Thursday, December 31, 2015

Holiday Vacation

I hope everyone is enjoying a well deserved break. Like most of you, time out of the room doesn't always equal time mentally away from school. My husband and I took our daughter to Colonial Williamsburg and my mind is just churning away with all of the "trades" that we visited. During our visit I had the chance to take a Scherenschnitte workshop at the art museum and it was invigorating.

This falls after the month where students want to do nothing but cut paper snowflakes in my classroom. I'd love to follow up on my enthusiasm with a lesson, but I'm finding the price of the scissors a little daunting ($11-17 per pair....ouch!) While I know I could do the lesson with regular scissors, I definitely appreciated how smoothly and easily the curved blades cut through the paper and I hope they could experience that as well.

What was so magical about the workshop was that special time to create and be pampered as the student. Everything was prepared for me, no clean up. Supplies magically appeared at my desk right before I needed them, what a treat! My previous encounters with the medium were very two dimensional, so I loved that we made ornaments by stitching the cut pieces together. This could be a very scalable project for my upper elementary.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


This year my students finished their negative space line designs early. This has been a favorite the past two years so I'm brining it back. They were allowed to make keychains or tags for their bookbags or ornaments. I was thinking it was a shame that I can't really display them properly and then this idea popped into my head.

There's a tree for each homeroom and instead of ornament hooks, I used a pushpin on each.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Painted Collage

Our librarian asked if I wanted to collaborate after the holidays on a lesson based on the books of Ezra Jack Keats. In my head I'm seeing the Snowy Day book and thinking about how I just planned a ton of winter/snow/snowflake lessons for December. I asked her to bring me a few of the books she has on hand, which she did. Shuffling through them quickly on my lunch break I was immediately drawn to a lesser known book called "Dreams."

So. Much. Eye. Candy.

Pages like this had me quickly making up lesson plans in my head throughout the afternoon as I was teaching other classes.

By the end of the day, I had a quick mock up of where I saw the project going:

But I had a feeling there was a lot more I could do with it. Which is why it's 10pm and I'm up to my elbows in painted paper samples, putting together something more like this:

I can not wait to jump into this after break. Lesson plan and step by step visuals available here.

Test Tiles

Sometimes you just need to follow the experts. I've been making test tiles the way my college professors, cooperating teachers and mentors made them. Actually, my first two years of teaching elementary, I didn't make them at all, I just relied on the catalog pictures and any finished project samples laying around from the previous teacher.

Last year I decided to use mini cookie cutters to help me quickly separate the glaze by brands. So my Amaco are square tiles, the Sax are round and the new "Teacher's Palette" are gingerbread men. As I'm painfully painting the 3rd coat on my 20th gingerbread man I think to myself "I guess this is why the paint your own pottery stores just put a drop of each color on one tile." DING! DING! DING!

Yes! Firing all these little dudes, while completely adorable, was a complete and utter pain. So I grabbed a blank tile leftover from the previous teacher's mural project and was able to knock these out in less than 10 minutes:

I did make a little cheat sheet for myself on scrap paper so I would remember where each color was on the tile. Obviously this tile is not representative of ALL the colors of clay that I might use, but if I make a few slabs of each color clay, I will have a few ready. Not sure why teachers don't do it this way - maybe they don't want students to see ALL the colors, but I'm fine telling them "We're out of that color right now."

And while I've never done a color theory lesson with glazes, I could see how the Teacher's Palette line would be an easy one to try. The above tile is a color wheel using scarlet, lemon and midnight blue. The secondaries are pretty good.

I would love to hear your test tile tips and tricks.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Printmaking With a Twist

So excited about a lesson that I road-tested with my daughter and neighbor today. It's a twist on an old favorite. I'm thinking of this for 3rd grade. Instead of printing the same image they will modify the plate each time, adding a snowflake.

Could extend the lesson an additional week by collaging curtains or painting the back of a head as a silhouette (or just for early finishers). The three week lesson with my symmetry worksheet and step by step visuals are available here.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Stamping with Kindergarten

I love the Elmer books for so many reasons. If you're looking for a non-halloween themed book they do mention dressing up and parades, but in a non-halloween manner in both "Elmer" and "Elmer Again." I recently purchased the latter as an iBook so that I always have it with me on my laptop. And it has audio, so I don't have to read aloud all day and kill my throat.

I decided to use this as an intro to printmaking. We actually did it in reverse, meaning they did the stamping and printmaking lesson first. During our second session we read the book and cut Elmers out of our already stamped paper. You could also do grids on the elephants or Mondrian Elephants.

Even though one of my kindergarten classes had a fire drill in the middle of our painting day I'm still a huge fan of this lesson. And that's saying a lot. I think it looks much harder than it is, and the students were delighted with the result. Doing the book second was new for me, and it was a nice change of pace from "read the story and make something from the book."

My teacher sample, patterns and two week lesson plan are all bundled up over on TpT.

Speaking of I the only one who varies my patterns slightly so they don't all look the same in the hallway? I made some trunks up and some down and I intentionally place them on the table with some facing left and some facing right.

All the leaves are brown

Before the leaves get raked away we're squeezing all of the art projects we can out of them. Kindergarten, 1st and 3rd are all working with leaves in the art room and the playground has never been so empty of leaves.

In kindergarten and first grade we've read the book "Mouse's First Fall" to get started. Kindergarten is tracing leaves and using watersoluble crayons to learn about mixing primary colors. First grade is stamping leaves with metallic paint. Third grade is creating draped clay slabs in leaf shapes.

Lessons available here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Yearbook Contests

'Tis the season for contests. Drawing contests could easily take up an entire year's worth of curriculum if you let them. I try to be very choosy about which contests we participate in, but there is one that most art teachers can't avoid. Yearbook Cover!

As an art teacher I can see the value in the yearbook cover. It's not going to hang in the hall for a week and get torn down. It's not being shipped out of state and we never ever hear back about who (if anyone) ever won.

So, I am totally down with yearbook cover contests. And as the yearbook advisor, this works out just fine for me! But in case you are NOT the yearbook advisor, here's a lesson plan to get you through the one contest your principal will not allow you to skip.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Throw your sponge away

I have to put this idea out here to the universe because it makes so much sense to me, but no one else does it. I don't give kids sponges to clean up unless there is a tsunami of water spilled. I keep seeing the pinterest job board signs of table washers and turbo dryers and I don't get it.

Ready for my clean up plan? It's gonna blow your mind. 

No sponges.

When they wash & dry their hands, they use that paper towel which is now partially damp to wipe off their desk. It almost always has the perfect amount of water on it, and it doesn't need to be dried.

Free poster you can print and tape above your sink to remind them not to toss that towel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Down the Drain

So there have been some housekeeping issues in my new school this week. It turns out the entire building had some plumbing problems and the main access to snake the entire building was....(wait for it) the middle of the art room.

Of course! So I taught on a cart for one day and then relocated to a spare room in the building today. Coming soon....lessons you can do with zero prep and lessons you can do on a cart.

Lines That Wiggle

The only thing better than finding a new book to read to your class, is when you find one that works with several grade levels and results in different projects. This summer I ordered "Lines that Wiggle" and it did not disappoint.

This week I tried the kindergarten lesson that I titled "Rainbows that wiggle" and it was well received. Late I will be trying the "op art" version with my older students. The lesson plan with worksheet and step by step examples is available here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My throat is thankful

I don't know about anyone else, but over the summer my throat gets really lazy. So when called upon in August to deliver for seven hours straight, it goes on strike. Usually in the form of a sore throat the second week of school. My first week's lesson plans are all literature based. All of them. All 28.  I love to read to my students and use contemporary storybooks but I knew what reading for six hours a day would do to my throat. Thinking about the iBooks I downloaded last week with audio I decided to record the books in Garage Band for playback. Now I can walk the books around so everyone can see the pictures while the story is read aloud and my throat takes a nice little rest. Side benefit, I now know exactly how long it takes to read the book so I know how much time is left for the lesson.

Technical notes: I exported the vocal from Garage Band into iTunes and made a playlist of books. I have a bluetooth speaker and plan to put it in the middle of the room and carry my phone in my pocket so I can "pause" if we need to talk about something going on in the book.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

iBooks for the win

Traveling between schools is never fun. Last year I experimented with an iBook for a lesson that I was planning for 3rd grade. It was a relief not having to worry about packing the book up to lug from school to school, but what I wasn't prepared for was the student reaction. By projecting the book with the LCD projector all of the kids could the pictures easily. I saved so much time by not having to move them to another location or reading and then turning the book around to show the picture. There's always that one kid who swears he can't see the picture, right?

So if all of this wasn't enough to make me giddy, tonight I downloaded sky color by peter reynolds and there is an audio component to the book. With auto-page turning. So....

iBooks for the WIN!

This is my current roster of books. Some of them were a great savings, especially when you consider how pricey the hardcover books can be.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

First Day Lesson for Kindergarten

We will read and discuss the book "Art Is" during the first kindergarten class this year. I love this book for many reasons. The balance of old and modern, the simple one-sentence-per-page text and the fun, questioning look at art it provides for students. Plus? Rhymes! I read this book to five different classes last year and every single time someone raised their hand to let me know the words rhymed. Gotta love kindergarten.

The lesson plan is available over on TpT if interested.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Guess who's going to Kindergarten

Well, actually, kindergarten will be coming to me.

Another year, another change. I will be leaving one of my elementary schools and starting at another new school next year. This school has a full-day kindergarten, so the students will have art. My first step to preparing for this big change was to take a closer look at the new visual art standards, specifically the kindergarten performance standards. We have also been informed that after this year, our fifth graders will be coming back to elementary from the middle school, so the following year I will have K-5. I figured while I'm updating my checklists, I'd just start planning everything with the K-5 mindset.

If a free K-5 checklist and condensed at-a-glance printable is helpful to you, feel free to download it over on TpP. There are four different versions with varying degrees of info included. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Scavenger Hunt

The last week of class. Kind of a mixed bag. Passing back work, wrapping things up. I usually reserve the last week as a "free choice" day for classes that earn the reward and a catch up day for those that don't. In talking to my classes this year, the older students asked if there would be an art contest. Last year, they played the circle game and they wanted to do it again. I told them I would come up with something, but it would not be a circle game.

And so it began. The art room scavenger hunt. They had to find examples of colors, shapes and textures and draw them. Great way to review what they've learned and keep them quiet. Yes, I bribed the winner with something from the prize box to discourage them from working (talking loudly) together. The prizes? My extra samples from clay demonstrations. Yes. Crafty and cheap.

I'm selling the worksheet for $1 on Teachers Pay Teachers. All you really need to do is write 8 things on the board and yell go. It kind of works itself out. Will upload lesson plan soon.


Monday, May 18, 2015


This week my students will be starting koinobori. This is a brand new lesson for me and was inspired by the book "Pattern Fish" that I recently ordered. It got me excited for doing a fish lesson other than gyotaku. Since it is spring time in the Northeast I decided on the Japanese Carp Kites.

As I was writing the lesson plan I was excited to see all the amazing connections with the new visual arts standards. Specifically, the presenting category. My previous thinking was mired down with thinking "elementary kids aren't going to mat and frame work" but on closer review there were some more realistic applications. For instance:

  • 1st grade: Ask and answer questions such as where, when, why, and how artwork should be prepared for presentation or preservation. 
  • 2nd grade: Distinguish between different materials
 or artistic techniques for preparing artwork for presentation.

And also these two:

  • Compare and contrast how art exhibited
 in and outside of school in museums, galleries and other venues, including virtual spaces, contributes to the community.
  • Identify times, places and reasons when students make art outside of school.

So. Definitely looking forward to this. Was originally thinking it would be a "filler" lesson for those classes that are way ahead, but now I'm hoping I can squeeze it in with all sections because there's so much good stuff happening here.

Oh, and how about some Haiku to wrap it up? You know, because the pattern 5-7-5 also mimics the half drop repeat pattern of fish scales. Yeah. I'm kind of loving this lesson right now.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Onion Domes

Such a great experience collaborating with a classroom teacher on these onion domes today. I started with a powerpoint to provide context and then moved into a demonstration during their normal class. Since this is a testing week, we arranged for the class to come down again later today as a break from all that left-brained activity. When they returned she shared a word web that she did with them after my lesson. I was amazed at how much they remembered.

When they returned in the afternoon, they were able to jump right into creating the domes.

The finished product. Not bad for 3rd grade.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Just say no to bad art requests

This month I had to just say no, politely, to a teacher request to do a "Rechenka's Egg Project" the day before spring break. As the class entered my room. I let the classroom teacher know that I generally am planning around several weeks in advance, we were in the middle of a perspective lesson and I just couldn't squeeze it in the same day. We've all been there, right?

Wax resist simply for the sake of it's oooh ahhh quality isn't something I had planned to use for the rest of the calendar year for that grade level. So I started thinking of what else we could do to connect to the story. Which led me to creating this adorable onion dome project using model magic. Because they DO need to get some architecture and culture in!

Using about 1 oz of model magic per student, I have enough to accommodate this class and they will get an "Extra" art class during PSSA week as a break from all the testing.

And, I get rid of the container of wine corks in my closet that I keep holding onto. Lesson plan here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Chore Done

The biggest chore on a Monday morning is sometimes getting dressed. I don't know about anyone else, but I can't get away with wearing scrubs to work. This year I started using an app called stylebook to keep track of what I was wearing (or not wearing). Being at different schools, I had a fear that I was probably wearing the same thing every "Day 3." The second thing I did to make getting dressed less of a chore was give the job to someone else. Yes. I delegated that job to stitchfix. If you haven't heard of them, it's a personal styling service that ships you clothes to try on at home. You send back what you don't like in a pre-paid envelope. For me, dragging my 10 year old into the dressing room was half the battle so this helped. Check it out here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Painting with bubbles

Step by step directions for painting with bubbles. Makes a nice, subtle background texture for journalling, notecards and other crafts, or add details to create imagery from the prints. I tried this with liquid watercolors over the weekend, but I think tempera or acrylic would give a richer color. I might let fourth grade experiment with this during the next free choice day before implementing this into a lesson. It was a lot of fun and supplies are cheap!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Free Choice Day

It's that time again.

Free Choice day (or Free Art day as they call it) is in full effect next week. Once per marking period was too frequent. Twice a year is too far apart. I'm going with every 12 weeks, so 3 times per year. I'm really excited about all the new games I purchased using some grant money and can't wait to see their faces when I unveil each center.

Have you incorporated a "Free Choice" Day or activity into your curriculum? How has it worked out or been received? I think I've created a pretty solid lesson plan that would be accepted by our administration. I've linked it to our PBIS reward system. So I use a chart to track the progress of each class. They can earn 5 squares each day. I make the goal so that they have to average 4 squares during the time period. Every now and then they might get a 2 or 3, but it should be balanced out with 4's and 5's. In the beginning I knocked myself out with the guilt if a class didn't earn it, but I've let go and they have to receive the natural consequences (even though it would be FAR easier on me to "let" them all earn it). The last week before they "qualify" I block the chart with black paper so it's a mystery until the end of class (this solves the problem of kids giving up because they already can tell their class won't make the goal). I also block out 5 squares from the end every time their class misses for a field trip, assembly, 2 hour delay, etc.

I just posted the lesson plan and all the activities I offer here.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Post It Note Directions

A lot of times I like to leave step by step illustrations with my sub plans. What I often find is that on step 7 out of 9 I make a silly mistake or realize I drew too big and they won't all fit on one page. I started doing the steps on mini post it notes. Then I can stick them on a sheet of copy paper in order when they are all done. You can slide them into a plastic sleeve if you're afraid they will fall off. This is also great if you decide to change it up from year to year. Or if you find less steps are necessary. I also like having the boxes the same size. This could probably be photocopied to give to students who were absent during a previous class. (Darker post it colors may not work, but yellow should be ok).

Catching Snowflakes

I tried the "catching snowflake" portrait lesson that I first saw here but wanted to make it my own. Instead of painting a jacket on their person, I had the students create a paper loom on the sweater portion and weave the sweater. This provided an authentic extension into weaving.

Luckily I had these students in first grade and they were already familiar with weaving. We used the thickness of a a ruler to make vertical stripes starting at the neck and shoulders to the bottom. Then they wove 1.5" paper strips through. I had them slide each strip to the top and glue it into place before adding another strip. At the bottom they had to glue each section to create a sturdy base.

We also did a mini-lesson on symmetry before they made their paper snowflakes. This lesson took 3 (40-minute) sessions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Clay stampers to label clay

Individual letters are a great way to have students label their own clay pieces. I usually scratch their initials and class code on the back. I'm always afraid I won't be able to read their writing, or that they will squish or collapse their piece. This is something they could do on their own. It would also be a quick way to quickly add the class code to each piece after the students leave.