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Our M and D CIG group came about within the first Arts Educator 2.0 class. As our group sat there, we began to discuss where we were going to go with our inquiry for this year’s class. We discussed how we all were experiencing the same issues: trying to get students motivated enough to give their best effort in all of our art / music classes. So, we began to kick around ideas of what we could use as our inquiry question, which would then be the focus of our work for the remainder of this class. After much discussion, we came up with our inquiry question:

“How can inquiry strategies be incorporated into music and art classes to improve motivation and effort toward students’ practice habits?”

We then discussed that probably a great place to start with knowing how to improve student motivation was to create a survey / questionaire for all of our students. We could then examine the results and see what would seem to stimulate our students’ efforts / motivation in our classrooms. The survey would begin by getting some basic information from our students, just so that we would know what grade each student was in that completed the survey. Then, we continued the survey.  Some sample questions from our survey were:

– “During the rest of this year in class, I want to learn how to…”

– “I would be more motivated in this class if only…”

– “Do you practice / sketch outside of instruction time?”

– “If yes, how often?”

– “If not at all, why?” (and one more sample question)

– “I would put more effort into practicing / sketching if…”

We all contributed questions to our survey, printed them up at our respective schools, and had each / most of our classes take a day and complete them. The results were very interesting!!!!

One answer that seemed to occur regularly on my surveys had to deal with allowing my chorus students to have a voice in selecting music that they would enjoy. So, when we returned to school after the holidays, I pulled out all of our latest “Hal Leonard” catalogs, grabbed the CD’s out from the inner sleeves, and track by track, the students and I listened to samples of the latest choral arrangements. We would then take a vote by a showing of hands as to which arrangements were the students’ favorites. I would still pick selections from their favorites that I believed to be the best in quality, but the students still were happy that they had a hand in picking music that they would be singing for our spring concerts. It makes it so much more enjoyable in class now that the students are not only not complaining about the music that we are working on, but they are also putting much more effort into the songs since they themselves helped me to select them!

Why is the Hall Blue?

Everyone in school was asking!
Why is the hall blue? Who did it? Why did they do it? It’s so cool!

Well, THIS is what happened when I took my first big leap into inquiry this year. Just as last year, I have the opportunity to work with IU1’s “The Space I’m In” project. “The Space I’m In” is an interdisciplinary collaboration between a visual arts and a core content teacher. My partner and I had a lot more time to plan and a lot more experience to go on this year. We had known that the time frame within which to work was way too crunched last year. In addition, I noticed that the visual art content needed to be “beefed up.” I leapt at the chance to teach installation art in (and out of) my classroom using inquiry strategies! From the beginning I knew I wanted to treat this as a student-lead learning experience with minimal input from me. But, as this year’s question poses… where do I find the balance between what the students do and what I do?

I started off with a Power Point presentation featuring artists who were known for installation art. We looked at examples of installation art and discussed the experience of viewing it through multi-sensory perception. From there, students formed groups to plan out their own installation art project in our school. They loved the idea of “taking art out of the classroom.” I have to say that when I went to my principal for permission, I had a lot of doubt. All I could really tell her was that we would be using materials found in the school in an unconventional way. I promised that we would not disrupt the flow of traffic and would not cause damage to the school in any way.

I’ll come back to the “traffic flow” condition in a moment. Because, you’re going to come to a point as you read where you’ll say to yourself: “Gee, that MIGHT disrupt the flow of traffic.”

Four sections of 7th grade, 2 days, and a chaos circus later, my students pulled off some really cool installations! The first group planned to create a Mario Merz-inspired neon-like school logo. They wrapped LED lights around paper rolled letters forming the BF in Ben Franklin. The second section was very large and they had been broken into two groups. One group wanted to create a Skittles rainbow that hung in the hallway, but had to abandon ship when they realized how labor intensive it would be for the time allotted. The other group in that section planned to create a jungle in the hallway outside of my room. Many students were on task, but I spent a lot of time dealing with the behavior problems of students who weren’t interested. I’d say that the size of that class contributed to the disturbances. The third section’s idea involved another school program – the Olweus Anti-Bullying Campaign. Students in this class created stars to stick to the floor, not unlike the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The stars had words on them that you read as you walked. Each phrase was 5 words and at the end of the “walk,” a poster spelled out the inspirational message. One example was: “Be Bully Free at BF.” The teachers liked the idea so much the posters are still hanging up. The stars didn’t last long as students walked over them constantly. Next time we’ll laminate them!

As for the final section, the last period of the day… these students came up with an idea that was truly inspired from the start. They were so enthralled with the work of James Turrell, Christo, and Jeanne-Claude that they wanted to recreate the experience of being immersed in color. They wanted to mimic the effect of walking through James Turrell’s “The Light Inside.” The students planned to “wrap” the entire hallway with blue paper, just like Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped buildings. And, they wanted to get started right away! They took roll paper downstairs into the basement leading to the music room and began measuring out the floor. The plan was to cover the floor, ceiling, and both walls to surround viewers. I helped students cover the floor that day. They had planned on completing the walls on the next day and then tackle the ceiling on the third.

This is the part where you, smart reader, say: “Wait… isn’t that going to disrupt the flow of traffic?”

Ah, yes. Yes, it did. But, I thought students who traveled that hallway would be much more courteous than they were. By the time the dismissal bell rang at the end of the day, our beautifully laid blue floor looked like this:

And, it was dangerous (slippery) to walk on.

What followed could only be described as a teachable moment. A lot of the students had noticed the floor was demolished when they came in for breakfast the next morning. I told them we’d talk about it in class and maybe alter our plans, a little. When class time came around, I sat them down (eager as they were to continue their massive undertaking), and talked about the temporary nature of this project and how sometimes we have to take a detour from our original idea to accommodate things we may not have expected. The students were disappointed, but decided to continue by just doing the walls. After the walls were covered, the students decided to get more people involved! They wanted to turn the blue walls into a “fishbowl” type experience. They began by drawing fish, seaweed, treasure chests, etc. And, then they invited anyone who was walking in the hall to add to it.



The result was still a great accomplishment and garnered a lot of attention from students who had no idea what it was all about. That was the greatest part about the whole experience. Students who were not in 7th grade saw these things happening around the school and didn’t know why. I allowed the participating students to really explain what it was and why they did it. In that way, they were learning by teaching others, too!

It was a really great opportunity to have students make choices, lead their learning, and discover the process themselves. There was richness to the learning that I had hoped would happen. They still talk about this project when I see them! In fact, other students still talk about this project – – the ones who just viewed it. The teachers still talk about it. And, the students who will be doing this project next semester are already asking about it.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I started this project I was here for the credits. The supplies were also certainly a draw. I will also be the first to admit that I was (and occasionally still am) very frustrated with the inquiry process. I am very much a task to-do list type person- this assignment is due in this format by this day. The concept of having such a free form project seemed almost too daunting. It seemed like we had no direction or idea of what way we wanted to travel. My brain is still wired the same way, but each year I come back I find myself more open to incorporating inquiry ideas into my teaching. I think we have moments of student inquiry in our classes all the time but we just don’t think about it.  In working with my classes this year I am trying to remember the frustrations I felt when posed with the idea of inquiry. My classes this year have not been a part of my previous inquiry projects and are completely unfamiliar with the idea of inquiry.

After completing the pre-evaluation with classes and analyzing the data, I shared the results with the students. I asked them what trends they saw and what kind of ideas they thought could positively change the areas we as a group felt were not up to our standards. This small step at a time process seems to be working well. In addition to the pre-evaluation our CIG created I also created a post- concert evaluation for all the students to complete. We watched a video recording of the concert and for perhaps the first time the students were critically evaluating the performance they had given. We discussed the areas the students felt were most improved since the beginning of the year (diction, phrasing, dynamics etc.) and the areas that they felt were weakest (balance, blend, tone). There were some things the students were very critical of that I felt had actually gone rather well and some that they were very happy with that I felt could have been better. After some guided questioning we tried to come up with why those areas were lacking and what things we could do to improve those areas of weakness. Most overwhelmingly, the area of balance was seen as our biggest weakness. Students immediately noted the multiple class periods of the same performing ensemble. They struggled with how to overcome that issue since the schedule is already set, we aren’t allowed to pull out students for rehearsals and so many have multiple other after school activities. In speaking about this struggle with another teacher at the county festival they suggested recording the separate groups so they can practice hearing the other sections. My goal in the next two weeks is to get the recording of the individual voice part tracks imported into finale so we can run sectionals and link my Q3 to post recordings onto my school webpage for outside practice. I’m contemplating having them make that into a question- will having the voice parts posted online increase the amount of out of class practicing.

Photograph taken from the website link below.  It’s also located in “Let’s Create Peace, An Educational Resource for 4-12th Grade Teachers, By Ross Holzman, Laurie Marshall, and Amanda Morrison.”

“Create Peace Project (CPP) was founded in May of 2008 by Ross Holzman in San Francisco, CA.  CPP was formed in response to the overwhelming amount of violence in the world, the violence and negativity streaming through the mass media, coupled with the severe lack of creative arts in people’s lives, the deterioration of arts-programing in U.S. public schools, and the suffering people are experiencing as a result.  Create Peace Project is responding to growing need to strengthen human connection, cultivate self-awareness, spread hope and create peace in people’s lives.” (Taken from link above.)


How this relates to our AE.2.o inquiry you may ask? Well, the whole reason why I”m in the group that I am is because we’re all like-minded in the sense that our greatest goal as educators is to open the eyes of our students so that they can see a greater purpose beyond the visual art/music terms that we’re teaching them. Hense the name “Inquiring HeARTs”.

A problem I find is how do I measure whether or not what I’m teaching and HOW I’m teaching is having this impact? This is what I’m wondering as I’m blogging, or when I’m contemplating on how do I blog about the successes I’m having towards our inquiry. I suppose the student’s art speaks and answers this question. I’m at a mental block with where I’m going here, so I’ll just tell you about some of the lessons that I’m doing and tell you about the “Peace Project”.


I try to take a lesson and give it an “Inquiring HeARTS” stamp of approval. In other words, am I just just teaching them how to do something, or am I teaching them how to do something along with helping them to explore the qualities that make them different/special and to look for those qualities in others as well.  A lesson on self-portraits. Appreciating the differences in ourselves and others.  Fifth grade students are passing mirrors around their tables and noticing what makes them physically different from one another. I make students aware of proportions of a human face, yet I instruct them to draw themselves how THEY see themselves. People ended up blue, some were massive, some were super skinny, some had crazy eyes. haha After they were finished drawing the physical part. I had students come up with adjectives that describe themselves and the other students at their table. These adjectives had to be written in an artful way and then attached to your self-portrait. Self-portraits were displayed in the hallway with a sign that read “Appreciating Differences.” ***I HAVE PICTURES!!! Just not here at the IU…WILL POST THESE! 🙂


Laurie Marshall spoke at an Act 80 day last year for the UASD. She totally fits into the mission of the “Inquiring Hearts”. She co-wrote the educational resource “Let’s Create Peace.” The book is an instructional guide for teachers seeking to promote and create peace within themselves, their classrooms, and ultimately their world. The book begins by giving exercizes called “daily peace practices”. These exercizes focus on self-reflection, remembering to just take a deep breath and carry on, focus on the positives. I’ve been trying to do more of this in my own life. “Practice what you preach” right? Although I don’t have every student sitting on a yoga mat doing breathing exercizes, I have been trying to approach disruptive students differently,by asking them to first off, take a deep breath and just THINK about what it is that they’re doing right now and what good is becoming of it? I’m still developing and learning how to be the teacher I want to be… I like this outlook.

The physical aspect of the peace project is that as a school wide project, I, along with a group of selected students with inquiring hearts will paint a mural displaying what school-wide, world-wide peace looks like. (I was told I need to wait until after PSSA’s to get started on this.) Yet that’s good, I need time to still think about how I’m going about it. The painting will be done, then every individual student will have a small square to illustrate what peace looks like to them as well. All of the squares will be encorperated into the mural. The mural will symbolize our goal to create a peaceful place for learning. “Take your candle and go light your world.”

Sorry for my lack of bLoGs. The wheels have been turning…just needed a swift kick by Mara, headphones, and a clear mind to get going… 🙂

We all (not so fondly) know the rest of this saying…try, try again! That basically sums up my first attempt at an inquiry based lesson in my music classes for 5th & 6th grade. Overall, it was not a bad experience…just not as incredible as I had thought. Here is my story:

I have been focusing in my classroom on doing more inquiry-based lessons and learning. I started with an idea I gleaned from one of my CIG members, Bethany, that she had used in her music classroom and found to be very successful with her students. The objective was to have students dissect a piece of music…something that the composer had a theme or idea in mind that he/she wanted to get across to their audience. First, students would listen and describe the instrumentation they heard, then describe the different aspects of the music such as tempo, form, dynamics, texture. This formative assessment then led into a more objective approach. Students listened to the same piece of music, but this time respond to the feeling they received from it. Then, they were asked to imagine a scene this music might portray if it was put into a visual art form such as a movie or picture. Bethany also had taken this idea a step further in her class and had her students think of a character for their scene and form groups with other students, combine their ideas/characters and act out their scene to the music.

I loved this idea! I was so excited to introduce this concept in my classes. I decided to start out with the formative/objective assessments of the music and see how the students responded to this. If the response was positive, I would take it to the next step of acting it out. If it was negative, I would go back to the drawing board. I was so thrilled about this lesson, I had every reason to believe it was going to be a huge hit in my mind.

I used a song called “Rodeo” with my 5th and 6th graders. It has a very suggestive castanet part that sounds like horse hooves. And of course, the name pretty much tells all. I didn’t tell the students the title of the song and I had them write their responses down as a way to legitimize their thoughts. I was surprised to find that they were not as “into” the concept as I had thought. They seemed more involved in discovering what instruments were in the piece than imagining their own scene to go with the music! Don’t get me wrong, the were several who gave very creative and well thought responses, but it wasn’t as captivating as I would have expected.

With this, I decided not to continue with the acting out/character portion of the lesson. But now I had some ammo from my students, knowing that they really enjoyed instrumentation. I decided I would try and assemble a lesson around this theme, and make it something they can be creative with and collaborate with others. Something that would involve inquiry, music, and creative thinking.

During our open skype meeting we began discussing our line of inquiry. As we began working on how to define/refine our question I realized that we kept using terms such as “inquiry-centered instruction,” teacher-centered instruction,” and “student-centered instruction.” I found that this conversation began a personal  inner dialog/struggle over the terminology. I had the sudden realization as to what these terms began to mean to me. I feel I have been struggling with conducting lesson using inquiry and this issue was leaving me feeling a little lost in the whole process. I found at this moment that perhaps part of the problem what that I did not create an essential question for the students start to solve. I realized that I have been leaving the lesson almost too openended for the age of students I have. I found this part of the conversation to be the most essential to me in as I process through this project.

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.

So, I was going to be absent from school and left  my students with the technology to run their own rehearsals. I have my students’ music in finale and project it to the board so students can learn to follow a line of music. I have been the one who runs the technology, but I left it for them to run. My students rehearsed! Hurray. They held rehearsals. They didn’t rehearse the same as if I was there but they sang, they interacted with each other and they had fun. Actually there were a couple of things that they solved that were quite creative! Hurray for my students!

Right now, I am lucky enough to say that this is my 4th year in AE 2.0.  Four years of questions, searching for answers, and trying new stuff!

I say this not because I am bothered by it.  I say it because I feel like I have so many new ideas and flows of thought that I am wondering which direction to go from here.  I am passionate and concerned about teaching students to express and communicate who they are.  I want students to understand that they can contribute to the world in positive and creative ways.

Right now I am considering our group’s question:

How can we help students discover who they are and their connection to the world through the arts?

I am thinking about how I can create a classroom lesson that helps me revise and excel the activities that I have started the last couple of years, and create a new lesson that really addresses this year’s question too.

I am entertaining some ideas using the mp3 players and Audacity to allow students to do some mash-up type mixing, or allowing students to create a piece of music using sounds that they create and edit and mix them!  Right now I am just at the idea phase – but next I will be asking myself – How does this relate to our question? 🙂

I had my substitute administer a google docs survey that I was hoping that it would provide me with insight  to what my students would be interested in doing when I return.  This was going to be my window into their minds! Well, not so much. Of course I now have more questions than I had before. Did they misinterpret the questions I gave them? Do they think that this questions covers something that is important to me? important to them?  Well, regardless, I’m taking the information I have and I’m running with it.

One portion of the survey was to evaluate how independent they are in their learning.  When asking about completing their homework, the survey showed that about 27% of them can do their homework alone and on time.  The rest need help from friends, neighbors, or at home.  This shows me that they need instruction on how to find the answers for their homework.  Hopefully, when I post-survey them in the spring, There should be an improvement in this response and others similar concerning their independent learning.

Another portion of the survey was to discover what areas of study they would be interested in.  The first question asked the students to mark which of these areas they are already skilled in. The second question asked what they would like to learn more about.  This area has given me some really great tools to begin organizing my inquiry. Bigger question – what will it be???

September 2020

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