The Eyes Have It!

#mwisdmatters

There are those great moments in teaching art that hit like lightning. They’re usually not on the lesson plan. They rush in like the tide and swamp everything else that you had planned with a sweet crash of excitement. God, I love those moments. They breathe life into your bones. I had one today.

We were drawing detailed eyes in 6th grade art. We had gone through feeling our face for eye sockets and glaring at irises and pupils. I had given each student a mirror. Oh, the hair primping and soulful staring at reflections. It is a riot to watch. We used blending stumps and erased highlights on watery eyes …we hacked our way through a forest of stick eyelashes and caterpillar eyebrows that wiggled over lazy eyelids. But my students were game. This was hard stuff and they were trying….and then….

One student propped his mirror over his drawing and noticed the reflection …he called me over excitedly. “Look at this Mrs. S!” I was blown away by what he had seen and called everyone over to look. It was like a current went through the room. They all ran back to their drawings to create the same optical illusion…”Look, look!” filled the room.

And there it was..the moment they saw their drawings like artists. They went into undiscovered territory. They were excited, they were engaged. I took pictures. What else could I do?  It was a moment worth saving.

 

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3-D Snowflakes

#mwisdmatters

It has been unusually warm here in north Texas. I’m not complaining mind you but I’m craving a little Christmas weather.

The kind of weather where a pot of chili with cornbread takes the chill off your bones. The kind of weather that makes cider and hot chocolate taste good. Sweater weather. So time for a little snow artwork.

My good friend Billie Slater used to bring her Cadets into the building singing…”Pray for snow….pray for snow….” in their best Native American chant rhythm. Well I’m not quite up to that vocally, so we are making snowflakes. Big 3-D snowflakes. I found a very clear tutorial here on the wonderful blog, One Less Headache. Add good instructions plus a sprinkling of science and math and voila, 3-D snowflakes.

 

I have my winter board done too for a little extra snow mojo.

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Let’s get this straight…..not sleet…not ice..I want snow, the big fluffy kind you make snow ice cream with.

Seen in the Hallways

There is magic in the beginning of school. As an art teacher, I am always astonished by the creativity of the teachers around me. Those who profess, “I don’t know anything about art!” or ” I can’t draw a stick figure.” come up with these dynamite bulletin boards and doors. And those who don’t do the hallways spend HOURS arranging their room for the easiest traffic flow, the best group seating arrangements or the best access to technology or reading centers or anchor charts or manipulatives; whatever gives their students the best opportunity to learn. Give a teacher some blue painter’s tape, a few trips to the Dollar Store, file folders and plastic packing crates and you have classroom magic. Architects could not draw up a better blueprint for a learning environment.

Our theme this year is “Travis Students are Blazing New Trails.” Best theme EVER in my opinion. Western theme artwork and messages abound; this is Texas after all and a school in a town like Mineral Wells, rich in a past western heritage. And more importantly those bulletin boards have content. They inspire, they illustrate, they explain, they show respect, love, rules, information and the quality and caring of my intelligent, compassionate colleagues. So congratulations to all those teachers who spent hours in the hallways and in their rooms organizing. While I don’t have a picture of everything you did, I know you outdid yourself again.

#mwisdmatters

Ten Things I’m Thinking Before School Starts

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If you are a teacher, your mind is running at warp speed right now. I end up talking to myself. So here I am writing those rambling thoughts down on paper to get them out of my head.

  1. Do First Things First – I’m a big fan of Stephen Covey and while I will never be that organized I still remember to make a list each day and prioritize. What to do first? Things that will help your students succeed and keep you sane. The rest will wait.
  2. Ask the Question – At the Scavenger Hunt to introduce our newly arriving fourth graders to a new building I met a lot of parents and a few siblings I’d had in my class previously. I jokingly asked a big sister if there was anything I needed to know about the little sister. The mother then told me a vital piece of health information that I really needed to know. I would have received that info later with other documentation, but now I know early. Ask the question. “Is there anything I need to know about your child?” You will be amazed at what they tell you.
  3. The Two Things Kids are Most Afraid of the First Day of School – 1) Am I in the right place? I’m a Fine Arts teacher so students come to me from their core room. 2) Will the teacher pronounce my name correctly? School can be an overwhelming place for many elementary school age students. Harry Wong’s great book The First Days of School always helps me remember that. Check their schedule at the door and ask them how to say their name – takes care of Number 1 and 2. Put your name and your class someplace big and visible. Introduce yourself.
  4. Tell them. Practice. Make them tell you. – Imagine a little marquee running across each child’s forehead. It says, “What do you want me to do?” Answer that question. Make sure they understood by having them show you and tell you. Routines are your friend.
  5. Negative People are Energy-Sappers-Stay away from them. And don’t be one. Enough said.
  6. Have Patience and Compassion – Adults and children have reasons for what they do. Very often you don’t know the whole story. See number 2.
  7. Treat the Secretaries and Janitors with Respect – They run the building and can save your life in a myriad of ways. Besides it’s just the right thing to do with anyone.
  8. Teaching is a service industry. – You are there to serve a lot of customers. The students. The school administration. The parents. The community. Serve. That’s what they pay you for.
  9. Communicate – Talk to your coworkers and principals. Tell them what you are doing. Ask them what they are doing. They cannot read your mind and they are just as busy as you are. Listen more than you talk.
  10. Have Balance – Every day know that you did the best you could and that you now need to leave the worries and work at school. The people waiting for you at home deserve your best too. You will not be any good to them if you are exhausted or not mentally there. Be healthy. Do something for yourself every day. Sleep. Laugh. Work with a happy heart.

Yes, I Broke the Paper Cutter

Austin & Dillan 6thI broke a guillotine paper cutter once cutting rolls of newspaper. A paper cutter is an expensive piece of equipment for a public school, and they are remarkably durable  so I was shocked when the bolt that holds the cutting arm just flat sheared off and the arm came away in my hand. My first thought was “Hmmm….how am I going to explain this one.”

A hush fell over the classroom, broken finally by a student with a penchant for the obvious. “Well, we’re gonna need a new paper cutter.” I was still counting my fingers. I blame Pinterest. See a more sensible lesson plan here that uses smaller tubes.

We were making icosahedrons out of newspaper in my 6th grade art classes. An icosahedron is a geometric form; a polyhedron with twenty faces. Per Wikipedia each regular icosahedron has thirty edges and twenty equilateral triangle faces with five meeting at each of its twelve vertices. This requires a LOT of newspaper tubes. A LOT that have to be cut to equal lengths. Twenty-five tubes per student. Of course a paper cutter is not designed to cut that many thick paper tubes. But it did for a while.

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I was proud I could even pronounce icosahedron, since saying I am mathematically challenged is like saying the Titanic had a small leak. But newspaper was cheap and readily available from the library and classrooms. Ahhh…the digital world is changing that now.

I also was proving to my students how incredibly strong layers of newspaper are when rolled into a tube and taped into triangle faces. They worked together to construct their icosahedrons which were pretty impressive when they got them done. We had a blast making these, and I always wondered where they ended up when the students got them home.

 

Haunting

There is a lovely book out there called Secrets to Drawing Realistic Faces by Carrie Stuart Parks. She is an author, watercolorist and forensic artist and instructor.

The images you see are drawn by sixth graders after exploring her drawing methods in my class in 2009. I’ve read that the arts are not important in the grand scheme of things these days in public schools. I’ve also heard that on average, people give up drawing after the sixth grade. That is so sad.

I look at the beautiful work by these students and it haunts me that some people may think this is not a skill worth teaching. Look in the eyes of these portraits and I dare you not to see the intensity there. They are amazingly telling about the artist and the subject.