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WeRMakers: Product ReDesign In Fifth Grade Art

“A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.” – R. Buckminster Fuller

This is the third fall I have facilitated the WeRMakers Product Redesign unit. This is a project-based-learning unit that utilizes resources from Project Zero Classroom’s Agency by Design. A few colleagues and I  participated in their online course, Thinking and Learning in the Maker-Centered Classroom during the summer of 2016. The course introduces unique thinking routines that foster the primary maker capacities of looking closely, exploring complexity, and finding opportunity. Later that fall, I facilitated the process with the 5/6 Art club, giving me a chance to get my feet wet with a small group of 15 students. After setting up the technology structure and creating a cohesive unit over the summer, I implemented it with all 5 of my fifth grade classes in the fall of 2017, with great success. We just wrapped up this year’s WeRMakers unit in early January.

Inspired by the ideas and routines in the book, Maker-Centered Learning: Empowering Young People to Shape Their Worlds, authored by Edward P Clapp, Jessica Ross, Jennifer O. Ryan, and Shari Tishman, I began working part-time as an online coach for the course. I enjoyed this opportunity to help others with their understanding of the Thinking Routines and to learn from them as they reflected on their experiences applying the concepts to students of all ages in many different types of classrooms around the world. This opened my eyes to applications for the routines I hadn’t considered.

Thank you to all of the people at Agency by Design for all of the ideas and resources you’ve shared. Your inspiration and generosity are deeply appreciated.

What I’ve come to, with my own students, is the process outlined on this document, which I created to explain to colleagues for collaboration. The Thinking Routines we employed are listed and linked in the document, and some of them are included in Spanish.

The structure I provide for my fifth grade students is through sharing resources in Google Classroom, where they are also linked to Google Forms (surveys, reflection, information sharing), and in student-created sketchbooks that are used as Discovery Logs.

Student-made sketchbooks as discovery logs

When I put together curriculum units, I always frame the components into three categories, Explore (introductory “hook”, initial exposure to content, development of “wonders”), Create (ideation, drafting, making, design thinking), and Share (presenting the creation for feedback, developing marketing tools such as a 60-second elevator speech and product posters). Throughout every stage of the process, students are working in learning groups, sometimes the groups are genuinely cooperative and sometimes cooperation requires coaching.

The first step in the Explore stage of the unit is the Design Hunt:

This year I made a worksheet for the students:

And here is what it looks like in the classroom. Keep in mind you can do this anywhere, inside or outside the school.

The next step is to rehearse the Thinking Routine Looking Closely with objects that have very few parts. Inexpensive pencil sharpeners and ball point pens work well. 

Following the Looking Closely/Take Apart experience, student groups completed a Google Form where they explored the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities of the object.

Over the years, I have learned that it takes time and a focused effort to facilitate cooperative learning in the middle school classroom. The above rehearsal of the Thinking Routines and group Google Form completion is also a great opportunity to work through some personality differences that could lead to conflicts later on within a group. Keeping the rehearsal simple and involving concepts that students aren’t emotionally attached to also helps. Lastly, while this is going on, I move around the room casually watching and listening to groups interact, which gives me a sense of where some coaching is needed.

Once the simple object rehearsal is finished, students begin the steps with small appliances. Last year I sent out a call for donations of unwanted small appliances and we received everything from lamps to hairdryers. This year, I stumbled upon a box of classroom phones left in our school storage room.

After double-checking that they were indeed junk, we used them rather than collecting small appliances. In the end, they did the job, but the diversity of many different objects the year before had been more exciting, yielding many unique product redesigns. It was still good, though, and because the students worked in small groups, each of their experiences were unique to the group, it was only from my overview perspective that I noticed similarities.

Once student group were given the phones, they completed the Explore steps of observe and sketch first, take apart, observe and sketch parts, consider purposes of parts. Upload the images to Google Classroom.

Looking Closely at the phone front and back to elicit wonder 

Sketching all the parts and thinking about the role of each and interdependency, beginning systems thinking

The next step in the Explore phase of this project is developing Systems Thinking. Independently, students look at a variety of images from Agency by Design that I’ve prepared with questions in a Google Form here. Once they’ve all completed the form, they talk to their group about their findings and then we go over each of the examples together as a class with the images projected. I enjoy facilitating this discussion and watching the class come to a consensus on the definition of a system, usually something like, “A system is made of many parts working together. Within a system, one part affects the others.”

Students then work together to consider the systems involved with their appliance and make a list. They then make a list of people involved with the systems in making and using the parts and item, from end users to manufacturers to disposal, considering how one person’s role affects the next person in the system.

Because all groups were working with the same appliance (phones), the Systems Thinking conversations were rich with connections made across all groups, compared to each group having a different appliance. I really liked how the whole class could offer inout on the different users and people interacting with the product in the phases of Manufacturing, Distribution, Purchasing, End Users, and Disposal. With an older group I would add Source Mapping to the system.

Students then choose one group from their list of people who interact with the product and then use empathy to understand the relationship between the person they’ve chosen and the product. I assign this as a question in Google Classroom, which elicits a group discussion. One person from the groups records the responses in a handwritten list.


Groups choose one person or user within the system. They consider ways a person or group of people interacts with the appliance or in the manufacturing of the item. They use empathy to consider possible problems the people may have within their role with the product.




Groups consider how they might make the product more beautiful, efficient, effective, or ethical for a user or user group or manufacturer. Notes are taken, the plan is shared with another group. Designs are drafted.

This group chose to focus on the Distribution phase of the product, choosing to invent a plane specifically designed for better cargo space, heating and cooling fans, and a customized ramp for loading and unloading the product.

Groups choose from the draft sketches of the newly revised product then work together to create a poster advertising their product.

Other group members work on a scientific diagram as if they were going to have a prototype made.


Students work together to write, rehearse, and record a 60 Second Elevator Speech to promote their idea. They recorded the video in the DoInk Green Screen app and added a photo of an elevator interior as the underlay. Once recorded, this is uploaded to FlipGrid and Google Classroom.

The video is shared with the class audience and then each group shares their Product Poster and Scientific Diagram with class, first explain which group of people they chose and how they made the product more beautiful, efficient, effective or ethical for the group.

Irelyn B., Mason K., Kyle M., Finn L.

For closure on the unit, students are asked through Google Classroom to fill in a Google Form with their feedback. I use this feedback to inform my planning for the next facilitation of this unit and while creating or revising other curriculum units. Here are some examples of the feedback: From Explore to Create to Share, this cross-curricular unit takes about 15 classes, each 50 minutes long every other day, to facilitate as a Visual Art project. This is one-third of my time in the semester with my students. It is well worth it for the success skills being learned including cooperative learning, systems thinking, public speaking, to name just a few. It is also an opportunity to practice skills inherent in visual art and design including design thinking (design process), creative process, and graphic design in an authentic task. It would be an effective collaborative unit across disciplines, and I look forward to restructuring it as such in the future.




Miscoe Hill 5/6 Artwork at Youth Art Month in Boston

“I really believe that if you practice enough you could paint the ‘Mona Lisa’ with a two-inch brush.” – Bob Ross

Speaking of Mona Lisa, an art masterpiece, I am happy to announce the 2019 Youth Art Month artists and masterpieces by my students at Miscoe Hill School!

Top row: Paul Van Norman, Kylie French, Alden Genovese, Samira Evens, Zuleica Booth Bottom row: Matthew dos Santos, Nolan Mann, Elizabeth Scharn

The 2019 Youth Art Month exhibit, sponsored by the Massachusetts Art Education Association and titled, “Your Art, Your Story”, is begin held at the Massachusetts State Transportation Building, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, from February 11 through March 27.

The exhibit will be open to the public on weekdays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., February 11 – March 27, 2019 and is closed weekends and on Presidents’ Day, Monday, February 18, 2019. Entrance to the exhibit is free. Parking (for a fee) is available at the building.

A Family Celebration will take place on Sunday, March 3, 2019 from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m, with the YAM Ceremony at 12:30 p.m.

The Artists and their Artworks

Paul Van Norman – Paul, a sixth grade student, designed his 3D printed buildings for the Imaginary City project-based learning unit last June, when he was in fifth grade. While his cooperative learning group was busy preparing the city map for their project, Paul focused on the design of buildings using Morphi app. It is important to note that all of the designs were created by combining and subtracting primitive 3D forms, rather than by downloading ready-made objects. Paul seems to have a knack for designing community spaces à la Frederick Law Olmsted, and may one day apply these skills as a landscape architect or civil engineer.

Paul with his 3D printed Imaginary City

While I love this whole piece, I am especially in love with the park, with its bench by the pond.

Kylie French, Alden Genovese, Samira Evens

This cooperative learning group worked collaboratively to design the game pieces for their board game created during the Game Makers project-based learning unit this fall. Kylie employed whimsy and fun in her design of the mustache and banana. Alden used his love of ice cream to create the delightful ice cream cone. Samira create the pizza slice dripping with sauce. Of note was the lesson learned about the way a 3D printer builds in layers as Samira’s first effort, with the tip of the slice facing downward, wouldn’t print because there was not a shelf for it to build on. She flipped the triangle and voila(!), was met with success. I’m hoping she will remember this concept when learning about Frank Lloyd Wright and cantilevered construction one day. This group chose to add detail to their models with acrylic paint before attaching them with velcro to a non-scaled replica of their game board.

Kylie French, Alden Genovese, Samira Evens with their 3D printed Game Pieces

“I mustache you a question – do you scream for ice cream?”

Zuleica Booth

Zuleica (Zoe) created her ceramic snake using the clay hand-building coil method. Zoe has a generous artistic spirit with all mediums, and has an especially expressive way with clay. She tames her creation with elegance and fluidity resulting in a graceful rendition produced with a single coil of clay, which rests gently on a slab ceramic base. Zoe finished her piece with Mayco Stroke and Coat glaze.

Zuleica with her ceramic coil snake

Zuleica’s single coil snake

Matthew dos Santos

Matthew is in the seventh grade. He last had art class with me in fifth grade, where he learned to design 3D models. He sent an email to me a couple of weeks ago showing me this model he had designed while home sick one day and mentioning that although he hasn’t had art class for a year and a half, he remembered the app and wanted to explore it more deeply. I was amazed. Keeping in mind that each piece of this dragon design is a single form attached with other forms to realize the whole model, one can’t help but to reflect on Aristotle’s statement, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Whether designing 3D models of dragons, snow persons, castles, or buildings, this early, non-academic exposure to 3D modeling can lead to future application in designing prosthetics, mechanical parts, or whatever the artist can envision.

Matthew with his design for 3D modeling

Matthew’s Dragon model as seen in Morphi App

Matthew’s Dragon model as seen in Morphi App

Matthew’s Dragon 3D printed

Matthew’s Dragon 3D printed

Nolan Mann

During a study of self-portraits vs. selfies earlier this fall, 6th grade artist, Nolan, created his self-portrait with the Rotoscoping technique used in animation, where the artists traces over images to create the stills that when multiplied, become animation. Nolan took a serious pose, painted it in AutoDesk Sketchbook app and added a photographic background. I especially love the painterly moments of shadow and light.

Nolan with his rotoscoped self-portrait

Nolan’s self-portrait

Elizabeth Scharn

Elizabeth truly enjoyed the Digital Art on iPads unit this fall. This piece is a SuperImposition of two images created in Autodesk Sketchbook utilizing the layers and opacity options within the app. She has overlaid an image of a Halloween parade on top of an image of a coral reef. She adjusted the opacity of the silhouetted Halloween image to be translucent enough to show the coral reef through the figures, with a sophisticated sensibility as she created a lively texture of shape and color. Elizabeth is in fifth grade, and I look forward to her continued work in the art classroom.

Elizabeth with her SuperImposition

Elizabeth’s SuperImposition

2019 Youth Art Month Boston Exhibit

Each of these pieces has been matted, mounted, labeled and packaged to begin their journey to Boston courtesy of my colleague, Jon Hansen, who delivered them to Franklin High School yesterday. From there they will be transported with artwork from regional schools to the exhibit site in Boston.

All the artwork packaged and ready to go to Boston

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Happy New Year! Bonn Ane!

Good News To Start The New Year!/Bon Nouvèl Kòmanse Yon Ane Nouvo!

Around this time last year, five members of the St. Gabriel Haiti Ministry visited our sister parish, St. Anne in Sucrerie Henri, Haiti.  As well as being a pastoral visit to maintain our twinning relationship, we went to see how our monetary support is being used throughout the parish. We reported on our findings on the trip later in the spring. Based on our interviews with Father Didier and the parish council, and what we had seen for ourselves, we set some goals for future monetary support.

One of the goals was to finish rebuilding Bellevue chapel, which is high up on a mountain. Due to the difficulty of bringing construction supplies up the mountain construction had lagged. Our delegation’s visit to the chapel site last January seemed to provide inspiration, because as of November, the Bellevue chapel building has been completed. The interior and embellishments are all that’s left to finish. Here are a few photos:

The next chapel to be rebuilt is Terre Neuve, which you may remember is directed by the first female chapel director at St. Anne Parish. We are not sure when that work is scheduled, but we will keep you posted. Meanwhile, we have wonderful news about the chapel schools!

In our report to St. Gabriel last spring we stated –

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.

With your generosity, frequent communication with Father Didier, and his dedication to providing an education for St. Anne’s children, we were able to reopen three chapel schools – Corail, Mercier, and Loufranc, and by doing so, we have put 156 children in school who were not in school last year! Here is the breakdown:

St. Anne Parish Chapel Schools

Needless to say, we are thrilled about this. We were able to accomplish this with an $8000 directed project funding. Typical tuition for Haitian students is approximately $130 per year including uniforms. We are able to provide an education for 156 students for just $8000, which would normally cost $20,280. Each student receives a uniform, a backpack, a pencil, an eraser, and a copybook. Each of the teaching chapel directors is being paid $785 for the school year. To see more about the school at St. Anne, visit this post, which was published right after last year’s visit: https://monalisaliveshere.me/2018/02/06/the-weight-of-his-hand-on-my-shoulder-st-gabriel-trip-to-haiti-2018-two-five/

Here is a photo of Father Didier with the children at Notre Dame de la Merci at Chapel Mercier:

Children at Sainte Catherine at Chapel Corail:

And students at Saint Antione de la Padoue at Chapel Loufranc:

The Haitian Ministry Committee is happy to report this wonderful news at the start of the new year! Happy New Year! Bonn Ane!

About education in Haiti: Illiteracy is a major problem in Haiti. According to the UN Development Fund, approximately one-half of all Haitians age 15 and older is illiterate. The quality of education is generally low, and 85 percent of schools are run by private entities that charge school fees that can be prohibitively expensive for low income families. More than 500,000 children and youth remain out of primary and secondary school. – World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/haiti


Design – 3D Modeling:

“3D Printing: It can change the whole paradigm of how our children will see innovation and manufacturing in America” – Bre Pettis, MakerBot CEO

We’ve had our MakerBot Replicator II for five years now. We received it for free thanks to a grant from MakerBot and DonorsChoose. Since then, we’ve acquired two more – a Polar3D and New Matter Modt. We use them as an integral part of the grade five and six art curriculum for three project based learning units – GameMakers, Castle for a Friend, and Imaginary City. We use the 3D printers to make game pieces, castles with classic and empathic architectural elements, and city buildings and bridges.

3D printed game pieces

3D printed Castle for a Friend (with shrimp truck pulling up to make a delivery)

As I often say to my students, 3D printers are like desktop inkjet printers in that they do what they are intended to with little fanfare. The magic is in the design – 3D modeling. We use the Morphi Edu app for designing models in my classes. We are a 1:1 school with iPads and the app works quite well on them. We have used the free online version of Tinkered as well, but I prefer Morphi Edu app because WiFi is not needed until it’s time to share the file.

To introduce 3D modeling I show the kids the basic tools and forms in the app, the adjustment sliders for scale, rotation, aspect, etc, and the drawing tool, one of the most indispensable tools in Morphi. Every student is asked to create a simple model on the theme of snow or winter (themes help in middle school). And although the directive is clearly stated as snow and winter,  I am always surprised to see the large amount of holiday creations specific to Christmas. Here are some of this year’s models:

Looking at all these winter and holiday images reminds me, this is my last post of 2018 and so I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and/or Happy New Year! See you next year!

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Digital Art – Superimposition

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

I’ve long been a fan of Superimposition, using Photoshop to combine images and make them one – so much so that I can’t help considering scenarios in this way, sometimes with an image superimposed over a compatible image, sometimes paired with an unlikely choice; my mind goes there. In fact, the staff in our district posed for a group photo on the football field and I’ve superimposed the powerful image twice, once with all of us in a swimming pool during a September heat wave, and more recently with  horn-of-plenty for Thanksgiving:

Superimposition is part of the visual literacy all around us today. My fifth and sixth grade students are well aware of the term Photoshop and can give examples of its use. So we talk a lot about the importance of using these technologies for good (not evil). We also discuss appropriation and citing sources with borrowed images if the artist is known.

Because we are 1:1 with iPads in my school, rather than Photoshop, my students used Autodesk Sketchbook app to create their Superimposition. I demonstrated the process with a live tutorial during the introductory class, while the students asked questions. Here is a video that shows the process:

large 5

Selecting images from their camera rolls as well as Google search app, students combined just two images in this first experience. I think they came out really well, especially considering the abstract and challenging process. Here are a few of the standouts:

You can see many more fifth and sixth grade iPad Superimposition pieces in our Artsonia gallery here: https://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?project=1635508

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Digital Art: SketchNoting

“All our knowledge is the offspring of our perceptions.” – Leonardo da Vinci

When I searched for an appropriate quote for this post about SketchNoting, I was thinking of note taking as idea gathering and remembering, working through thoughts in a visible way. Of course my mind jumped to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, which are full of his documented ideas for projects, philosophies, and observations. I love them and have seen some of them in a museum. You can see them and virtually turn the pages of some of them here.

SketchNotes are rich visual notes created from a mix of handwriting, drawings, hand-drawn typography, shapes, and visual elements like arrows, boxes, and lines. – Mike Rohde, The SketchNote Army

Over the past few years the concept of SketchNoting has become talked about and practiced by many of us who learn well visually. Personally I find that by translating content into writing, sketching, and illustrating, I remember it and make better sense of it, finding connections that otherwise wouldn’t be there. Many people SketchNote with writing implements on paper (especially in notebooks). I prefer to SketchNote on my iPad, employing many of the digital painting and blending tools. You can see some of my SketchNotes from conventions, workshops, courses, and books here: https://www.behance.net/amgentilidf49

Here is an example of my SketchNoting to retain content, from an MIT MOOC (massive open online course) I took a couple of years ago – I use the Adobe Sketch app:

Because I enjoy SketchNoting and find it helpful in retaining information, I decided to show my students how to do it, also using iPads, but with Autodesk Sketchbook app. I offered them the opportunity to SketchNote a book or movie and asked them to include the title, author or director, characters, and setting. We kept it really simple because the act of SketchNoting was challenging. Here are some of the results:

Shortly after my students finished up their SketchNoting projects, renowned SketchNoter, Sylvia Duckworth, released a series of tutorials in advance of the release of her book on SketchNoting. Here is the playlist of those SketchNoting tutorials: SketchNoting Tutorial Videos.

As I reflect on this activity, I think I would start the kids with pencil and paper first and work up to iPad SketchNoting. They would have benefitted from more time on the project as well. Most importantly, I would like to see some second attempts, because many were really grasping the process just as they were finishing up. I understand some of my students have been given the option of using SketchNoting in other subjects areas recently, and I’d love to see those results as well.

Grade five and six SketchNotes have been uploaded to Artsonia and you can see them here: https://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?project=1635515


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Digital Art: Self Portraits vs. Selfies

“You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul.” – George Bernard Shaw

Tommy E.

A large part of November found my art classes engaged in Digital Art Making with their iPads. One of the projects was Self Portraits accomplished through the rotoscoping (tracing outlines) method traditionally used in animation. It has been our good fortune to have been graced with a student teacher in her Field Study III practicum (one full day each week) this fall. Her name is Shaina and her Fine Arts concentration a few years ago was Photography. Shaina’s practicum requires that she plan and execute a lesson, and lucky for us she chose to include photography.


Shaina led the classes in observation and discussion about photographic Selfies vs. Self Portraits – the implied in-the-moment and marking time and place nature of Selfies, and the thoughtful, purposeful intent of Self Portraits. She gave examples of both, focusing mainly on the self portraiture of both women and men, people of color, the serious, the sardonic, and the soulful. It was a wonderful way to weave art history with art appreciation and art making.

Students began by taking a few photographs of themselves with iPads and then imported them into Autodesk Sketchbook as a base layer. On layers added above the photo, students first outlined their image and then painted using a variety of brushes, color mixing, and blending. When the painting was complete, students deleted the photo layer and were encouraged to consider adding color or a different photo for the background.

Here are some of the self-portraits with Artist Statements that can be found in our online Artsonia gallery here: https://www.artsonia.com/museum/gallery.asp?project=1660297

Usually I make myself stop at choosing about ten pieces from all the excellent artwork, but with this project, I had a hard time stopping. Please indulge me and enjoy these additional self portraits:

As we bid farewell to Shaina who is moving on to her next practicum experience after the holidays, it is clear she has had a positive, aesthetic impact on the Miscoe Hill fifth and sixth grade students. Just look at this artwork!

Stay tuned for upcoming posts on Digital Art with Superimposing and SketchNoting …

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