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During one of our CIG meetings, we left early as a group to go on a CIG field trip! We went to Uniontown high school because Becky invited the Invisible children roadies to give a presentation to the students. There are many different opinions on the invisible children and what they do. Bottom line for me is that they make people aware of what life could be like, and IS like for some in the world. It gets people thinking about their place in this world and what they can be doing to make it better. I’ve heard opinions say that it’s just a “trend” to post about/be a supporter of the invisible children. What is wrong with a trend where people are helping other people? Perhaps I’m ignorant to EVERYTHING that it is, behind the scenes stuff, what the culture really is like in Africa, Joseph Kony and what he does, but from what I experienced from the roadies, they’re missionaries with hearts to help.

After my students completed their scenes and chose their instruments, I collaborated with our school’s art teacher, and one of my CIG members, on how they would color their scenes. She chose four different art techniques and had them use each one for their scenes. The techniques were pointillism, monochromatic, all primary or all secondary, and abstract. The next step was for the students to attach card onto each scene of the instruments they used in that scene and what they represented.
They were also to create a title for their story.

It was great to see how most of my students worked very diligently on their projects and were independent in making decisions and solving problems on their own. It was also exciting to watch their creativity flow from themselves and not from me. I gave them all a choice on how they wanted to present their work. They could either present it verbally to their classmates or they could write out a story on paper. All of my students wanted to present to their classmates. I think part of this was due to them wanting to avoid writing, but I think more of it was the fact they were proud of their hard work and wanted to show it off.

Their presentations were quite informal, which is what I wanted…I didn’t want them to feel any pressure but to just simply talk and share about what they did. They used the iPads to play each sound in their scenes and explained why they chose those sounds. I then had a my students vote on which group’s project best represented their class for the Arts Ed Day presentation. I explained to them that they shouldn’t pick their own project simply because it’s theirs, but they should choose based on the quality of workmanship placed in the project. I was really impressed to find that the votes seemed to reflect the projects that I would have chosen as well, knowing how much work and effort each group put into their projects. It seemed that their classmates also had that same sense and I think it made people feel a sense of justice and reward for their hard work.

The best things about this project were that the students were able to make their own choices and decisions about how they wanted to portray their work. I enjoyed letting them create an artistic work by using their understanding and interpretations. I think it allowed them the ability to expand their understanding of instruments, their specific timbres, and the way a composer might think when they are forming a piece of music. The greatest set back I came into contact with during this project was timing. Since this was something I never did with a class before, I didn’t have all the details figured out right away. I started with an idea and took it from their….and in some instances that is good, but in this one, it just made the projects last over too long of a period of time. Since I only see the students once a week…and if that depending on holidays, in-services, etc. it made it difficult to complete in a more appropriate time period. However, I think that since I know exactly how the details of the project work, if I do it again, I have a lot more things figured out and I can tweak the details as needed. But I think that’s how our lessons plans should work…they should be mold able and able to evolve and change according to what our students need.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in my five years of teaching it’s that you can’t make cookie cutter lessons when there are no cookie cutter people. Few things will work all the time, some most of the time, most will work some of the time, and some will completely fail. I think we often learn most from the ones that dont work lie we thought they would. The goal is not perfection, because you may think you habe “the perfect lesson” and then some snotty kid says “this is boring”…then what? The point is to try and use what works, modify if needed, and scrap what doesn’t. Change is as necessary as consistency….and you can have adaption and evolution amid consistency. I’m a firm believer in needing both. You need creativity and structure, you need imagination and logic, you need the arts AND

On March 2 our CIG met at the Uniontown High School to help out with a program taking place.  The Invisible Children program came to present their video Kony 2012. IC has been presenting an assembly at the Uniontown District for the last 5 years. Their non-profit organization raises awareness for the plight of children in Uganda affected by the 20 year war. These children are constantly threatened with kidnap, torture, sexual slavery and being forced into fighting. Each year as the students see the new informational video and hear from the young Ugandans who share their stories in person, they respond with compassion and generosity. This compassion seems to manifest itself through art. This year the young people have planned a 5K run followed by an art and music festival.  Many times students respond n a very emotional way through their art making. These pieces are then part of the festival and may be experienced and purchased by the attendees. I have seen first hand how art making answers the deep seated question “Ok, I see this terrible need on the other side of the world, but what can I do about it.

For one of our Arts Ed meetings, our group went to Uniontown High School to view a presentation on Invisible Children. I had some previous knowledge of the group, but had never seen a show before. Since we are Inquiring Hearts, part of our inquiry is how to use arts to make our world a better place. This was a perfect example because these young people used a video that was very well made to engage the audience in supporting their cause. It was amazing to see how the young people responded by filing out cards with their information and making a pledge to help support the campaign. In case you have never heard of Invisible Children, it is a movement to promote the arrest of a warlord in Africa who kidnaps children and forces them to become soldiers, killing even their own families and people from their villages. Every year, the high school club for Invisible Children brings the group in to present for the student body. After this, students hold an art market and have a concert to raise funds for the cause. It is a really powerful that students can get involved in a great way to support people from across the world that, though they have never met, they value and treasure their lives as human beings. For our CIG, that is what art is all about…supporting and giving hope, as more than just an art form, but as an expression of life.

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.

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.

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.

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.

August 2020

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