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I’ve been asked to join the science teachers and write a grant for an outdoor learning space. Does anyone have any ideas for something that that I could benefit from? The outdoor space alone will be great, but I’m not sure if there are any art specific elements I could focus on. Help if you can, please!!

Our last meeting at the IU was very useful.  Our Cig talked about the different lessons that we were going to focus on for our final presentation.  We also planned how we are going to set up our spotlight.  The group helped me figure out what I could highlight and say as my main points in the presentation.  We discussed what the most interesting and beneficial parts of each of our lessons were so that we had a better idea of what to focus on.  We were each given a homework assignment to do to help prepare for the 18th and will be working on those independently.  I’m really hoping Amy doesn’t get too excited and go into labor.  If she does, she better skype in the delivery room.

Inquiring Hearts left a work day early to view a presentation held by Invisible Children roadies at the Uniontown High School.  Becky has an after school program where a group of students work to help raise money for the cause and gain more knowledge about the war in Africa.  I’m getting deeply involved this year and helping to plan a Music and Arts Festival this June with Becky and our friend and Invisible Children advocate, Kate Webster.  I’m also getting my school involved.  Kate presented a documentary about Invisible Children and we are making artwork to sell at the event.

The high school presentation was so moving.  A team of five roadies, three Americans, a New Zealander, and a woman from Uganda who escaped the LRA, came to speak to the high school.  They introduced the school to the Invisible Children cause and the video that went viral the next week.  The students seemed very receptive and we received a lot more interest for the after school program.

In February, my elementary school had a PSSA Parent Night and so I held an art exhibition displaying the locker installations.  The whole school turned into a museum.  Each classroom was open and the lockers were on display.  One class wrote reflections about their installations and created a podcast.  A video was played inside another classroom that answered the question, “What is an installation?”  Third, fourth, and fifth grade students answered the questions and talked about installations in Photo Booth and then my eighth grade class edited the video in iMovie.  It was really inspirational and motivating to see so many people come and experience what the kids made.  The students were so proud and there was such a great sense of community.

The installation process for my elementary students was a growing experience that opened itself up for many discussions and learning opportunities.  We spent the beginning of the project sketching and covering the walls of their locker shelf.  Grades 1-3 focused on creating a world with layers.  We learned and reviewed background, middle ground, and foreground and built a new layer each class.  The fourth and fifth grade focused more on creating an emotional response from their viewer so creating layers was not required.  Their projects went more in the direction of dramatics and incorporating elements of surprise.  Many students created a Duchamp effect of creating a wall in front of their shelf, and cutting out two tiny holes for your eyes to look through.  One student wanted to create a scary installation, so she made the looking wall then created a pulley system. When you pulled a string, a monster popped up in front of one of the eye holes.

Overall the project process was very successful.  I found motivation from the students in almost all of the classes.  They were working on these during their recess, at home, during homeroom period etc.  Some teachers were really involved and excited too.  Almost all of the students were enthusiastic and proud to show their installation and share their thoughts of why they created the space the way they did.  I found a pattern with the way art class happened.  The students first started at their desks, working on an initial thought that they had been thinking about. Many students were very focused on their own installation.  You could tell they cared about this.  Once they were ready to install and add something inside of their lockers, they started using each other more.  Towards the end of class a lot of collaboration happened.  Whether it was students freaking out that they didn’t get a lot done and needed friends to help, or they wanted to show off what they had created, the class ended with people’s heads stuck in the lockers, feverishly working.  There was a lot of collaboration that happened every class and students depended on themselves as well as each other to trouble shoot and figure out how to express what they wanted.

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.

I believe the most important point in this article is summed up at the end when the author says, “..until art teachers consider students’ ideas and experiences as valid content – on par with those of artists “out there”- we are at risk of operating under dated assumptions about what constitutes authentic and contemporary studio practice.”
The article lays out a very smooth scenario based on one student’s artistic process and behavior through journal reflection. Although it’s portrayed with an idealistic tone, for example the students seem to be older and more mature and they have computer and internet access making it easier for them to independently research and remain intrinsically motivated, I do think that teachers need to constantly remind themselves or make it a point to listen to students. Basing lessons and projects around things that inspire or relate to them should be a main focus in the classroom.
This article allowed me to reflect on my own approaches in the classroom. Typically behavior is an issue, leaving me always on edge with giving the students “too much down time”. I also find myself shortening reflection and journal writing time more and more because I am nervous that my students aren’t actually thinking about what I want them to. But is that such a bad thing? What if they are instead thinking about a conversation they had with their friend at lunch that’s way more interesting to them than, ‘How does weather make you feel?’ or ‘If you could have one super power what would it be?’. I don’t know any teacher who wouldn’t want to tap into something that would motivate a student more or enhance their learning. It’s figuring out the balance of when to step in to guide and when to trust that a student will make a discovery on their own that is challenging me. Art is just as much a social subject as it is physically creating. Of course art class can’t just be gossip hour, but perhaps more often a time when students can find a way to channel what will naturally be on their mind and using that for deeper learning, expression, and motivation.

As soon as I read over Question #5 in our reading, I immediately began thinking about my 8th grade class.  Last year, they learned the art history timeline and how art evolved over time.  This year, I want to expose them to the many avenues of contemporary art and how art has been molded and formed in every way possible.  We have looked at the ephemeral natural sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy, silkscreened popular culture like Warhol, currently we are finishing a fashion project inspired by Alexander McQueen, and plans for installation and performance art are to come later on.  I want to expose my students to these things so that they understand that art is not just pencil and paper.  Artistic skill is more than how well you can use your hands.  There is a conceptual aspect to art, where ideas, emotions, and messages drive the production and creativity.

Installation, performance art, and any kind of conceptual art in general are intimidating to me because of the unpredictable that can and will occur in the classroom.  Conceptual art must include a deep interest and although I know my students to a certain extent, there is no way I can totally plan where their projects will end up.  Conceptual art in my mind is nothing but inquiry.  It leaves both the educator and student in vulnerable positions, working together to create one successful piece.  Collaboration, questions, research, multiple viewpoints, and knowledge on your topic are essential.  I want my students to dive into this.  They have been so excited to see what project is next because it’s stuff they’ve never seen before.  However, I am getting concerned that this is going to be way over their head.  I need to introduce these art forms without overwhelming them.  How can I get them to understand contemporary art without intimidating them first?  How can I get my students to appreciate the sophistication of these art forms and inspire them to really think about their artistic choices?  How can I manage a classroom where the possibilities could be endless, yet still feel structured?

This is my first attempt at this, and I am sure there will be a lot of trial and error.  I doubt I will be able to get everything I want to done within the semester, but with tweaks along the way I hope to have some smooth lessons by the end of the year.

June 2017
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