My second year of teaching is much different than my first. Relationships with my students have grown stronger, I’m more comfortable with the staff and daily procedures, and my classroom has morphed into a few carts, a woodshop, and a cafeteria.
I began the new teaching year knowing that I would have to make adjustments to my arts education approach. The entire school, grades 1-8, embarked on total reconstructive surgery…the guts of which are still somewhat exposed, and my space had taken the deepest cut.
Currently, elementary and middle are in two separate buildings and I walk back and forth throughout the day. I teach on a cart in the elementary building and my middle school classes are either in the woodshop (that also doubles as the main entrance and office) or my art room, which is being occupied by the cafeteria and janitorial staff. My prep period is spent trying to drown out conversations about Facebook relationship statuses since I’m sharing it with seventh grade lunch. If I haven’t made it clear yet, the cafeteria is one part of the school that has not yet been built. Leaving my big, bright, new art room the designated storage space for all things fried and artificially flavored.
Although my days are spread thin, much like the PB&J that’s being served in my room at the moment, I’ve been trying to see the positive in this very unique situation. Since I work in every room in the elementary side, I feel very much a part of it all. I’ve also used this opportunity of “ exposure” to share what arts education really means. Teachers, willingly or unwillingly, have paid more attention to my lessons since I am the one they try to drown out during their prep period.
My latest project not only involves the whole school, but also draws attention to my groups inquiry question, “How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world through the arts?” I decided to have the elementary classes begin a school-wide project that would enable them to utilize their regular classroom space.
The students were going to begin creating their own dream world locker installations.
Students have their own locker in the classroom and most show real pride for that space. Taking the idea of personal space, how one uses it, and seeing what things each student values by hanging in their locker was an interesting and exciting concept.
We started by having discussions on identity and what it means to be your own person…what makes you you, how commonalities help relate to one another, and how our differences make us more of an individual. Ultimately, I wanted to continue the message of “acceptance” without making it totally obvious. The big project that is just getting underway now, started first with a few small activities. Each class filled out an identity map, drawing or writing different things about themselves. The students did not put their names on it because at the end of the class I shuffled the maps, and redistributed. It turned into a matching game. Each student had to read over the identity map they had been handed and tried to guess whose identity they had. Taking turns, they found their matches and announced at least one new thing they learned about the person. This activity ended up being very beneficial. It put everyone on the same playing field and somehow erased a lot of the barriers that are usually present in the classroom. There was a lot less judgment than I anticipated. This time, I think reading from a paper was different than listening to a person speak. There was a distance that was created, allowing a student who usually gets made fun of to have their time. For example, when students read the identity map, they were more concerned about getting the answer right and finding their match than caring if that person was “cool” or not. If the activity instead were to have the student stand in front of the classroom and introduce himself, I don’t think the class would have been as interested or open.
The next activity was to take the idea of identity and personality and show it through design and style. We spoke briefly about how people show things about their individuality by the way they choose to dress. In this activity, students designed a shoe with the requirement of incorporating three things about themselves. It could be abstract or literal. Many of the students had a theme for their shoe or reverted back to their identity map and drew three things they answered on the worksheet. We hung our shoes in the hallway, not only as a way to decorate the space, but to get the school amped and promote our big project.
Finally, we were ready to begin the installation.
The idea is for each student to create an art installation inside his/her locker. When the school is done, we will hold a grand exhibit, having all the lockers open for viewing. I am even thinking about having some classes create pod casts so people can listen to the artists speak about their work.
Just this week, I introduced installations and once again created my ever so trusty “Ms. Nemchik’s Art Museum”. Even though I’m in a different room every class, having a magnetic whiteboard waiting for me is guaranteed. My way of making sure each student sees the visuals I have for the lesson is to hang them with magnets in the front of the room. We practice how to act in an art museum or gallery, not touching the artwork, taking our time looking at each piece, and then discussing what we thought as a group afterward. The students really loved critiquing the work. They were excited about the idea of changing a whole space. After a consistently long discussion about the different art installation examples, talking about what we saw, why we liked certain aspects more than others, what we thought the artist was thinking, and how we would feel in each space, each class began sketching their own dream world.
I am trying to make the requirements very loose. In the sketch, I told them they should be able to answer the following three questions:
1.What does it look like?
2.Who is in it?
3.What can you do there?
I don’t want them to feel like they have to make it look like an actual place, but I did want to give them some guidelines so that they weren’t totally overwhelmed. I explained that when they are done with their installations they could invite others to view the lockers and have their own classroom exhibit. By having other people view their dream worlds they will be telling the viewer more about themselves and who they are as a person.
Here’s to hoping things go as planned! Art cart. Out.