Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Today I had the kinders do a crafty project since they had been doing a lot of drawing lately. We did Khasma, or Good Luck Hands, as a continuing theme of art from other cultures. The hands themselves are fairly universal – used in Arabic/North African culture, Jewish culture as well as in other forms around the world.

William and his Khamsa project

They love doing anything with their hand anyway – tracing, etc. – so they were excited to get to draw their hand, cut it out, then decorate it. I am also amazed at their word retention – we started out class today with a longer ‘discussion’ time than normal, and I am really impressed by the terms (community, abstract, culture) they have been able to remember and understand.

Oisin works on his Khamsa project

6th graders today got to catch up, and we talked more about our writing club. We are having a party/reading next Friday – to my amusement they wanted coffee, to make it like a coffee house reading. Their writing is coming along nicely, I’m looking forward to maybe editing and helping them type it up a bit. Wendy lost a few pages of her work when her mom spilled Kool Aid on her notebook, but I convinced her to make a poem about the ‘Kool-Aid tragedy of 2007.’ We decided to keep working on our novels through next week, going beyond the November time frame we set, with some time next week going to editing and selecting what they want to read. We also decided that December/January are going to be poetry months, with an emphasis on Haiku’s. They were very excited when I suggested that our reading at the end of January be a ‘sushi’ party…now that I brought it up, they’ll hold me to it, so I’ll have to figure out something cool!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Catch up time...

Today was a catch up day – more or less using most of this week for that. Trying to get their work all organized into their folders, and give them a chance to finish up projects they might not have been able too. I keep the class moving pretty fast to keep them interested and engaged, but I also like to give them a chance to go back and finish stuff up. I’m big on giving them new projects, or at least a new perspective on projects, each class session, so sometimes we need a day to go back and get caught up.

My 1st/2nd grade group is starting to do much better overall, they are finally mellowing down a bit and can get focused. I guess they were a bit rowdy when Sumner subbed for me last week when I had jury duty – they came to class armed with ‘I’m sorry notes’ yesterday. The notes they wrote were pretty awesome (‘I’m sorry I kept getting out of my seat and yelling’ “I’m sorry I was disrespecting the sissors’, ‘I am going to be a different person’ etc…) but Sumner didn’t seem to think they were all that bad, guess their teacher thought otherwise though.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Right Brain Drawing

Today we did some more work with the Right Brain Drawing idea. The older groups first started out with a writing activity – building on some of the stuff we did for Amnesty International. I had them do a creative writing exercise, imagining that they had a completely different life – born to a different family in a different country, etc – they could be anything, rich, poor, homeless, a circus family, an African family, etc. They then wrote details – did they go to school, what was their family like, where did they live, etc. It went over pretty well, the 6th graders in particular did a great job with it. We then a few more of the Betty Edwards Right Brain drawing exercises – teaching drawing has proven to be really effective. It lets me explain larger ideas of pushing ourselves/not censoring ourselves or stopping because something is not perfect. It can be a frustrating process for them, but I’m finding I’m able to use that as an effective teaching tool at times. Today all three groups – 6th, 1st/2nd and 5th all did the blind contour drawing – they had to draw the lines of their hands while not looking at their paper – and the upside down line drawing.

Line contour drawings

It’s cool to see them get excited about what they can accomplish. Trying to figure out the best direction to go now with the drawing, and keep a balance with other projects – want to keep a continuity (something that is critical when teaching after school) going but also don’t want to get them feeling too burdened down.

The novel writing is going well – kids are writing way more than I thought, which is cool. We officially decided to expand this project into a writers club to last for the rest of the year, I’m working on thinking of some cool themes to keep them motivated and focused.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Upside down drawings Monday Nov 19th

Today was a lot of fun. We started out class with a creative writing activity – I was going to have them do another Amnesty letter, but I decided we hadn’t done enough fun creative writing lately. I had them write me a Thanksgiving story – it could be anything, a story, a poem, a newspaper article, etc - from the perspective of a turkey. They all – including my 1st/2nd grade team – came up with some impressive stuff! The 6th grade team in particular took the open ended aspect of the project to heart – some of them wrote letters back to their ‘turkey families’ saying they had survived another Halloween, some wrote from the dead, one wrote a poem, one a rap, and another one wrote a ‘manifesto’ of sorts, threatening doom to the human population if the turkey eating continued. My favorite was a student who wrote about how, as a turkey, she was in the forest and was captured, but thankfully her captures were ‘hippies’ that were vegetarians and brought her to a happy farm.

I also had a meeting with my novel writers – collectively, we are over 150 pages written now, which is way cool. We talked about what is working for us, what things were hard, and what ideas we had to keep going through the month. Some students also said they were upping their goals, pushing to write two pages a day for the rest of the month. I am really surprised by which students took to this project – not the ones I would have expected based on their performance in class and my overall interactions with them, it’s cool to get to know them at a different level/in a different way because of this project. We also talked about making this project into a ‘club’ that could go all year long, something they seemed interested in doing.

We also started the Edwards upside down line drawings today – the student reactions were different. Most embraced it and were excited to see their results, though some got frustrated – its’ a good exercise to teach them to try to overcome their frustrations, to realize they have to let go and not be focused on making everything perfect. It’s the same reason I make a big deal about them not worrying about spelling – we always fix spelling, of course, but many of them use that as a reason to not write at all, and I find I spend a lot of my time, both with our writings and our art, getting them to work beyond their own censorship/frustrations. Excited to see how this all progresses in the next few weeks. Also working to incorporate some lessons that can tie them into the organization in Africa we’ll be working with…

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thursday Nov 15th

Today was our all Kinder day. I decided to push them a bit – wanted to find out if some of the Betty Edwards projects from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain were too advanced for them. I had them focus on trying to draw their hand without looking, and also on doing the upside down drawing – the goal of all being to get them to think about drawing with they see and not always the symbols for what they see. They are still pretty little for this – development wise they are very much so still at the symbol phase - but some of them really latched onto it and they weren’t nearly as frustrated as I had anticipated they would be, which was exciting to see.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Polaroid project/more abstract drawing

Back in school after having Monday off. Had students work more on drawing skills – still working with abstract forms, getting them ready to move into flat drawing and contour stuff. Had the 1st/2nd grade group get started with a definition, then we talked a bit about culture and some of the Amnesty stuff we did the week before. I also introduced them to the work of Dan Eldon, something we’ll go back to continuously.

Polaroid project

Then, we did an abstract project using a Polaroid portrait I took of each of them as the basis – they glued the photo down then did abstract work around it, sort of framing it, with the idea being that they were going to ‘theme’ their abstraction around their photo. I got the idea from a book I had on collaging/altered imaging – like how it has turned out thus far, and the students were way into the way the Polaroid tweaks their image.

Working on the Polaroid project

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More drawing - Wed Nov 7th

Had the kinder’s do their own portrait, hand, and memory drawings – I also worked to utilize the lights out, music up quiet focus technique, it worked well again. They did pretty well with their drawings – such a discrepancy in levels of ability at this stage, it’s really fun to watch what they all end up doing as it’s all over the place! I then had them do the abstract drawing to music that I had my 1st and 2nd graders do on Monday – turned off the lights, played music, had them close their eyes then imagine what the music ‘looked like’, what color it was, what form it took, etc. They then drew and colored quietly with the music going and lights down – the results were really cool, happy with the exercise, it’s actually a pretty effective one I think to use in general or to get them focused when they first come into class – going to try it out and some point in the next few weeks.

Working on self portrait project!

I gave my 6th graders a catch up afternoon – some of them still needed to do their ‘preliminary’ drawings, others had the option to write, others could do the abstract music drawing, others colored in some of the many color sheets I had ran off. I’ve been finding cool stuff for them to color in their downtime – my sheets have gotten quite popular, with kids coming by my class wanting some to take home. Who knew I’d get such a return buying some cool coloring books…

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Nov 6th

Today was mostly follow up from Monday. 1st/2nd graders did another quiet session – lights down, music up, I actually think it really helps get them focused, gets them into a sort of ‘right brain’ mode. Other teachers and staff come by and look over in half amazement – we use half of the cafeteria as our ‘art studio’, we are subject to all of the noise and chaos that one can imagine, plus the kids have a sort of set idea of what that room is to them, yet somehow we’ve been able to transform it, which is pretty cool.

The 1st/2nd grade team started out with a new word and definition to copy and discuss, then we did some more abstract work, using rulers and compasses to make geometric shapes and forms that we then colored in. It worked well, gave them more hands on time to draw and let them think about color.

A lot of my 5th grade team wasn’t in class on Monday, so today we did our Amnesty letter and started the portrait, hand and memory drawing – pretty to the point, they got a lot of work done and seem to be into what we are doing. Saw some more good writing too – they are really going full force with their novel writing. I wish I could say the same…

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monday Nov 5th

Decided over the weekend to keep with some of the global/cultural themes we’ve been exploring, but to also shift gears and do some technical lessons on drawing. The students really responded strongly to the stuff with did drawing our Day of the Dead images last week, and likewise though I try to focus my art classes on conveying the larger concepts behind what we are doing, and emphasizing that we are all creative, I also try to provide them with hard skills that will get them excited about their progress and keep them wanting to continue to use art and writing as a tool as they grow older. Anyway, with that in mind, I revamped my planned lessons to work in more drawing skills, pulling heavily from Betty Edwards' “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’. I had a great teacher in middle school and high school, Debra Agrums (who, as a side note, deserves some sort of unique recognition for not only excellent teaching at the Jr. High and High School level, but for holding her own as the only art teacher in a school that is so academic heavy/top ranked that there was actually a book written about it recently…in fact, as I write this, it’s occurring to me that I should send her a thank you note for putting up with me and a donation for some art supplies…) who utilized it in her classroom – and I honestly had sort of forgotten about it until I was thinking of ways to work with my students that would get them to move beyond thinking about a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of doing things when it comes to their art. I like the idea of structuring the drawing instruction around getting the kids to ‘see different’, and building on what we’ve learned about symbols – how we use symbols to understand, but symbols can also limit what we see, etc. We’ll see.

I started out today, as Edwards suggests, by having them do a ‘first’ drawing – their portrait, their hand, and their mom – from memory, so we can then compare it to later work. My 1st/2nd grade group got through theirs fast, so we did some fun abstract drawing, I played some music (Album Leaf, more appropriate for the classroom than the Velvet Underground, I’ve discovered…) and with the lights off (I’ve also discovered this might be a secret to getting them calm and in ‘art class mode’ – for some reason working in the near dark seems to hold some sort of mystical status and they were amazingly focused when I did this!) they drew and colored whatever the music made them think of it. I like they results – it turned out pretty cool!

My older kids started out class by reading a piece I brought in from the Amnesty International website about Lao Hmong refugees, then we each wrote a letter protesting the situation. I like the direct action aspect of this, and I like using it as a means to introduce some of the global/civic concepts we’ll be going into. Plus, it lets them use their writing to help out someone else, which also makes it all the more relevant. Amnesty has some great materials on their site for teachers – I was surprised by the extend of it. The lessons themselves are kinda weak, but the raw resources they provide are great – I was stoked to find a ‘kid worded’ version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights I could print and hang in my room.

My novel writers are at full force – they are waaay more on track than their teacher with their writing goals. By my count today, the combined 8 writers I checked in with had over 20 pages done between them, a pretty good start…

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Thursday Nov 1st

Feeling pretty worn out today, but we did well nonetheless. I had all Kinder’s today – we started out by having them copy their new word and definition, ‘culture’, then had a talk about what that meant. Then, I had them look for photos from magazines that were of their culture and their family. All in all, it went well, this project/lesson needs a bit more focus and might be a bit too advanced for this age group, but I was glad to give them more time using scissors, weird as that sounds – their coordination level was less than I thought it would be, so I am trying to give them more time to practice and get comfortable with them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween...Wed 10/31

Today was a little crazy – it IS Halloween, after all, and all things considered the students were pretty productive. The kinders read the Day of the Dead book with me, we talked about cultures and holidays, then they did the Papel Picado project. Again, it’s a little tough for their coordination levels, though some of them were really able to do some impressive work, but they had fun, and they too got some time in with calvera masks. I like working with this group a lot this year – I love my ‘group discussion’ time with them, so strange to me how receptive they are to that when they are young, and how that goes away as they go through the schooling process, esp when considering what an essential job/social skill that is to have later in life.

Had a few more six graders sign up for the novel writing project – am feeling really glad that I decided to give this a go and get them involved. I went and bought them all special notebooks – skulls and crossbones, to keep with the Day of the Dead theme – and pens for the project today, I chose well, judging by their responses. Can’t wait to start to read what they come up with, they seem to have no shortage of ideas…

Here are some of my 6th grader writers, looking punk rock with their new notebooks:
Some of my young writers!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More day of the Dead...Oct 30/Tuesday

Today was great – been a good week overall. We continued the Day of the Dead projects, this time we discussed Papel Picado, and how it represents a form of art that is symbolic of life – paper art that gets hung outside, with the idea being that it will age and change and eventually fall apart. The younger students got behind it, but the technical aspect of drawing and cutting is still a bit much for them. They did good all in all though, and got to use their free time coloring in these cool calvera, or skeleton masks that I had kept from last year. The masks have a ton of detail, and I’m always amazed at how much students love coloring them in, regardless of the age group!

Day of the Dead artwork

I had about 10 sixth graders and three fifth graders sign up to do the novel writing project – I’m really, really excited to get that level of response, and am really proud of them for wanting to take this on. Plus, it gives me some motivation to focus on my own writing this month as well!

Day of the Dead student artwork

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day of the Dead, Vietnam style...

Today worked out great – I ended up winging it, was going to have the students work on continuing a collage/culture project they had started last week, but decided to go with a Day of the Dead theme. I was planning on doing the Papel Picado stuff with them again this year, and had brought in some books to read. At the last minute, I decided to give them a shot at drawing their own Day of the Dead art – we read from the book, talked about how different cultures incorporate holidays and art into their work, and then I had them work to try to replicate the style of what they saw in the Day of the Dead art, only I asked them to work their own culture into this. They did GREAT, and they really seemed to enjoy it, especially when I was able work with them one on one with drawing techniques, getting them to think about what they were drawing in terms of shapes and not trying to draw the whole picture as they saw it, rather, breaking it down into pieces. It comes in part from some of the right brain theory in art – something I want to look into more, as they really responded to it and were eager to try it out, even my ‘difficult’ 1st/2nd grade group got focused and was into it. It was funny leading them through it – I really don’t think of myself as someone that can draw all that well, but I am strong enough to teach it, I guess. I am a filmmaker/photographer by training, I write and I do paint a lot but in a collage context – fun for me to realize, like my students, that I actually can do a lot of stuff I assume I can’t!

My favorite piece of the day by far came from Chelsea, a student of Vietnamese heritage. She TOTALLY got the idea of incorporating her culture into her work, and did this piece:

An AMAZING Day of the Dead student work

I love that she used the image of the rice farmer skeleton – we were able to compare that to the sombrero hat that students of Mexican descent used in their pieces.

I also introduced the idea to my older students of joining up to do the National Novel Writing Month project. I am going to do it with them, focused on the ‘adult’ goal of 50,000 words in a month, and I am hoping some of them will want to sign up to write their own mini ‘novels’ or short story collections, writing one to two pages a day. Love the idea of getting them to embrace and see writing as an outlet, and I really emphasized that this is a project you do for yourself, as a means to push yourself. We’ll see if they sign up – I told them all I wanted them to think about it then come back and let me know their plans this week.

Student work

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy, sad, mad and crazy...10/25/07

Had the Kinder’s today – they have been really good about the group discussion time. It’s funny to me that the kids loose their ability to do this as they get older, at least until college or late high school, but the little kids come into the school structure ready for their ‘group meeting’ time. Today we went through a review for a bit, what community is and how they are a part of it, about the art we did last week, what abstract art is and how colors tell feelings. Once that was done, we jumped into our activity – I had them making abstract paintings like the older kids had, doing one side as ‘sad’ and the other as ‘happy’, having them focus on colors and shapes and marks that they associated with each feeling. Ones that finished got to do a second one, this time showing ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’ – this second assignment was definitely more popular than the first, with them taking to the idea of painting ‘crazy’ eagerly. All in all they did great – it’s been fun to have a group of kids this young that are so on it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tuesday 10/23/07

Today was a little rough – with the weather and fires the kids have been inside all day and were pretty much nuts by the time they got to us. The goal today was to have the groups – today was the 1st/2nd grade group and the 5th graders – explore the idea of culture, and how culture affects art. To account for their giddiness, we had them stand in a circle, and quickly tell about a food that was important to their family, where their family was from and how it affected them, etc. They more or less got it, but the attention span of the group as a whole was a little limited today.

Madeline reads her writing to her classmates

We’ll pick it back up next week to better success, I’m sure. After we discussed the ideas, they started a collage – ultimately, we are going to make a ‘quilt’ that reflects each of us, and will highlight our commonalities and uniqueness. They did pretty good for a start, going to need to give them better examples of what collages are and can be though, I think, in order to get them totally seeing the possibilities.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Monday 10/22/07

Today we moved into making some abstract art. We reviewed what we did last week in terms of mixing colors and how we talked about color being used to express feelings. Then, the students wrote about a time they were really happy and a time they were really sad, with the focus being on providing details and to also explain what colors they associate with each event. The writing was really good, and ran the spectrum in terms of subjects – really sad was everything from getting in trouble to loosing a sibling to cancer to having a cousin murdered. I like giving them these writing opportunities as a means to express themselves – I hope that it clues them into the power of words and art, gets them out of the mindset that writing has to be this tedious task that they dread.

Jamie and his abstract work

Once they finished that, they then made an abstract painting for each story, relying on colors and shapes to express what happened and how they felt. It turned out really good – I was impressed with that they came up with, and am figuring out a way to expand this sort of idea into a more comprehensive lesson/curriculum.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Painting with five year olds...Thur 10/18/07

We turned the Kinder’s loose with the paint today – they did really good, only a few minor tragedies in all. They loved mixing the paints – it was pretty rad to feel like a super genius for showing them how red and blue make purple, you don’t get an entire class of students going ‘ooh, you’re magic!’ very often, it’s nice to still feel like a rock star to them every now and then! They seemed to grasp the idea of using color to explain feelings and what not, and the names the little ones came up with for their colors were pretty amazing…

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


We got banished outside again today, on account of the room we use being treated for bugs, again. Not the most idea condition, especially in that we have the kinders today and its hard enough to keep their attention, but we made do. We had the kinders do the color project, only using crayons – we first talked about how colors are used, how they can stand for different things, and what that means. Then, they drew a bunch of boxes, all different colors, and next to each box we helped them write what they color made them feel, or represented to them. They did it really well.

The 6th graders started out by writing about a Jackson Pollock painting I showed them. They wrote about how it made them feel, and what they though the painter was thinking/feeling when he painted it. They did really well with this – cool to see them thinking bigger and bigger each day. They then jumped into the paint mixing project they had started on Monday – I’m still amazed at how excited the kids are about this. I guess it’s pretty fun, and there is a zen/zone out aspect to it that’s cool too. They nailed it today – making color, coming up with awesome names for their colors, then writing about what that color stood for/made them feel. Like approaching/easing into some of our bigger projects this way – really breaking down both art and communication itself, getting them to think about how we communicate and connect with one another.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mixing colors...Tues 10/16

Today we pretty much picked up from where we left off the day before. The 1st/2nd grade team did a warm up writing activity, copying a definition, then they got back to mixing the paints, and coming up with names and descriptions, which they totally got into. 5th graders did the same, but they started out by responding to a Jackson Pollock painting I showed them, answering some questions I had written for them, about how they felt and how they thought the painter felt when he painted it. All in all, they did really well – glad to see this activity is going over as well as it is, and to see them really grasping the larger concept. Very cool!

Painting away...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Monday October 15th

I was gone all of last week, with Sumner and Sarah subbing for me. It was a little rough – they did great, but with the year being so new I hadn’t had much time to work with them, so they more or less were on their own. I had the older kids start out the week by writing a statement of purpose – something they crafted to define themselves now and what they wanted for themselves in the future. It seemed to go over pretty well – going to have them continue to fine tune and edit these as part of their larger self portrait project.

Otherwise, we used last week as catch up time – they finished their self portraits, started on their journal covers and got some free time. The Kinders, in an effort to keep up the idea of community, were asked to draw something they wished for themselves, then something they wished for someone else, ie, what would a fireman, the bus driver, an elderly person, a homeless person, wish for? Sumner had a great idea and had the 1st/2nd graders make up fortune cookie fortunes for themselves, which was pretty cool and seemed to work out well.

Today, we moved into talking about abstract art. I had the students all write about their best friend, and their best friends characteristics. I then had them assign that friend a color – if their friend was a color, what color would he/she be, and why? They then did the same thing but with an animal (as a bonus, I got to give a funny example by pointing out that certain students whom were talking and being squirmy would be a little, loud poodle if I was writing about them at that moment – oddly, that example seemed to resonate stronger than any!). After that, we made the segway into what abstract art way, and how it was representational, etc. Then, we started the color mixing project – I had them sit down with paints and just play with mixing colors, only they had to record how they got each color, give it a name, and a few description words. They didn’t much time on it overall, but I think they’ll do a really good job with it later this week.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Week of October 1st

This week was a blur – I had a million things going on, couldn’t take daily notes like I wanted. We finished our self portrait project this week, and moved into creating journal covers. Mostly a catch up week, and Wednesday wasn’t a normal class day which goofed things up a little bit as well.

The self portraits turned out great though:

Self Portraits

Maggie shows off her self portrait!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

9/25 - Sad Reindeers and pink squirrels

Today was really good. Sumner joined me – I know him from Warped Tour, and he helps me out with shows and events locally throughout the year. He was sitting in today, wanting to check out what we do, as he might start teaching part time with us. It was great to have him – I noticed a difference just with another person being there with my 1st and 2nd grade group. They had a lot of fun today - they got to dig into their self portraits, taking the photos I took of them and cutting them up and manipulating them. We even busted out the glitter glue and stamps, though we haven’t quite got enough of system to delve into paint just yet. Their work turned out great though – I had each of them introduce themselves to Sumner at the beginning of class, we reviewed the ideas about community we had talked about before, then we talked about how their self portraits are suppose to be how THEY want to look and see themselves, not how other people do. The project turned out really great. Letting them get elbows deep in the art – and doing things that involve more than coloring – balances out the writing too.

Adrian rocks his self portrait!

My fifth graders came into the room with their team leader reprimanding them – they’d been having a rough day. I totally understand where their team leader is coming from, but it sets a tough tone for me to follow up with. They were a bit squirmy, and not all that productive on Monday, and since I was worried about their reluctance to write, I decided to drop my initial plan to have them work on their self portraits. I had them introduce themselves to Sumner as well, and then, without warning, went into my fun writing mode – I went from student to student, declaring them ‘something’: a dog with no hair, and angry clown, a purple pigeon, a pilot that was afraid to fly, etc. Then, as that character, they had to write an excuse note – it’s something I come up with last year, in part inspired by something I read of Frank McCourt’s, where he describes having a break through with his students, having them write fake excuse notes as a means to get them to write at all. Coming up with the characters was the result of some insomnia driven night of mine – and thus far, it has worked every time. The students initially laugh and are totally confused as to why I am calling Omar a Giant Ant, and why Brian is a little girl with arms that are wings, then they jump right into the writing assignment. I usually make it a bit of a competition as well – who can have the most out of control story without being gross or using guns. They totally got into it, they CAN write, they just need the right prompt - they need it to be presented to them in a way that is fun and shows potential. Considering how early it is in the year, I was impressed by how far they took it – we ended up spending the entire class writing then reading all the works together.

We also made up another analogy for the ongoing community theme in our class – our group thinks of ourselves as a group of astronauts on a space ship, and if we are messing around with glue sticks or talking, we’re probably gonna crash or burst into flames. A bit dramatic, I think, but who am I to judge…

Abel shares his story

Monday, September 24, 2007

9/24 - Still finding our balance...

Today was good – the 6th graders that had finished their poems the week before jumped into starting their self portrait pieces, manipulating a photo I took of them the week before. The other half of the class did their poems, to much success as well – I’m really impressed with how well they turned out, and the way that the students seem to take to them. I owe William Ayers a big thank you for that idea! Nice to feel like I am able to build on the literacy and writing stuff I did with them last year.

Self portrait project

My 1st/2nd group is still giving me a little trouble – we’ll find our rhythm soon enough, I’m sure, still just a tough group. The kids that finished their poem got to re-write them today on a big piece of construction paper and illustrate them – turned out really nice. The other kids that didn’t finish or were struggling a bit I had work on their poems – gave me a bit more one on one time with them that way. Still was a little chaotic, not as smooth of a class as I’d like, but we are slowly getting there. Have to be the ‘toughest’ on them out of all my teams, tough in the sense of keeping it really consistent and giving them a bit more involved work early on than I normally would, but in this case I think it’ll help them get focused and settled enough so we can be more flexible and loose as the year moves on.

My fifth graders did okay – they too started their self portraits, with a few of them finishing up their poems. They were just a bit scattered, still having problems with the writing part with them, need to bust them out of their mold.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

9/20 - Intellectual debate with Kindergartener's

Today I had two hours of Kinders, back to back. I was also winging it a bit – I was going to have them start their self portrait projects, but I wasn’t able to print up the photos of them that I had taken. Instead, we spent the day talking about community – I had them tell me their names (working to get them all memorized still!) and a favorite color, then we had a talk about how we need all of those colors to make a rainbow, and how if one person got mad and left, or if someone had their feelings hurt and left, or if someone got in trouble and left, we wouldn’t have a rainbow anymore. We then talked about how that was like a team, and then they told me about teams, and how in sports you need everyone on the team, then we connected that to community: how we were a community, what kind of things made up the community we lived in, etc. I was pretty excited to have a full blown discussion going with Kinder’s this early in the year, and it seemed to connect with them – it actually held their attention for a while!

Kinders working on their community project

After that, I had them copy ‘community’ and a short definition for the word. Then, we went through another follow up discussion of community and who all was in our community. After that, they got to make a ‘mural’, working together on a giant piece of paper, showing me all the things that made up their community. My favorite element was Tiana’s inclusion of the woodchips at the playground at the park. All in all, it went really well – looking forward to seeing what they do with their self portrait project next week!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

9/19 - Bug spray, more poetry and five year olds

Today I couldn’t teach in my room – we convert half of the cafeteria into our ‘art studio’ every year – because they were spraying for bugs. My 6th graders and I discussed if it was more gross that their cafeteria was overrun by bugs, or that the district was blasting the place they eat with pesticide. They were pretty much split in the middle, with a few declaring they were eating outside from here on out, even if it was raining. I don’t mind not being able to teach in there – sometimes we go outside anyway – but this early in the year I prefer to keep things consistent, but so it goes. I’m lucky to have a consistent room that I can teach, can store stuff, and hang up work in – it’s the first school - in eight years of teaching after school programming – I’ve ever had that set up, and I love it.

I had my two groups of Kindergartner’s today – little tiny guys only in their second week of school…ever! They did really good – had them copy and try to write a sentence about themselves so I could gauge what levels they were all at, then they drew me self portraits, showing me who they were and what was important to them, who they lived with, etc.

Student work - About Me project

It’s always funny to see them at this stage – they are all over the place in terms of personality and what not. I worked really hard to try to learn and remember all their names down today – I do that with all of my students, but I really make a concerted effort to try to get all the Kinder names down after my first hour with them. Usually takes me a few classes to commit them all to memory, but considering the fact I have about 80 students, the fact that I get them all down in about the first week isn’t too bad!

My 6th graders kicked ass on the poem project – they jumped right in, they got it, they even seemed excited about doing it. Don’t get how or why their response was so different from my 5th graders yesterday, but I guess in part I’m hoping it was because they did so much creative writing with me the year before. The response they had to the poem project in comparison to the 5th grade class was totally different – it really tripped me out. I hope this level of enthusiasm stays the way it is all year.

Azwaun working on his self portrait

My 6th grade group last year was a struggle to work with – I’m hoping this is a case of different personalities, and the result of my having a consistent relationship with them going on for two years now. Time will tell, I guess. Anyhow, their work turned out really good and it was a nice class – I enjoy getting to hang and do the projects with them.

Check out their poems:

Smart, funny, friendly
I love my friends and family
I hate family problems
I am afraid of any kind of spiders
I wish I had Starbucks

Mean, dumb, funny
I love hot cheetos
I hate coloring
I am afraid of my mom
I wish for me to go to Florida

Good looking, funny, athletic
I love basketball
I hate nothing
I am afraid of the belt
I wish to see God

Cool, sexy, hot
I love low riders
I hate loosing in video games
I am afraid of my God mom
I wish to get out of school

Funny, stupid, silly, energetic
I love to play soccer
I hate to write essays
I am afraid of loosing somebody
I wish for my sister to come back

Happy, tall excited
I love my family
I hate spiders, bees and worms
I am afraid of big roller coasters
I wish for a house with a pool

Friendly, nice, cool
I love pets
I hate when my sister pulls my hair
I am afraid of snakes
I wish I could go around the world

Happy, fun, energetic
I love my mom and dad
I hate spiders. Big spiders. All sizes.
I am afraid of any bugs that crawl on me except ladybugs
I wish for a laptop

Kheyli Tristen
Beautiful, outgoing, loving
I love my family and friends
I hate backstabbers, haters and drama
I am afraid of spiders and bugs
I wish for good things to happen

I love animals
I hate when I’m alone
I’m afraid of insects
I wish I was a celebrity

Nice and friendly
I love animals and my family and hearts
I hate nothing
I am afraid of snakes
I wish to see god

Some of them finished early, and since we couldn’t work on the stuff I normally have them do with down time – work in their journal, or the other ‘free time’ projects’ – I had them instead imagine they were famous fashion designers and they had a $50,000 budget to design a Halloween costume for any celebrity of their choice (I’m giving myself bonus points for thinking up that one on the spot!). Jequille brought Easy E back from the dead and made some sort of out of control suit that involved a lot of diamonds, Azwaun came up with an ornate cow costume for Chris Brown, Katie had a cute Jessica Alba outfit, and Chelsea, a new student to me, very quiet and what not – came up with an amazing cat woman costume for…Emma Watson. The other kids were very confused as to exactly who Emma Watson was, but Chelsea was happy with her work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

9/18 - Poetry

Had my 1st/2nd grade group today. There is something about this age I always find kinda tough – they’re sort of in an in between stage, not quite mature and as focused as they will be as third graders, but beyond the kinder stage as well. It can be hard to hold their attention and focus, at least for me – I really like and do great with the Kinder’s, and I love teaching 3rd through 6th, but something about 1st and 2nd is always a struggle. I’m working to get them in synch with what we’ll be doing though, and today we got started on composing poems about ourselves. It was an idea I took from William Ayers – I’ve been reading a lot of his work lately, and I got the idea from To Teach. I’m staring off this year by introducing them to the idea of community, and how we will be a community as a classroom, and we’ll connect with the community that we live in and then the world at large, but we are going to first start by understanding ourselves. We started that a bit with the ‘what I know/what I want to know’ project yesterday, and my next project is going to have them write about themselves, then draw a self portrait, then also make the ‘Picasso’ portraits, where they cut up a photo of themselves that I took, then glue it back together. I’m hoping/thinking these will turn out pretty cool.

Hard at work

Anyway, the nice part of the poem I idea I got from Ayers is that it’s formatted, which is how I usually start off creative writing with young (and sometimes older) students. I laid out the framework of the poem, which starts with their name, then three descriptive words, then they complete sentences that start with I love, I hate, I am afraid of, I wish for, then they close it with their last name. The 1st/2nd grade group got it in theory, but it took them a while to complete it – they actually seemed to be pretty excited about what they had accomplished with it when finished though . My 5th graders were able to grasp the idea fully – we did an example poem pretending we were their team leader, Mr. Justin – but they were also a little slow and apprehensive to get writing. They definitely associate writing with something negative, which bums me out, so I am going to specifically have to work with them to do some fun stuff to get them excited about it for future projects. I think next week when they get to do some real hands on stuff – cutting and pasting and painting and collage, etc – it will be easier to get them into the literacy aspect of the class.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Back to School - 9/27/07

Back to school!

Today was a bit of a whirlwind – got back in to town after being gone on tour for the better part of two months around 11am. Went home, dealt with mail, banking, and other random stuff, then headed straight up to school for our first day. Not the most ideal situation, but it worked! I was really happy to see my former 5th graders/now 6th graders – they’re a really cool group, I like working with them a lot and am excited about this year. I also had a group of 5th graders – all of whom I had pretty much never had, and a 1st/2nd grade mix, some of whom I taught last year when they were in Kindergarten. I like the continuation of being an after school teacher – in some cases, you get to work with the same students for years and years. I try to develop my curriculum with that in mind, setting it up knowing that some kids may have had you before and can build on what you already did, while others will be coming in new, and try to make it so that it will be equally engaging for both.

Today we got started with introductions, and I told them it was going to be an opposite first day – rather than me tell them all they had to learn, they were going to tell me all that they knew and all that they wanted to know. It went over really well – they got to work in big groups writing and drawing on the big scrolls of paper – something that is universally exciting, apparently – and came up with some really cool stuff. It took them awhile to grasp what I meant by ‘list what you know’, but once I got them started with my own stuff – brush my teeth, water makes plants grow, make my sister mad – they realized what I meant and took off.

Student work, 'what I want to learn' project

They surprised me with the ‘what do I want to know’ project – I expected them to stay somewhat reserved in their goals and expectations, but they took to it full force, listing everything from ‘spell better’ to ‘astrology’ to ‘be a lawyer’, ‘skydive’, ‘make money’ and of course ‘drive fast’.

What I Want to Learn project

Have a lot of work ahead of me – working to hire interns and a co-teacher, plus still have two tours going – but am excited about this year.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Fall teaching internships available!

Summer has been a long blur of time on the road doing work for the ONE Campaign, Oxfam and (RED) - check out our tour blog for updates from what we've been up to.

The school year is about to start back up again for us, and we are very excited to be offering a very cool fall teaching internship on site at our Pasadena school location. If you are interested in joining us a few afternoons a week in the classroom for some hands on experience with an innovative program and curriculum, working with elementary aged students, click here.

Student photography

Thanks - we look forward to hearing from you - watch for classroom updates to start back up next Monday!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Going on hiatus...

I just finished clearing out our classroom for summer - the past three weeks have been a blur of traveling for me, coming back to class, end of year projects, showcases and the general excitement of the impending summer. We ended up with some very cool work - I'll post more of it as soon as I can - but the chaos of the past few weeks meant that I did not stay on track with my note-taking/blogging aspirations. So it goes.

I'll be on the road for most of the summer, new updates as soon as the new school year gets underway in September!

Student photography

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

May 30th

I had the realization today that there are only about three weeks left of this school year, and of those three I’ll be more or less gone for one. It never ceases to amaze me how fast that creeps up. The school year always seems so long when you start, and you have your days when, admittedly, you wish it was ending sooner, but inevitably the end comes before you are ready for it – there is more you wanted to do, you’ll miss the kids, etc. It dawned on me that the first group of kids I ever taught, 4th and 5th graders, are now nearing the end of the their high school years.

Student photography

Today, after I taught at my elementary site, I went to the high school for a focus group. We had the students, all boys in this case, get together, bribing them with pizza and soda, to hear their thoughts on the program. As I was watching them, it dawned on me how fast time goes by. I guess it seems like forever when you are in school yourself, but these kids, most of them taller than me, easily at one point could have been in my 3rd or 4th grader after school classes. Made me realize how long I had been doing this…

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

May 29th

We started off today reading from the book ‘Making it Home: Real Life Stories from Children Forced to Flee”. I’ve been using it off and on all this session as we continue to learn about refugee children. Today, I read aloud a few passages, and we discussed the issue at hand, and also how the children constructed their stories. I then had my students prepare their own narratives – big or small, I asked them to tell a story from their own life, and to add details and their inner thoughts to the structure as a means of expanding their writing styles. It seemed to go over pretty well all in all, we had a wide diversity of stories, from the loss of Playstations due to bad behavior, the death of a favorite aunt, birth of a cousin, and a tree that apparently forced one of my 5th graders from her home. I am waiting for her to write the conclusion of her story, but evidently it had to do with a tree root she named “Greenie’ rupturing the foundation of her home…

We took our writing outside today, so that students could take time and have one of our two digital cameras to themselves while working. This seemed to work out well – a nice change of scenery for the students to work in, and it allowed them their coveted camera time.

I’m looking forward to compiling all of their work into our ‘book’ – I am slowly scanning and taking digital photos of what they have done and am going to combine it all into a book format. We’ll produce the books on, give a few to the school library and after school office and also sell them online as a fundraiser. Keep checking in if you are interested in purchasing one!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

May 24th

Today was low key – my K group worked on the eye poem and painting – I’ve been letting them paint a lot lately, as it’s a big highlight of the day – and I had my 5th graders work on creating a ‘book page’. I am having them pick one piece of writing they like best, then doing a nice illustration/collage/painting to go with it, so we can include it in the book we are creating. As always, some of them took to it, and a few others messed around, but all in all they did some good work. I am excited about how our book will turn out.

There photography has been turning out pretty cool as well:

Student photography

Student photography

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

May 23rd

My 6th graders are getting tougher and tougher to work with. It’s the end of the year, their attention spans are on the wane and ultimately they are more focused on their own interpersonal issues than anything I want to present to them. So it goes. They also just saw ‘the video’, and the obsession of the moment seems to be the amazing world of menstrual cycles. Welcome to my world…

I had the Kinder’s write poems today. It went pretty well – poems about their eyes, and their eye colors, and what their eyes reminded them of. It’s funny the things they’ll think to make comparisons to – and how they perceive the color of their eyes to be. I had to explain several times over that I meant the color of ‘the circle part of your eye, not the white on the outside of it!’ but eventually we figured it all out!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

May 22nd

The 5th graders and 3rd graders worked on their ‘Eye’ poems today. During the first hour, I was surprised by how well most of the students took to the project.

There were some minor flare ups today with that first group, my 3rd graders, that I think highlight part of the challenge of teaching in an after school program. It seems simple enough – in theory, you come in for a few hours, provide very particular and specific guidance and activities and go your merry way. The reality, of course is quite different. Today, for example, in just my third grade group of about 18 or so kids, I had a carry over fight from the playground between two girls, one trying to apologize to the other one who ‘refused to accept’, and there was Kassidy, who has had on going problems, but who last week I gave an award for leadership and improvement. Today though he was having an ‘off day’, you could tell he felt disappointed in himself when I finally had to ask him to not partake in our activity. I felt bad, but I think he got the message about showing respect to himself, his fellow students and to me. And there was Dylan – he has some problems at home and I think a slight learning disability, it manifests itself in weird ways. I’ve had him all year, but still don’t totally get what goes on with him. He plays up like he doesn’t want to be involved or cares, but he’s the first to volunteer to help me out with stuff before class. A few weeks ago he got in trouble with me for making a mean comment to the student who won the April writing contest in his class. The last few months, he puts in zero effort towards his work. I think part of its frustration, and in part I think he’s bored – he struggles with school but he’s really bright. Anyway, today we made good – he got some work done when finally I told him how I had been talking to other teachers and his older sister, a 5th grader I also teach, about how I was worried about his performance. He played up that he was mad, but I could tell he liked that I bothered to care enough to do that, and he ended up writing a pretty good poem with my help.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 17th

The Kinder team was a little more challenging today, but they still did a great job. By the time I get these guys, they’ve already put in an 8 or 9 hour day, which is a long day for a 6 year old, so I try to be as flexible as possible. We did the same activity as the group yesterday did, with likewise great results – check out some of the photos below!

The 5th graders today took on the ‘Where I am From’ poem – I’ve figured out a more effective way to teach it for younger kids, putting together a list of questions to help them figure out what to write about: name a pet you had when you were little, write down something your family always says to you, what is a dish important to your family, etc. From there, we work to construct the poem by adding in details and our own personal touch. I am really impressed with how well they are doing with this project!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

May 16th

The Kinder team was a blast today – they were just on it, well behaved, really responded to the photo collage activity. Just like the older kids, I brought in their images for use, though they mainly used their own photographs. They really go into manipulating the images, making them their own. I can tell they really like being able to use photography as well – def give them a sense of completion, puts them on the same page as the older kids!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

May 15th

Kassidy won an award today. Kassidy is one of those kids that makes his mark by continually being on just the edge – nothing really bad, but he likes to create problems for the attention he feels it gets him. He’s been mad ever since he joined us – he was moved from the ‘team’ he was on to the Red ‘team’, he views it as a step down, the team he is now on is for 3rd/4th graders, he’s a 4th grader, but it’s perceived by him to be a step down. He slowly has been improving though, I talked to him about how he needs to make the most of his situation, how it would be a waste for him to spend the rest of the year doing what he was. I gave him a little certificate for leadership and improvement and a ‘fancy’ pencil, he ran and immediately showed it to his big sister when he got picked up today – I was worried he would think it was ‘dorky’ or not care, but he seemed pretty proud of it.

Today we worked on our photo collages – some of the images are below. We looked again the Journals of Dan Eldon for inspiration, a book I have been using off and on all year. Both the 3rd and 5th graders seem to like this activity. I printed up some of the photos they took with the digital cameras over the past few weeks, and brought in both color prints and black and white copies. We then are taking them and making collages – drawing, cutting, painting, stamping, and pasting. We had to have a talk about how to use images of our friends and each other – it’s never okay to do anything violent and disrespectful, and if you want to do something fun or funny, you need to ask permission of the person in the photo first! Everyone seemed to do okay with this though, and the students seemed to respond to manipulating the images that they took in interesting ways.

Monday, May 14, 2007

May 14th

I’m liking my four hour schedule on Mondays (though of course finishing at one site then driving to another can be a bit chaotic!) as it allows me to really figure out the best way to present a lesson. At Brite, I have a mix of kids in each group – literally K – 8th graders. I actually like it though – the social dynamic changes, it’s easy to get the older kids focused as leaders, they seem to try even harder with their own work to set the example for younger students, and they like to be able to teach and help the little ones as well. After I leave Bite, I have 6th and 3rd graders at Longfellow, so I’ve been working to have all four groups do more or less the same lesson plan so that I can then figure out the most effective way to implement it. Today, we used something I picked up from a book I’ve been reading, ‘Raising Up”.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

May 8th

I am going to be out of town tomorrow and Thursday, so I spent part of my time before and after class getting everything ready for Heidi, the teacher subbing for me. I am having my Kinder’s work on making a collage out of the portraits that they took last week, based on the work of Dan Eldon. We look at his book pretty often this year, having it serve as an example of both our art and someone that tried to help others using his art. I printed up color versions of their photographs and then also made a bunch of black and white copies. I am excited to see the results… My 5th and 6th graders are going to be working on a writing project. I am having them envision that they discovered a new planet, they get to be in charge and have to write their own ‘Bill of Rights’ or set their own rules. Silliness always ensues with this assignment – my 3rd graders worked on this today, and among one set of rules for a student was ‘only people wearing Converse can live here’ which allowed him, another student and me to inhabit his world – but it’s a good way to get students to think about needs of a community and the needs of others, it builds into our community project that we did earlier this year when they designed a city.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

May 3rd

Today was pretty hectic – stopped at Longfellow to get my Kindergarten class going before another teacher took over so I could cover a class at Muir High School. I like working at Muir, I usually only have a couple of kids, it’s a nice change to work with older students instead of the little guys I have most of the year. Today in our graphic design class I helped the students get working on making newsletters that went over all that they have learned thus far in the class. It was a good opportunity for them to reflect on what they have learned, and to do something tangible that could be completed in one class setting.

Graphic Design project

I am really big on this in an after school environment – no matter what the age, the students need to see some sort of tangible result at the end of each class, or at least at the end of the week if the class meets more than once. It keeps them better engaged, makes them look forward to coming to class, and I feel it helps them retain the information they are learning even better.

I hope my 5th graders went easy on the sub today…

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

May 2nd

Today was pretty fun. The Kindergarteners got their hand on the digital cameras for the first time. We had a few near drops, and a few smudgy fingers on the lenses, but otherwise all went well. I posted a few of the portraits they took of each other below.

The 6th graders were really focused today as well. They went through and pulled out a favorite image from what they have shot during the last two weeks, pasted it in their journal and did a write up as to why they picked it. It’s very cool to hear their use of new words – perspective, angle, composition, etc. – when analyzing the images, hopefully they are picking up some useful critical thinking skills! They were very attentive when we looked at the digital images on my computer that they took on Monday (haven’t had time to print them up!), and were especially interested in what my students at BRITE are doing!

We spent the second half of class checking out the videos about child refugees. I’m still amazed at how quickly even the wildest groups of kids will settle down and focus on these videos. I expected mixed reactions – some sympathy, but also giggles at the language, dress and other cultural differences – and have been surprised at the overwhelming sense of compassion and understanding that my students have been showing when learning about these other kids. The site does a great job at conveying how much in common refugee children have with kids here in the US. I’m excited to keep working on this project for the rest of the year…

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Tuesday May 1st

So far this week, we’ve continued learning about and using our digital cameras, have reviewed our photography from the last two weeks, and have done some pretty amazing writing. I’ve posted a few of the stories the kids wrote below, and more can be found on our flickr site.

We’ve also started to learn more about refugees, specifically children refugees. We saw some videos posted by the organization Nine Million. They are an organization that provides child refugees sporting equipment, in an effort to make the lives of those kids who live in camps a little bit better. We’re pretty excited about what we can do to help out these refugee’s we are learning about, and are brainstorming different ways we can get involved to make a difference!

Today the Orange Group – 5th graders- did a really great job shooting pictures of the school. I encouraged them to really make an effort to just shoot over and over and over - the benefit of digital photography is that you can just delete the not so great ones! They are getting really good at experimenting with different angles and thinking about composition. I posted a few photos here, but more are up on our Flickr site!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Welcome to our world...

I'm starting this as primarily a means for myself to keep notes from my time in the classroom. As of this writing - in April of 2007 - I've been teaching after school programming consistently for the past six years, since the spring of 2001. I've gone through many different settings in that time, from being a new teacher working for a non-profit, to contracting with a school district with my own organization, to the partnership with California Living Histories that I am involved with now. In that time, I have come up with countless lessons and curriculum ideas, had 'ah-ha' after 'ah-ha' moment, but never seem to really record or organize myself as a teacher in any effective way. I'm hoping that this helps, and that, likewise, by posting it all, I can help to shed light on the amazing things that are happening in unconventional classrooms all over. We'll see...