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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.

During the project this year I have been focusing on just the older classes (4th and 5th grade) for the most part. To further work on the project I began using the same techniques with some of the younger grades. It was actually my first grade class that surprised me. The class seemed handle the simple patters with the boomwhackers well and picked up each set quickly. I did notice however that they became less successful as the patterns became longer. I was then curious as to if they they would take the knowledge and transfer it to the other instruments. I then took an orff instrument and told the students that they only needed to use the bottom three keys. (In this case they were Do, La and So) One of the students who volunteered to go first was actually able to play the correct pattern in only two tries. I then asked for others. None of them was able to accomplish the task as quickly, but most of them were able to play the pattern. When a student had trouble with the pattern I would then play it on another instrument, ask the student to sing it back to me, just as we had before. After that I would then ask them to sing the pattern as they played. If the pitch matched I would let them continue on, if it didn’t match, would ask them to try another note.

I then began to feel that if the first graders could do this then I should be able to have my older kids use the same process. However, when I actually tried I found a different result. The older kids “want” to be told exactly what to do. It was almost if they were afraid to make a mistake, even though I have always tried to keep my classroom an open and judgment free environment. I then realized that they actually were afraid to make a mistake and felt that if I told them exactly what to do they would not “fail.” It made me realize that if I did not start encouraging the students to use their ear, apply what they know about pitch and how it is related to instrument size and to not be afraid to “make a mistake” at a young age they would have some difficulty with the process as they grow older.

With consistent practice the students realized they can improve and they became determined to create and to experiment. So it’s not necessarily the cutting-edge concepts, but having some success in a new skill that enhanced their motivation. As the students began to “get” throwing a pot on the wheel, they were more than willing to help other students. Together they would problem solve and show some independence. I interviewed a student who seemed to fall into this category. His name is Logan and he is a junior in a Sr. High Art Class.

Do you enjoy ceramics and working in the potter’s wheel? If so, why?
Logan: Very much! I like doing it because it is something I am good at.

During the ceramics unit in art class, how often did you come to the art room to work?
Logan: As often as I could! Up to three periods a day if I could.

So how did all of this practice help you?
Logan: It got me to where I am now. I can center the clay in like 10 seconds and the rest just comes naturally. It’s a good feeling to finish a nice looking pot.

What do you recommend to other students who are less motivated than you?
Logan: They just have to get past the hard stuff and don’t get too frustrated. They will get it, and then they will love it.

On our final work day at the IU the M and D CIG decided to put our research into a digital story. In 3 minutes or less each member of the group would tell their own part of the story. After the script was complete we each made an audio recording of our own portion. It was decided that Jen Joyce would put the story together and that we would need to send her the pictures or videos we wanted included. This past Thursday we all got together in Sherry Knight’s room at Trinity High School to see the finished project and discuss how we would conduct our presentation the following Friday. We were blown away by what Jen had put together. She really did a great job and had obviously put a lot of time into the project. It is so nice, and has been nice, to work with such creative and smart people. People who take the initiative to get something done and then come through with a product that goes beyond expectations. I feel very fortunate to have worked with the members of my CIG as well as member in years past. Looking forward to Friday!

Today I asked a student if I could record them explaining how to do stop motion photography.  I told the student that it would be for teachers who have not done stop motion before.  This student reassured me that he had learned the important steps to creating a video.  Originally, I thought I would be in control and tell him what to say- but sure enough we only did one take and I felt what he said was perfect.  I couldn’t have done it better myself, he kept it basic and right to the point.  He did it in a manner that the participants in our spotlight next week will understand what to do.

I feel my students in 4th grade had the most success with stop motion photography this year.  They had the basics taught to them last year when I used a more teacher-directly instructed approach.  This year, I encouraged student collaboration and inquiry.  The students were very successful, however I don’t feel they would have had as much success if they didn’t have the teacher-direct instruction as the ground work.

If the students only had the teacher-direct instruction I don’t feel they owned their work, nor did they enjoy it as much.  On the other hand, if the students went straight into an inquiry approach I feel they may have missed some of the basic steps of how everything is to operate correctly.

Would like to make my last blog as a kind of reflection of the Arts Educator 2.0 class over the last four years.

This class started for me my first year of employment in the Washington School District, fall of 2008. When I was hired in Washington, I already had a permanent teaching license and 19 years of teaching experience in the state of WV. My Washington School District colleagues, along with myself, were all offered the opportunity to take this new class that our Superintendent had gotten word of from the IU-1 called “Arts Educator 2.0”.

All of the teachers that took this class from all around Washington County had no idea exactly what to expect that first day of Arts Educator 2.0 at the Intermediate Unit -1 until our class professor, Dr. Mara Linaberger stood up in front of us that morning, welcomed us, and proceeded to discuss the purpose and direction that this class would take that year. Little did we all know that four years later, many of us from Year 1 would STILL be here!!!!

This class was all about inquiry in the arts classroom, along with how to incorporate the latest in 21st century technology. The pre-test that we took that morning of our first day of class completely blew me out of the water. Inquiry???? Didn’t know much about that. Critical thinking??? Discussed it, but hadn’t used it a great deal in the classroom yet. So I knew right off the bat that this class was really going to expand my knowledge as an arts teacher.

And this class was more than just a class, it was an experience, too!!! We spent the first hour of each morning with guest artists / dancers / musicians that allowed us to experience art and music in ways that most of us hadn’t had the opportunity to do before!! We had artists, dancers, and musicians that offered our palates a wide variety of artistic expression.

Now this was the first time a class of this caliper had been done, so it constantly had to be re-evaluated and re-examined for it’s effectiveness for all those involved. Were there some glitches?? Of course. Were they worked out? Of course! The class was always evolving throughout the entire four years. Why?? Because the instructors cared enough about us as educators to want to make this class the best and most enriching experience possible. They constantly got input from us about what was working / not working, then the professors would have meetings of their own to find ways to make this fit the wants and needs of us educators. It was a constant work in progress that evolved into a really great four year project!

The first year required that each teacher had to create their own unit plan, as well as a PPDP (which is a “Personal Professional Development Plan”). In the second year, we started with the concept of creating CIG group. CIG is short for “Collaborative Inquiry Group”. This idea was a GREAT new addition to this class because it gave us the opportunity to bounce ideas off of others in the class, and to create a unified CIG project with input from all CIG members. Another bonus of having CIG groups is the friendships and professional relationships we have built by working together. The whole CIG group concept was utilized again in year three and year four.

Technology “toys” – yet another bonus we received for taking this class. How excited we all were to be given a budget and be able to pick and choose any tech stuff that we thought would add to our arts curriculum at our schools. Q3’s, netbooks, flash drives, ipads, ipods, etc. all were purchases we made to help add quality to our personal classroom curriculums. Again, this all was made possible through the efforts of our arts educator professors!!!!

What about tech concepts that we learned about?? Skype-ing, wikispaces, wordpress, NINGs, dropbox, etc., all are examples of technologies that we not only learned about, but we learned to use as well throughout this four-year process.

The main focus, though, was always inquiry – and this made all of us much better thinkers and educators. It made us utilize inquiry in order to not only structure our classroom methods better, but also helped us to help our students to become better thinkers / problem solvers. It also enabled us and our students to improve our abilities at critical thinking.

So, in closing, I wanted to say “thanks”. Thanks for all that I learned in the four years of taking this class, and for helping me to become a better teacher for my students. I hope that the tools that I have been given in this class will help me to always continue to evolve my abilities as an educator – my students deserve the very best I can give them!

Somehow we’ve hit that point of the year where PSSA testing is over, spring break has come and gone and the final countdowns of the year have arrived. Every year we get to that point where the kids (and the teachers) are mentally done. In some ways it seems like that point arrives sooner and sooner each year. I had really been hoping that by following the responses from my students pre-test where they indicated they would be more motivated to practice and participate when given more ownership and leadership in the choices of the group we would avoid that point.  For the Christmas concert, I had insisted the students wear the choir robes. The robes are plain black and have a red and white stole. They just look clean and uniform. You avoid the issue of girls’ skirts being too short or blouses cut too low or the gentleman not having dress shirts. It takes the guesswork out of what to wear for the performance. The kids hate the robes. They feel like they look ridiculous. So we created a compromise. I would be willing to have them wear something else, but they had to create the proposal. In previous years the former director would have tshirts created for the group and they would wear those with ‘nice jeans.’ I thought the kids would jump all over this opportunity. So many of them are artistic and we have access to equipment to screenprint shirts with their design. We set a deadline of the beginning of April for their designs so that if needed we would have time for shirts to be made. The deadline was posted on the board, on my class Edline page, announced multiple times in rehearsal. I really tried to encourage the kids to be creative with this opportunity. The deadline passed and I didn’t have a single proposal. They just seemed apathetic.

In the past my 5th grade ceramic lesson an pottery would be sequenced as follows: Acoma pottery video, next week use the coiling technique to make a bowl, glaze the pottery during the next two classes. Since the lesson takes a long time, I would hurry them and give them one week to make the pottery. This year I wanted to give them more time to create. I purposely referred to the video and did not do a demo. The students took their clay and got started. Many questions ensued. How do you roll the coil? How do you keep it from caving in? Can it get bigger? Can I be done? I refused to make a pot for any student, as the class drew to a close some of the students realized that their pottery was caving. To their amazement I said that it was fine and that they could start over next week. Some of the pots keep growing and were shaped very nicely. As the pots dried, the larger heavier ones cracked so they have to start again. They were very excited to come in at recess to make a new pot. Time for this lesson is so valuable. They let me know that they all needed different time to gain the skill need to do this pottery.
When I look back at the construction process, the students really gained a great perspective by watching Lucy Lewis in the video. Their comments and attentiveness to the video impressed me. Next week they will glaze their de

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.

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.

September 2020

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