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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.

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I figured that I should wrap things up with a “this is what I learned” post. My CIG has been examining inquiry strategies that may or may not increase motivation and determination in our classrooms. My strategy involved the implementation of a rewards system for my students. Initially the system was a success. The students wanted the reward (band bucks toward school store purchases) and where willing to work for it. As the weeks progressed, however, I saw less and less motivation to do well on the playing tests. At first I determined that this was not a reliable method of motivating students. But recently, something funny happened. I’m seeing more and more kids in my room in the mornings and an increased motivation to play/perform well. I think that it just may have taken more time than I thought it should. And, during several weeks in which there was a lull in student motivation the students were in the middle of PSSA testing. As a result, I am beginning to believe that a rewards system can be a point of motivation to students. But, it can’t be the only thing. Students have to make a personal connection to their art in order to keep them coming back. Things like a reward for hard practice can help move them in the right direction, but ultimately they have to see the value in what they are doing and want to get better.

I am struck by the differences from class to class, 9 weeks to 9 weeks, period to period, semester to semester. I wonder how much it is related to the time of year. It could be the mix of the group. It could be me.

The 2 sections of art 1 that I had first semester were so creative and self-motivated. Posing the big inquiry question to them “How can you influence the story of our school through your art?” felt risky, I guess because I had never done anything like it before, but the response was unequivocally powerful and prolific. Although there were some days of confusion as they sorted out whether to work in groups or alone and then began their planning, soon the classroom was a buzz of art making, problem solving, and collaboration.

Fast forward to second semester and a new group. A big one-30 students, same as first semester period 1, but now it is period 4, the last one of the day. The group was not cohesive, very cliquish, some students who just downright do not care to be there, and filled with early dismissals and other disruptions. All factors that played into the general ennui. Was I less enthusiastic? Possibly, but certainly not consciously. The end result? I did not pose a “big” inquiry question to them, like I did to the others. We did make lots of cool art, all my lessons, units, projects, are posed in the form of inquiry now, and even the “too cool for school kids” were somewhat won over in the end (they love the altered book project). I can’t help feeling like I failed somehow with this bunch by not giving them the same experience the others had.

My new group of students are – shall we say, challenging. When I saw the group I was working with, I thought twice about my planned project. When I did, I decided to approach it in a different way. Instead of saying, “This is what you are going to do,” I said, “I think we should cheat on the social studies project.” Their response was immediate – they were actually paying attention!

Every year the 7th graders have to make and present a project about an assigned memorial or museum in Washington DC. Some of the students don’t get to go on the field trip to DC, so they get very resentful about doing a project on the subject. Often, they fail the 9 weeks because of their refusal to do the exploration project that is to be completed at home. So, I decided that this would be my inquiry project. I would give them the tools, they would research and make the project in collaboration.

I gave them examples of different applications on the iPad, different web tools, and examples of ways to present. They have been going fool tilt ever since. They have found ways to use the tools that I did not know existed, of course, so I am learning from them. Yeah!

Technology:

iPad – PuppetPals HD comic life, Popplet, Kromath3

Computer:

Popplet, Moviemaker

For my next classroom project, I went with the idea that my students really seemed to enjoy instrumentation. I was inspired over the winter break by the song “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi, which you may know better as the song Snoopy skates to in A Charlie Brown Christmas. I got to thinking how neat it is that a composer can use instruments in a certain way and paint a picture in the listeners mind. And then, bingo! This is something my students could do and I think they would really enjoy!

The way I started the lesson was by talking about how composers sometimes write a piece of music with an idea or theme in mind, example there is tons of music based on themes like holidays, seasons, etc. I then had them listen to “Skating” and asked if they recognized what it was from. Most of my students immediately knew where the song was from, but they had a harder time recalling what part of the movie the song was playing in and what was taking place at that point. After some help they were able to guess, and then I directed them to listen to the music again and describe how the composer used instruments to depict the act of skating. I was very impressed with their response and how they were able to make the connection of the instrumentation to the imagery it suggests. My students seemed really responsive and engaged in the discussion, which was refreshing.

Then I began to describe the project they were going to do. They were to choose their own groups of 3,4 or 5 people and each group would decide on a winter activity that they would create instrumentation to depict. I tried to encourage them to think outside the box when coming up with a winter activity idea. After they had their idea, they were going to create at least four different scenes or things that were going to occur. Next, they would choose instrumentation to depict what is happening in each scene. They did this using an iPad app called Instruments which displays a picture of the instrument, it’s name, how to pronounce the name and a segment of what it sounds like. The students were so involved in doing this, it was amazing! There were a handful of students who were not as interested in the project, but overall the response was great. There were a lot of creative ideas swirling around in regard to what instruments sounded best with the action in the scenes. I was really impressed by how thought-out many of the groups’ ideas were.

Hard to believe that it is already April! I have been silent from this blog because of the intense schedule of the month of March while preparing for the annual HS musical. We completed three performances of “Legally Blonde, the Musical.” For all of the years I have conducted the show (this was number 28) the decision was always one of collaboration with the drama teacher, the choral/vocal director, the choreographer and the orchestra director. When this show came to the table as an option I “objected” and so did the choral director, but we were both “overruled!” We had numerous concerns ranging from the mature content to technical issues involving the score and the extreme vocal demands.

But collaboration involves compromise…so we compromised! The process began to first make this “PG 21” show “high-school appropriate” and overcome many musical challenges including the need to make it orchestra friendly. It is driven by the three keyboard books, and a guitar, with occasional snippets thrown to the clarinets or violins. We had to hire two pianists and a professional guitar player because none of our students could even begin to deal with technical figures in these books. The orchestration leaves much to be desired as the nature of the music is not artistic, but commercial. The vocal parts were very taxing on the young voices and several rehearsals ended with panic and tears as the students on stage attempted to stretch into the parts. Now that it is over, I have to say that I am very proud of the members of the orchestra for their extreme “professionalism” as they sat night after night while we worked with the cast to reach that bond of common trust where the actors, dancers, singers and orchestra actually feel comfortable, allowing us to achieve that “seamlessness” that engages the audience. I realize that that comfort is actually a degree of independence where there is also adaptability, so that when things go wrong on stage, there is enough of a depth of understanding that there can be recovery. This show was definitely a huge stretch for all, technically demanding and great physical workout for the conductor…only 6 minutes of dialogue in entire two and a half hours. So, now that it is over, I realize that the bond of trust that evolved through rehearsals, created that sense of entrainment that cemented all involved in a common collaboration. We did achieve that seamlessness and the audience (though sometimes a bit surprised by the content) responded to the quality of the students efforts with standing ovations each night.

At this point I think I have come full circle to that first blog entry I wrote about respect and trust. This company experienced success because of the level of respect and the bond of trust that developed throughout the course of staging this extra-curricular activity. The quality of the process and resulting product was experienced was more valuable to the participants than the issues that surrounded the choice of show.

The balancing act will be meeting at Brownsville Area High Schools art room tomorrow March 15th at 4:30. If there is anyone interested in coming to the meeting please feel free to come and show your support. This was the only way I knew I could get ahold of those that are not directly invested in our meetings. So if you would like to see what is going on, please do not hesitate to attend.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep ~ Scott Adams

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up ~ Pablo Picasso

Sometimes you need to spit into the wind and see what comes back to smack ya ~ ME

I have been able to continue working with inquiry and with different things in my school to promote arts to the district and other teachers. The one lesson that I have discussed in small ways before on this blog is the ceiling tiles done by students for different teachers. They were able to personalize paintings for every teacher eithe by their “teachers” personal likes, or by the subject they are teaching.

Well, I knew how it was going from my end of things until i was pleasently surprised today by another teacher. I went into her room knowing that students painted many tiles for her. When I entered the room there were many more done. I asked who had completed more tiles and she stated a student that I had in class the year before. This student didnt have the chance to have my class again, so decided to do art on her own to beautify another room. It was amazing to see her work, which she had to take home to complete since she does not have art class. I just didnt know what to say. I didnt know how to even react other than proud that the arts are still living in the students even during the times where schools are wanting to dismiss the arts as a budget problem.

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The life skills class has even been able to expand their classroom by art tiles. 

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As stated before, inquiry keeps presenting itself in my classroom. One project opens up another set of questions dealing with so many different things. It is truly amazing to see and watch this process taking place in my student body.

As I was mentioning before, some students did not want to participate in stained glass because it was not something that was interesting to them. This usually is not an issue since art III students usually work on things that they find to be most appealing to them anyway. But the money issue has made it more interesting to other students. The could not believe that you can make money with art. This has opened many discussions of “what do you think art is”, and has created many intetesting ideas from my students as to how to get their artwork into the public eye.

Several students are still working on making ceiling tiles for other teachers in the district. They are painting things based on the subjet of the teacher, and have now branched out to personalize each teachers room with things that the teacher themselves want to have on their tiles. For example: some might be Penn State alumni and wish to have things dealing with that in their rooms. This type of work has made soem very interesting things happn in Brownsville. Since the students are asking for things from teachers, teachers themselves have become more interested in what is going on in the art room. They have brough me materials from their homes and have talked to people in the community. One moment that stuck out in my head was I was approached from a lady i have never met before. She came into my class during a lesson and asked to speak with me. When our conversation started she said she was a local artist and wished to help my class. She then proceeded to be followed by a couple students carrying materials she no longer used in her studios. She said she wanted to keep the arts alive in our district and wanted to help in any way she could. She came back one additional time bringing more supplies she had laying around. It was a small step in gaining materials for the school, but would have never transpired without the talking of people in our community about what was happening in our class.

The students working on stained glass are still pluggin away at making picture frames and different things which they feel can sell. They have now decided to try to sell their things at a local flee market on one of their aunts tables. They have brainstormed about what projects to make to sell, and also have tried to make a business type card for future orders. As the teacher, I am facilitating things to help the students make the best decisions yet am letting them just run with their ideas. I have had to comment on things such has “dont get too big that you can not finish what you start”. This is one concepe I am trying to instill in them since they see it as a money making process, yet also need to be able to meet the orders without failure.

I started this trying to show students that there are ways that art is still important, and that they can use skills that others may not have or just dont want to use to make themselves money for their efforts. It has also been able to turn into a business type class on how to start their own company, how to dictate authority in that business. The students have learned how to manage time, supplies, workload and money all in one lesson. The talk has even got the attention of our principal and superintendant. They say they would like to come to the art room to see the projects and also order things from the class.

Several of the students that did not want to complete stained glass decided that were able to assist anyway. They wanted to do some of the labor in the stained glass creation. As a teacher this involvement is wonderful. The funny thing is that it can also cause conflicts. Those students that are doing simple things such as burnishing the copper foil around the glass also look for a profit share. This made the students have to organize leadership qualities and administrative aspects. They had to decide what was fair for what job. All this was done with little assistance from me as the teacher.  I hope this continues to grow in my class from year to year.

This is an example of a collaborative decision made by 30 members of the Sixth Grade Orchestra. Every year we brainstorm a motto to place on our orchestra tee shirt. This motto was one of 12 suggested by the members of the class. After a series of discussions and votes, there were three remaining choices. In the final voting for this motto. was a unanimous. Then there was brainstorming to come up with the visual representation. The final product was a black tee shirt with turquoise and silver print. The students wear these shirts for their performances and proudly wear them to school on a regular basis. This was SYNERGY at it’s best in a sixth grade classroom!!!
practice.experience.lifebasic

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