During our final CIG meeting, the inquiring hearts really cracked down to figure out how we were going to express what we were all about. We’re all passionate about conveying how the arts can give a person a sense of belongingness and showing how the arts can connect you to the world in so many ways. How do we show this in a physical sense? Each of us chose one project that we did within our classroom. A project where there were “world connectors” within them. We also decided to have a heart photo booth. Within this, we would ask those who come to see our work to answer the question how art connects them to the world? What art does for your life? I unfortunately wasn’t able to come to the final day because I ..fortunately, had my first little baby on Mother’s day. ha :) I loved seeing the video that my cig members made for my new guy Foster  and all the other babies of the world/people of the world. Just because we’re not fresh to the world doesn’t mean our minds are full. Let’s always strive to learn new things. The arts are a gate way to new adventures, new experience, happiness. 
 
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During one of our CIG meetings, we left early as a group to go on a CIG field trip! We went to Uniontown high school because Becky invited the Invisible children roadies to give a presentation to the students. There are many different opinions on the invisible children and what they do. Bottom line for me is that they make people aware of what life could be like, and IS like for some in the world. It gets people thinking about their place in this world and what they can be doing to make it better. I’ve heard opinions say that it’s just a “trend” to post about/be a supporter of the invisible children. What is wrong with a trend where people are helping other people? Perhaps I’m ignorant to EVERYTHING that it is, behind the scenes stuff, what the culture really is like in Africa, Joseph Kony and what he does, but from what I experienced from the roadies, they’re missionaries with hearts to help.

I gave my students an independent assignment. With this project, they had no limitations. They had to research for ideas, materials and how to. One student went off running with this project. she decided to to a collaborative project, including over 100 people.
She got the inspiration from a song.
Here is her process:
She decided to find out what love is to people of all ages. So, she cut 3″x3″ squares and passed these squares out to people ages 4-100. She asked them all to draw or..illustrate what love was to them. There were no rules to this. She told them they could use photographs, magazines, or whatever they wanted to express what love was to them.
The results were wonderful. In the end, she ended up with an 8’x8′ piece of art that we displayed in the schools cafe’.

Last Friday we had our Spotlight Sharing at the IU. It was the final day of a 4 year journey for some. I have been a part of Arts Educator for 3 years. Each year had its unique characteristics and challenges. What I loved especially about this year was the Affinity Grouping that brought each group together that first day back in the Fall. I still remember sharing my statement, not having a notion of where I would fit, and the whole group basically pointing out who else I belonged with. As we sat together and began to formulate our inquiry question for the year, I was struck by our similarities. I felt like I was coming home.

Now our final meeting, as each group presented it was so obvious to me how we ended up in the groups we did. Each group’s approach was so different from ours. Yet, it was it was clear that the individuals within the groups were connected to their inquiry question and bonded in their efforts.

For me in my group, it all came together on our final work day. When we started thinking of our spotlight. It was one of those times that I have found myself in a group when there was no disagreement. Everyone was on the same page. As I reflect on that I realize that each of our CIG meetings and other days together had that same kind of simpatico.

I have a way of looking at the world that seems to aggravate and frustrate some people at times. I am not capable of taking a negative view and sustaining it. If I looked at my students, administrators, parents, and fellow teachers the way many of my colleagues do, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning. At the risk of sharing too much, I’m sure I was born with this temperament, but childhood tragedy and a lifelong approach to healing from it have also shaped my character. The world can be dangerous and downright deadly. If I allow myself to dwell in a place of negativity I know I will succumb to it and disappear. Finding hope and self-knowledge through the arts has been a sustaining factor for me and drives my teaching practice.

For many years I have felt alone among my colleagues. When I began Arts Educator 3 years ago, I immediately felt more connected. As we were placed in our groups I met some other teachers with whom I felt an affinity. Sometimes our group did  not agree (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but again I was reminded that not everyone shares my life view. Being a part of the Inquiring heARTS has shown me unequivocally that I am not alone. Our teaching style, lessons, age groups and subject matter my be different, but there are at least 4 other people on the planet that see the glass half full through rose colored glasses. There are others who treasure their own heart and those of every other human we come in contact with. There are those who look at each child who enters the classroom as something unique and beautiful, to be appreciated, treasured, and reminded of their exquisiteness.

One of the highlights of this school year has been the funding of my Donors Choose project. The previous year’s request for four digital cameras didn’t even come close to being fulfilled. This year, when I applied for two digital cameras, our goal was reached. Add the digital camera acquired through Arts Educator 2.0 last year to the generous donations from Donors Choose this year, and my classes now have the technology to learn the basics of digital photography. Since I was faced with writing a new lesson plan from scratch for this content, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to use inquiry learning strategies.
And, the result has been successful. Students worked in pre-determined small groups with the goals of producing well-composed images. The unit was broken down into “staged” photos and “candid” photos. For their staged photos, students focused on the elements they could control, like: lighting, staging, orientation, and angle. A box of crayons became their subject matter, and – oh, the ideas they came up with! Each student was charged with taking 5 staged photos (of a single composition or of 5 different compositions – many chose the latter). Of those 5 photos, they selected the best using the grading rubric as a guide. I set the due date for the following day so that they had some time to “forget” what their photos looked like and had a “fresh set of eyes” with which to see their artwork.

                               

They did the same thing with candid photos. Only this time, student photographers were unable to control certain elements, like: lighting and movement. Each student took 5 candid photos of a model (or models) in dynamic compositions. Having completed the staged photos first, the students were setting up their shots to catch the action in the frame. One student (who was particularly critical of the way I taught 7th grade) said to me: “I really like this photography stuff.” I’m glad. I liked the way it turned out, too. The students came up with really interesting shots! Another student said: “I can see myself doing this as a career – taking photos – maybe, even being in front of the camera.”

         
So, how did I use inquiry? To me, the entire struggle of inquiry is how to allow students as much freedom as possible while still setting a precedent for their success (an end result). What kinds of things could I predict from an unknown outcome? How can I word the objectives and assessment criteria to promote this freedom? I think this is something I can really wrap my head around. It’s like a “what if” game. I try to think about the most unusual idea a student might develop at one end of the spectrum, but also what a student without much interest / motivation would come up with. I write the objective to be as general as possible to accommodate all learning abilities and creativity levels while maintaining a challenging goal for students to attain. Each grading rubric is tied directly to the objectives of the unit. I read over the rubric at the beginning of each lesson so students know what is expected of them, and I urge them to use their own style. I try to impress upon students that I want them to be free to create within the boundaries of the lesson.
This unit seems to be more successful in comparison to my other Arts Educator 2.0 lessons because I pushed myself outside my comfort zone – allowing for more unstructured learning.
At this stage of the game (my third year of teaching at the middle school level), I think I’ve settled on writing inquiry lessons that are built this way. They need to have structure. They need to have a jumping off point and a conclusion – at least to suit my personal teaching style. But, in-between, they can have so many possibilities for learning.
I may have found the balance between teacher-directed and inquiry-based learning for my classroom.

The Independent Art students presented their year-long inquiry process on Wednesday evening, May 16, 2012 with their Independent Art Show in the library/art wing of Trinity High School from 6:00pm-8:00pm. The girls were madly rushing in and out of the artroom throughout the day putting finishing touches on art pieces or repairing a piece that may have gotten bumped in the artroom. At 3:00 pm, the girls came running into the artroom to begin setting up racks in their chosen area,moving display cubes into strategic positions and hanging their artwork, “tweaking and re-tweaking” until their guests and the art community arrived. The unveiling of the installation piece, “The Spark Within”, a series of 36 panels depicting “Ah-ha” moments in the lives of these 9 talented young ladies was very well received! The girls stood proudly at their displays and discussed their artist statements  and processes with the viewers and circulated among the crowds to admire one another’s displays. This was the girls’ night to shine and so they did! At the end of the evening, 4 artists had sold artwork which I told them they are now considered professional artists!

Helping the students plan the show is a ton of work, but it was well worth it! Giving the students the opportunity to use inquiry and make their own choices regarding the creation of their art was definitely worth all the worK. What great artwork was created with the help of my cig group and AE2.0.

   

   

During our last IU day together we decided in how we were going to share our information in our spot light. It was decided that our sharing should be “interactive” to some extent. I was very excited about the idea of it being interactive. I find this Benjamin Franklin quote to be very appropriate to our research this year. “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me I learn.” Although, a topic that was brought up during the meeting was a concern that it would be too much and time consuming for the time that we were allocated for the spotlight. While I didn’t feel that this was a major topic at the time, it did give me something to think about. I realized that many times in my classroom I try to cram as much into a 35 minute period as possible and it made me wonder how often we (educators) cause an “overload” due to our time constraints. I then realized that I have noticed this affecting my students in the way that they were not retaining the information that was being presented. I also concluded that so much of the information that I give them is either verbal or written on the board. While some students do remember this most don’t. I then found if I could make my lesson as interactive as possible they did demonstrate better retention. But now the question is where do you draw the line? When is it too much? I believe this to be something that I will continue to search for balance in.

I decided to reflect on the meeting in which we chose our group names…

I recall our group was rather indecisive…I think everyone felt that our name had to contain a real essence of meaning and not just the first thing that popped in our heads. Im a big believer in the power of naming something…people, books, even my blog posts for crying out loud! I think the way we chose our name kind of tells us something about who we are as a group and even as individuals. We picked kind of a ‘dumb’ name at first (no, I am not meaning to say we are dumb haha)…Apple, I believe, just so we could have something for the wiki and we figured it gave us a little extra time to think and we could change it later. I wish I could recall who came up with Inquiring heARTS but it doesn’t exactly matter now. The reason we chose this name for our group is because all of us have a very strong desire to reach not just the intellect of our students, but, at the risk of sounding cheesy, their hearts as well. We see art as a way to touch the souls of humanity and as a source of healing as well as expression. And of course, it is through inquiry that we can find better ways of doing this. And what would our group’s name be without a little bit of a nod to the arts within the name? You can thank the two group members who just happen to be art teachers and their last name is Gartley…or as they enjoy writing it: gARTley. Haha….oh yes, we are that corny.

But really, I enjoy the somewhat innocent and idealistic notions of our group as opposed to the griping, negative complaints I so often hear from people in my profession. Sorry, but I, we, actually do believe that we can make our world a better, brighter place…and one of those ways is through artistic expression and discovery, both of oneself and the world around them. Our scope is inner and outer…it must be both. We have a running joke in our group that we all poop rainbows. Slightly crude, but funny and totally true. But I think that there is something great about being that optimistic, hopeful….isn’t that part of the very fuel that landed men’s faces on our currency and glues people to their seats during shows about real life journeys to success be it in sports, music, politics, whatever?

I’m not any of those types, and I probably will never have a book written about me, or a documentary, or even as much as a magazine article. But none of that really tells us whether or not we have influence, value, or have left a mark. Sorry if this is turning into a philosophical blog. I can’t help it really, because to me, art is so deeply rooted in who we are as a race. That’s why I love the name our group chose because it speaks of something more than itself. I think everyone is and has an inquiring heart…and I think it’s important to see problems, ask questions, seek out answers. Imagine, if we use inquiry in our classrooms more….our students will learn how to see problems themselves, not just be told about them…be given a voice to ask questions, not made to be silent and always listen because they could not possibly have anything to bring to the table…and search for the answers, realizing that part of the process is making mistakes and the power we get is learning from them and trying again or making a better way. How valuable are these qualities to the generation that will one day govern our planet? Innovation, imagination, discovery, creativity…what does your heart inquire?

After my students completed their scenes and chose their instruments, I collaborated with our school’s art teacher, and one of my CIG members, on how they would color their scenes. She chose four different art techniques and had them use each one for their scenes. The techniques were pointillism, monochromatic, all primary or all secondary, and abstract. The next step was for the students to attach card onto each scene of the instruments they used in that scene and what they represented.
They were also to create a title for their story.

It was great to see how most of my students worked very diligently on their projects and were independent in making decisions and solving problems on their own. It was also exciting to watch their creativity flow from themselves and not from me. I gave them all a choice on how they wanted to present their work. They could either present it verbally to their classmates or they could write out a story on paper. All of my students wanted to present to their classmates. I think part of this was due to them wanting to avoid writing, but I think more of it was the fact they were proud of their hard work and wanted to show it off.

Their presentations were quite informal, which is what I wanted…I didn’t want them to feel any pressure but to just simply talk and share about what they did. They used the iPads to play each sound in their scenes and explained why they chose those sounds. I then had a my students vote on which group’s project best represented their class for the Arts Ed Day presentation. I explained to them that they shouldn’t pick their own project simply because it’s theirs, but they should choose based on the quality of workmanship placed in the project. I was really impressed to find that the votes seemed to reflect the projects that I would have chosen as well, knowing how much work and effort each group put into their projects. It seemed that their classmates also had that same sense and I think it made people feel a sense of justice and reward for their hard work.

The best things about this project were that the students were able to make their own choices and decisions about how they wanted to portray their work. I enjoyed letting them create an artistic work by using their understanding and interpretations. I think it allowed them the ability to expand their understanding of instruments, their specific timbres, and the way a composer might think when they are forming a piece of music. The greatest set back I came into contact with during this project was timing. Since this was something I never did with a class before, I didn’t have all the details figured out right away. I started with an idea and took it from their….and in some instances that is good, but in this one, it just made the projects last over too long of a period of time. Since I only see the students once a week…and if that depending on holidays, in-services, etc. it made it difficult to complete in a more appropriate time period. However, I think that since I know exactly how the details of the project work, if I do it again, I have a lot more things figured out and I can tweak the details as needed. But I think that’s how our lessons plans should work…they should be mold able and able to evolve and change according to what our students need.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my five years of teaching it’s that you can’t make cookie cutter lessons when there are no cookie cutter people. Few things will work all the time, some most of the time, most will work some of the time, and some will completely fail. I think we often learn most from the ones that dont work lie we thought they would. The goal is not perfection, because you may think you habe “the perfect lesson” and then some snotty kid says “this is boring”…then what? The point is to try and use what works, modify if needed, and scrap what doesn’t. Change is as necessary as consistency….and you can have adaption and evolution amid consistency. I’m a firm believer in needing both. You need creativity and structure, you need imagination and logic, you need the arts AND

Last week the members of the M & D CIG met at Trinity High school to finalize the spotlight sharing presentation. We have compiled a video slideshow with various pictures from our classrooms and voice over narrations we recorded at the last IU day. It’s strange to think that this project will be over soon. These people and this process has become such an ingrained part of the school year for me. Over the course of my three years in the program I have gained valuable ideas for new and innovative ways to teach my students as well as a great network of colleagues in the area. I hope to find new ways to work with all of these people and wish them and our faculty members the best in all future endeavors.

June 2017
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