Monday, March 30, 2009

Don't mind the shavings.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Garbage never looked so good."][/caption]

I handed colored pencils to my 1st graders today.

This was not too surprizing, as I did the same thing last week.  What I have noticed, however, is that most of my teachers with younger students don't let them sharpen their own pencils whenever they need to.

I, however, do.  I would much rather see a student raise their hand because they're having difficulty with a portion of their composition  than because their colored stick isn't pointy enough.  As a result I usually announce in the beginning of the lesson that if the pencil needs sharpening, they can just get up and sharpen it.  I even go so far as to explain when a pencil needs sharpening and how to sharpen it so that it doesn't disappear forever in a pile of shavings.  (Colored pencils are much softer than the 2B kind.)

You know what happens next...

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Stampeeeeeede!"]Stampeeeeeede![/caption]

That's right, any student who found a colored pencil that was not ready to vanquish a vampire was at the sharpener ready to go! This included those who had white colored pencils.  Did I mention this was a lesson where they used white paper?  Well it was.

This is the point when the classroom teacher looks at me with a patronizing expression that says "That's why I don't let them do that."

And I look at them with a nervous smile that says "Eheheheh ... I'll be right back."

The next minute or so is spent turning kinds away that don't really need to sharpen pencils, as well as enforcing the "Turn it 3 times then check" rule of sharpening.

And you know what?  That's it.

Occasionally a student will have a relapse, but for the most part they know my rules and what's expected of them.  They're fine with that because they're getting a cool reward in the process - an awesome art project.

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the initial stampede was in fact because they wanted to revel in the idea that they could go and sharpen any pencil that needed it.

So how does this relate to technology integration?

You have to ask?

A new tool is a new tool, and new freedoms are promptly exercised.  There will be chaos, but if you stay alert it will at least be organized chaos and learning will still be accomplished.  Eventually, the chaos will be replaced with something better - a class full of students who are able to learn without raising their hands to ask permission for each step.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fluid: Less is more.

fluidHere's one more tool that I wish I could use at school but can't because our computers are mostly all Windows: Fluid.

Nowadays whenever my Art Club meets I send them to the art club website.  In my infinite wisdom I used my domain name to host the club's blog, which as the year comes to a close is still causing issues due to students having trouble spelling "aesthetic."  (To be honest if I wasn't an art teacher I'd have problems with that word as well.)

There are many ways to solve this problem.  For me, I gave them cards with the URL written out.  If half of them can spell "aesthetic" by the end of the year I'll be very happy.

Fluid would have been another possibility too.  The app you download does nothing more than create other apps, each of which is a minimalistic web browser.  What's the big deal, you ask?

The big deal is that there's a ton of cool websites out there that are applications in and of themselves.  SUMOpaint, Google Docs, and more are all as good as or better than applications you can run on your computer.  If I create a SUMOpaint app, Twitter app, or whatever using Fluid, I can have a new icon in my dock that with a single click takes me right to that tool.

Not convinced this is a good thing?  Neither was I, at first.  But because Fluid apps are very minimalistic, they're also kinda light on the system requirements.  If I'm running something that's kind of resuource heavy on my computer, say... World of Warcraft, do I really want to open up a full browser just to check

If I have a Twitter account of my own and manage another Twitter account for a community, do I want to open up a whole other browser just to keep from logging in and out of multiple accounts?  Yeah, I could use one of many twitter apps, but I kinda like the background I have on my Twitter page.  I'd like to see that.

I won't be so enthusiastic as to say Fluid's posibilities are endless.  Clearly it has some limitations, but I see those same limitations as its strengths.

If you have another use for Fluid, why not post it as a comment?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'm not sayin'.

I dont know the answer either, kids!Dan Meyer seems to have come across a recent theme in his lessons: he's not giving them the answers. I think that's awesome.

This is something you could very well expect to see in any art class that has a good teacher, since in art you will often find three or four (or more) opinions about composition, color choices, techniques, or even the definition of "art" itself.  We can't give a single answer because there isn't one.  We're kind of forced into the scenario of not giving an answer at the end of the lesson that students can expect to see on the final.

Mr. Meyer, however, is a math teacher.  There are very concrete answers that can be figured out when encountering math problems.  Two plus two has an answer.  If solving for X yields more than one possibility, you can graph them to show the whole range.

Sometimes the conversation, the act of sorting things out with your peers and learning for yourselves what the right questions are is more important than coming to a specific teacher-sanctioned conclusion.

Giving an answer at the end can disguise that simple fact.  I'm glad he's realized this so early - I know more than one teacher twice his age who's yet to have that sink in.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

What's in a name?

I have over 2,000 students (not including teachers who are also, technically, my students) spread out over three schools.  This is a daunting task for many reasons, but only one of them irks be to the point that I'll mention it at the start of this blog post:

I can't remember that many names.

Oh, I'll make valiant attempt.  There's a handful of students whom I do know by name, but there's just no way I can learn who everyone is when I see them so rarely.

They do know mine though ... well, most of them.  To some of my students I'm "Mr. Smith."  To others, I'm "The Art Guy."  At the insistence of some teachers in one of my buildings some call me "Mr. Aaron," though I'm not too keen on that.

artguy128In any case, I've been thinking a lot lately about my "Art Guy" moniker.  Originally it was a name given to me by a student, and it sort of stuck.  It smacks of just enough irreverence to make it amusing to me even though some classroom teachers who don't know me try to correct their students when they hear it.

It's a great nickname to have when you're the only art teacher around, or failing that the only one that's a guy.  For that very reason when I started my first forays into edublogging and podcasting to find there were no other art teachers playing with the same technology that entertained me so much (at least none that I saw...), "theartguy" seemed like a perfect screen name for me.

Art_Guy_Shirt.jpgAnd it has been.  I have found countless friends and joined more Web 2.0 sites than I can remember using that screen name.  It's how I'm identified by pretty much anyone on the internet who knows me.  My target audience has never been limited to just other art teachers - far from it in fact, because in the beginning it was such a rare occurrence to find one of us blogging.

But times change.  These days I'm far from being the only artsy person out there with a blog/podcast/vidcast/and so on., and I think that's totally awesome.  When I got started I brought an art teacher's perspective to these new technologies with which we were playing, because in some cases it was quite different from a [insert any other content area here] teacher's perspective.

Now, the art teachers that are blogging have their own little corner of the internet to form their Personal Learning Networks.  Networks where they don't have to start off by saying "As an art teacher...," because their target audience is other art teachers.  Again, this is awesome.

But it also means I'm not the only "art guy" out there.

If I walk into a room full of 30 students ready for an awesome painting lesson, I have no problem calling myself the Art Guy.  If I walk into a room with a decent percentage of other art teachers ... I hesitate.

There is more I want to say, but this post is long enough for now.  Expect another installment later.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Prove Me Wrong

WARNING:  I'm either on a high horse or a soapbox grandstanding with an overinflated ego right now.  I'm not always this smug or confrontational (I hope...), but some recent events have led up to this post.  Read at your own risk.

HPIM5128.JPGI do the impossible. Daily.

"He won't do any work. Just let him sit there."

"This class will never be controllable when it's snowing outside."

"These special ed. students don't have the hand-eye communication to use scissors."

Each of these statements is something I've been told by a classroom teacher. Each of these statements have been proven wrong.  See that photo?  It was taken by a 2nd grader, then submitted to a juried art show.  It got in.  Don't tell me photography can't be taught to 2nd graders.  I could add more examples, but do I need to?

It is a personality flaw quirk of mine to, when I hear something cannot be done in the classroom, see that as a challenge.  Sometimes it turns out the chalenge issuer was right, but more often than not I get to show them what a little effort and guidance can accomplish.  They had given up on those students because they did not think they had the time and/or the energy to accomplish the aforementioned tasks and teach the prescribed curriculum.  Understandable how they got to that point - I'd be there too if I was in their position - but that doesn't mean I'll let it stay that way.


When a classroom teacher tells me they'd love to include more art in their lessons, but they just don't have the time / energy / creativity / inspiration to do that and cover the mandated curriculum....

Challenge issued.

Challenge accepted.

Just don't keep saying it can't be done after I prove you wrong.