Apr 13

Grit in Art

This morning as I read the newest blog posts on my iPad from my various subscriptions, Larry Ferlazzo’s post on Grit, Failure and Stuff Like That got me thinking about the topic. Touting the importance of reinforcing of “grit” – courage and resolve; strength of character – is a topic I’ve seen multiple times especially over the last few months. Grit is further defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”. Positive Psychology sees the importance of stick-to-it-ivness and perseverance as vital components of grit. Unlike other indicators of success, grit isn’t necessarily correlated with intelligence.

So where does Grit fit in the art classroom? I teach students ages 3-grades 5 and see them, with the exception of the 3 &4 yr olds, once a six-day cycle. Despite the few number of times I see students in a year, I have made the deliberate choice to do fewer projects. In an age where so much is instantaneous and quick results are expected, I believe that art is an excellent place to teach perseverance, tenacity, and grit. In the grade four weaving project below, this definitely was not a quick finish project. Yes, I could have given them smaller looms, fatter yarn, and fewer weaving techniques. I could have also saved time by not requiring students to mount their pieces, photograph & upload them to Artsonia. What I saw though, were kids who saw the larger cardboard looms with their many warp strings as a challenge with a slightly longer goal that would take many hours to finish. Students were expected to incorporate many different weaving techniques and were encouraged to experiment to come up with some on their own. A number of fourth graders were eager to try weaving letters in their design – definitely an added challenge. Learning took place in both the successes and initial “oops” parts. Students persevered until finished, amazed at how much they had learned in their very tangible product.

I enjoyed reading some of the (optional) artist statements. Quite a number talked about how it was one of the more challenging projects they had done, but how proud they were at their own accomplishments. What a great way to begin to build grit in our students.

Cardboard Loom weaving by Ben, Grade 4

“SFS” Loom weaving by Lucy, Grade 4

What place does “grit” have in your classroom?

Feb 12

Promoting Creativity in the Classroom

While going through my daily reads on Feedly and Facebook, I came across the article “Twelve Most Striking Tendencies of Creative People.” The tendencies highlighted included:

  • Being “bored” and eager to move on to the next concept after accomplishing the current one
  • Being willing to take risks
  • Savoring freedom, which sometimes means breaking the rules
  • Curiosity – asking “what if” questions
  • Not being satisfied with the first versions – making many mistakes and refining – or completely starting over
  • Collaborating and sharing with others
  • Sharing one’s ideas and discoveries
  • Rugged individualism
  • Experimenting and thinking outside the box
  • Self-motivated need to try new things
  • Persevering
  • Are found across professions, hobbies, age groups, etc.


When reading through the attributes, I couldn’t help wondering about how many of these are either not addressed in the classroom, or even frowned upon and squelched. Are we giving students the best possible environment to be creative? Do our kids feel rushed, or are they given ample time to try multiple ideas and experiment, rather than be satisfied with the first idea or solution that comes into their mind? Are they penalized for mistakes or given the opportunity (and encouragement) to try again? How do we react to students who come up with statements, thoughts, or solutions that are so different than what we envisioned or might be perceived as the standard acceptable answer? How rigid are our lesson and activity parameters? What is our tolerance for deviation? Are the “what if” questions or ponderings being heard in our classroom? How do we handle students who have mastered the concepts & standards at a vastly accelerated rate?

Even when we know that some of these attributes are desirable and vital for creativity or the happiness of our students, do we find the educational system to hinder things? The focus on standardized test scores, rigid demarkations on time, the push for pushing through a large quantity of material, a misperception of seeing a creative room as a chaotic one, and even the pressure by administration or parents to get high marks can all inhibit creativity in the classroom.

What are you doing to promote the culture of creativity in your classroom, while still addressing the inherent constraints?

It started with a Rectangle - Tessellation by a 5th grader

It started with a Rectangle – Tessellation by a 5th grader

Feb 12

Course 5 – Final Project: Tessellations

Tessellation by grade 5 student using SumoPaint

Tessellation by grade 5 student using SumoPaint

For my final project, I chose to do a revamp of an art lesson I’ve done in the past. We had transformed geometric shapes on oaktag, but there was a lot of tedium (tracing and coloring the transformed shape over and over again) and potential for inaccuracies (cutting, taping, tracing) that sometimes got in the way of a creative solution. This was an instance where I felt technology was actually the best tool for the job. Creativity and design would still be at the forefront, with the power of painting apps encouraging experimentation while reducing some of the challenges. Inspired by the powerful scripting tools Doctopus and Goobric as previewed at the Google Summit at our school this fall, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to try disseminating information (tutorials, assignment handouts) and scoring via a connected rubric. Wanting the works of the students to go beyond that of our fourth floor art room, I made the connection to Artsonia (an online student art gallery) an essential ingredient to the project. Students would learn how to upload their artwork to the class art exhibit, write a reflective artist statement, and then comment on the artwork of others. Each student had to select a tessellation done by another 5th grader at our school and provide constructive comments, and then find an artwork done by a 5th grader at Whitman Post Elementary (where my brother teaches art) and send them a comment as well. Despite the distance and huge time differences, students could be inspired by and connected to the art of peers half a world away. By requiring students to become so active on Artsonia, I hoped that the students and their parents would become more active visitors on this wonderful online gallery.


Despite some technical challenges (certain “bugs” in the chosen SumoPaint app began cropping up as large numbers of layers were created) and a few students “losing” their files due to mismanagement or hardware issues, the project was a success. Each tessellation image was highly unique, showed creativity in the transformed shape, and demonstrated student understanding of working with layers and other basic computer graphics skills. Students loved reading the comments left by peers and wrote comments/statements that showed reflection, an understanding of the process, and the power of carefully chosen words. Using the well-thought out setup of Artsonia, students learned the importance of online safety (not revealing last names or other identifying markers, the need for parents to approve comments and the teacher to approve art/statements). Practicing good digital citizenship and art criticism skills, students produced some encouraging and thought-provoking comments. With the inclusion of the activities on Artsonia, I believe that the entire project is nearing the Redefinition stage in the SAMR Model.

Things I would change

Next time I will try to find a different online app – one that doesn’t have the layers bug and makes selecting layers more intuitive. I will also be more explicit on showing students how to merge a few layers together and duplicating that, making the filling of the page to be a quicker process. I might try requiring all students to make an art folder in their documents folder where they must save their versioned files. I intend to change the rubric, removing the “complex shape” category and inserting one that focuses on number of times the shape was tessellated. Doctopus worked well. I learned the hard way that you can’t change the name of the spreadsheet tab after you’ve run the script; thank goodness for Google apps versioning so I could revert back to the doc’s version prior to renaming it! I wish I could have made modifications to the distributed documents and pushed it out to the students. I liked that each student received his/her own version of the assignment sheet and tutorial presentation that they could modify as needed. Goobric made easy work of scoring the project, with the scores automatically appearing on the student’s assignment sheet. I contacted Artsonia and asked them if teachers could approve student comments (vs. parents), but this currently is not an option. I appreciated Artsonia’s intent of maintaining integrity and the safety of its young artists, particularly those under 13.

Technology in Art – the Future

Although the majority of the art produced in my elementary art room will still include the use of more traditional art materials, this project helped demonstrate that technology can sometimes be the best tool for art creation. I intend on having my older elementary students do more uploading of their work to Artsonia and submitting artist statements, as well as giving them time to comment on the work of others. I now have one iPad available in the art room, on which I have the free Artsonia app. In addition, this year’s 4th and 5th graders have their own 1:1 laptops, which can also be utilized as appropriate.

I wish I had more time with my upper elementary art students. Seeing them once in a six-day cycle is simply not enough to expose them to the many art materials, skills, genres, and disciplines. I am grateful that I have the flexibility in my curriculum to experiment with the inclusion of technology in art lessons. Where it feels to be the most appropriate tool to accomplish the task and reinforce desired concepts, I will try to incorporate technology.

Feb 01

Digital Natives in My Art Room?

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick on Free Digital Photos.net

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick on Free Digital Photos.net

For our tessellations project, I decided to use the free online app SumoPaint. One less download to have to deal with. During my demo, I showed the fifth graders how I saved my project with a useful name, a version number, and a logical saving location. Although I didn’t demand a uniform location for where students were to save their project files, I emphasized that they should make a conscious decision on where they were going to save it and that as they would need to be accessing the files again. Lo and behold, numerous students couldn’t find their files, which seemed to be lost in their laptop’s mysterious black hole. Some admitted they didn’t know where they saved it, others said it “wasn’t there,” one said his friend accidentally deleted the folder, and another had been having some more major hard drive issues. I showed students how they could do a search on their computer for the .sumo suffix, which helped some, but alas, some had to start over. Irregardless, it took precious time away from the 60 minute art period which only meets once on a six day rotation. Using Doctopus, I distributed relevant documents to each of the students on their school Gmail account. A few needed help on locating those files as well, despite the fact that they’ve been using Google Docs and mail in their classroom.

Although these students have grown up in an age  of omnipresent personal computing and entertainment devices, it doesn’t necessarily mean that today’s students are automatically digital natives. True, many of these kids can thumb type on their cell phones faster than I can. Their laptop interfaces are “blinged out” more than mine as well. Does their birth date (as those born in the digital age after 2000) necessarily mean that they are proficient, productive, users of technology? Or am I, just because I was born well before that magical year of 2000, automatically be doomed as a digital immigrant and one that can never be as proficient as a native? Just as even native speakers of a language need increasing instruction to improve their use of the language, today’s youngsters will benefit from focused instruction and authentic practice incorporating technology into their lives. Not all students come with the same amount of experience using technology at home or school, whether it be due to amount of access, scope of use, level of support, etc.. Ashley Tan of Another Dot in the Blogosphere also refutes the designation of the term digital natives on individuals just because of their age. As the narrator of the PBS video “Do Digital Natives Exist?” points out and Tan summarizes,

  1. Being technologically competent is not something kids are born with nowadays. It is learnt like a language.
  2. Being comfortable with technology is not the same as having the knowledge or wisdom on its use.

This is the students’ first year of 1:1 BYOD laptops; with next year’s fifth graders having an extra year of experience with their own laptops, I am hoping that a few less of the above issues will occur. And when mistakes do occur, they are seen as learning/teaching opportunities, followed by growth. As these students gain additional years of using technology with the guided support and instruction by teachers and parents, they will be well on their way to becoming informed, productive digital citizens.

Jan 19

Robotic Kimchi Pots and Rusty Gears

Yeosu, South Korea

When walking around a hotel I stayed near Suncheon Bay in South Korea, I found a wonderful collection of sculptures made by the owner of the place. I love it how the artist took objects most would discard and combine them to make whimsical sculptures. In working with kids, some of their favorite projects have revolved around using recycled, discarded, or even “junk” materials to make their own creations. Giving them more freedom and less direction often resulted in the generation of high degrees of enthusiasm, creativity, and problem solving – and great finished projects. Kids began looking at “junk” in whole other ways after that. When working at schools where the art budget was extremely limited ($200 for an entire year, with around 450 students), coming up with art projects that included recycled materials was particularly desirable – and perhaps necessary in order to stretch what limited supplies we had.

Having now lived in five countries outside the USA, I would have to say that some of the most innovative and creative pieces came out of the places with higher poverty. From the kids who fashioned their own toys out of wire, twigs and cardboard, to the artists who transformed aerosol cans into fantastic sculptures, they took the desire to play & create and resourcefully used the materials available to them. From the piles of junk, they saw opportunity. In communities of “plenty,” it is easy to lose such ingenuity and imaginative, resourceful thinking. My art room is well-stocked with quality art supplies and the kids that attend my school lack for nothing at home. Even though working with “junk” is not a matter of necessity, I think I should incorporate more of such projects in art. The skills and attributes that they help build are invaluable for all.

Kora player sculptures from Mali, made from recycled Aerosol cans

Kora player sculptures from Mali, made from recycled Aerosol cans

Jan 16

The Limitations of a Free Online App

For my 5th grade tessellation project, I chose to use SumoPaint, a free online image editing/painting app. This online app received good reviews, allowed users to save to their computer, and had the all important layers function. I tried out making tessellations with the program, and it seemed to work fine. This past week however, some of my fifth graders began running into some issues. For some, the background suddenly turned grey instead of the transparent view. Others suddenly had layers objects disappearing after they added a layer, or the layer objects would disappear when moving an object on another layer to a different area. Sometimes it helped when the user saved, closed and reopened the file, but the bug often crept up again. At other times, the content on the layer disappeared as the user saved the file.  I felt bad for them, as they had worked so hard and were doing everything correct.

Lotsa Layers

In the quest to find an app that students could use right away (no hassle with waiting for kids to download & install) and for free, we ran into some glitches. The help menu/website was very limited and unhelpful on the issues we encountered. A dedicated comprehensive support system is not expected, considering the free price.

I’m going to have the affected students to try merging some layers and see if that helps. Hopefully that will work, or I’ll have to get creative.

Jan 10

More Creative BECAUSE of One’s Disability/Challenges

According to recent statistics by the US Social Security Administration, 1 in 4 of today’s 20 yr olds will become disabled before they retire. A far greater amount will develop conditions that will make it difficult or impossible to continue hobbies, livelihoods, and other activities in the same way. When artist Phil Hansen developed some nerve problems that made his desired tight detailed drawing impossible, he found the advice given by a physician to be the needed stimulus to not only continue doing art, but in a much more creative way.

In our classrooms, we likely will encounter students who have disabilities or conditions that prevent them from doing art projects in same way as their peers. Or, perhaps it is us as artists or professionals who find such challenges directly placed on us. Rather than see these challenges as setbacks or time to give up, it would be better to “think differently” and find more creative ways to accomplish things. Such positive thinking will go a long ways in and of itself. When frustrated by “that” special needs kid or perhaps your own limitations, think of Phil Hansen (video below) or one of my favorite artists & hero – Chuck Close. In both cases, not only did their artwork change after the disability, but both have been said to have been more creative because of it.

Dec 04

FreeDigitalPhotos.net – another image resource

Finding decent digital images that are free to use and fall under Creative Commons can be a challenge. Richard Byrne recently posted about another resource that fits the bill – FreeDigitalPhotos.net. Images are freely downloadable by anyone, to be used in their low-res format without restriction. Users are asked to include an attribution link back to the photographer – certainly a reasonable request. At the time of download, FreeDigitalPhotos can also send you an email, which includes the attribution links to the photographer. The site also includes clear instructions on the type of attribution depending on where the image is used (i.e. website vs. booklet), the information to be included, and location for the attribution. Should a higher-resolution format be needed, reasonable priced downloads are available. Links make it easy to share the image via Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

FreeDigitialPhotos.net sharing and downloading options

Dec 01

Final Project Idea – Tessellations with a Twist

Here is my idea for my COETAIL Final project:

I am currently teaching a unit to my 5th grade on Tessellations and am revamping it. I am now trying the online app SUMO paint. I’ve created a tutorial for the kids to follow  which is part of the presentation. Taking what I learned from the Google Summit, I’m also going to share the rubric I’ve made and use Goobric. Using Doctopus, I am sharing the tutorial, rubric, and expectations with the students. I also intend for students to upload their completed tessellation to Artsonia and submit a reflective statement. Students must then comment on another student’s project/statement.


Tessellation start


Why this project?

Creating Tessellations is an excellent cross-curricular project on the upper level of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, combining the mathematical components with the creativity of art. Rather than using pre-made templates, tracing, or using “fluffy” apps that affect only the surface level of images, students have to build their altered shape and tessellate it from scratch. In the process, they develop some great practice in working with layers, transparency, saving multiple versions, and the wonderful “undo” function – all useful skills for applying towards future graphics projects. Students have access to the documents and tutorials beforehand and during the project through Google Docs and our new online Haiku page, essentially making it a mini-online course with flipped learning components. Having students photograph and upload their work to Artsonia gives them practice in digital photography and opens up their work to be viewed by others – a powerful online community motivating kids to show and do their very best. Requiring students to include a reflective artist statement including self-assessment is a vital component of Discipline-based Art Education, asking students to reflect about their art making, art aesthetics, and art criticism. In a Connectivist-style format, students will be learning from others as they view the artwork of their peers, read the selected artist’s statement, and then work on writing a comment on the artwork that is useful, encouraging, and thought-provoking. If I can get students from other places (such as my brother’s 5th grade art students) to also comment on a tessellation, it would expand the dialogue even further and potentially set up exchanges in the future.

Although this project will take many weeks to complete (as I see students once every six school days), I believe that it is an authentic project that encompasses so many of the art skills and 21st century learning attitudes/skills we expect our students to practice. It does not feel like “fluff” or an add-on technology tacked to a lesson just for the goal of incorporating technology. I also am applying some educational technology skills I’ve learned through my time in COETAIL and the Google Summit and sharing my resources with fellow art teachers, thus becoming a contributor to the online art community.


Nov 24

Solving Authentic Problems in the Elementary Art Room

Problem-Based Learning

Photo Credit: zen via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zen via Compfight cc

When researching online about problem based learning (an instructional method in which students collaboratively solve real-world problems in small teams), I found that most of the examples were geared towards the high school and college level. For example, this video talked about how college students teamed up with a business to solve a real world problem of sustainability by designing smaller, more energy efficient wind turbines. Another example I saw involved high school science students learning to solve medical cases – a great idea, but not that applicable for the elementary classroom. In some respects elementary schools that follow the PYP model incorporates inquiry-based learning which is a type of problem based learning. I love the idea of having students work with an issue that encompasses many areas of disciplines rather than segmenting science math, writing, arts etc. into separate compartments. Both problem based learning and inquiry-based learning involves students working together in groups – an essential way of communicating in today’s interconnected world.

Problem Based Learning in the Elementary Art Room

What does a real world problem look like in the elementary art classroom? One issue that comes up in almost any art room involves the proper care of brushes. Thus, the identifying  problem might be “How can we get kids to learn how and why they must care for brushes?” Elementary art teacher Tricia Fuglestad delivered this problem to some of her fifth-grade students. Together they wrote a tale of a young handsome brush who succumbed to the evils of sloppiness in the hands of a careless artist.  Under the guidance of their art teacher, students created an enchanting musical video using iMovie. Their award-winning musical tale “Young Sloppy Brush” is now posted online, powerfully imparting the issue of brush care in a kid-friendly manner. Since then, her students have created other videos such as the Glue Blues which reinforce other common concepts and issues in art. What a powerful way to use technology to help students educate their peers.

Young Sloppy Brush from Tricia Fuglestad on Vimeo.

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