For this lesson, kindergarteners looked at the work of Jasper Johns for inspiration. We looked at a few of his paintings and I asked students if they could find clues “hiding” in his paintings. Students noticed different letters, numbers and shapes. I asked students why he might want to “hide” these things in his paintings. Some answers included, “Because it’s fun.” and “To make it like a game.”

Next, students filled out a handout of things that are important to them that they might want to hide in their own picture.

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To create their own artwork, students drew the words, numbers, and pictures that they wanted to include with pencil first. Next, students used Sharpies to trace (around) the lines of their letters/numbers and pictures. Using Sharpies is always a big hit!

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After tracing, students colored in their letters, numbers and pictures with oil pastels or crayons.

Last, students painted with watercolors. I love how each student painted–some students picked just a few colors, some students used a wide range of colors, and some students tried unique painting techniques. 🙂

How do you encourage student choice & voice when teaching about the styles and techniques of famous artists?

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As a follow up on my recent post, Managing Materials: Watercolors, I wanted to share one way I use up old watercolors in my room… by making painted paper!

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When watercolors run low, I replace them, but usually there is a little bit of paint left over in the paint pans. So I use them up and create “painted paper” that students can then use when they make collages or ATCs.

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I keep a box of “throw away” drawings… those “mostly-empty-pieces-of-paper-that-a-kid-spends-10-minutes-drawing-on-and-then-insists-that-it’s-“bad”-and-that-they-need-a-new-paper” drawings. The ones that usually end up in the garbage/recycling bin. I am usually able to convince students to erase a “mistake,” turn it into something new, or use the back of the page. But, sometimes the student has already tried alternatives and is getting frustrated because nothing seems to be working. Sometimes I agree with the student–sometimes it’s better to start fresh. So I keep the unfinished papers and put them in a box. I also add my incomplete teacher samples (I teach 5 sections of each grade level, so some times I end up with A LOT of teacher samples) and work that gets left behind at the end of the year (or work that gets left behind when a student moves and forgets to tell me).

Then I color all of the white parts of the page (using crayon, oil pastels, texture plates, and those almost-empty watercolors). After I have a bunch of painted papers, I cut them up into smaller pieces and add them to the “painted paper” box.

It is so gratifying when students reuse those almost-thrown-out pieces of paper and create something complete new with them.

How to you reuse/repurpose materials in the art room? What creative solutions do you have for managing supplies and minimizing costs?

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I love watercolors. They’re simple to use and they allow students to focus on painting without have to spend time mixing colors. (Have you ever had a student spend 15 minutes mixing one color only to have to clean up as soon as she is ready to use it?). I also use tempera and acrylic paints with younger students, but I often wait until a little later in the year when routines are established and they can manage getting, using, sharing, cleaning and returning more supplies.

Because students usually use watercolors without mixing colors (although you can also mix them!), I like to give them a variety of colors. A few years ago, I bought some new sets of Crayola Watercolors, 16 Color Set. The one thing I don’t like about this set is that the pans are not refillable. (The Crayola Watercolors, 16 Brilliant Colors Set is, but it’s almost twice as much and doesn’t have a clear cover, so you can’t see the colors until you open it.) Luckily I had a bunch of extra single-strip plastic watercolor strips. After a using the sets for a year, a lot of colors were empty, so I replaced the non-refillable strips with refillable ones. I also ordered Crayola Watercolor Refills and Prang Watercolor Refills to replace colors as they get used up. (Because certain colors are more popular than others and run out more quickly.)

In order to keep all of my refills organized, I sort them into an old marker box. (I love marker boxes and use them for so many different things.) This way I can see when a color is running low and when I need to order more refills.

Because watercolors are so popular, I try to clean the containers every few months to keep the trays clean and the colors fresh. Here’s what I do:

  1. Take out the plastic strips.
  2. Wash the watercolor containers.
  3. Set the containers in the drying rack to dry.
  4. Replace the plastic strips.
  5. If the strips are really dirty and I’m feeling ambitions, I’ll pop out all of the tiny refill pans, wash the plastic strips and then refill the colors (and replace the ones that have run out).

What are your favorite supplies? What creative solutions do you have for managing supplies and minimizing costs?

I was recently updating my links and clicking through other teacher’s blogs.When I was on Mrs. Gonzalez’s blog, I rediscovered her series of posts titled “Little Bits of Magic.”

January is a great time for setting goals and starting new habits, so I’ve decided to start looking for (and sharing!) “little bits of magic” that I see in the art room. (The pictures above are from Mrs. Gonzalez’s blog. I’m also going to start using it as a tag on Twitter and Instragram. I’m looking forward to looking more closely and recognizing the small moments.

How to you recognize “magic” in the art room?

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The week before vacation and all through my class, students… have been making Artist Trading Cards!

The week before vacation is usually unpredictable. Some students go on vacation early, or, during this time of year, students are often absent because they’re sick. Because of this, I put most projects on “hold” and started calling this week “ATC week.” (Kindergartners and first graders worked on completing unfinished work so that they can have more 1:1 help and so that we can start new projects when we get back from the break. When kindergartners and 1st graders were finished with all their unfinished work, they had the option of drawing in their sketchbook, or making a “free choice” collage or painting.)

When my second, third and fourth graders came to class, I told them the plan and showed them my ATC Idea Binder. It has samples of cards organized by media–drawing, collage, painting and mixed-media. We spent five minutes looking through the binder and discussing, “What makes a good ATC?”

Then students got to choose where to sit based on media. I had students “vote” what material they were most interested in using (by raising their hand) and then set up the stations based on popularity. In some classes, drawing was most popular, in others collage or painting was more popular, and in some it was split pretty evenly.

Students enjoyed the freedom of choosing their seats and materials, moving from station to station, and working with other students in the class. It was a great way to transition into break and I’m so proud with the ownership students took over coming up with and implementing their own ideas. Check out some of the results…

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I recently posted about Positive Behavior Stickers. As a follow up to that post, I wanted to share another way that I’ve used Avery label stickers. A few weeks ago, I taught a mini-ATC Zentangle lesson to my 3rd graders. I like to do “mini-ATC lessons” in between longer, multi-week projects.

To start the lesson, I introduced the word zen and explained that it is a form of meditation. I told students that sometimes when they create art they might feel “zen” when they are really focused and in the moment of what they are doing. Sometimes they might even forget about everything else around them!

I challenged students to create a Zentangle ATC by creating an intricate doodle inspired by the “Doodle & Noodle” challenge in the book Keys to Drawing with Imagination, by Bert Dodson and zentangle examples that I found on Pinterest. Students used pencils, thin and thick Sharpies and other drawing materials to add color. One of my classes got so into it that I started pointing out “Super Zen” students (students who were super quiet and super focused on their work).

Because so many students were so focused while they were working, I decided to acknowledge them with “Super Zen” stickers. I quickly made a page of Avery labels (it’s easy to copy and paste the text), printed them out and rewarded students with a sticker. One student even found a great spot to put her sticker so that her shirt read “Totally Super Zen Awesome.” 🙂

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When I first started teaching art, I was hired to teach two days a week. During this period, I also worked with kindergartners at an amazing after-school program. The program often provided opportunities for professional development. At one point, we learned about the Nurtured Heart Approach, a relationship-focused methodology for awakening the inherent greatness in all children while facilitating classroom success. As part of the training, I was given a handout with a list of words I could use to build my student’s “Inner Wealth.”

I photocopied the list onto a colorful piece of paper and hung it up in my office. When I got my first classroom, I hung the list up and anticipated the words flowing out of my mouth. By posting the list, I hoped the words would take root in my subconscious and that I would use the language more to encourage students to begin self-identifying using positive labels. It has worked, to some degree, but lately I have been seeking a way to use the words more frequently and to create a way to provide this feedback in a more meaningful way.

Then I had an idea.

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What if I photocopy the list of words onto Avery Labels and literally labeled students as “kind,” “collaborative,” and “helpful”? I looked over the list of words provided during my Nurtured Heart training and choose a few that I often see, and want to encourage, in my classroom. I have also been thinking of more ways to teach and promote the Studio Habits of Mind, so I added a few words/phrases to the list inspired by conversations I’ve had with colleagues.

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I printed 10 pages of stickers and put them in the positive behavior folder that I keep near my door. So far, I have given out a handful of stickers. A few examples include:

“Leader”: One of my students helped explain directions to another student who came in late from working with another teacher.

“Resilient”: A student made a mistake, got upset and started crying. She was really upset, so I had her take a few deep breaths. After she calmed down, she was able to work through her mistake and find a solution she was happy with.

“Helpful”: A student dropped the entire box of thin Sharpies on the floor. Another student helped him pick it up.

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I love self-portraits. They are such a great opportunity for students to express themselves. Over the past two years, I’ve been looking at how I align my drawing curriculum vertically. One of the benefits of being a “specialist” is that I get to teach students from year to year. This allows me to see student’s progress over time and to find specific ways to help students navigate obstacles and celebrate successes. This year, first graders were challenged to create a crayon and watercolor self portrait.

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First, I reviewed the words “self-portrait” and “proportion.” As I demonstrated how to break the process into smaller steps, students took turns using a checklist to help “teach” me the steps. (I knew I wanted to create my own checklist, so I looked online for inspiration. I liked the format of this one and decided to create a more elementary-appropriate version to use with my students.)

Then students practiced looking in a mirror, observing carefully, and drawing a self-portrait in their sketchbook. After drawing with pencil, students had the option of coloring their sketch with crayon or colored pencil (if they had time). Some students also decided to trace their drawing with a Sharpie before coloring it in.

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Next, students enlarged their portrait onto a 10″ x 15″ piece of watercolor paper. Students drew with pencils and drew a pattern in the background. (I provided a double-sided handout for students to use as a resource.) Then, students had the option of tracing their lines with a Sharpie, and then colored their face, clothes, and background with crayons.

I often think of observational drawing as a pretty straight-forward practice. Watching my students work reminded me of how many decisions you actually have to make when drawing something from observation. What you draw, and how you draw it, reflect what you are paying attention to (and what you are not aware of). During this process, also I noticed a lot of creative thinking! One student accidentally colored part of his eye with a little bit of green crayon. He was a little upset and not sure what to do to fix it. I asked him how he thought he might solve his problem. After we discussed a few possibilities, he decided to use whiteout to cover up the green crayon… and voila! It’s hard to tell it was even there. Another student noticed that she had lost a tooth since first drawing her portrait, so decided to erase one of her teeth before painting! 🙂

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After coloring, students used watercolors to paint their portrait. I love the way this student mixed and painted her skin tones!

How to you teach self-portraiture to first graders?

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One of the things that makes New England so special is fall. I love the harvest season and have been working on a vertically aligned drawing curriculum using elements of fall to teach observation skills to Kindergarteners-4th graders. (The entire curriculum is still a work in process.) As part of this curriculum, fourth graders observe and paint local leaves.

For homework, students were assigned to collect and bring in a leaf that had 3-4 colors in it. Students found the most beautiful leaves!  When students came to class, I showed them a PowerPoint about Georgia O’Keeffe and the leaf paintings that she created on her trips to Lake George. Then students had to observe their own leave and write down some of the facts they noticed about it–including colors, shapes and types of margins and veins. Students also planned their composition (square or vertical) by sketching their leaf. After class, I pressed each student’s leaf under a stack of magazines for two days and then laminated them. (I used stickies to mark each group of leaves so that I didn’t get them mixed up!) Next, they enlarged their leaf onto a 12″x12″ or 6″x12″ piece of drawing paper and then traced their lines with a thin Sharpie.

After carefully drawing their leaf, students began painting. I reminded them to reference the color wheel they made prior to the assignment and to try and match the size of their brush to the space they were trying to paint (small brushes for small spaces and larger brushes for larger spaces).

Students worked so hard on these paintings! I love the variety of ways students chose to paint their backgrounds.