A Classroom Management Story

Our school mascot, like so many, is the eagle. Recently the counselor introduced a school-wide signal for getting students’ attention and asked us all to use it so that the children were all practiced at responding immediately and effectively. It goes like this: The teacher calls out ‘Eagles, Eagles’ and the children respond ‘Soar High’. It works. It really does, so I have begun using it in class to call the children to attention.

This week at the end of a 1st grade class, I called out ‘Eagles, Eagles’ and got the appropriate response of ‘Soar High’, so when I had their attention I continued ‘Eagles, Eagles, go back to your nests’. The children scuttled back to their seats quickly, but not quietly. Immediately I noticed a rumpus breaking out at two of the tables on either side of the room. The children there were discussion something quite heatedly, and paid no attention at all to my call for quiet. Eventually I had to dismiss the class, but held back the children from those two tables to find out what was going on.

They admitted that there was an argument at the table, but on closer questioning it sounded like something different. They were arguing about who was the parent, the youngest, the eldest and so on. I still didn’t really understand, but realized they were role-playing of some sort, and let them go.

It was when one courageous girl held back and told me that this always happens in art class, that I really tried to get to the bottom of it. After all, why in art class? Then it dawned on me… my instruction for the eagles to go back to their nests (which other teachers don’t do) sparked the whole role-play game of who was who in the eagle’s nest: who were the parents, the chicks, and even the teenagers…

I had to laugh, but was glad to be told what had caused the reaction. I won’t be using that command again, even though they did seem to enjoy the variation on ‘sit down’.

Art Tutor Inspires Creativity

Sick one day at home recently, I was browsing around the internet looking for inspiration for my art classes, and I found it in spades. I stumbled across the site Art Tutor – an online art school based in the UK. It offers a multitude of classes and courses in all painting and drawing media and for all levels, from newcomers to intermediate and advanced artists. The range of photos on display in their gallery was inspiring, and the few free tips and short classes they offered was exciting. I signed up to receive their on-line magazine, and within a few days was offered a week-long free trial of their myriad courses and classes. This coincided with a 4-day weekend we had, so I dived into the free trial and spent the weekend working through courses on watercolor painting techniques with the talented guidance of tutor Bob Davies. The classes are divided into short video segments, so are manageable even to fit into a busy schedule. All you need are the basic supplies and a computer or tablet with an internet connection, plus the desire to work through the classes and not just watch the videos! Although I am not a beginner, I decided to look at these classes first from the perspective of the art teacher that I am. I picked up all sorts of useful tips, tricks and techniques to pass onto my students. I believe that being a student oneself is a terrific way to learn new skills and teach them to others. Needless to say, before the free trial was over I had signed up as a full member for a year. There are different membership categories, though the annual one is the best value. I am excited to be able to access all their materials throughout the year, and to work on developing my painting skills in new media at my own pace. Now I’m working on my Christmas gift list – of new art supplies!


Teaching Art Around the World

Having recently completed a pretty intense but rewarding on-line Printmaking Studio course through the Art of Education, (www.theartofed.com) I was broached by my tutor, Tim Bogatz, who invited me to contribute to a series they were compiling for their online magazine on teaching art around the world. I happily agreed, and spent quite a while during the hectic last month of the school year writing essays in answer to the questions he sent me. These pertained to my job, my school, life in Ethiopia as well as about me and my background. I included a large selection of photos to illustrate my essays, and waiting in anticipation for the article to be published. The first episode came out one Monday in early July, and was from an art teacher in Norway. The article was fascinating and very well written and illustrated; making me even more excited about seeing the episode I was involved with. The episodes were being released each Monday through July. I happened to be on a week-long Alaskan cruise in mid-July, where our internet connectivity was extremely limited, so consequently I actually missed the publication date of my story! I discovered it almost by accident a week or so later, by which time another episode or two had been published. I was impressed with the quality of the entire series, and fascinated to read each story. The on-line magazine format enabled the inclusion of a great variety of photographs which really brought each story to life. Here’s a link to the article on Ethiopia, and to the series including India, Norway, Thailand, South Korea and Germany.

Teaching Art Around the World: Ethiopia

Art Studio: Time for Creativity, Choice & Passion

During lunch recess elementary students flock to the art room for studio time to work independently or collaboratively on self-chosen art projects. Each month there is a new theme, with new materials to explore for students who want a bit of guidance or direction. This month, October, the theme of course is Halloween and the medium is collage. Children select materials from a supply table and an open set of cubbies, with a tempting variety of papers, stamps, and stencils. They may spend some time getting inspiration from the books and magazines in the art room library, or may come with ideas from home which they want to try out. Some students prefer to work on improving their drawing skills, while others love coloring pages while they relax and chat with friends. A current craze is Origami, and that center is always full of children helping each other create new origami pieces. Young artists also often want to work on art projects begun in class, so for 30 minutes each lunch hour, the room buzzes with up to 25 students voluntarily and happily spending their free time being creative, self-directed artists.


My Learning Safari.

My mind is dizzy, filled with thoughts of Genius Hour, Design Thinking, iPad management, Augmented Reality apps, Passion Projects, Maker Spaces and baboons. I’ve been tweeting, reading, talking and photographing for days, but am still trying to assimilate all I’ve learned sufficiently to reflect and act on it all. The Learning 2.014 conference, held here at ICS, was an incredible event for international and global minded teachers. It was a meeting of minds and sharing of experiences for over 150 educators, and offered an outstanding quality of presentation, teaching and learning, exploring, innovating and connecting.

So What Did I Learn?

I learned to be open-minded and courageous, and take part in workshops and discussions where I had very little prior knowledge, knowing that I’d come away more knowledgeable than when I started. One example was a workshop on using an augmented reality iPad app. I had no idea I could do such things, and that I can do these with a class of students, even young ones. I came away filled with ideas which I will try to implement in my art room including gallery tours, and videos of students creating artwork, which can be layered with trigger images of their finished pieces. These would be great pieces to incorporate into their ePortfolios.

I learned that I’m already knowledgeable and on the right track in some areas. I am inspired by the idea of Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% time, student-led inquiry and interest based learning. The practicalities of implementing these ideas in my art room is what has swamped me. I know that students will learn more when they have input and choice, but how do I do Genius Hour when I see my students for under an hour each week? How to plan and store Passion Projects with 280 students? Where can I introduce choice when I have a curriculum to cover? What I learned was that I probably can’t do any of these without tweaking them. I need to take the underlying philosophy of choice, passion and student-led inquiry into my art room in other ways. I can give students more choices in either subject matter, or medium, and it doesn’t have to be both at once. I can try out 20% time, and allow students to work on independent projects every quarter or term. I can encourage students to bring their passion projects to the art room to work on them during lunchtime art studio. I will ensure that there is student-led inquiry built into our curriculum.


I learned that Creativity is key. In the art room that seems obvious, but it is possible that teaching art skills can stifle creativity. There needs to be space for students to explore new materials and learn new techniques, then use what they’ve learned to create something new. There needs to be time when students can wander on their own course, and not be always tied to following directions.

I learned to use Design Thinking in my art studio to solve real-life problems. After a session working on helping each other solve design issues in our rooms, I can transfer the same design thinking process to the art room. My own students can work together to innovate and build creative solutions for our problems.

I learned that social connectivity is as important for teachers as it is for our students. By engaging, talking, sharing and learning from each other, we all grew as learners, and as educators. Including social time in our classrooms should and could be just as beneficial.





Art on the First Day. Rules can Wait!

How relevant is your PD?

Don’t you love PD ideas you can use on the first day of school?

DSCI0042 DSCI0035

Last summer I enrolled in the Art of Education Summer Conference to recharge my batteries and get my creative juices flowing before school opened for a new school year. Besides the amazing day of presentations which I know I will use throughout the year, articles by talented art educators are regularly published on the AOE website. It was one of these that inspired me to do things differently in my class this year, beginning on the very first day of school.

With 200+ new students on my roster this year, I was motivated to excite and engage students on the very first day of school, and have them produce a painting in their first class with me, rather than spend the time going over rules, routines and classroom procedures before getting to creating art.

Taking an idea straight from my conference, every student in the elementary school painted an abstract/ non-objective painting in their first art class of the year. After a brief intro to the vocabulary, they were painting. Throughout the lesson they followed directions, thought about composition, color and symbolism. They also learned where to collect materials they needed, and how to clean-up afterwards. This was all accomplished without spending extra time on talking explicitly about classroom routines and expectations.

Well the kids loved it!



Marshmallow Challenge

As an end-of-term activity in the Art Studio, 4th and 5th graders took the Marshmallow challenge. Working in collaborative teams of 4 or 5, they had 20 minutes to erect the highest free-standing structure using only one marshmallow, spaghetti sticks, tape and scissors. It was fascinating watching them planning, diving in, leading, discussing, problem solving, making decisions and aiming high.  There were a few successes, and many failures, as teams got too ambitious. At the end of the day, one team of 4th graders took the championship, with a structure standing over 55cms high.


Choice Based Art: Inquiry into Op Art

The artist of the month in our Art Studio is M.C Escher, as 4th graders are learning about and creating their own Op Art. They showed a great interest in this unit, so I decided to extend it beyond the initial activity of creating an optical illusion collage with colored rhombuses.

I set up an ‘Op Art Lab’ in the studio, where students could chose between activities, and rotate between centers at their own pace. Their choices included a Tessellation Station, Impossible Initials (based on the Penrose Triangle and Frustro font by Martzi Hegedűs), and creating a Magical Mobius Strip. Another option was a read, relax and research station, where they could browse our Art library Op Art books, or conduct research on the classroom Apple desktop. Some students had been inspired by optical illusions displayed on the Art Studio walls, and chose to try to replicate those. Towards the end of the sessions devoted to this inquiry, I introduced an iPad with the Amaziograph app, and encouraged students to try an activity in a Scholastic Optical Illusion activity book in the room.

By the end of this inquiry unit, the students had a broad experience of Op Art, as well as a great interest in the subject. They had collaborated to work on the Mobius Strip, had made connections using the Penrose triangle to write their own impossible initials, and had worked with shape, form, color and space to create tessellating patterns. Additionally, they appreciated the freedom to select their own activities, and to take the inquiry into this field in a direction of their choice.

iPads in Art: AOE Online-Class

This has been a month of discovery, challenges, questioning, frustrations and overall mind-opening experiences. Having never used an iPad at all before this class, I ran my first iPads in Art After-School class with students last Tuesday and taught a Percolator app lesson with my 5th graders. That’s a lot of progress in one month, and my confidence has soared! Additionally, I have been reading two highly inspiring books for educators: Open, by David Price, and Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary Stager. In conjunction with this class, I feel inspired to change my teaching style to adapt to all these new ideas. I love that after 20+ years in a classroom, I can still be learning so much myself. I love that I am in a school where I am encouraged and enabled to grow professionally. I love my job!

Four apps or tools I learned:

This year I am dependent on borrowing iPads for Art from the shared school cart, so am restricted to using apps that are approved by the school. If an app is free, I can fairly easily request for it to be uploaded onto the iPads, but it is much more difficult for paid apps. We have a rubric for selecting new paid apps, but one problem is that the approved apps have to be uploaded to all the school iPads, which raises the cost, of course. Last week I was able to get Sketchbook Express and Photoshop Express onto all the shared iPads. Therefore, until I can get even a small set of iPads for sole use in the art room, I will focus on using Sketchbook Express for drawing and painting, Photoshop Express for photography, iMovie or Smoovie for movies or stop-motion, and Toontastic, Explain Everything and Book Creator for storytelling. There are a number of great apps I discovered in this class that are on my personal iPad, which I will use with my classes in a more restricted way, individually or with small groups. Adobe Photoshop Express is relatively straightforward, and has fewer drawbacks than other free apps. I have had it uploaded to all the school shared iPads and plan to use it with my after-school activity. It’s easy to create albums, has a range of filters and simply cropping and editing tools. Sketchbook Express is another app I had put onto the school iPads. My students were exploring this app last week, and really enjoyed the symmetry tool, which is just one of the neat functions in this app. I like that students have to be very creative with this app, as there are no short cuts to creating a product. I created both Flickr and Pinterest sites for my students, and am planning to use them to display the best of my student’s artwork. I will have to sync the iPads individually to my classroom desktop after each lesson, so think they will work better for me than either Artsonia or Dropbox. I also plan to use Twitter to promote my students’ art – both individually and collectively, and raise awareness of special programs and exhibitions. I can reach our parent body through the school twitter accountwhen new displays go up at school. I can also tweet about extra curricular programs like my lunch-time Art Studio and after-school iPads in Art program.

Three things I will take back to my classroom:

I already described apps and web tools I’d like to use above, so these are three other things that I have learned, and will use with my students: Learning collaboratively and sharing ideas is so stimulating and rewarding. I need to find more ways for my students to collaborate on art projects, and this can be both in the classroom, between classes in my school, and between schools. I need to balance high-tech with low-tech projects in my art room. Although my school is very high tech (especially for a school in Ethiopia), I do not have much technology in my art room beyond a computer and projector. With my new found confidence, and wide array of new ideas, this is something I intend to work to change this year and next. Pursuing a passion makes learning easy. This week I convinced my principal to schedule Art Studio time with students into my work load, to allow for individual project based learning experiences. As well as optional Art Studio lunch-time sessions, this will allow students to pursue their creative passions; and now iPads can be a part of that picture.

Two goals I have:

My professional development goal for this year is to improve my use of technology for student learning, (which is also a school goal) and communication about the elementary school art program. With this course I have gained many of the tools to achieve both goals. Last week I began an after-school activity program for students in grades 4 and 5, with one session a week for 10 weeks. To improve communication about the elementary art program, I plan to use Twitter, Flickr and Pinterest. My second goal is to improve the level of technology hardware available for my art room and art classes. I aim to get funding for a set of iPads for the art room for next year, as well as an Apple TV.

One thing I will never forget:

One thing I will never forget is my first attempt at using iPads in the art room with a class of students: The fear of facing that first lesson; the worry that I just wasn’t ready; the ease with which the lesson ran; the gleeful delight on the children’s faces as they created characters and settings, and told their stories; the success of the lesson, and the growth in my confidence.

AOE Conference

Today has been a stimulating, motivating, challenging and rewarding day of professional development – all from the comfort of my own home. I have spent the entire day watching video presentations by art educators for the online winter Art of Education (AOE) conference. It started just before 7pm on Saturday night here in Ethiopia (10am in Iowa) and was due to run until midnight. Having never participated in an online conference before, I was excited to see how it would go – especially given the challenges we face with power and internet.

The first few minutes were a rush, watching over 900 people come online all over the world. Most attendees were from America, but there were a handful of us from Africa, and others from Europe and Australia.

Luckily my husband had forfeited an invitation to celebrate Burns night with friends and colleagues, as shortly after the conference opened, the power went out at our house. He helped me light candles, and ran the generator to power our ADSL line, and luckily I’d had the foresight to charge up my laptop during the day. So I switched over to my MacBook Pro, and within minutes was back on-line.

The conference consisted of a series of 10 minute presentations, like art Ted-talks, for 5 hours straight! What a wealth of information in one evening! Many of the presenters were names I knew from AOE classes, popular blogs and Twitter, but many are people I now will look up myself and follow more of their doings.

With streaming problems finally driving me to bed before the conference was over, I then spent the next day downloading all the recorded presentations, and have spend the whole day today watching them – thanks to my school allowing me a PD day to make the most of the experience. I have come away with lists of materials to buy, projects to try, initiatives to look into, practical tools to use in my art room, concepts to research and pages and pages of links to further information. It has been astounding collecting all this material in such a short time. Having attended many large professional conferences around the world, never before have I had such a wealth of relevant material delivered so efficiently. No time (or money) was wasted on traveling, socializing, finding conference rooms or hotel rooms. Yes, I missed out on the camaraderie and idea-sharing that a regular conference provides. However, for under $100, this conference was extremely good value – and that’s not even counting the delicious swag bag of goodies that were mailed right to my door!

It has even motivated me to write my first blog post!