, engagement and participation are rarely a concern.  

Art Teacher Blogs

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:

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St. Gabriel Haiti Ministry Report on the Twinning Relationship with St. Anne Parish

“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Over the weekend of May 5/6, members of the St. Gabriel Haiti Ministry spoke at the end of every mass to provide a report on the state of the twinning relationship between St. Gabriel Parish, Upton, and St. Anne Parish, Sucreri Henri, Haiti. I covered the 5:00 mass on Saturday and Christine Baldiga and I covered the 8:00 Sunday morning mass. Verienne Emile and Christine covered the 10:30 and 5:30 Sunday mass. We began each report with a brief personal testimony. Here’s mine:

Alice and Dylan 2007

I first went to Haiti in January of 2007 with my son, Dylan, who was a junior in high school then. This trip opened our eyes to life in Haiti, considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. While Haiti certainly is economically poor, it is wealthy in its beauty and in the faith and kindness of its people. During this trip we visited many religious and humanitarian sites where the poor and suffering were sustained despite a lack of resources – seemingly by the grace of God.

It is inevitable that when you visit Haiti, there is a moment when everything you’ve seen – living conditions so difficult and different from your own – come together in a cascade of stark realities that take your breath away and stop you where you stand. My son and I shared such a moment at the Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity Home, where we were helping to feed the disabled residents including orphaned babies. A baby was taken in while we were there. He had scabies all over his body, and his skin was discolored from the treatment lotion. He was miserable. My son picked him up and rocked him gently, patting his back and talking to him softly, trying to calm him. The baby was inconsolable. I could see the baby’s anguish mirrored in my son’s face.  I went to them to try to help, to try to comfort them, with little success. Feeling helpless, we cried together. It hit us then – we were just two people in this sea of people who needed so much, and really, we had so little to offer. We could only cry. And promise to do more. And so I returned to Haiti in 2009 and again this past January, remembering the words of Mother Teresa, “In this life we cannot do great things, only small things with great love.”

Photo Collage by Alice Gentili

St. Gabriel Haiti Ministry Report on the Twinning Relationship with St. Anne Parish

Earlier this year in January, five members of the St. Gabriel Haiti Ministry visited our sister parish, St. Anne in Sucrerie Henri, Haiti This is a brief report to follow up on the visit. First, though a brief history:

We began our twinning relationship with St. Anne Parish in Sucrerie Henri, Haiti in 2001 when Sarah Baldiga and Bethany Carchedi, then high school seniors, went on a mission trip with the Worcester Diocese Haitian Apostolate. Within a very short time, Father Larry was filing with the Haitian Apostolate to develop a twinning relationship with a parish in Haiti. We have sustained our twinning relationship for 17 years.

There have been countless benefits to our twinning relationship throughout the years. Before we list the many areas of physical support we provide our sister parish and her chapels, it is important to note the spiritual and benevolent rewards of our ongoing relationship. Throughout the years our parish has sent delegates to Haiti at least twelve times, often resulting in life-changing moments for the delegates. St. Gabriel has hosted St. Anne’s pastor at least five times. This helps build our connection in both prayer and friendship. St. Gabriel is regularly held in prayer by St. Anne Parish as we also keep them in prayer.

Here are some of the many physical projects we have assisted St. Anne Parish in realizing:

  • Complete construction of the Kindergarten school and playground equipment

  • Complete construction of Chapel Beree

  • Ongoing aid to the clinic

  • Solar panels for the rectory

  • Generators for the church, clinic, and chapels

  • Contribution to buy the parish’s vehicle, acquired October 2017

  • Our parish’s generous contribution in October 2016 for hurricane Matthew relief

  • Funds bequeathed by a generous benefactor to repair five of the chapels: LaHatte, Paresseux, Corail, Loufranc, and Mercier and to rebuild Terre Neuve and Bellevue. The repairs have been made, the rebuilding of the two chapels will become future projects.

  • For several years now, St. Gabriel has made annual contributions to St. Anne Parish with your donations as follows:

    • $1000 a month, general donation
    • $2000 twice yearly (January and September) for student tuition
    • $2000 in June to help with teacher salaries

Our recent visit held many positive interactions at the church, school, clinic and chapels. Father Didier maintains a strong rapport with the St. Anne parishioners. He is a dynamic spiritual leader and an effective community leader. The chapel directors spoke of their appreciation for what St. Gabriel provides as they reported on the state of each of their chapels. The clinic was grateful to receive your gracious donations of medical supplies, and the school is more robust than it has ever been.

As a result of our visit, we have set goals for future projects.

  1. Eventually, we would like to see the schools reopened at all of the chapels. To start, we would like to add two elementary classrooms at one chapel plus cover the teachers’ salaries. The costs are estimated at an initial one-time $1000 for classroom furniture, $500 per year thereafter for school materials, plus $1000 annually for teacher salaries.

  2. Currently the St. Anne students are offered a hot meal twice per week. Father Didier would like to offer a hot meal every school day. This cost for this service is estimated at $1000 a year.

  3. The old St. Anne church sits squarely in the middle of the parish campus in disrepair with its roof caved in by a hurricane long ago. Father Didier and the church council would like to renovate the building to create a community center for gatherings and events. The St. Gabriel Haitian Ministry would like to see it repaired because it is a potential danger to the school children and church community. We expect this to cost $25,000.

In summary, we look forward to our continued relationship with St. Anne parish. They are deeply appreciative of our parish’s support. We promise to keep you updated with the status of projects. All are welcome to join us at our monthly Haiti Ministry meetings. Thank you for your support.

Alice, Verienne, Christine


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Light-Up Artwork with Paper Circuits

“Art history is littered with work that involves light.” –  James Turrell, Artist

Following the lead of artist, James Turrell, in the early days of April, we worked on drawings with oil pastel to which we added LED lights, by creating Paper Circuits. We used multi-colored LED lights, copper tape, a battery and a piece of transparent packing tape.

One thing I’ve learned about paper circuits is that the best, most economical solution is creating a circuit that is the shortest distance between two points. In other words, although the simple paper circuit templates show beautifully straight lines parallel to either the top or side of the page, they work absolutely fine when the lines are slanted and non-parallel. This will cut the amount of copper tape in half, which is important with large numbers of kids as with my 250.

Some great resources can be found at www.makerspaces.com, and there’s a pretty great tutorial on YouTube here, as well as many others there.

In my classes, students created the artwork using oil pastels on beautiful textured cover stock. Subject matter was completely open to choice. Creative constraints include paper size, medium, and the inclusion of an LED light. It is important to finish up the work ahead of time, because the copper tape, light, and battery make the surface rough and hard to work on. Here are a couple of demos I shared with the classes to show them the possibilities for the project:

And then we went over the best way to position the light (near a corner) and how to draw a path from the light to the corner. Below are the examples I created when going over the process with my classes. 

Once the art was complete, students brought their work to me and we determined where the light was going:

I folded the corner and used a ceramics needle tool poke a hole through the corner to where the battery will be placed.

And then drew the paths and indicators where the components should be placed.

The kids selected their supplies and took it from there.

I’d say about 90% of all of the students had immediate success, others had to push down the prongs for the LED or wiggle the LED a little in order to light up the LED. As long as they are cautioned about this, it works out fine. Here are a few interviews I conducted with the early finishers:

As the paper circuit art was completed, students worked with a partner to make a video about the project to upload to FlipGrid. You can see them here, and to follow are a few examples:

Noah P:


Lilia Y:


Emily R.


Cade A:


Paper circuits are a terrific way to add some STEAM to art instruction and to add an exciting element to traditional artwork.

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Art Show at the Miscoe Hill EXPO

“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents” – Bob Ross

It is Friday morning after our annual art show, which was held on Tuesday evening. I hadn’t posted about it until today because I feel like I’m still living it with clay work distribution continuing and the classroom not quite back to normal yet. This is it, though, I’ve taken some time to reflect about it this morning.

It was a good show with hundreds of artworks on display, including group projects from the fall. Consequently, nearly all of my 450+ students were represented.

My Happy Little Accident

Although art show prep is on my mind starting in the fall, it kicks in with earnest the week before the show. The day before the show I work in the clay room hanging artwork on displays while a substitute teacher monitors my classes. By show day, almost everything has been mounted and the maintenance staff helps to drag displays into the classroom and rearrange tables. We meet an hour or so before school starts to get everything organized before the kids arrive. This year, once we got everything set up and the maintenance staff took off to do their other work, I took another look at one of the displays and stubbornly attempted to reposition it myself. Boom! Crash! Bang! CRACK! It toppled over and the hinges popped off, taking shanks of wood with them. Somehow I dodged being trapped beneath it. Needless to say, the guys had to come back and make the repairs. What would I ever do without them?

Maintenance staff repairing a display

Art Show Set-Up

Once we got that squared away, the rest of the day was spent covering surfaces, setting up clay pieces, getting everything in position. I got these table skirts from some friends once when I was helping to take down their art show, and they were going to throw them away. One year when they were attached in my art room, on entering, a student excited gasped, “It looks like the tables are wearing prom dresses!” Which I believe is perfectly stated.

The Hall of Lights

During the day before and the day of the art show, students decorate white paper bags with marker and make cut-out areas with scissors.In the evening, students my colleague and I have recruited line the entrance hallway with the bags and drop LED finger lights into each bag. This creates our Hall of Lights, which we all find dramatic and transformational.

Our fabulous Hall of Lights set-up and take-down crew

The Art Show

And then visitors round the corner and the art show begins:

Hallway outside the art room

We Are Makers collaborative product redesign posters and videos via QR code

Collaborative Game Makers games with 3D printed game pieces

This video, an overview of the 5/6 art program was playing on the projection screen throughout the evening:

As visitors exit my classroom, they are funneled through to my colleague’s 7/8 art classroom where they view hundreds more works of art. This gives my younger students a chance to see what lies ahead for them in future grades.

It was a fun night and very busy. I saw a lot of students and met a lot of parents, who were pleased to see their children’s art on display. I was so pleased to see a few colleagues come through, knowing they had either stayed late or come back to school to pay a visit. And I always appreciate the annual visit by our superintendent, who makes a point to stop by to show his support. Our principal also visited the show, taking time to chat with students and their families. All in all, it was a good night for art!

The Final Take-Down (which we sing to The Final Countdown by Europe – 1986)

The next day, as soon as the students arrive, we take down all the art, sort it by project, group it by home room for first semester classes and by class number for current classes, deliver it to homerooms or store it in the project cabinet for current students to bring home in their portfolios at the end of the year. This is some of what that looks like:

And just like that, in the blink of an eye, it’s over. And we reflect. And then we rest, grateful to all who helped make it possible. Thank you!



Early Finishers – Art Ed Bloggers Network

My report card always said, ‘Jim finishes first and then disrupts the other students’.  – Jim Carrey

The theme of this Art Ed Bloggers Network shared topic this month (my first) is Early Finishers. I think Jim Carrey’s quote above is what comes to mind when we think about our students finishing their projects before the other students, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, starting and finishing projects is the regular routine in an art room, and it is not realistic to expect all students to finish their projects at the same time, not if there is creativity involved. I believe every project or lesson in an art room should have extensions just as it should have accommodations for those students who need them. Because of this, I struggle a little with the term, “Early Finishers”.

But first – a little disclaimer: I believe no two art classrooms should be alike. There are many ways to teach art – from product-based, choice-based, and project-based, to a blend of all of them plus more. As art educators, we have unique situations based on our building culture, community culture, student demographics, curricular expectations, and our own artistic passions. Given that most of us write our own curriculum, there is no reason we should all teach the same way.

My own situation is created by a building culture where we educators teach our own subjects with little cross-curricular interaction, a supportive suburban/rural community, standards-based curricular expectations, and my background in fine arts (painting) with a former career in graphic design and prepress printing operations. Plus, I have a proclivity toward technology, whether creating artwork, animation, or video with the iPad or 3D printing with one of the three printers in my classroom. As a former regular educator (third and fourth grade) where science and social students were my favored subjects to teach (okay, and cursive 😆) I find myself bringing those subjects into my teaching quite often. I’m also a big S.T.E.A.M. fan. Along with all of that, we are a 1:1 iPad school, where each student is equipped with an iPad for school and home. Thus, my art program is a blend of many approaches and each one has a role in a well-rounded contemporary art education.


I’m hoping to share some solutions and ideas in this post and I expect to do so based on the art medium or process in use at the time. Take clay, for instance. At this time, our middle school is the only school in the district with a working kiln and ceramics program. It is our goal to have all of our students create at least one clay piece each semester. Students, parents, teachers – we all love clay. Case in point, I still display my son’s school clay pieces in the dining room. And he is nearly 30 years old.

Clay completely takes over the art room as hundreds of pieces are created. “Early Finishers” are a godsend when the whole class is working with clay and EVERYONE needs to wash their hands at a limited number of sinks. Many art rooms have only one sink and some have none – I’m fortunate to have three. Those who are first to finish are first to clean up and can help others or then monitor the sink area, making sure it is kept clean. They can also help to keep the glazes restocked and paintbrushes refreshed when the whole class is painting the clay.

Hundreds of clay pieces

Tradigital Art

When the whole class is working with traditional art media to complete classic visual art exercises such as self portraits, there can be a pretty big gap between finish times as students all work at different paces. In a 1:1 device situation, an engaging extension is to complete the self-portrait or drawing on the iPad using a sketching program such as Autodesk Sketchbook.

My students recently completed Mandalas on the cover of their handmade sketchbooks. The Mandalas were detailed and time consuming, and the pace depended on each student’s addition of detail. Recreating the Mandala on the iPad using Autodesk Sketchbook was a logical and challenging extension for them.

Mandala with marker by Peyton P.

Digital Mandala by Peyton P.


No matter what we are doing, when students finish their projects and have spare time, they always have their handmade sketchbooks to work in, whether finishing work or starting new independent projects.

The Every Day Drawing Challenge is terrific for this, because with 365 prompts, one never runs out of inspiration. Colored pencils in pencil boxes are always easily accessible for this work. Here is the full year of the Every Day Drawing Challenge – free and downloadable.

Sharing Sites

Just last week, students were creating artwork and lighting it up with LEDs (paper circuits). As they finished, they worked with a partner to make videos describing the project to upload to Flipgrid. Here is an example – this is Armaan:

When students finished up this project, they had choices including sketchbook work, helping peers make their videos, helping peers make their paper circuit connections, or going to the FlipGrid page and watching their classmates’ videos. I enabled “liking” on this page, and I could have also enabled commenting. Here is a link to the FlipGrid page: Light-Up Artwork


When the classroom is in full-choice mode, everyone is working at their own pace and early finishing happens all the time, so much so that the concept of Early Finishers doesn’t exist. Fortunately, there are always centers students may visit to start a new project. The key is to have different materials available for exploration. This doesn’t have to be extreme, simple drawing options are often enough.

I’m going to be very honest here and state that “free drawing” is rarely successful in my situation. Typically it nets quickly drawn cliché imagery and a lot of wasted paper. Instead, my students keep a list of their interests inside the cover of her/his sketchbook from which they draw inspiration. The Every Day Drawing Challenge is helpful here as well.

A simple 3D option that doesn’t have to take too much time is sculpture with never-dry plastiline clay, provided as single serving chunks  in a plastic tub. The scene below is of a holiday living room – a collaboration by a couple of students.


Speaking of collaboration, sometimes we start a big collaborative project that students can work on together to complete as they finish up projects. Murals made with collage are a great collaborative effort, as is group weaving if working with fiber at the time.

Rainbow Collage

iPad Apps

Not working is never an option in my art classroom and with hands-on materials and iPads at our disposal, there is always something to work with. Each semester, my students complete at least one design for 3D printing using Morphi. Therefore, that app is available all the time for them along with Autodesk Sketchbook as mentioned above.

Ethan H. Castle

I find it is more effective to have a short list of permitted apps, because it doesn’t take long for iPad exploration to devolve to game playing and messaging. The third app on my short list is Doodlematic, with which kids can create their own game using the app with paper and markers.

Project Based Learning

Lastly, when my fifth and sixth grade students are engaged in project-based learning within cooperative learning groups, there is usually a time frame designed for each section of the project. One of the most valuable parts of the process is in the meetings between the groups and me or meetings between groups for feedback. If one group is “done, done, done,” they reach out to other groups to see if they can pitch in. This is what it’s like in the workplace, and it’s never to early to learn to help your neighbor.

As I’m wrapping up this post, I can’t help thinking that if the quote above is true, Jim Carrey must have had hurt feelings about his report card comments. I’m hoping his hurried work was accurate and that he is just that bright. If so, it’s a disservice that his learning wasn’t extended or the lessons weren’t differentiated. It’s silly to think small humans all work at the same pace. It’s easy to imagine Jim Carrey daydreaming when behaving well, or disrupting the others when in a mischievous mood. No matter, as time went on and after a hugely successful career in film, Jim turned to painting. The thing about artwork is that it is open ended and completion times vary artist to artist. I’m not sure if Jim Carrey’s work is “good”, but he sure seems happy. Check out this article in ArtNet News.

Check out the thoughts on Early Finishers by other art educators in the Art Ed Bloggers Network:

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

Participating Art Teacher Blogs:



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