Saturday, September 20, 2014

Art Lesson - "Gyotaku" Fish Printing

Tired of the same, old, boring printmaking lessons? Try something new this year - teach your students about the traditional Japanese art form of “gyotaku”, as well as introduce them to a new technique of printmaking (and integrate a little bit of science as well).

The History of Gyotaku Fish Printing - In Japanese, “gyo” means “fish”, and “taku” means “rubbing.” Gyotaku was an art form originating in Japan in the mid 1800’s, originally as a practical way for Japanese fishermen to record the fish they caught. Unlike photography, a print has the ability to retain the specific texture, proportions and details of the fish. As time went on, these gyotaku prints developed beyond just a method for record-keeping into an art form, as artists began to take into consideration the composition, colors, backgrounds, and other artistic decisions of the print.

Required Supplies for Fish Printing - To teach a gyotaku printmaking lesson, you will need the following: fish (dry and fresh, or rubber replicas available from catalogs), soft printmaking brayers, inking plates or roller trays, paint or printing ink, printing paper, newspapers, cleaning supplies. You will also need access to a sink, a reasonably-sized workspace for printing, and a drying area. You may also want examples of gyotaku images to show students (try or

Gyotaku Lesson Procedures - The following is a suggested list of steps to teaching this art lesson:
1. Begin with a class discussion on the history of gyotaku fish printing, showing examples.
2. Demonstrate the printing process to students.
3. Set up student workspaces for printmaking.
4. Place fish or rubber replica onto newspaper.
5. Select color(s) of paint or ink and squeeze onto inking plate/tray.
6. Roll soft brayer across inking plate until it is evenly coated by paint.
7. Roll inked brayer onto fish, creating a light, even, smooth coat and making sure all the edges and details are covered.
8. With clean fingers, pick up blank printing paper and place on top of fish - keep in mind the image will be reversed.
9. Keep one hand in the middle of the fish, holding the paper in place (so it doesn’t smear). Use fingers on other hand to gently (but firmly) press the paper all the way around the fish, being sure to transfer all the edges and unique features.
10. Gently lift the paper from the fish.
11. Set the print to dry, then clean/rinse the extra ink off of the brayer and the fish.

Art Lesson Alternatives - There are many options for teaching a gyotaku lesson. Here are just a few alternatives:
1. Rather than printing onto plain paper (although good practice), students can create colorful backgrounds with watercolors.
2. Students can create ‘alternative’ backgrounds (rather than just water), such as aquariums, frying pans, fishing hooks, dinner plates, etc.
3. Students can print multiple fish to create a ‘school’, or print different kinds of fish.
4. Try finding other sea-life creatures to print with. Art supply catalogs also carry rubber frog replicas, turtles, seahorses, starfish, etc.
5. Students can print their ‘name stamp’ in the corner, typical in many Asian artworks.

6. You can have students write narrative stories to be displayed along their fish prints.
7. Teach students the biology and anatomy of fish, and have them diagram their fish prints with labels.

For more great art lessons inspired by Asian Art, check out 18 Elementary Asian Art Lessons

Friday, September 19, 2014

Teaching Art-on-a-Cart - Organization and Survival Tips for the Mobile Art Teacher

Teaching art-on-a-cart is not every art teacher’s fantasy. Most pre-service teachers don’t even consider it a possibility (don’t we all envision large classrooms with big tables, floor-to-ceiling windows, the latest technology, and endless supplies?).

But for a large number of teachers, reality quickly sets in, due to budget-crunching, cutbacks and school reductions. While we might look in envy at other classroom teachers who hold the keys to their own rooms, there are certain aspects of teaching ‘on the go’ that make it really not as bad as you’d think. You might even grow to appreciate it (dare I say “like it”?). Here are some tips on how to make the most out of teaching art on a cart, because - in the end - it’s not really about our own personal comfort or luxury or what we think we ‘deserve’, it’s about teaching our students to grow and love art.

#1.) Claim your home base.
Every art-on-a-cart teacher needs a home base they can work from (for the sake of your supplies, your preparation time, and your sanity). If nowhere is provided, look around the school for areas to infiltrate. In my last art-on-a-cart role, I invaded the teacher’s lounge. There, I claimed a large, freestanding media cabinet with doors, and a large space next to it to park my cart. Plus, there was a sink and bathroom in the lounge, which greatly aided in cleaning my supplies. And the fact that no students were allowed in there was delightful, and provided extra security.

#2.) Determine your storage.
Your abundance (or lack) of storage areas will determine what you are able to teach. Consider the amount of space at your ‘home base’ for storing student projects, and imagine what kinds, sizes, and how many projects can reasonably be stored there at one time. Don’t forget to think about the requirements of wet paintings needing to dry, or sculptures that need to be separated. Be creative – you can always use the tops of cabinets or hang clotheslines for drying work, or stand dry papers vertically. A folding, portable drying rack is also convenient.

Consider the space you also have for storing art supplies – paint, brushes, markers, different sizes of paper, visuals, and more. Ask your custodian if there are unused furniture pieces around the school - cabinets, drawers or shelves - you could use to store more items.

Still, there will be times when you must confront a classroom teacher and tell them straight-up that you do not have storage space, and that you must leave student work in their classroom. Granted, this is not ideal – it leaves work open to students, is out of your eyesight, and teachers are sure to be annoyed by your intrusion. Be gracious and always give a timeline for when the work will be moved. But be realistic – let the teachers know you understand it is an annoyance and not ideal, but on the other hand, you have no classroom at all and that is not ideal for you either. In the end, remove the items on time, and be sure to say thank you. You definitely need team players on your side!

#3.) Plan your curriculum.
Being an art teacher means you have to plan your lessons around time constraints, prescribed standards, evaluations, assessments, and sometimes meager program budgets. However, the plight of an art-on-a-cart teacher is that you are further limited in the lessons you can teach efficiently. Although we would all love to create life-size paintings, giant sculptures, work on pottery wheels and use the latest technology, these things cannot be easily taught (unless you’re really, really good at it!) from a cart.

But don’t let this stop you! Find ways to manipulate the lessons you want to do, into things you can do. Cut down the scale of a project if it’ll take too long; cut down the size of a project if too messy. Think outside the box, and teach any lesson you want to – it just takes organization. After many years of teaching from a cart, I have decided that there really is nothing that I cannot do from my cart. If you want to teach painting or ceramics, go for it! Simply look for ways to make your materials portable, organized, and on a smaller scale.

#4.) Organize your cart.
All this being said, it’s great to think we can teach any lesson we want from a cart. But how do you do it? Easy; organize your cart to maximize its use. Though it may be small, divide your cart into separate areas and bulk up on storage containers. Be strict that everything has its own place. Determine your needs and consider how to make them work. Since my elementary rooms did not have sinks, I kept a medium-sized bucket on top of my cart that held water cups. At the beginning of a painting class, my helper would fill the bucket in the bathroom; at the end of class, the student would then empty the bucket. For cleaning supplies, I filled a spray bottle with soapy water. A clothesline attached to the cart handle held cloth towels. I also kept a container of wipes and a stain-stick on top of my cart for cleaning emergencies.

Too many supplies? Keep it simple. Rather than ordering dozens of plastic palettes (which have to be cleaned), I purchased paper plates in bulk, which could be thrown away after a painting lesson. Rather than a hundred glue bottles, I ordered a dozen large bottles of Elmer’s with gallon refills (glue was shared among groups). When teaching a painting lesson, I only bring the largest quart bottles, one of each color I need – when the quart bottles run out, I refill them from my gallons at my home base. You can also save space by only bringing the primaries and neutrals and make students mix their own colors. Students in their classrooms will also have supplies at their desks, which means you won’t need to pack pencils and other basics. If okay with the teacher, have the students create portfolios for their work, which can be kept inside their classroom.

My old cart was a simple large Rubbermaid pushcart on wheels with a handle, a top shelf and a lower shelf. I determined that the upper shelf would be completely my own, but that the lower shelf would be for my elementary students. On the bottom shelf were separate containers and plastic shoeboxes with big labels, containing markers, colored pencils, crayons, oil pastels, yarn, scrap paper, paper towels, a basket of free-time activities and art books, and a collection of home-made photo reference folders made from cutting up old calendars and sticking them in binders with page protectors (one was about Animals, one was Cars, and one was Nature/Landscapes). At times, I would put my small box of art aprons down there also.

On my top shelf was everything I would need to teach for the class I was going to. I had a box of teacher supplies that students could not use – my own glue, Sharpies, pencils, pens, good scissors, paper clips, a notepad, discipline slips and more. I also had Class/Grade folders that I stored there, which included information on the lessons I was teaching, a student roster/seating chart with room for notes on discipline, a copy of my class rules and procedures, writing assignments, my helper charts and more, specific to each group.

#5.) Implement class procedures and rules.
As an art-on-a-cart teacher, you’re in a sticky situation. You have your own class you’re teaching, your own cart and supplies, and yet you’re in someone else’s classroom (much less another classroom that already has its own rules and procedures that the students are used to). It would be easy to tell the students that you’re just going to use the same rules as their teacher. This would make sense if every teacher in the building had the same rules – but they often don’t.

It is best to come up with your own set of rules – that are easy to learn, easy to understand, easy to follow, and easy to remember the consequence. I used a couple very simple rules of my own, made a poster, and stuck that onto one of the sides of my cart for everyone to see. Occasionally throughout the year, review the rules with your students, and explain how they apply to art class. Make consequences well-known and appropriate for teaching in someone else’s room – students knew that, depending on the offense, they would have their seat moved, all art privileges taken away for the day, or a writing assignment.

Your class procedures are entirely different than your class rules, yet they go hand-in-hand. Procedures are the way that your class is run, and in some ways, these are more important than your rules. If you have excellent and routinely followed procedures, you should not run into many rules being broken. Procedures must be painstakingly explained, demonstrated and reviewed constantly.

Art-on-a-cart teachers know that procedures begin the moment the art teacher walks into the room – I used to say “When it is time for Art, all other things are put away, desks are cleaned off, and all eyes are directed to the teacher.” This way the students know that a new class has started. I would verify attendance, quickly review what we were doing, then teach/demonstrate a new topic. Students must be quiet during that time. Next, I would announce who the day’s helpers were (in each classroom folder I kept a list of the student’s names, and had two new helpers each week), and they would begin passing out supplies. During work time, the students could talk, but they had to raise their hands for questions and could not wander around the classroom freely.

Have procedures for what to do during cleanup time (my same helpers would clean-up the classroom), where students put their finished work, and what they should be doing when they are finished if others are still working (my students kept sketchbooks they would pull out and begin working in, but they could also use the bottom of the cart for free-art-time activities). It is extremely important to set up a procedure designating who classroom helpers are. If you do not, you will run into much wasted time deciding who can or can’t help, so make sure they know ahead whose turn it is, and that everyone will get a turn at some point to keep it fair. Also, have a procedure for washing hands.

Lastly, you want to bring the class to a reasonable conclusion, leave on time when the bell rings, and that students are seated and ready for their next class to begin – you do not want the whole class walking around the room, projects still on tables and paint being cleaned five minutes after the bell has rung. Let the teacher know how the students behaved before you leave, then announce your departure.

#6.) Teaching in someone else’s classroom.
As an art-on-a-cart teacher, not only are you constantly reminded with the fact that you do not have a classroom of your own, but the students and the teachers know it and will remind you too. There are some things you should expect to happen:

  • Students will occasionally undermine you as the authority when their classroom teacher is in the room
  • Students will be distracted by their desks or other items in their classroom
  • Expect fire drills/tornado drills/lock-down drills to occur in any classroom you are in and you may not know what to do
  • The classroom teacher may stay in the room with you while you are teaching or may leave the room during art but come back five minutes late or more
  • The classroom teacher may make special requests of you (“I’m having a guest reader come in right after you leave, so can you please not work with clay today?”) or show annoyance with what you are doing in their room
  • The classroom teacher may or may not view art as important as you – and deliver that message to the students
  • The classroom might be arranged completely differently – both furniture and student desks – each time you walk in the room (so learn names quickly).
These are some of the frustrating parts about being an Art-on-a-Cart teacher – despite the fact that you already feel under-valued! However, it is best for you to just hold your tongue, put on a smile, (voice your concerns when necessary) and decide that you are going to do your best, no matter what. Get to know each teacher individually – inside the classroom and out, and become friends – or, at least – more than just acquaintances. You need people on your side! The main things you need to remember when teaching in someone else’s classroom are the following: courtesy, time-management, and flexibility.

#7.) Find out where your display areas are.
Since you do not have your own classroom, you do not technically have your own display space either. Ask administrators if you can have a designated wall in the hallway, a display cabinet, cork strips, or bulletin boards to display student work. Or simply put artwork up anywhere in the school (but expect it at times to be taken down without your knowledge). You may also ask teachers if there is space outside of their classrooms that you can use to display new artwork for a designated amount of time – sometimes they might be thrilled to say yes, because then that is one less display that they must do.

#8.) Memorize your schedule.
Plan to be at school early, use your planning periods wisely, and stay after school later if needed. You need every bit of time you have to prepare for your lessons, clean up brushes or other materials, and set up for the next day. At the beginning of the year, keep class schedules with you at all times. There isn’t a worse feeling than leaving a classroom, stepping out into the hall with your cart and realizing you have no idea where to go (when the bell rung three minutes ago). Or (even worse) entering into the wrong classroom. If you’re like most art-on-a-cart teachers, you have an awkward schedule that changes daily – some classes/grades are twice a week, others once a week, others more or less. Memorize your schedule to keep your sanity!

Teaching Art-on-a-Cart may be frustrating, but it is well-worth it.

In conclusion, there is a lot of stress to learning how to teach art-on-a-cart. The good news is that most of that stress will disappear once you get into the routine. You might even find some aspects of the job you really like: seeing the faces of students light up as you enter their room and hearing their comments (“Finally, it’s Art time!”), being able to have more in-depth relationships with other teachers, not having the responsibility of a homeroom or cleaning it up for conferences, being able to escape to your private ‘home base’, being super-organized, sometimes even hearing the surprising “You are so lucky you get to move around! I have to stay in this room for seven hours with the same children all day!” from other teachers. Put things in perspective. You may have inconveniences – who doesn’t – but you have the best job in the world, teaching art to children. Nothing could be better!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

20 Graphic Design Art Lessons for High School Students: A Guide for Teachers

In any Graphic Design or Digital Art class, the very first lessons must introduce students to graphics software - such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator - and digital hardware, such as cameras and scanners. However, once students have a good handle on the equipment, where does a teacher go next? What art lessons can be taught that are meaningful, relevant and motivating, help students master software, and teach them about the professional field of Graphic Design? Here are 20 Art & Design projects that are suitable for high school students who have a basic knowledge of graphics software and hardware:

1.    Found-Object ABC (or Number) Photography
Students use digital cameras to search out (scavenger-hunt style) the ABC’s or numbers in found-objects - for instance, the support bars on the side of a swing-set could appear to be a letter ‘A’. Students upload their photos and use Photoshop to enhance each photo, emphasizing the letter or number they are showcasing. Finished photos may be printed or turned into a digital collage.

2.    Hometown Landscape Photography

I took my Graphic Design students on a field trip into the picturesque courthouse-square and downtown area of our city. You could also take students to state parks or local attractions. Students used digital cameras to highlight points of interest in our downtown area, and were told to focus on unique perspectives, angles and viewpoints. Students uploaded their photos and used Photoshop to enhance each photo, even adding visual effects and filters. Finished photos were printed, framed, and displayed in our city’s local art gallery in a special student exhibit.

3.    Manipulated Self-Portraits
Teens love to take selfies – exploit that interest with this project. Students use digital cameras to take unique photos of themselves, exhibiting unique angles, viewpoints and backgrounds. Photos are uploaded, then Photoshop is used to enhance each photo with effects and filters.

4.    Juxtaposing Self Seamlessly into Famous Artwork
Students search Internet (, Wikipedia, or for a well-known artwork they are interested in using, or scan artworks from Art reference books – paintings with figures work best. Students use digital cameras to take photos of themselves in a way complementing the artwork. Students must use filters, tools and blending options to juxtapose themselves seamlessly into the artwork. I have had students print these as 8x10s, mat, and then display in the school hallway – teachers, students, and administrators alike love to look at these and comment!

5.    Juxtaposing Self Seamlessly Into Famous Historic Photograph
Discuss the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ and how digital artists had to juxtapose Tom Hanks’ character seamlessly into historic video footage. Students search Internet for well-known historic photographs or scan from history or reference books. Students use digital cameras to take photos of themselves in a way complementing the photograph. Students must use filters, tools and blending options to juxtapose themselves seamlessly into the photograph, so it appears as if they were there in person. Black and white photos work very well for this. These are also a hit when displayed in the hall.

6.    Layers-upon-Layers Digital Artwork Presenting Opinion, Issue or Viewpoint
Students decide upon an issue they have a clear opinion on, or a viewpoint they want to express. Students must express this viewpoint using multiple layers of text, graphics, effects and blending tools to design a digital artwork in a propaganda-style. Students may search internet, take photos, scan artwork or create original material for images.

7.    Me & My Clone(s):  Interactive Portrait
Students must decide upon a location and action in which to photograph themselves in various positions. A student’s teammate will photograph while the student poses in ways in which the resulting figures will be interacting when placed together in a montage. Students can interact with one clone, or two or three or more, depending on the action. Photos are uploaded and students manipulate their photos to have their clones ‘interacting’ in one location. I have had some students do this as if they are posing with themselves in a pyramid, others where they are tripping themselves in the hallway, or jumping over themselves playing leapfrog.

8.    Celebrity Airbrushing: Myself as a Magazine Cover
Students research the controversial topic of model airbrushing (and view good and bad examples of this practice). Students watch tutorials – there are plenty of appropriate and informative Photoshop tutorials on perfecting skin tone, changing hair color, adding makeup, etc. – on YouTube. Students take ‘cover photos’ with themselves as models, upload, and airbrush their photos to be cover-ready. Next, they add magazine titles, headlines and other features to design a magazine cover.

9.    New School Website & Logo Design
Most schools have logos and websites, and most of them are also outdated and old-fashioned. Students must first consider the needs and image of their school (it would be a good idea to invite the principal in as a guest speaker), and design a new logo for the school. Next, students design a new home page for their school’s website, using this new graphic. If you work carefully and professionally, you may even be able to convince those in charge to consider utilizing your students’ graphic designs.

10.  Greeting Card Design
Students choose a holiday, life event or other occasion for greeting cards, which must be researched ( and are good companies to use for research). After learning about styles and current trends, students design a series of greeting cards – including original logos and graphics.

11.  Food Styling Design
Students research food styling, then use digital cameras to take appetizing and artistic photos of their lunch (at school) or another meal (at home). These photos are uploaded, and students design advertisements, cereal boxes, product labels, menus, or magazine covers with their photos.

12.  Yearbook or Book Cover Design
Students may work with the school’s Yearbook staff, if desired, to custom-create the school’s next yearbook cover. If this is not feasible, students may choose to design the cover for their autobiography, or re-design a new cover edition for an existing book.

13.  ‘Movie About My Life’ Poster Design
Students love to imagine themselves in the movies. They will decide upon a title for their movie, the actors in it, and a basic plot – and use the Internet, cameras, and Photoshop to design the promotional movie poster, including credits, graphics, a release date, plot summary, critic review and a slogan.

14.  Corporate Identity Design
Students first research corporate design, view plenty of examples and learn the basics of graphic design in logos (color selection/meaning and typography). Students then create their own companies, and design a corporate logo, letterhead, and business cards.

15.  School Event Planning Design
Students may be given actual school events to design custom graphics for – school dances, fundraisers, Art shows, athletic events, music concerts, awards, etc – which will make their designs relevant to their school environment. If students are seniors, however, they might design graphics for their upcoming graduation or open houses. Students will be assigned to design event tickets, programs, brochures, and advertisements for the event that all show cohesive design and graphic unity between each item.

16.  School/Organization Advertising Design
Have your school’s Business Manager or Director of Development come in and talk to students about school publicity and advertising, and real ads that they must place in newspapers – such as enrollment notices, Open House ads or athletic schedules. Students must take into account school image and needs, and create a potential newspaper advertisement, promoting the school. If possible, arrange to have one of the student ads used in the actual newspaper.

17.  Record Company/CD Cover Design
Students create a record company and a band of their own, then use Photoshop to design their first CD cover. Students should take into account the style of their band’s music, as well as consumer expectations, and consider these ideas in the graphics. Designs should include the band’s name, album title, company logo, and a listing of the tracks, as well as graphics.

18.  Real Estate Advertisement Design
Students research the real-estate market in their area (use websites of local real estate brokers). Students select a property they find, and design a housing-magazine advertisement for the property, displaying the housing graphics, including descriptions, listing agents, prices, contact information, and more. It would be fantastic to have a real-estate agent come in and present to the class about how they market their listings. If it can be arranged, real-estate agents may select student promotional designs to use to market their listings.

19.  Video Game Design
High school students love video games. Each student should imagine a brand-new video game of their own, and design a screenshot of the game - showing the characters and game graphics - as well as a promotional poster, advertisement or game box design.

20.  Television Graphics Design
If feasible, invite a Graphic Designer from a local news station to come and present to the class about television graphics, the software they use, and job specifications. Students imagine a brand-new TV channel, design the logo for the evening news program, and design custom graphics for the weather forecast, ‘Breaking News’ stories, and more.

Keep in mind that to successfully teach these Graphic Design and Digital Art lessons, the Art teacher will need to have access to computers for each student, digital cameras, a good color printer, graphics software (such as Photoshop or Illustrator), the Internet, a scanner, and flash drives for students to save their own work.

High school Art students are already bombarded by thousands of visual images and propaganda on a daily basis. Thus, the idea of using computers to create Digital Art is already motivating to students – it is up to the Art teacher to harness that interest and energy into guiding them to learn about the real world profession of Graphic Design. Using any of these Art & Design lessons will be a fantastic jumping-off point for teaching students about this new, important and relevant career.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

10 Ways to Observe Veteran's Day in Art Class

Ohio state law requires school districts to host an official observance of Veteran’s Day “that conveys the meaning and significance of that day.” Although our school plans an annual service for veterans, I like to reinforce the importance of Veteran’s Day in my art room. In art class, there is a unique opportunity to discuss our veterans, not just in historical fact, but through art, images and emotion. Even if your state does not require formal observation, here are 10 ways to observe Veteran’s Day in art class:

1. Discuss military photojournalism - Research iconic military photos taken during wartime, from today’s soldiers kneeling before makeshift memorials of fallen comrades to famous images from D-Day and V-Day. Review photojournalism as a career, and discuss the hazards for war journalists when they follow a company of soldiers.

2. Explore military emblems - Show the official emblems and seals of each military branch, explaining the significance of their imagery. Students propose an updated design for a new branch emblem, or create an artwork using the original image as their subject.

3. Design a memorial - Discuss the impact of memorial sculptures containing veterans, such as the Korean War Memorial in Washington. After researching current military events, students design an original sculpture to commemorate veterans of today’s recent battles.

4. Explore military uniforms - Show students the uniforms of each military branch, from dress blues to camouflage, and every style between. Explain how each uniform has a function and significance, and compare and contrast the styles of the Marines, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Students then design a new official uniform for one of the military branches.

5. Discuss the American flag - As a symbol of hope, loyalty, patriotism and duty, explain the history of the American flag, the significance of its colors and shapes, and the great respect and care our military shows the flag. Discuss how the flag has been used in art and visual culture, and its impact in today’s society.

6. Plan an art class service project - Veteran’s Day can be observed in art class by serving veterans in their own community. Advanced art classes could paint portraits of veterans or those who have fallen, an art auction could benefit a local veterans organization, or crafty students could assemble blankets, scarves or hats for the needy.

7. Create a class-wide mural - Art classes can collaborate on murals commemorating Veteran’s Day, signifying the branches of the military, the sacrifices made by soldiers, or our gratitude toward those serving our country.

8. Design thank you notes - Elementary art classes can observe Veteran’s Day by creating personal thank you notes that can be given to local veterans or sent overseas. Include art learning by teaching printing techniques or discussing illustration as a career.

9. Explore The Shrine Down the Hall - This haunting photo series by photographer Ashley Gilbertson depicts the bedrooms left behind by young soldiers killed in the line of duty, lovingly maintained by their families. To a high school photography, design or art class, this photo series is an excellent way to mark the significance of Veteran’s Day - and those who gave their lives for our country - in a touching, personal way.

10. Create music-inspired patriotic artwork - In art class, play patriotic music, such as the “Marine Corps Hymn” (and other military songs), the National Anthem, America the Beautiful, and even patriotic songs by contemporary artists like “American Soldier” by Toby Keith. Elementary students can illustrate lyrics or free-draw, while older students create more advanced artworks after observing Veteran’s Day and reflecting on the song lyrics.

Veteran’s Day shouldn’t be an event wrapped up in a tidy one-hour school ceremony. Whether you teach art, music, English or math, take time to observe Veteran’s Day in your lessons, and help your students get more out of this day than just time out of class.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

10 Engaging Activities to Make Art History Exciting and Meaningful for Students

Back when I was in college, Art History courses were referred to as “Art in the Dark.” Essentially, any course in Art History involved months of sitting in a pitch black room, staring at a screen, and watching a professor read notes and switch slides back and forth. Also known as ‘the best way to cure insomnia,’ this was certainly not the most exciting nor fun way to teach (or learn) the history of art.

So how do you avoid the “Art in the Dark” syndrome, and encourage students to learn, get motivated, engaged, and get excited about Art History? Here are ten ways to make Art History fun and exciting - for both the students and the teacher:

1) Have students ‘act out’ the lives of famous artists - Assign students to research a famous artist; they can write a monologue, create a costume, use props and even have their classmates guess which artist they are. Students could film their skits, present them to younger students in other grades, or perform them at Parent Night.

2) Have students ‘act out’ famous artworks - Similarly, students can have fun learning Art History by selecting a famous work of art (individually or as a group), designing costumes and a set, and bringing the artwork to life. This would also be a fun performance piece.

3) Have students curate personal gallery exhibits - Museums are the core of Art History. There’s no greater way for students to learn about the professional art world than by curating their own exhibit. Students select a theme, research artwork on the Internet or in books, and design a professional exhibit. Fun options for this lesson include having students make digital museums on CD, or even constructing museum models with small replicas of their chosen artworks.

4) Play Art History games - Games are great ways to engage students and make learning fun. All students can relate to game shows - why not design an Art History-based version of Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, or the Price is Right (guessing the auction prices of artworks). To excite your students, have them design original board games about artists, art movements or artworks. For inspiration, think of various game models, such as CandyLand, Chutes & Ladders, Trivial Pursuit, or Monopoly.

5) Create art mysteries - Mysteries create suspense; suspense creates excitement. Whether you post an Art History Mystery on your bulletin board, or start off a new lesson by keeping some history information a secret, you can find fun ways to get your students to research a topic on their own.

6) Have art scavenger hunts – Whether students use art reference books or the Internet, have students compete in an art scavenger hunt. Write a list of art items you want to find and have places for students to write down their information. For instance, “Find two paintings created in the 1700’s that contain fruit. List the artists, titles and dates.” This activity allows the students to have fun while perusing lots of art!

7) Re-create a famous artwork as mural - Assign students to groups, select a past influential artwork, and recreate this as a mural somewhere within the school or your classroom. Be prepared to deem which artworks may or may not be appropriate. You may need to teach students how to use a projector to project the image onto a wall. Students become motivated and excited about an assignment when they feel they are making a permanent contribution to their school and are given responsibilities.

8) Have students create educational Art History videos - You will need to teach students how to use digital video recording devices prior to this assignment. Have your classes research a period of Art History, write a script, and film educational video shorts. These informative video clips can be posted on your school website, art page, or made into a DVD.

9) Paint a chair (or ceiling panel) in an artist’s style - Give students the opportunity to make a fun, lasting impression on the art room. Have students research to find an artist, whose style they will emulate by painting a classroom chair or ceiling panel (from a drop-down ceiling). If desired, cabinets, closet doors or other objects could also be painted.

10) Have students create satires of famous artworks - When teaching Art History, it is important to discuss how artists have inspired - as well as spoofed - each other over the years (think of Duchamp and the “Mona Lisa“). Students will have fun picking an artwork, then creating a modern-day satire of the work. As an alternative, encourage students to place an image of themselves somewhere within a famous artwork.

The history of art is such a fascinating subject; it shouldn’t be taught in a dull or boring way. No matter what the subject, any topic can be fun and exciting to learn about if the teacher is motivated, enthusiastic and creative in finding new activities and ways to teach their subject. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ideas for Art Lessons about September 11th (K-12)

2014 marks the 13th anniversary of September 11th. With such an important date looming, this is the perfect time to discuss this historic event in the classroom.

Unfortunately, most K-12 students of today have little or no recollection of this day, unless they had personal connections. When you think about the age of the average kindergartener, 9/11 happened several years before they were even born.

So how can you develop art lessons that will help students make meaningful connections to this historic day? The following are five ideas for art lessons about September 11th that will encourage critical thinking, reflection and personal expression:

1. September 11th Illustrations

Suitable for younger elementary, instruct students to create illustrations as you read (or assign students to read) first-hand accounts of the events of 9/11. Drawings can then be organized into a book or exhibited as a hallway display, memorializing the anniversary.

2. Design a memorial

Designing permanent memorials to commemorate September 11th has been a long, arduous process. After investigating the creation of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, students will select one of the locations - the Pentagon, World Trade Center or Shanksville, PA - and design their own memorial idea to honor those involved.
3. Expressive mixed-media collages

Art lessons about September 11th shouldn’t be dry, formulaic or detached; the teacher’s goal should be for their students to form an emotional attachment. Provide students with first-hand accounts, poetry, headlines, imagery, screenshots, portraits and photographs from that day (as well as art materials). Assign students to create an expressive collage, combining these elements to express a specific mood, emotion or reaction. Encourage them to write out their own feelings and responses to 9/11 on their artwork.

4. Community mural

The events of 9/11 brought Americans together, creating a sense of community  like no other event in recent history. Assign students to work in groups to create a mural, or go bigger and organize a class-wide, school-wide or community-wide mural commemorating 9/11. Be sure to show students how one community of artists in northeast Ohio is creating their own mural honoring the day.

5. Photo manipulation

This art lesson idea is perfect for older art students with access to technology (most suitably for a Graphic Design class). High school students can search for photos from the events of September 11th, and use Adobe Photoshop or other software to manipulate these photographs through juxtaposition, blending and other tools.

Students could be assigned simply to make a digital artwork related to September 11th and their reactions to it. Alternatively, add elements of graphic design by assigning students to create a movie poster for a potential film about 9/11, or a travel poster advertising a new memorial.

No matter which art lesson ideas you choose, provide students with plenty of opportunities for critical thinking, research, personal reflection, and self-expression in their artwork. Everyone has a story to tell, and you’ll be amazed at what your art students will come up with.

As a final note for art teachers, be sure to keep in touch with your administration and consider sending a note home to parents before teaching art lessons on this topic. 9/11 is a touchy subject for many, and you should be aware of problems or controversies that may arise, whether from political or religious conflicts or your school’s policy on imagery (for example, some schools ban images of guns in student artwork).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Easy Elementary Art Lessons for the First Day of School

Elementary art teachers know the first day of school after summer vacation is full of excitement and quite a bit of chaos. Meeting new students, fine-tuning class schedules, developing seating charts, preparing materials, and establishing and reviewing rules and procedures with every new art class can be mentally draining.

Yet, despite those first day of school challenges, most elementary art teachers still want their classes to do some creative activity in art class (rather than sit and listen to rules the entire period).

But what art lessons are appropriate for the first day of school, when students don’t yet know the procedures and time is limited? Try these easy art lessons, that give elementary students a chance to be creative within a narrow margin, while avoiding the mess and chaos of a full-blown art project:

1. Self-portrait dolls

Give students a half (or third) sheet of construction paper and instruct them to draw a self-portrait. The portrait should show their whole body, from head to toes. Students use easy art materials (markers or colored pencils) to add color and details to their portrait before cutting it out. If you have time (and desire), briefly instruct on body proportions with older students.

If you have younger elementary students, draw a body ‘template’ that they can fill in, before cutting out. When all your students have finished their self-portrait dolls, they can be attached to a hallway bulletin board outside the art room with a catchy phrase like “Welcome back, Artists!”

2. “We love Art because”…

For another bulletin-board themed elementary art lesson, give students a sheet of paper and simple art utensils. Instruct them to write and/or draw their favorite part of art class. When each student is finished, these can be attached to a bulletin board under the phrase “We Love Art Because…”

3. School mascot design

The first day of school can be incredibly busy. If you don’t have a lot of time in those first classes, give students copies of your school mascot (in line drawing/coloring book form). Elementary students will have fun decorating the mascot in their own style. These can then be displayed in the hallway.

4. Read a book and draw along

On the first day of school with my kindergarten students, I like to keep art lessons really easy. I’ll pick an art-related book to read to them, while they draw along on paper. Reading while working is a great activity for younger elementary students, as it teaches them to listen and focus while the teacher is talking.

“Harold and the Purple Crayon” is a favorite to read, while students draw their own fantasies with purple crayons. “The Dot” is another favorite, as all elementary students draw a dot on their paper, then try to turn the drawing into something.

5. Illustrate your summer vacation

For this easy art lesson, give students plain paper and simple art materials. Instruct them to draw the ‘best’ thing that happened during summer break, and on the back side of the paper, the ‘worst’ thing that happened. This is a great way to start developing relationships with your students on that first day of school.

6. Work on a group mural

With a broader scope in mind, assign each student to complete one small part of a group mural that can be displayed in the school hallways the first week. For easier management, give each student an identical piece of paper (like an index card) to create their work on. Some ideas: each student draws their portrait, their name or the word 'Art' in creative and colorful letters, their handprint, a flower, an art utensil. Perhaps you could focus on the Elements of Art, and have each student create a small non-objective line drawing or artwork with shapes. 

So go ahead and make those first couple classes as stress-free as possible. Plan some of these easy art lessons, and watch how excited your elementary students will be to “do” something fun and creative their first day back, rather than listen to rules all day long. Happy planning!