Saturday, October 19, 2019

Terezin Artists Lesson

Art encompasses the entire human experience. It can be about and affected by anything. We pretend that economics, philosophy, technology, race, weather, politics, environment, religion, personal relationships are all separate things, but in fact, they are intimately related and intertwined. This month I have tried to show my students that Art created the 1930's, 40's, and 50's were influenced by world events and world events were influenced by art. In the last couple of months we have talked about The Great Migration & Harlem Renaissance (1920's and 30's),  The Great Depression and WPA as well as the Bauhaus School of Art during the 30's, World War II's influence on the Art of Europe and how it legitimized the Abstract Expressionism and New York School of the 1950's

A painting by Hitler proved too safe for Germany,  a Modern Art center for the world in the early 1900's
How would the world be different today if Hitler had gotten into art school as an 18 year old? How did Germany go from being a capitol of Modern Art to a propaganda machine? Why would the Nazi's plan their invasions based on the location of the world's masterpieces?  Why did president Eisenhower order soldiers to use precision and avoid monuments while bombing Europe?

I asked questions like these before showing my students the enlightening documentary "The Rape of Europa." This film shows how painstaking it was to evacuate the art from 8 miles of corridors of the Louvre museum in order to protect it from the Nazis. It shows how the museum in Leningrad, (which had four times the number of pieces than the Louvre), had half of its work stolen, while the other half was being stored and guarded by thousands of people under the museum. There was no heat. There was little food. Some burned candles while others ate them. Dozens died, and their corpses remained frozen throughout the winter. But protecting art was a priority and gave a reason to live.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Art teacher
My trip a year ago to The Czech Republic included a sacred day in the Terezin Concentration Camp and Jewish Ghetto. There, during World War II, 18,000 people died from sickness and malnourishment, while many others were held until they were shipped off to death camps like Auschwitz. Art was an escape for many of the Jewish prisoners living in Terezin. I was touched by the music, costumes, drawings and paintings created by the people who took instruments and art supplies in the small amount of luggage they were allowed to bring to Terezin. The urge to create increases in times of destruction. One twelve year old girl, painted a picture of a snowman and had it secretly delivered to her father, since families were separated. He responded that she should, "draw what she sees."  At the end of the week, I had my students draw, not from their imagination, but from their experiences.
Art teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, also helped children document their surroundings and process their emotions through art-making. Many of the images of the children, and adult artists are on display today.
In The Living Quarters of Terezin's Jewish ghetto, illustrate the horrible and cramped living conditions during World War II.

My students drew things like their bedroom, classroom, or lunch tray. Nothing was as well executed or horrific as the art made in Terezin, but their every day life is still worth documenting and I hope they recognize that other people documenting their personal lives, through good and bad times, also have value and are all are part of the human experience.

POSB and APH awards

'Tis the season to attend conferences!  Yesterday,
I finished my third conference in two weeks. Because the job of a Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) can be a lonely job, it is important to come together and share ideas with your colleagues from around the country or state, and to recognize achievements of those who often go unnoticed.

I had the humbling experience last week of receiving such a recognition when I became the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Teacher of Students who are Blind and Visually Impaired. I flew to Louisville for a banquet during the  Principals of Schools for the Blind (POSB) and Council of Schools of the Blind (COSB) conference, and spoke on the importance of education in helping our students live as independently as possible.

The next evening a couple of my colleagues/ friends brought some students out to meet me and receive their awards from the American Printing House for the Blind. We took them to see thousands of jack-o-lanterns that night.

You tell him Helen!

The upper gallery at the KY Museum of Art and Craft
The next day we all toured the American Printing House for the Blind where my students tried out the latest in assisted technology, saw the room where their Braille books are made, the recording studio where their audio books are recorded, and the museum that contained treasures such as Louis Braille's book, Stevie Wonder's school piano, and Helen Keller's desk and letters, such as this one she wrote to Hitler, in which she essentially told him that you can't kill ideas by burning our books. Dummy. (She was more articulate than me).  Then we went to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft for a descriptive tour of the their show of contemporary artists, before playing at the science museum next door.

Students had the chance, on this trip to practice their Orientation & Mobility skills, by walking through the city,  riding on a plane, airport trains, van, school bus, charter bus, escalators and elevators!
elevator and escalator practice all day long!

Time to teach students which of their four fork to use.
That night, was the big event of the APH Insights Art Exhibition and awards banquet.  We had seven students get work into the show, all of whom sold their work and five of whom came. (There were also 3 friends, 3 sets of grandparents, and a couple parents to support our artists). This moments of students feeling like what we do in the classroom matters in the real world, are real perks in my career.

This week was the Georgia Vision Educators State-wide Training. I gave a presentation on how to use art to teach core subject matter (science, math, language arts, and social studies). I brought examples of tactile artwork my students have made, and hope that the attendees were able to generate ideas on how to apply these tools to their students.  Learning is a fun, life-long journey and we each have something to gain from the ideas of our colleagues.

Image may contain: Kristen Applebee, smiling, standing and indoor
Art is for everyone, including students with visual impairments!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Harlem Renaissance Lesson

The Great Migration of African Americans to the northern cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New York happened from about 1918 to the early 1930s. These were the days of Jim Crow laws. These were also the roaring 20's when Harlem became a hot spot for some of the best art, literature and music in the world. Can you imagine a community of talents such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Day, and Romare Bearden? When I look back on the creative movements in history, I am impressed at the power of friendships between creative people. It is not the hermit who becomes part of a major art movement, but groups of people who inspire each other, learn from each other and bounce ideas off one another.

 My students each picked a Harlem Renaissance artist to study and write about. Then they created an image using the style and medium of their artist.   All of my 5th period students happened to choose Romare Bearden as their artist. He was a philosopher, art historian, author, painter, collage artist and jazz musician: a true Renaissance man! The great problem he set out to solve was how to tell the story of his people from the rural south to the urban north, and still adhere to the formal issues of modern art. His work was wonky and relevant and had all the good stuff like symbolism, scale, and strong color relationships.  More than one time, while my students were gluing parts of magazine images onto a background, I found myself saying, "It's not weird enough, yet!"

I highly suggest putting on some big band jazz, cutting up old magazines, and making some funky, Bearden-inspired collages as a pick-up on a rainy day afternoon. It's good for the soul!

Bus Safety Poster Assignment

October is Bus Safety month. There are too many contests and exhibition opportunities to do them all, but since my students have to learn bus safety anyway, a bus safety contest seemed like a good time to talk about how graphic designers use images to communicate a message. I wish I had been able to spend a day discussing typography and composition, but we did have a good discussion about the importance of making your idea stand out from the rest. Sometimes,  more limitations require more creativity. 

And for students who are just trying to figure out what a bus looks like, given their lack of vision, there is room for learning that as well. Be safe everyone, and remember that the red lights mean STOP! Just because you can see a student, it doesn't mean they can see you.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

9 Ways to Be a Uniter in Divisive Times

Divisiveness destroys friendships, families, communities, and nations. There may be that coworker who constantly gossips, or relative who insists on bringing up the most controversial topics at Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop using divisive language yourself and do your part to build bridges.

The “Why?” of Division-Making

There are several things that motivate people to use divisive language, such as power, money, and pride.  Hitler’s tactic of creating “otherness” was to use of the ugliest of all tricks: dehumanize humans. He classified Jews, Blacks, Slavs, gays, and Modern artists as subhuman. Once you close the doors to humanity and brotherhood, you open the doors to discrimination and violence. Unfortunately this type of propaganda is still proving to be effective, as huge groups of people are demeaned and because of their race, religion, status, or ideologies.

Money can be another major motivator to divide. There are people who make a living inciting anger and closing minds. Producers and hosts of certain reality TV shows and talk shows are selling contention and we are buying it! Name calling and chair throwing can boost ratings. Political analysts that treat people with different opinions as stupid, out of touch, or down right evil “enemies” are stirring the pot. There are trolling factories in Russia, in which bots and full time employees write contentious posts on controversial topics. Senator Lankford on the House Intelligence Committee has said, “What Russia seems to want is divisiveness everywhere else, and they try to get a competitive advantage by destabilizing every country around them.” * 

Why do we buy into the discord? Does it make us any happier? Does it bring us peace? No, we, who aren’t gaining prestige and monetary gain, like the idea of being right. Too often, we’d rather be right than be good. We take pride in thinking we know better and see clearly, while those in the other group, are confused. We want to think they are the problem and we are the solution, whether it is true or not. 

How to Combat Divisiveness:

Culture humility in yourself
Ego can be our downfall. The idea that you can only be right if someone else is wrong is prideful. There’s a chance that you are wrong. You can’t believe everything you think. In fact, half of intense memories of 9/11 turned out to be false memories just one year after the event.  You can choose not to be offended when someone bashes one of your beliefs, or even when they bash you and your people. 

Make friends 
You don’t know what you don’t know. Try to find someone who is very different from you: a different race, a different religion, a different political party, maybe someone with a disability, and learn something from them. Befriend them. Invite them to lunch. Be polite and open minded. My son has befriended a homeless man. He takes him out to dinner and they talk about the man’s previous career in I.T. Empathy is one of the noblest and underrated virtues. You can’t obtain this virtue without exposing yourself to ideas and situations that are outside your normal experience.

Find sources that are as unbiased as possible
Too many of us are living in an echo chamber and unaware that our algorithms are keeping us from seeing the whole picture. Look for the least biased sources you can find and be completely honest with yourself. A source that shares your bias doesn’t mean it is impartial. Also, when trying to learn about an organization, go directly to that organization. Don’t believe articles about what NASA says; go to NASA’s website. Differentiate between fact and opinion, between informative and persuasive writings on current events. 

Look for common ground
My immediate family is very politically diverse. There were six of us growing up together and during the last presidential election each of my three closest siblings (by age), voted for a different candidate. If you were to see my siblings and I at the last family reunion, you would have seen us visiting from early morning until late at night, without a shadow of contention. Interesting people have varied interests and there are an infinite number of topics to discuss besides the hot button topics. There is so much all of us, as humans, have in common and not just on a superficial level. Actively seek to find ways to connect. 

Don’t feel pressure to form an opinion
Being comfortable with ambiguity is an important skill in these days of knee-jerk reactions, when people feel they are supposed to have a strong opinion on a subject the moment they finish reading a headline.  Wise is the man or woman who hears a statement and says, “I will need to learn a lot more about that before I have anything to say about it.” There would be less division if there were more tolerance for unknowns.

Keep your mouth closed
Granted, not everything needs a lot of research for you to have an opinion about it. It is OK for you to think tattoos are ugly, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to go around telling people you think their tattoos are ugly. Divisiveness often comes from self-righteousness and feeling the need to go around forcing your opinion on others. Lao Tzu said, “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

There are rare exceptions to this rule, however, such as when someone is being bullied or slandered. In these moments, when you must  speak in order to maintain your integrity, use a tone of civility and let your comment reveal a truth. Recently, I told an acquaintance, “Just so you know, every time you make blanket insults of members of a political party, any major party, you are insulting someone I love.” She seemed to understand.

Stop reading the comments
There will always be those who can’t keep their mouths closed for even a moment, but you don’t have to expose yourself to their toxic spew. Don’t waste your time and ruin your day by reading the comments under an article or posted on a friend’s Facebook page by their friends. Haters are gonna hate and you don’t have to get sucked into convincing strangers or even friends that they’re wrong. Research says they’ll dig their heels in and become even more convinced that their position is right.

Put others first
As popular as it may seem to put yourself before your spouse, party before country, and country before world, I believe that the happiest life is a selfless life. Self-centeredness causes you to isolate yourself from people who could make your life better. Systemic nationalism, sexism, and racism separates groups that could be serving each other. By reaching out, even to help someone who seems like an opponent is not self defeating. The connections you make will likely turn out to be mutually beneficial.

Safeguard yourself against hypocrisy:
My mom told me that whenever she sees a person doing something that really annoys her, she asks herself, “Do I ever do that?” and the answer is “yes” 100% of the time. The same can be done with groups of people. Does my party ever engage in corruption? Yes, yes they do. My dad, who is extremely tolerant and a friend to all, has said to me, “A racist is the last one to know. Am I racist? You tell me.” That courage to self-reflect is the only way to grow as a human being and a human race.

The world is a big place. Big enough for lots of types of people and lots of kinds of ideas. The world is also a small space, and we need to learn to get along, not only to survive, but to thrive. A little kindness can go a long way to bridge differences and unite us as a people.

* “Russian Trolls are flooding Social Media with Messages, Meant to Increase Tensions in the U.S.” is the title of a February 21, 2018 NPR all things considered interview with 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Worry Dolls Craft

The legend behind Guatemalan worry dolls is one of a princess who was magically endowed with great wisdom to solve problems. Tradition says that if you carry a worry doll, or put one under your pillow, you can give your worries and troubles to the princess and things will work out. Too many children have stress that can sometimes feel daunting given their limited resources and abilities. I like the idea of my students being able to make their own tiny doll to tell their troubles to, not as a magical device or idol, but as a reminder that they don't have to carry their problems alone.

You can make a worry doll by bending a pipe cleaner in half, wrapping it around a finger and twisting a time or two for the neck. Hold the two ends out to the side and fold them back on themselves to make arms. Make another twist for the waist, and bend up the ends to make feet. The little wire body can then be wrapped in fabric scraps, embroidery floss or yarn with the ends glued to hold them down.  Children can enjoy the process of creating, and then use the dolls for play, or tie them to a backpack for decoration. Stop worrying! Things will work out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Paul Klee Way

Student painting of moon sitting atop of Klee-style sky-line
wonky towers of color
Paul Klee was a Swiss-German artist, who created 10,000 paintings, drawings, and etchings during his life. He was a member of the Blue Rider group of artists then became a Bauhaus teacher and his notes on color are still relevant. Klee fled Germany for Switzerland when Nazi pressure in the 1930's caused the Bauhaus to close. Germany had been a world hot spot for Modern Art, until Hitler, who hated it, caused thousands of of innovative paintings and drawings to be burned. Other pieces (including those by Paul Klee) were labeled and exhibited as "degenerate art." 

shaded colors frame tinted colors
Klee began life as a musician. As a child, he was able to play the violin at symphony level. His love for color caused him to become a painter, but I can see musicality in his visual art. The tones and rhythm, give a pleasurable experience to the viewer.  My respect for Klee grew when one of my favorite art professors showed us a Klee watercolor and called it "perfect," making the impossible, possible in my mind. His transfer drawings inspired much of my graduate school artwork, and it turns out, I wasn't the only one in my family with an appreciation for the artist. My sister gave her first son "Klee" as a middle name.

Bold lines created by student with visual impairment
My students were given the task of choosing one of several styles that Klee used. He made some paintings just of boxes of color. Others, were geometric shapes to create buildings and cities. He used subtle color shifts and bold lines for later work. And he did some figurative work with large, stylized features.  Some students had enough time to try out a couple styles and all the students seemed to enjoy channeling his ideas. Paul Klee may have died in 1940, but his art lives on!

The windows and doors in this building remind me of a pallet of make up or paint. The fact that the roof looks more like a spire is part of the charm.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Color Field Painting Lesson

Happiness happens when, during a monthly Skype with your sister, who is an Art History professor, you tell her that you "taught Helen Frankenthaler last week" and she says, "I did too!"  Frankenthaler was a second generation color field painter and abstract expressionist, who exhibited her art for the six decades before her death in 2011. She was inspired by Jackson Pollock's drip paintings in that she moved her canvases to the floor, but rather than dribble and throw paint from a brush, she poured diluted paint onto linen canvases, creating a stain soak technique.  She would manipulate the puddles of paint by lifting the corners of the canvas, or pushing it gently with sponges and squeegees attached to long sticks.  I think I remember hearing that Robert Motherwell (who was her husband for thirteen years) also created mop-like brushes for his large paintings. Morris Lewis followed Frankenthaler's lead in creating images from overlapping areas of soaked color.

My students took this inspiration and ran with it to make their own, large and small color field paintings.  We used watercolor rather than thinned oil or acrylic, but there's still a similarity in terms of aesthetics and a new appreciation for color just for the sake of color.

For a fascinating look at the science behind color, take a listen at one of the most popular Radio Lab episodes ever:

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Planes in Portrait Paintings Lesson

It isn't always easy to understand how value (light and dark) works on a 3D surface, especially if that surface is a person. For our plane portrait project, I tried to help students learn how to use ratios to draw the basic features of a face before breaking it down into smaller, flat surfaces.  Basically, students were creating their own  paint by number type of drawing and value shifts would come with shape shifts.  It was met with various degrees of success, which isn't surprising considering the enormous range of visual and cognitive abilities of my students.
student divides pencil drawings into planes
student paints individual shapes on face

Some of my students needed to work in Wiki Stix, which I then hot glued their lines for them, while removing the waxy wicks. That way they could paint in the tactile borders. I would mix values of paint if they didn't have any vision.  One student had enough vision to draw and mix independently. He didn't get the planes as sharp or "robotic" as I'd hoped, but it was the best thing he'd ever painted, and it's of Stan Lee, so that's a good thing.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Wings from Jean!

Jean Gerdes was my Jr. High Home Ec. teacher and the reason I wanted to spend the rest of my life making things. My first assignment in her class was to sew a bean bag chair!  What could be more empowering for a 12 year old than to make their own furniture?! Under her tutelage, I cooked quiche, designed a gingerbread village and nurtured my hard boil egg baby, learning practical skills that I carried with me my entire life, while making goals for future things to learn. It was in her class that I decided I would one day design and sew my own wedding dress (check), make my own wedding announcements (check), and decorate my own wedding cake (can I count my sisters' cake? I was too busy the day of my own reception). Looking back, it seems a little strange for a tween to be planning for a wedding, but it is what it is.

Fast forward fourteen years and guess who was there to cater my wedding reception....Miss Gerdes! Turns out that even though I moved out of Pennsylvania after high school, my mom ended up teaching Family & Consumer Science with Jean for years to follow so we were able to keep in touch.  When I told my mom I wanted to quilt, Jean shipped me the quilting safety pins, and plastic rolled quilt holder thingies, and detailed instructions. A short time after her long distance tutelage, I completed a quilt for every bed in the house.

I love the idea of not only being a life-long learner, but a life-long teacher! When my mom talks about so-and-so being one of her kids, we, as her biological children don't take offense. My own children understand that my students have a special spot in my heart, and will be "my kids" for life, in the same way that Jean remains my teacher and cheerleader today.  A few months ago when I found out that I was a top ten finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year, Jean wanted to celebrate with me. She took a piece of artwork that my students made of an Eric Carle inspired butterfly, and created a stained glass version of the piece. Thanks to to a kind maintenance friend at the school, it is hanging in my classroom window. It serves as a reminder that I can be a second-mile-life-long teacher and advocate for my students, as Jean Gerdes is for me.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Drawing Lines and Stamping Potatoes: Beginning Art Skills for Little Ones

A kindergartner with no vision practices drawing directional lines before learning to create zig zags with a potato stamp.

My kindergartner students with visual impairments and my older students with multiple disabilities are often on about the same level developmentally.  I try to create lessons that meet them at their level and that can be applied in a variety of situations. That's why we started this school year learning about types of lines, including directional lines.  Vertical lines were practiced by standing and reaching for the ceiling and then pulling their hands down to the floor while repeatedly saying, "Vertical lines are up and down." We'd shift the exercise to pull their arms to be parallel to the floor and waving them from left to right. "Horizontal lines are side to side, left to right." We drew vertical and horizontal lines with chalk on a brick wall, with crayon and marker on paper, with Wiki Sticks, and with little tiles lined up.  The next class we repeated it all but add diagonal lines, zig zag lines and loopy lines.  It may sound like I am remediating too much, but many of the students will take months to understand. Besides, I spent two weeks on horizontal lines alone during my college Chinese Calligraphy class.

Next we added some shapes.  I taught them how to stamp with potatoes, first by having them feel the outside of a plastic bag and guess what was in it.  They next handled, smelled, (a few even licked) the potato to try to understand what the object was.  Once it was understood that I had brought potatoes we talked about how potatoes grow and all the ways we can cook them.  Finally I sliced it open, creating a smooth, wet, flat surface.

Every class chose a couple shapes for me to quickly carve (draw with a knife perpendicular to the surface before cutting in from the sides) and then have the student dip the potato in a shallow pool of tempera paint and then stamp it onto the surface. "Dip and stamp. Dip and stamp."  Sometimes students would find a cadence such as "Dip and stamp, stamp, stamp." Other students would count.

The second day we used potato stamps, I had them review the types of lines we learned by repetitively drawing them on their paper.  This activates the negative space helps us to review vocabulary, and frankly fills some time because the stamping itself only takes a couple of minutes. We branched out to foam stamps and sponges shaped like animals.  It's only been a couple of weeks and I'm not sure anyone has created anything worthy to hang in the hall, but the fact that my students can be heard outside of my class talking about potatoes, saying, "Let's draw vertical lines!" Or whispering, "Left to right," as they sweep their white canes from side to side as a win!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Patterned Portfolios and Teaching Art Room Procedures

The first project of every school year is creating a portfolio to hold future two dimensional projects.  I usually allow students to draw whatever they want on the cover as long as their name is easy to see, but this year I spent more time discussing classroom procedures than usual. Our school-wide expectations are broadcasted as a jingle every morning and afternoon. "Give it your best. Achieve your Goals. Be respectful. That's the GAB way!"  On the first day of school, I took the time to ask my students what they think "giving it their best" looks like in our classroom. I wrote their answers such as, "coming to class on time, " and "handing in quality work." Being respectful in Art, means cleaning up messes, not touching other people's work, and leaving cell phones in the phone basket.

These behavioral patterns are tied to visual patterns in art, in that repetition and predictability are key.  I modeled how careful repetition of a single mark such as rows of tiny lines or large and small spirals can create visual unity. Meeting classroom expectations can create unity within our classroom. Students filled a page of various patterns from their own imagination before picking their favorite to use on their portfolio.  The portfolios consist of two large sheets of paper, taped together to create a folder, which is then laminated. The student's name is front and center, but the space outside the name is to serve as a reminder that I expect consistent, positive behavior in my classroom.

A close up of the border of one student's portfolio. She created line drawings of flowers using a purple marker, and added value with colored pencil.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Abstract Express Yourself!

It has been said that Modern Art = "I could have made that" + "Yeah, but you didn't!" Sometimes innovations and new ideas are so incredibly simple that it may feel like it's invalid or cheating to those who didn't think of it.

Jackson Pollock grew up in the Southwestern U.S. but as a young adult, he moved to New York, where he studied art under famous muralist, Thomas Hart Benton.  Pollock found work as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) artist through Roosevelt's New Deal. He later broke barriers when he invented "drip painting," which consisted of throwing, dripping, and flicking paint across large canvases on his studio floor. Time Magazine launched him into celebrity when they wrote about him, and gave him the nickname, "Jack the Dripper."

His career peaked in the late 40's and early 50's-the start of the Cold War.  Soviet Era propaganda was full of solid looking figures and idealized landscapes. Meanwhile, The U.S. was producing Abstract Expressionists and the Congress for Cultural Freedom was parading the work of Pollock across Europe. His paintings were weapons of ideas used in the hands of the CIA to show the world the incredible freedom that American citizens had. In the U.S., artists were free to make art as crazy or ugly as they wanted and no one could stop them!

Every drip painting since Pollock has felt like an imitation, but that doesn't mean we can't try it out in the kitchen or classroom.  My students experimented with various colors of paper and paint, various viscosities, and a few different motions to come up with the combination of marks to make their Pollock-style expressionist painting.  And in a very tiny way, they were fighting Fascism.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

New (School) Year's Resolutions

I'm a teacher, so each time I start another school year, I think through what I want my life to look like during the next 12 months. This is when I write and draw my goals. I do this with a mind map to ensure that my life is balanced. Each year's mind map look a lot like the previous year's because I find my categories have been working for me and I want to maintain the traction I've gained.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to continue regular exercise and scripture study. It takes some effort to keep up good habits and I write some of these things down to remind myself that they are important to me. Some goals I want to make sure I get worked into the year, for example, I do a mile swim every summer to be sure that I can still do it. If it weren't for it being written down, it would be too easy to get out of doing it.

Other things, I still haven't gotten around to accomplishing, but I have to keep believing that this is the year that I am really going to make a will, lose ten pounds, and make that trip to Italy. I thought that this is the summer we'd be making a big road trip to the west, until the location for our family reunion was moved to the east coast.  Rather than trying to paint white over that big part of my mind map, I just use it as a reminder to be flexible. Because I check off the things that I do accomplish,  I can see that not getting around to everything isn't the end of the world. It's like they say: if you reach for the moon and miss, you're still among the stars.  Okay, I know the stars are much, much further than the moon, but you get the idea. Dream BIG, do your best, and don't beat yourself up.
It feels great to look back and see how far you've come.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Myth of the Three Month Summer

My young summer camp students illustrate a song
As a kid, summer vacation lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Since my parents were teachers, we could take a month to drive from Pennsylvania to grandparents in California every 4 years and still have a couple months to make thousands of mud pies and hone our tree climbing techniques. Now that I'm a teacher, with children of my own, however, I can barely find the summer hours for a single mud pie. Here's why.

My students graduate at the end of May and school usually starts about August 1st, which makes it sound like two solid months off, until you realize that the first week of June is post planning and the last week of July is pre-planning.  That gives us a month and a half, unless you teach the week-long summer program at the school, which I always do.

 High School Wesleyan fine arts campers on a gallery walk
And this summer I started working Wesleyan College's summer Fine Arts program which is also a week long.

Then there's the Masters of Education program and I love to help teach the Creativity in the Classroom class every summer.

My graduate students learn how to teach math through art
Toss in my friend's grandma-camp art lesson for two of her cuties and I find myself teaching most of the summer.

I hope I can keep coming back to teach these two each summer
I'm not complaining, there's not a single summer teaching gig that I want to give up. If anything I'd give up the 20 plus appointments to doctors, dentists, orthodontists and orthopedics, but then again, I'd rather concentrate all the family check-ups and minor procedures than have to take off work once the school year starts. And I don't want to give up the home-improvement and scrapbooking projects. I need to make sure my daughter gets to her camps, and my boys get enough hours in for their summer jobs, but everyone needs a break to keep from going crazy.

My family in Pennsylvania Dutch Country last week

That's why I strongly believe in getting out of town and away from endless to-do lists at some point during the summer. My week in Pennsylvania this summer did the trick with lots of chances to visit with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. I tried to balance rest (conversations, board games, naps, reading) with day trips to National parks, historic sites and museums.  All of the activities either help me recharge for the school year or they will feed into my curriculum at some point.

Teaching isn't like a job that I can clock out for the day or the summer because for those of us, who have heard the calling to become teachers, it is not only about what we is who we are.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Kid Weaving Project 101

You know you're on the right track when the school's occupational therapist walks into your classroom and says, "I love this project!" The little fingers of my elementary students are not used to performing the small motor skills needed to weave, so it was a struggle to get them started. But after about 45 minutes of struggling, some were able to figure it out and work independently. It takes practice and practice takes time, but that's about all it took since we already had the materials handy.

 A paper or styrofoam plate with an odd number of half inch slits around the edge is how we got started. I made 13 slits. I had to do the prep work for most of my students by wrapping yarn across the plate and up the next slit to go across the front again. Because we needed an odd number of slits, I poked a hole in the center of the plate and pushed the yarn through the hole after the final slit, before tying the ends together.  Then we threaded yarn in a big plastic needle, although the fat yarn didn't need a needle, and started in the center and tying the two ends together on the back. "Under, over, under over" little voices said quietly as they tried to push the yarn under a cross thread and pull it out the other side.

Students with multiple complex needs obviously weren't ready for weaving, but they could manage to wrap the yarn around the plates and with some help, pull them into the slits. It's important to differentiate by ability levels so that children don't become overwhelmed, while maintaining high standards and expecting them to keep trying.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cindy Sherman Project and Stereotypes in Photography

It's not my job, as a teacher, to tell students what to think. It is my job to show my students HOW to think, and then let, or require rather, them to think for themselves.  The thing about good art is that it opens the door to higher order thinking skills through engaging conversation.  In enters, Cindy Sherman.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21, 1973
Cindy Sherman is a photographer, who is known for her self portraits. In the 70's she'd dress up in costumes and pose as though she were a character in a movie. Each black and white piece had titles such as Film Still # 21 or Film Still #15.  There was no film, of course, but it made the viewer wonder what had happened before and what would happen after the moment portrayed.  She doesn't beat you over the head with a message, but some of her work is considered to be feminist because her pieces show women in stereotypical roles, as reactionary, rather than the source of action. Others see it as empowering, since she was able to reinvent herself many times.

When I talked to my students about common stereotypes today, I got some interesting responses, especially when asking about the stereotypes people have of them.  "People think teenagers are troublemakers. That we drink and do drugs and are violent."  "People think that rednecks are racists. That's no true. I'm a redneck and look at who my best friends are." "People think that Blind people can't do anything." I was surprised how often students complained about people confusing their disability with deafness. I know some teachers at the Academy for the Blind have people, when they find out where they work, say, "So you must know sign language." And one of my students had someone ask him if he could teach him American Sign Language.  "I don't know it. I have a visual impairment, but I'm not Deaf."

One student in a wheelchair said people who don't know him, won't approach him, but instead talk to the teacher or parent who is with him. "What would he like the drink?" restaurant servers will ask. "I don't know," the companion will say. "Why don't you ask him."  For his stunning, and somewhat disturbing portrait, he chose to have his eyes and mouth covered because that's how he feels some people see him.

Similarly, another student said, "People think that introverts don't talk.  I talk. I just don't like to be around a lot of people." He taped his mouth for his portrait, showing the viewer how silly people are for imposing a stereotype on him.

Other students took a completely different approach, one posing with a a spatula and frying pan, to prove that just because she is blind doesn't mean she can't cook. Another used a cap and diploma to show all those, who didn't think it was possible, that she can graduate from high school. In fact, she will this month!

I was surprised at how many of my students who are mildly intellectually disabled (MID), seemed immune to negative stereotypes.  "If someone who had never met you, saw you on the street and all they knew about you was that you were a black teenager, what might they assume about you?" I asked one student.

He answered, "That I'm smart and that I'm cute." And when I ran down a list of superficial characteristics, for them to respond with first thoughts, they were pleasantly nonjudgemental. Each student could, however find a time when they  misjudged someone and they vowed to be more careful in the future.

All of us unfairly judge others from time to time. Sadly, even many bright adults make the mistake of believing every thought that comes into their mind. If racial/,cultural, and ideological diversity or, at the very least, critical thinking skills were taught at an earlier age, we might all be more comfortable with people who are different than ourselves.

My goal in introducing my students to the art of Cindy Sherman, and having them do this project, is to help them be more careful in their thinking and to be able to more effectively self advocate.