Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday break approaching...

We are rapidly approaching our winter break, something students and teachers alike are excited about. Every year, we have students write holiday cards for Amnesty International - it provides a great opportunity for them to do something meaningful for someone else, and is a great teaching opportunity.

This year, we wrote letters to women in Zimbabwe - the kids were able to grasp the concept of why we were doing it pretty readily, and we super into creating the cards.

Amnesty Holiday cards

And, per tradition, we had our cookie decorating party as well.


Monday, November 03, 2008

Day of the Dead

Every year close to Halloween we look at the art of Mexico, specifically work around Day of the Dead. The students always love this project - drawing skulls, after all, IS awesome - and it's a great segway into thinking about art in different cultures, how art is used to reflect a value system and beliefs, etc. Plus, its an ideal project to work with drawing skills and techniques.

Student work - day of the dead

Day of the Dead student work

Monday, October 20, 2008

Abstract designs

Moved more formally into abstract design this week. I had the younger students work to create pieces that expressed certain feelings, the ‘catch’ being that they couldn’t use ‘real’ pictures but rather only shapes and colors. Gradually, they start to take in the idea that color can express certain feelings and emotions. Next week we’ll move onto making a bigger/more formal piece, then they’ll be doing Picasso portraits before starting their Day of the Dead pieces that they always seem to love…

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Journaling is a big part of all of our classes. We give each student a spiral notebook that they will work out all year long (or, until they fill it up!) and they get 10 - 15 minutes at the beginning of each class to work in their books. We encourage them to write, draw, design a city, write a poem, song or movie, draw about their days, etc. The point is to foster creativity and to give them some down time to do whatever they'd like to, something they don't get a whole lot of. For older students in particular, this becomes a valuable outlet, and a place to generate ideas for later projects. For the most part though, all students, regardless of age, love this time - and the younger ones especially like to share what they did after they journal, something else we incorporate into just about every class. There is something very tangible about them having a book all to themselves, it becomes this precious object to them, and the stuff they create inside of it is pretty amazing!

Andrew and his work!

Keidas and his work!

Manny at work

Student work

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Painting with tissue paper

Students this week did another project I picked up from my class, using tissue paper to create a design. The results were a little mixed, I need to use better tissue paper and glue, but they really liked the concept, so we’ll come back to it. I used it as my entry into teaching them about color and abstract design, which fit nicely with the larger/broader lesson plans.

Also working on their vocabulary, this year is a little bit slower going on that front, for whatever reason – I think in part because I have a lot of my teams only once a week, as opposed to twice like I normally did. It’s getting there…

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wax reliefs

Had the students do a project this week that I did in a ‘Do It Yourself Graphic Design’ class I’m currently taking at Art Center at Night. We did wax etchings, a fairly simple project to do (albeit, the use of chalk means it’s a little messy) and is a great way to teach about reflection and positive/negative space. By laying down a layer of chalk, then wax, and by drawing through a piece of paper over their base, the students are able to create duplicate images that look pretty cool. The oldest students really took to it, creating really cool pieces that incorporated ideas of duality, things that come in pairs, etc.

Conceptually, we are focused right now on skills that they’ll combine into some larger pieces, and we’ll be moving more into the cultural/community component of our work in the weeks to come.

The older group is interesting – kids come and go. We did some cool writing activities this week, I had them make up a story or art piece inspired by flowers from Eucalyptus trees by my gym that I picked up from the ground, something they seemed to enjoy. I work to find the right balance between giving them some structure and letting them do their own thing, seems to be developing nicely.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Plant stories

Continuing with the garden/planting theme, today students dreamt up what their plant would be if it could grow up to be anything, and they also wrote from the perspective of the plant, using a first person style. The idea was to practice forms of narrative, and to also employ the use of ‘empathy’ and ‘perspective’, focusing on seeing things from another person or things point of view. It worked out pretty well, and they seemed to have a lot of fun with it.

They are also starting to finally fall into synch with the journal time, starting to learn the rhythm of the class, etc.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First week

Our first week went really well - introduced the journals, and the kids really got into them. We also got the flower pots finished, and started planting them this week.

Hard at work

Yesterday I had them do their journal time, then copy three new words into their journals, vocabulary we'll be using this week in our projects. I had taped up some huge sheets of paper to the walls, and we are treating that as our 'word wall', so whenever we introduce a new word, one of the students gets to write it up there along with the definition, something they were way excited about. I also showed them a cool book called What It Is, by Lynda Barry to give them ideas for their journals.

I let each group pick out their plant today - I had brought in some basil and mint, some succulents, and some venus fly traps, which, needless to say, were quite popular. The deal was they had to decide as a team what they wanted, practicing both empathy and compromise. A few near melt downs, but all it all it went pretty smoothly. Once they picked their plant, I asked them to imaging what their plant would turn into if it could be anything, if it could get as big as it wanted - their drawings were pretty cool, I'll post some of them later on this week. This in turn will lead to their next project, asking them to write from the perspective of the plant on the windowsill of our classroom.

The journals are turning out super cool. I think I have them work in them as much for their benefit as for the fact that I love looking at them.

Student work from journal

'Sad Worm' Student work from journal

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back to school...

First day back on site was yesterday, spent most of the afternoon lugging my stuff back into my room and getting set up, was a bit of a pain on one hand, but nice to be forced to get re-organized on the other. Missing a few things, to be expected, taking the loss of my cheap CD player as a sign to get an ipod dock and take things up a notch this year...

Due to first day chaos and schedule mix ups, I only actually taught one out of my three groups, which was fine. 3rd graders, several of whom I've had off and on over the past three years. They are a really good group, really chill, laid back, almost unnervingly so for their age group! We talked about the class, the concept of community and how that is what makes our class unique, and about projects we'd do. I let them all pick a spiral notebook to use as their journal for the year (.10 each at Target, I got a bit out of hand and bought about 250 of them, but seriously, I won't find them that cheap again all year!) - I'm continuing what I started last year, taking the first ten minutes of class and giving that completely to them, allowing them to do whatever they want in the journals themselves. Then, we did our first 'group' project, a little cheesy and hippie of me, I'll admit, but it was a cool project. I had them divide themselves into groups of equal numbers - again, stressing community and collaboration - then as a group they decorated these cool but cheap plastic flower pots I bought for them, the idea being that we'll plant them and have cool decor in our windows while also symbolically growing and creating together as a group. The pots turned out pretty cool, they were way into doing them, and they surprised me with their ability to get into groups and navigate the sharing aspect of the project with minimal involvement on my part.

Drawing dinosaurs...

Today I did a repeat of that with my younger team, a 1st/2nd grade mix, nearly all kids I've had before. This age always is a tough one to manage in the after school setting, I have no idea why, it just is, so I had to be a little more heavy handed the first day out than I would have liked, but I was thinking of my friend Matt and his 'lay it on heavy, THEN be nice' theory. I'm never very heavy handed, really, and I always bring all discipline back to the concept of community and respect and how actions have to fit within those parameters, but I DID find myself being way more of the old school schoolmarm than I ever normally am. The flower pot project had slightly different results with them - two of the groups nailed it, were able to figure out a system for sharing and fall right into it with no stress (one of them being a group of first graders who settled the 'who goes first' dispute with the oft neglected but highly effective negotiating strategy of a few well moderated rounds of Rock, Paper, Scissors), two of the other groups didn't fare so well, in both cases the group being rocked askew by students that are suffering from some fairly intense emotional issues. So it goes - I try to get the other students to recognize that those particular students might have unique needs, and in turn, get the students prone to sinking the ship to realize their role within the community structure, but one can only do so much...

Also worked with my 'elective' group today, the mix of older kids that choose to take my class. As they year is young, I only have five as of now, all girls, 5th and 6th graders. Would be down for more kids and some diversity, but also would be pretty stoked if I had that set up for an hour on every Tue, Wed and Thur, as is the plan now - we'd get a ton of stuff done. Gave them journals today, talked about projects, and we did a writing exercise - myself included, the nice thing about having a class that small of older students - that I read about over the summer from a writer, Abigail Thomas, who has a book on writing memoirs. The basic framework is that you write about a time in your life - you defining what time means, be it a decade, a season, and event or a day - using only three word sentences, no more, no less. It's a pretty challenging thing to do, but one of those challenges that breaks barriers, gets you to think. They took to it better than I thought they would, we'll get back to it more tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Aboriginal Art continued

Class today went well – we started out with journaling again, students are really starting to fall into synch with that, been doing it for about four weeks now. Trick is to keep them on that cycle and engaged without having them get bored. I like giving them to freedom to do whatever they want and think they need it, but I also try to keep a few prompts/inspirations handy just in case. 1st graders did their usual mix of interesting stuff – some just scribbled and colored, others really got focused in and made some interesting stuff – Tabitha in particular today made a really cool desert type of landscape, and Maritza did an interesting abstract design. Monica, one of our third graders, wrote about having a bad day – feeling lonely, getting pinched by someone. I like to think that the time helps them, really work to structure it so it doesn’t feel like a lesson or activity, just something for them. I think getting their work compiled into actual books will help a lot – they can go over old work, get a sense that it’s their own personal sketchbook/journal.

Continued with the Aboriginal art work today. Reviewed key points from last week – use of symbolism, style of painting with dots, stories. They are retaining the info really well, seem to click and ‘get it’. They really liked doing the dot style painting – Sumner had a good idea and went out before class and bought Q-tips and we had them paint with those instead of paintbrushes – cut out the urge to paint in a more traditional style, and I think they liked the novelty of doing something different.

Excited about shaping up this Indigenous Art theme I’ve been teaching into an actual curriculum – students have been good about being the guinea pigs of sorts for it!