Documenting Work

I'm a big fan of "process over product". I love the act of slathering paint on a canvas, and I encourage my students to get consumed by their own art making rather than being distracted by how it might turn out. With that being said, I recognize the importance of documenting the product (grants, shows, portfolios, etc.). In this video Otis College Faculty, Chris Warner, explains how to document your two-dimensional work properly and economically. I hope it encourages people to share their finished work, and maybe even take a few photos of the process too!

Studying Slöjd

Last week I took my kindergarten classes to Sweden! Okay, we didn't actually leave the school. Instead we discuss Slöjd, looked at crafts from Swedish children, and worked with our hands to build our own crafts. By providing my students with the resources to explore Swedish culture, they left the classroom feeling as if they had traversed the globe. 

During my recent visit to the Nordiska Museet I was really inspired by the Skol Slöjd exhibit, an entire exhibition dedicated to the importance of school craft. Among the many beautiful crafts were these large marionette puppets that had been carved from wood and covered in beautiful textiles. I reached out to the museum to see if there were any additional resources that they could share with me from this exhibit. One of the museum curators responded with photos, text, and even an introduction to the educator who lead the students that made those beautiful puppets I saw at the museum.  

I gathered all of the information and began writing curriculum. I focused on two things: providing my students with a chance to experience Swedish culture, and teaching them practical art making techniques. The class began with a quick look at a world map and an invitation to come with me on "an adventure!" (A bit of pandering on my part - what kindergartener doesn't want to go on an adventure?!) I showed them the images of Swedish children working with wood and textiles to build their puppets. We took a minute to do a creative movement exercise exploring the proportions of our own bodies (Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes is a great way to do this with kindergarteners). Then I introduced them to their materials - wood (craft sticks) and textiles (scraps of old clothes). I was very impressed with the way my students were focused on this project. Each student took their time adding intricacies to make their puppet a representation of themselves. Afterwards I noticed some students using their puppets to communicate with one another.

The arts open up opportunities to introduce your students to vastly different cultures, and research shows that those schools who are incorporating global curriculum into their classrooms are seeing some great improvements. If anyone is interested in using any of my resources on Slöjd please contact me. I'd be happy to share them.

Slöjd Puppets from Nordiska Museet

Slöjd Puppets from Nordiska Museet

One of My Student's Slöjd Puppet

One of My Student's Slöjd Puppet

Classroom Management 101


I'm beginning to notice that the school year has a pretty substantial affect on student moral. Transitioning back into classroom routine after a long winter break can be very difficult for some students, causing them to act out in wild ways. Recently I was asked by another teaching artist for advice on how to properly manage an unruly class. So here is some of the advice I shared: 

  • Set Expectations - Establish your own set of art room rules that are clearly explained to your class on the first day, keep them visible, and remind your students of these rules regularly. For me, my one and only art room rule is respect. My students know that this means they are expected to be respectful to themselves, to their neighbors, and to the art.
  • Offer Options - If you have a student refusing to do the planned art activity challenge them to use their materials in a unique way. Allow your student to experiment with the materials however they want (while being respectful). By doing this they can redirect their energy into art, and even though it may look nothing like what you'd expected, they are able to work creatively rather than throwing a tantrum.
  • Focus on the Positive - Don't acknowledge a student who is acting out, instead call attention to the ones who are setting a good example. Rather than saying "Susan get out from under the table!" consider comments like "I like the way Josh is covering his whole paper with marks." If you notice that the student who was acting out becomes responsive to this take a moment to check in with them to see if you can get them back on track. 
  • Get Excited - Many teaching artists have the power of being a novelty to their students. Use this to your advantage, and capture their attention. You can do this by periodically making exclamations like, "I can't wait to show you the materials we're going to use today!" Pause for them to acknowledge what you're saying, and if they are still acting out remind them that you can only make art together if everyone is following the art room rule(s).

Of course even the most seasoned educators still find themselves in a chaotic classroom, and they are better for it. These tips have served as trusty tools for me over the years, and I'm sure I will have many more opportunities to consider new ways of managing difficult classroom situations. I recently stumbled upon this food for thought in a group discussion on Edutopia: 

"Will what I am about to do or say bring me closer or will it push me away farther from the person with whom I am communicating?"

Field Research at Home

Rather than feeling nostalgic for my recent travels, I've decided to continue looking at the world around me through a curious eye. It's easy to be enamored with a new city, and all too often we allow ourselves to become numb to what feels familiar. After living in San Francisco for 1.5 years now I realize that there is still so much to explore here. During my explorations in Stockholm, Barcelona and London I kept a sketchbook close by at all times to document everything. I recorded color palettes, movement, sound, stories, etc. Now I'm challenging myself to keep up this field research, and I would encourage all art makers feeling uninspired to do the same. Everything is interesting, just take a closer look.

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Back to School Inspiration

Winter break is over, and today is the first day back in the classroom for many educators. Here is a short video from Edutopia on the ways arts integration can deepen learning. I found it to be very inspirational, and a wonderful reminder of the power of the arts.

School's Out: London

Barcelona's culture has been a stark, but comfortably familiar, contrast from what I experienced in Stockholm. Being there for New Year's Eve offered the perfect opportunity to see the city in full force, and staying in the neighborhood Gràcia gave me the feeling of being home rather than being on vacation (with a view that more than made up for the six-story walk-up). Today I'm in London, my last stop before heading home. Here are some of the places on my list to explore:

Tate Modern - the national collection of international modern art
Shakespear's Globe - a reconstruction of Shakespear's open-air playhouse
Saatchi Gallery - contemporary art by largely unseen young artists

School's Out: Stockholm

Today I'm flying to Stockholm. Winter break can be a much needed time for teacher's to decompress, and, hopefully, return to their students feeling rejuvenated. I'm looking forward to gleaning some of Stockholm's art and culture to take back to my studio and the classroom. Here are some of the places on my list to explore:

The Nordiska Museet - museum of Swedish culture, design and handcraft
Fotografiska - photography museum
Dansens Hus - contemporary dance and performance art house

Experiments in Art Making

"These are your tools to experiment with." Young children have no trouble exploring the infinite possibilities of art making materials. As we get older influences begin to limit our perceptions. During a recent class on value with my fourth grade students, I greeted them by simply saying, "These are your tools to experiment with." Their materials: a paintbrush, paper and ink. Each table had a slightly different value of black ink, from the purest black ink to completely clear water. The group had five minutes at each table to experiment with the provided materials. By rotating tables, each student had the opportunity to experiment with various shade of black ink. Many students were frustrated by the lack of direction (especially those that started out at the table with just water), but after a few rotations they really began to enjoy the process. I was fascinated to see the variety of ways each student interpreted the challenge. Some were satisfied with the tactile experience of saturating their paper with ink and water, while others worked hard to categorize their different findings. I was careful to limit my instructions, and asked my students to remain totally quiet during their experimentation. Of course it can be difficult to keep a room full of fourth graders quiet, but I simply warned them that the slightest peep might "ruin the entire experiment." They seemed impressed by this, and worked hard to keep quiet. Working like this allowed each student to make their own discoveries. Afterwards, we discussed our findings, and talked about the ways in which value can be used as a powerful art-making tool. 

Experimenting with art in this way opens doors to so many other curricular tie-ins. Here are some ways to continue the conversation about value in other subjects:

• Math - Using this same format of tables equipped with various shades of black ink, have students label the percentage of each cup’s value of black ink. For example, the cup with pure black ink would be 100% while the cup with just water would be 0%.

• Science - A similar presentation could be done for students to experiment with magnets. Have tables equipped with various pieces of metal (paperclip, aluminum foil, coins, etc.) and magnets. Each student should be equipped with a notebook, pencil and a plastic ruler. Allow your students to experiment with the materials and document their findings. After they have all had a chance to experiment with the various materials have them discuss their findings as a group.  

• Life Skills - This conversation on value presents an opportunity to have students share what they value most in their life. This could become a creative writing assignment, allowing students to fully understand the various ways this word can be used. 


Listen to DIY on NPR!

The story was produced by Jon Kalish, who covers the maker movement for NPR, and broadcasted on WBUR’s program Here and Now.

The interview features two of our makers, Ogel and Shadow Twilight. And if you’re curious to see the “Oreo Phases of the Moon” mentioned in the story, it’s here: