Thursday, June 16, 2016

2015-16 in review: 6th grade

I really love our 6th grade curriculum because it seems the most cohesive. It ties directly in with what students are learning in 6th grade social studies at our school- exploring ancient civilizations and the meaning of culture. There are very clear essential questions: What is culture? How do different people in different times and places express their beliefs and traditions? How do cultures influence each other and change over time? Since 11 and 12 year olds are opening up their awareness of their own place within culture, these themes can also help them define identity, critique popular culture, and better understand others. It excites me that art can be the place where so many ideas and experiences integrate. All that said, some projects were better than others and there are definitely changes I would like to make for next year.
  • Prehistoric art: Students took a virtual tour of the Caves of Lascaux. They considered several possible purposes for why these ancient tribes would have drawn animals and handprints on the cave walls: perhaps to document their experiences of daily life, perhaps as magical thinking to summon the prey they desired to hunt, perhaps to show gratitude to the spirits of the animals they had killed. After painting a textured cave wall- with thought to what rocks and minerals look like (hello science connection!) Students imagined a story they would like to tell about themselves and their experiences and drew in charcoal and pastel over their paper. The one above depicts a dance competition my student won. We also made a class mural of handprints to represent our "tribe". I like using this as a way for the newly-formed classes of students to begin connecting as a team.

  • Sumerian statues: Next we studied the Mesopotamian River Valley, the development of laws (Hammurabi's code), cuneiform as a writing system, ziggurats as public buildings, and votive figures used in tombs to give offerings. This really lays the foundation of what we focus on all year. I showed my students how to work with clay, and they had a choice to make a signature cylinder seal, a cuneiform tablet, or a votive figure showing their "gifts". The student above made her figure hold a cupcake to show off her baking talent. I enjoyed seeing how each student decided what path to take for the project, and hope to continue doing options like this for every unit next year.

  • Egyptian sculptures: After finding out what students already knew about Egypt (a lot!), we further explored ideas about the pharoahs, the pyramids, and hieroglyphics using a Scholastic Art magazine on Egypt. I had students vote on which topic they were most interested in, and formed groups according to interest. Each group did further research on their topic and formed a plan of how they would create something together showing what they had learned. We then used papier mache and some plaster to create large-scale sculptures. I had reproductions of the sphinx, Tutankhamen's death mask, standing pharoah sculptures, tomb offerings, tomb paintings,and sarcophagi. It was a very long project because working in groups is always a challenge. However, student interest was extremely high because they were focused on the thing they were most interested in and working with people they liked. My students were so proud of what they had made, they "borrowed" their projects from the hallway displays I'd made to use in their Egypt presentations in social studies class, too. 

  • Greek architecture and mythology: For this project my students had to do some homework. They each had to select a Greek god or goddess to research and bring in a picture example and a paragraph story about their myth. We learned about the Parthenon and the various orders of Greek architecture. I showed how to use the rulers to plan a temple structure that included a stylobate (stairs/foundation), columns, entablature, and pediment. Then they had to draw their chosen god or goddess as a statue inside the temple and add symbols and details in the pediment to help symbolize who it was. We know the image above represents Athena, goddess of wisdom and war because of the owl and shield and arrows. 

  • Byzantine mosaic: Next we explored the Roman empire, the introduction of Christianity and the split into Eastern and Western empires. We learned about icons and iconoclasts, and the use of mosaics in Byzantine churches. We had a debate about whether it was better to be an iconophile or an iconoclast, which was surprisingly heated! Then students chose to design a mosaic that was an icon, honoring someone they admired, or iconoclast, showing a symbol or pattern instead of a figure. I had done this project as a group collaboration last year, but was displeased with how long it took and how difficult it was to get the students to collaborate.This year I cut 6x6 inch cardboard for each child to make an individual piece, but it STILL took forever to complete, and in the end was voted as the students' least favorite project. I'll have to figure something else out next year.

  • Islamic tile design: We learned about the spread of Islam throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, and looked at examples of Islamic architecture and design like the Alhambra, the Blue Mosque, and the Dome of the Rock. We also viewed a video on how tiles are made in Iznik, Turkey today for inspiration. Students designed a pattern unit using geometric and nature-inspired shapes to carve into foam plates, then printed their design in a repeating pattern across a 9x12 page. When complete, they colored details, considering symmetry and repetition. This is one of my favorite projects all year! I love printmaking and I love repeating patterns in my own artwork, and this is one of those projects where everybody's art looks amazing all displayed together.

  • Kano ink and gold: Last year at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a gorgeous exhibition of Japanese art by the Kano dynasty of artists. I bought the postcard set, which had many scenes of animals in landscapes all drawn in ink with gold backgrounds. I also found a great video on Khan academy that explained how the shoguns wished to show off their power and wealth through paintings of dragons and tigers on screens and doors in their palaces. I let students select an image of their choice to work from and experiment with painting directly with india ink. Some wanted to sketch first in pencil, but I banned the pencils and erasers for this one so as not to lose the freshness of the painted lines. We spent a class period just painting in ink, then a second one to add color details and gold backgrounds. This is another project I really love, for the diversity of images that result and the energy of the lines. I know many art teachers frown on copying, but the students focus so intently on reproducing their postcard on a larger scale and working from images increases their visual vocabulary beyond the hearts and flowers they constantly doodle.
  • Navajo weaving: Our final culture study is the Navajo tradition of weaving. We look at how their weavings changed over time as they came in contact with other cultures like the Pueblo, the Spanish, and the American settlers. There's also a Philadelphia connection as later designs utilized yarns spun and dyed in Germantown and traded out West. I taught my 6th graders how to warp a cardboard loom and do 3 different tapestry weaving techniques. When complete they chose whether to finish it off as a bookmark, a bracelet, a pouch, or a headband, and we talked about how some art is functional. Instead of tying knots, this year I ran each weaving through my sewing machine to zigzag the ends from unraveling. It took less time than tying all those knots and looked better too!  I have a few students in 6th grade who are also in fashion design club after school, and they helped their classmates sew on the machines, too.
  • I have no pictures of our final project due to time constraints, but we reviewed all the reasons why ancient peoples made art. Then I offered a variety of materials, and had students select their own purpose or intention for creating a work of art that would represent their culture. There were several flags (US, Mexican, Italian, Canadian, and El Salvadorian), many sports-related projects, many dance and music inspired pieces, and lots of telephones an video game references.
I have to admire teachers who are full TAB/choice based classrooms. It is not easy to manage 25 children in the art room doing so many different ideas and materials. I want to create opportunities for choice in my curriculum because student engagement is dramatically higher when they are doing things they are interested in doing. On the flip side, I find our projects taking longer because my students don't seem accustomed to making decisions and plans for themselves. It's much harder for them. However, the more we do this, the better they should get at it. I believe the curriculum I've developed spirals and scaffolds to encourage students to have a strong concept of the purpose of art in culture and a strong understanding of art history. Unfortunately, what is lacking in my 6th grade curriculum right now is observational drawing skills, and that's something I hope to improve upon in the future.

Monday, June 13, 2016

2015-16 in review-5th grade

My Blue Art Room has had quite a hiatus! When last I blogged here I was just starting my 3rd year of teaching and beginning a new position of middle school art teacher. Now, here I am finishing my 4th year of teaching and 2nd in middle school. I'd like to get back into the habit of reflection and sharing here. Technology changes and social media changes, and I've spent much more time interacting with other art teachers on Facebook than doing the long, slow practice of writing about my work.

So, here we go.
The end of the school year is when I pass out the portfolio of work back to students and ask them what was their best piece and worst piece. It gives me an idea of which projects are worth doing again or not. My school's art curriculum is structured strongly around art history, and I try to connect with contemporary art and artists whenever possible. I've also tried to develop lessons for my middle schoolers that will have a significant level of choice and individual expression. 

5th grade
  • My museum: Our 5th graders were lucky to have the chance to visit the Barnes Foundation at the beginning of the school year. To prepare them for their trip we learned about Barnes'symmetrical ensembles, the job of a curator, and the different genre of art. They arranged their own museum galleries using printouts of some of the images from the Barnes collection, and drawing a 1 pt perspective room with museum details like lighting, signs, visitors, and guards. When complete, they critiqued them by deciding which museum they would most want to visit and why.
  • Masterpiece Mashup: Delving in further into the collections at the Barnes, my students talked about what art they liked best, and selected 2 images from postcards from the Barnes to mashup into their own unique masterpiece. Although.. it appears that this one was sparked by arms and armor and a George Segal from the PMA-my postcard collection must have been a little mixed up. hen complete, the students decided how to display their masterpieces in a Barnsian ensemble. (ps-I hate oil pastel.)
  • Hex signs: Taking one last inspiration from the Barnes, we explored hex signs. When Barnes couldn't import art from abroad during WWII he turned to local handicrafts for his collection. Since our state standards require us to introduce PA art and artists, this hex sign project was perfect. These symbols are found all over Southeastern Pennsylvania on the barns of PA Dutch farmers. My students were eager to share their experiences seeing them on trips out into Lancaster county. We were also able to learn radial design, geometric shapes, and color symbolism.

  • Self-portrait monoprints: This is one of my favorite projects in 5th grade, because printmaking is so much fun. We combined monoprinting (markers on plexiglass laid over photo printouts, traced, and printed)and texture rubbings for the backgrounds) We talk about emotional color and mood. Some students enjoy utilizing more than one of their prints to express different sides of their personality.
  • Still-life relief prints: our printmaking adventure continued with foam relief prints. I let students choose to draw their own object or use a magazine image for inspiration. They carved their foam and printed. Those who were ambitious carved for a reduction print or cut out part of the foam for a puzzle block color effect. I liked how the process allowed for differentiation. It was simple enough for my lower students with levels of progressive difficulty for my higher students. Some chose to alter their prints by coloring them with colored pencils as well.
  • National Parks landscape stamp design: I've done similar versions of this project before. Sometimes it's famous landmarks, or state symbols. In honor of the anniversary of the National Park system this year, I assigned each student a different National Park to research. We went to the computer lab and researched images of the landscape, the animals, and the plant life to use in a stamp design. This was an opportunity to connect with science and ecology, as well as with social studies and geography. One class did this project as a watercolor pencil painting, and another did it as a photoshop collage. The digital versions were much more successful and related with the concept of design.
  • Face jugs: I found an excellent video on PBS History detectives on Edgemont, SC pottery to introduce my students to the tradition of face jugs. I also shared a video read-along of the story of Dave the Potter. Our face jug project even tied back into the Barnes collection and his African Masks. (I love it when I can tie together all sorts of connections in a project!!!) I taught my students to make a pinch-pot base and coiled body for a simple pot, then scoring, slipping, smoothing clay to attach the features. This is the first time in K-8 our students get to work with real clay, since there is no kiln in our elementary building. When complete we used our jugs for a cereal or OJ breakfast and talked about what forms are better for which purpose.
  • Narrative Collage: For a literacy connection, my students learned about storytelling in art. We looked to Pieter Breughel for inspiration, then created a magazine collage with a setting, character, and action.Once complete, students chose to write a story to accompany their picture or to draw a before or after picture to show sequence, cause and effect, or problem/solution. My students really struggled with the collage aspect. I think next year I should try it as a cartooning unit instead,
  • Art History Zine: I don't get to see my 5th graders during PSSA testing due to rescheduling, so while they were with my sub I assigned each student an artist throughout at history to research. They had to find an image, 3 biographical facts, and a quote. I tried to select a range of women and men of a variety of cultures fora diverse selection. Students then drew a comic book-like bio page using their research for reference. Once I got them back I photocopied each student's page, and had them choose up to 5 pages they would like to use to make a small zine. They origami-folded each pamphlet and glued them together into a book with covers. They made a title page and book review on the covers, as a final touch. I also sent home permission slips to see if my students could have their work donated to our local zine library- the Soapbox. I created one big 20 page zine using the images they drew to donate. I liked how this project involved research, cartooning, book arts, and public art ideas.
  • My Philadelphia Story: My students were invited to participate in a public art project that will be installed at the Philadelphia International Airport. I visited the studios of Matthew Alden Price and Won Kyoung Lee to learn more about it. Then had my students draw pictures and bring objects to donate that reflected their experience of the city of Philadelphia. The Phillies, The Eagles, the Mummers, softball, skateboarding, bike life, and dance are the things my students love the best about their city.
  • My favorite genre: to conclude our study of various genre of art and techniques this year,I challenged my students to select what type of picture they preferred (portrait, still life, landscape, narrative, abstract, or public) and the 2D medium they preferred (pencil, marker, paint, pastel) to create a final personal work of art. This one started as a still-life of a duck decoy, but then he added the pond and reflection around it. I was so proud of my students and their engagement in this final project. Many reported this as being their favorite project because they really felt like artists making decisions.
I'm pleased with how the 5th grade curriculum has developed. I understand the big picture and purpose of how the projects to together and use an essential question to drive the learning. I believe we will continue to work with these themes next year. I would like to do more observational drawing practice with next year's 5th graders to bridge the awkward middle school belief in drawing ability. They don't THINK they know how to draw. They need more opportunities to try. I've shared 10 of the 13 projects we did together in 5th grade this year. Two years ago I lamented how little work we'd accomplished in one year. In comparison, this year 5th grade art was a brilliant success!