Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What do I do with these?

What do I do with these?

What do I do with these?,
originally uploaded by TheArtGuy.

I have 4 of them. They're hard plastic, @5" across, and fit together. They are packing material for a printer paper that's expensive enough to make me doubt I'll get any more of them.

But they look cool. Any project ideas?
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Susan Benarcik's Paper Spore

It's no secret that I love, love, LOVE paper sculpture.  Whether it's one sheet or 2,000, printed out or made from scratch, to me there's something aesthetically appealing about taking a planar surface and turning it into a three dimensional object.

So when this showed up in my RSS reader thanks to MAKE Magazine .... well, I had to blog about it.

susanbenarcikThis sculpture looks awesome.  On top of that, it also looks simple enough to have my younger students recreate something in the same style!  I've been looking for ways to incorporate more contemporary artists into my lessons, and this might just be one of the ways to do it.  I like her Artist's Statement, too - I'm thinking that paragraph alone could inspire all kinds of cool projects.

The only problems I can really think of right now would involve display, as I would need to make sure the student work was structurally sound enough to hang from the wall and not fall apart.

Still, with 20+ students working on the sculpture we'd be able to make something pretty neat looking no matter how long it lasts.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I know too much.

I spent the first half of this school year taking a graduate class that was required for me to renew my certification.  It was a good class, and I learned a lot, but it did take a decent amount of time each week for me to complete the assignments.  (Had it not done so it possibly wouldn't have been a good class, but that's an assertion for another day.)

I miss these people.

The class ended in December, and I began looking forward to all the "free time" I would have.  "Free time" is in quotes, of course, because my time was not actually free before I enrolled in that course.  I simply put off some responsibilities for others.  You may have noticed I'm blogging a little more now - that's one thing I'd been neglecting, and I apologize for that.

Unless you liked the fact I was blogging less, and in that case I'd apologize for my return to the blogosphere if I wasn't wondering why you're reading this in the first place.

*Ahem.* Let's move on.

As I'm getting back into the swing of things I'm noticing that conference season is in full swing.  MICCA's deadline to submit presentation proposals is almost here, NECC is local-ish this year, and PETE&C is just around the corner.

Discovery rocks!

That brings my rambling to a topic worth discussing.  Every year the Discovery Education Network runs a day long pre-conference for PETE&C.  I've attended more than once, and every time I felt it was worth it.  Forget the fact that it's held in Hershey, PA, a town that smells like chocolate for very obvious reasons, it's also free for DEN Star members.  I've held that status for a while now, as do many of my friends who I will only get to see in person at events like this.

And I'm thinking of not going.

It's not because of my wife's health.  Though she's not at her best right now, I honestly think she'd enjoy and benefit from a weekend out of the house.  (Though I shudder to think how much money she'd spend in Hershey, that's only me fulfilling my stereotypical duty as a husband.)

It's not because of the cost.  Gas prices are relatively down, and I have family that's somewhat close to Hershey where we could spend a night or two if needed.  I'm not attending the full PETE&C conference anyway, so that price isn't even a factor.

It's because I'm not sure how much I'd learn.

OK, that sounded like a jab against the DEN, so let' take a moment to explain it a little better.

These people rock!

On the grand scale of technological geekery (yes, I made that word up), where a 1 means I have trouble checking my email and a 10 means I can whistle into a phone line and get a 56k connection, I'm about a 4.  To people who rank 1 or 2 I appear to be a 10, but I know better.  Right now I'm at the stage where the more I learn, the more I find out how much I don't know.  It's exciting and depressing at the same time, because I really would like to know everything.

... but maybe not reach 10 on that scale - I can't whistle very well.

Back on topic.  The DEN is awesome because they take teachers, many of which are 1 and 2 on the aforementioned scale, and turn them into 3s and 4s.

But I'm already a 4, which means I'm not learning as much.  Google Earth is great, but I don't need to see another workshop that explains why it's great.

The DEN blogs?  An awesome, free service that's worth checking out.  When new features are added I like to know about them, but that's because I want to know if I should install them on my own blog.

Discovery Education Streaming?  The Builders?  Microblogging?  Digital storytelling?  I could go on, but I don't need to.  There's more I could learn on each of these topics, but I strongly doubt I would learn much because I'm not the DEN's target audience at this pre-conference.

If I did go, it would be to socialize.  To see people face to face that I haven't seen in months if not longer (and in some cases never, much to my regret...), and to share with each other what we've learned and experienced over that time.  I'd like to do that.  To me it's one of the most enjoyable parts of a conference - any conference.

But if I do that, I'll probably be filling up a spot that some one else could have used.  Someone who may very well need the DEN to teach them the things that I already know enough about to run my own workshops.

I don't think that would be fair to them.

So I really hope those of you that will be at PETE&C this year will be liveblogging it, if for no other reason than to let me live vicariously through your posts.  You don't have any excuse not to, since you already have a blog provided to you by the DEN.

I'll be watching.

Monday, January 12, 2009


cam2Every now and then a program comes along that is so fantastic, so perfect for what I do in the classroom, that I can't help but use it.  Skitch is one of those programs.

Honzo The Sad Monkey

I first found out about it when Bre Pettis started posting drawings he'd made using the program.  Intrigued, I downloaded it, played with it, fell in love, and used it in one of my classes the same day.  Not only was it that easy to use, it was appropriate, too.

Skitch has a variety of options out of the box.  I can start with a blank image, take a screen capture of any size or portion of my screen, drag in a preexisting image, import something from my iPhoto library, or even use my laptop's built-in iSight camera to snap a picture of myself.  That image, whatever it's source, becomes the background layer.

[caption id="attachment_668" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="(The quick math on the side shows the years between the event and the painting.)"]washington[/caption]

On top of that layer I can draw, write, annotate, highlight, whatever, using a small selection of tools.  Since all of this is on a layer on top of the image I can erase or cover up without fear of destroying the original image.

When I'm done I can upload the image to Skitch's own servers where it'll give me a Flickr-esque code I can use to insert it into webpages.  Got a .Mac MobileMe account?  It can upload them to there instead if you want.  You can even drag the picture to your desktop if you decide you want to upload it through a different service, or simply not upload it at all.

As much as I'm loving Skitch, it's not all things to all people.  As of now I can't have it record video through my webcam - still photos only.  For quick video on the Mac Photo Booth and iMovie are still the way to go.

Have an older Mac or (oh no!) a computer running Windows?  You're out of luck - Skitch will only run on Mac OS 10.4.6 or later.

The drawing tools are also very limited.  Adequate for underlining, circling, and so on, but GIMP and SUMO Paint are much more advanced with a wide variety of features.

Text can be added quickly and easily, but there's a limit to how large or small I can make it and I still haven't figured out if I have any control over the font.

With all these negatives, why do I bother to use Skitch?  Because it's the best at what it does - selecting an image and building upon it quickly with minimal effort.  All the times I used GIMP in the classroom no teacher ever asked me where I got such a full featured application.  Sure, I COULD do the same stuff with GIMP or Photoshop, but that would be like using a car to visit your next door neighbor.  In most cases walking (& using Skitch) is simpler and faster.

Most teachers ask me about Skitch when they see me use it, because the interface is non-threatening and they see immediately how it can be used to reinforce their teaching styles.

It's a shame they all have Windows based laptops.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Mistakes were made.

Welcome to 2009, a brand new year with new possibilities, new opportunities, new experiences, and the same old mistakes.

And more often than not, all of those things happen at the same time.

I have a habit of mine.  A bad habit, if you will.  A deep, dark secret that will no doubt haunt me as I'm now casting it out amongst the sea of the interwebs.

Sometimes I expect too much from my students.

I'll take a moment for all of you to let that sink in and then collectively gasp at that realization.  It's truly shocking, isn't it?

Now this is not an every day occurance, mind you.  While I'll often have high expectations for my students, they tend to rise up and meet those goals.  It's amazing what kids can do if you just give them the opportunity.  However, every practice has a chance of failure.

Case in point: Yesterday I took a 6th grade class to the computer lab to make ads for a fictional recording studio.  The whole lesson was meant to build upon their persuasive writing lessons in language arts.  I've done similar lessons in the past, but always in the classroom.  Always with the more "traditional" art supplies.  Markers, crayons, colored pencils, those media are familiar territory to students.

Computers are ... less so.  Granted, students can learn new technology quite fast when given the opportunity, but there is a limit to that speed, and yesterday I pushed it.  While I'm certain every student in that room was capable of doing everything I wanted, most could not do it in the time I was able to provide.  There were just too many new concepts to fit into too short a time.

Good work was done (and is still being done, from what the 6th grade teacher has told me), but we didn't even get to upload our pictures to the wiki as I had originally planned.

So ... what do you do when you find yourself in a situation like this?  Short term, cut like crazy.  decide what elements need to be covered right then and leave the rest out.  If it's something you can continue later, save it for later.  If you know you just won't have the time to revisit it, make the best of what can be done in the time you have.

Long term, reevaluate.  Not just the lesson, but the media used and the genre of that lesson as well.  With that class, I shouldn't have used SUMO Paint.  Don't get me wrong, SUMO Paint is awesome - but it was too much "new" in not enough time.  They'd just finished a PowerPoint project.  Having them build the ad on a single slide would have meant spending a lot less time on how it's done so I could focus more on why we were doing it.

I'll admit, in this case my bias against the ubiquitous nature of PowerPoint got the better of me when planning the lesson.  I wanted to show them something new and novel, and as a result I cost them valuable project time.

Was the lesson a loss?  No.  Even though we didn't do every step I wanted to cover, they managed to explore an unfamiliar media (one of the objectives of my state's art curriculum) and learn more about how advertisements grab your attention in order to persuade you (tying in with the state's language arts curriculum).

Mistakes were made, but we learned from them.

And next time, it will be better.