The value of off

In my life I make a lot of digital things: blogs, short films, Web sites, podcasts, and ebooks, oh my… There are bits of ideas scattered all over the Internet. I LOVE reading and writing about teaching and learning, but I occasionally need a break from screens to make a thing I can hold in my hands. 

It’s so easy in classroom work to be pulled madly off in all directions; 24 people are all priority one and networks of support spring up… and every one of them a meeting to attend.

It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of busy.

It’s so easy to forget to breathe when everything on the “to do” list is “urgent”.

But an interesting thing happens when we let off the gas for a minute…

Sometimes time off rolls around and stillness has the opportunity to sneak in. And in the stillness comes creativity and fresh ideas. Like a sponge wrung fully dry that must come to a full stop in order to draw in as much liquid as possible in the next squeeze.

Athletes know that intense training sessions are followed by nourishing the muscles and resting for repair. (I do like flogging a tired triathlon metaphor…) Remember to rest, teacher friends. Do more of what calls your soul. 

Draw, write, read, run, play.

Enjoy the last few days of light getting shorter! 

Kandinsky: Artist Study

  
Sometimes you run across a book that could easily be extended a million ways but there just isn’t enough time to take it as far as you’d like. This post is a fairly quick share because this lesson is already getting cold in our memories of Grade Three.

  
We used this template to observe Kandinsky’s work and then students were each asked to create their own work of art that represented a feeling and included math.

We read The Noisy Paintbox on the recommendation of a friend and colleague @fiteach. The students really enjoyed the juicy vocabulary and were drawn in to the specific vocabulary used to describe sound. The book includes a short biography of Wassily Kandinsky and they were delighted to learn that he had synesthesia, where senses cross and Kandinsky heard colours.

We extended it to include colour poetry. The book Green by Laura Vaucon Seeger was good inspiration for using specific vocabulary to describe colour. Students are working hard to include all their senses in writing to evoke an emotion in their reader. 

I’d like to note how proud I am that my students know the difference between fiction and non-fiction and they readily discussed how Kandinky’s Noisy Paintbox, historical fiction, married elements of both.

Make the walls talk

   

This “little” project actually took a lot of time to put together and the end result is the culmination of a great deal of student effort.

The final project brings together a unit’s worth of study in science and art. We started building French vocabulary in September with a science PWIM. This really is one of my favourite ways, especially in immersion, to help students build subject-specific vocabulary. It gives them a purpose for learning new vocabulary and provides an entry point for every child.

Through out the unit we referred back to our board.

I chose Abby Diamond as an artist study simply because she is an artist whose work I admire and whose techniques work on many levels. Her work appears simple but is actually technically difficult.

The art portion of our work started with two-minute sketches where each student was invited to look for the shapes within an animal photograph and to spend only two minutes sketching it. This work was personal. I told students that they would not be required to share with anyone. While I believe that feedback makes work better, I also believe that it’s important to have time to create without the pressure of sharing that work. Sometimes we need the freedom to just create for ourselves. The work pictured below is shared with student permission. 

    

   
   
After two-minute sketches, we did a five minute sketch of one animal followed by a viewing of Austin’s Butterfly and a discussion about how to provide specific, actionable feedback in the form of two stars and a wish.

   
   
Students created two drafts of the same animal. We spent a great deal of time with CPAWS and at Bow Habitat station discussing animal needs, where our chosen animal might fall on the endangered list and how we might help improve the security of our chosen animal.

  
Students then engaged in further study of Abby Diamond’s use of colour and colour theory and and watercolour techniques and, after creating multiple drafts of their drawings, they painted. The paintings were finally inked.
    

   
 After inking, students reflected on their work and recorded a video in the studio. On a personal note, the studio is a work in progress in my classroom. I think this is an excellent way to get students talking and creating in a second language but there is always a balance between the need for teacher supervision and the need for students to record in a quiet place. We have a pop-up studio that is simply a trifold where students post the materials they need to record.

  

In as much as possible, this work is managed by students. They do the final recording, write the final script and help each other with negotiation of meaning in the second language. I have been enormously impressed with student willingness to create multiple drafts. They watch themselves on video and resize they have missed information or want to improve pronunciation or fluidity and they have another go.

For the purposes of this project, I took the video off the iPad and put video together with image using the desktop computer for the sake of time. The process took me about an hour to upload.

The final product is a bulletin board that is scannable. Using a school iPad, students can scan the art work in the hallway and start a video, extending the learning beyond our four walls.

My goal is to have students create individual tags that will be laid over the art to create feedback loops for learners who will be able to scan and hear the feedback from their peers.

Lessons from this project: students ended up filming one another with screen rotation locked so all of our videos ended up being upside down and had to be fixed in post production. The technical aspects of video production need to serve the learning outcomes and I’m certain this is an aspect students will now check before filming! Thanks to @boyerclay and @mrsmaley for coming to our rescue on Twitter when I couldn’t resolve it on my own 😉 My PLN totally rocks!
   

The wonder wall

The wonder wall came about quite by accident one day. To be honest, open house was coming up so I hastily threw a hand-made “tableau de découvertes” poster up on the blank bulletin board, not knowing really what I had in mind but knowing that I wanted it to be an organic place for students to ask questions and share answers.

Then after parent night, the board was left alone until we went outside to observe the soundscape around our school. When we came back in we discussed what we had observed with all of our senses. One of the students remarked that she had seen pussy willows. My teaching partner noted that it was impossible for pussy willows to be out because it was the wrong season.

This was the question that constructivists seek: that moment where a learner’s understanding is challenged and the paradigm is forced to shift. I was just so happy to see the moment come so organically.

If it was impossible, how had our student made such an observation? The next time we went outside we looked for pussy willows… And sure enough they were there. Not because they were ripe and had opened on their own but because students had stripped them off the branches and had dropped them on the ground. We took one of the stripped branches and stuck it up on our bulletin board. Next, the questions started to come fast and furious: what would happen to the plant if all of the pussy willows were stripped off? Would birds eat them? Immediately, we needed a place to organize our questions. I stuck up three large sheets of paper for “my questions”, “what I think I know”, things I have learned” and the side of the board was reserved for “ideas that turned out to be mistaken”.

As the weeks passed, students were welcome to add questions and to add answers they thought they already knew. The wonder wall has been quiet over the last few days, but we are ready to give it another boost next week when we begin some student-lead research. My assistant principal @shafinad has shared the brilliant app aurasma with me and I’m so excited to have the students start creating videos that link directly from the wonder wall to videos of their learning! In the past I have created similar “off the wall” projects that linked from QR codes, but I think the Aurasma will be much more dynamic and students will be more inclined to scan one another’s work.

I would love to guide students to linking their work from last year on animals to their research this year. I think it would show them that the work they do never has to be entirely left in the past. In addition, it takes the work out of the four walls of the classroom and into the up-and-coming-learning-commons.

More to come!

Eric Carle Artist Study

I have been working over the past few weeks on an author study on Eric Carle with my grade ones. We have been working on the needs of plants and animals in science, so his books fit in nicely. This art project took place in three parts:

1. Tissue paper painting. This did not work so well for me. A half a dozen of my students created beautiful pieces but most had a hard time understanding what the final project was to look like. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

2. Eric Carle butterflies. Students each painted four sheets of paper. The instruction was to use vibrant colours that were neighbours on the colour wheel.

3. Cut out the shapes to form a butterfly and glue them onto large white background paper. I liked the result so much that I decided to use the same style for our classroom collaborative art project that will be auctioned off in a school fundraiser this spring. I cut small papers 3″x3″ and had students create butterflies, houses, community buildings, and people and plants we see in our community. They were allowed to let the art escape the confines of their paper and the effect was beautiful. I will choose enough art so that each child is represented in the auction piece and the remaining “inchies” will be matted and sent home as Mother’s Day gifts.

Eventually the art will be linked via QR code to the students’ blogs, which will host their related inquiry work on Alberta lakes and animals.

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Pinterest, FTW!

Today my students scored a pretty fun afternoon, and I’m pretty pleased with the results of their work. After spending some time on Pinterest, I was inspired to adapt this art project for my students’ work with the Grade 4 curriculum’s unit on rocks and minerals and the Grade 5 curriculum’s unit on weather.

This lesson covered so much: science, language arts, art perspective.

One of my students even remarked: Mme! We’re having fun, but we’re learning, too!

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The students traced their hands and feet, then they drew their faces and bodies. Students were required to include three rock samples and one cloud sample, all of which could be identified by a viewer. After drawing, students outlined their work with a sharpie and painted with water colour. Finally, students blogged their rock and cloud samples and a QR code posted next to their work takes viewers to their site.

I loved this project and I think students were pretty pleased too!