So, I’ve been working on some more art. I do love spring break for making art. (This is part of my taxonomy project where I make sets of images.)

As I wrote before, I’ve been focussing on mixed media and collage type works which takes away some of the pressure on brushstroke or have as much control over mark making as I would like. What it does require is that I maintain a supply of raw materials. So far that has meant some or all of the following: contour line drawings, prints of various things (many of them on different papers and in different colors), other images that I think are interesting, bits of text, stamps, paint, ribbon, string, you name it.

For this set of works I used contour line drawings of plants, laser cut woodblock prints (of chairs and a fireplace), some cabbage prints (where I cut a cabbage in half, ink it right up, and print it onto various paper) and paint. I was really interested in building up layers of fairly simple images, although the original contour line drawing is not on plain paper, but on a musical score. The layering gave me the opportunity to trace over lines or hide them a bit. In the photographs, the layers are sometimes hard to see in the pictures, but it was a challenge to find the paper and color combinations that produced the effects that I wanted.  Most of the individual pieces did not have a lot of color, or were one color, yet I wanted colors in the final pieces. I tried out coloring background, image, or musical notes.

Here we go. There are five pieces, for the last one I have included a close up to try to show the colors and layers better.

The chair print, done on old airmail paper, covers a lot of the original drawing. The bird provided that extra layer I wanted.

 

Here the print also covers a significant amount of the background. It also has an addition of text on the chair.

 

Here there are several types of paper and printed pieces here. The chair was cut out around the edges, but there are also horizontal stripes of mulberry paper that do not have additional printed images. They are most obvious as they cover parts of the leaves.

 

The cabbage print is on top. of the contour line drawing and then the chair is cut out and added on top. The paper mutes some of the lines, but I drew them again on top of the cabbage.

 

The green in the plant only where it overlaps with the fireplace print really works for me.

 

The yellow cabbage print here with the magenta background is more visible in person. This close up gives a little more of an idea of the detail.

 

As I continue to reflect on my five-piece set idea, I notice that there are several outcomes for this experiment.

  • I really push to find those last pieces in the set.
  • The set stays fairly consistent there’s not a lot of variety.
  • It turns out there are many more than five pieces to be made in this set.
  • A small change becomes significant enough that I split the set and continue to work with until I reach my five pieces.

 

What I’m also finding is that often one work with initially still fit my group, but also suggest a new direction for another time. The last work in this set of images fits that description, and I think will form the jumping off point for more pieces that have both positive and negative spaces addressed through color.

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Nick Cave exhibit at MassMoca, summer 2017. (photo by me)

So I’ve been thinking about tech tools lately. When I work with teachers to support their technology use in the classroom, I always insist that we start with the learning goals or really anything but the technology. However, I have an upcoming technology event and so particular tech tools are on my mind.

A tool that I had forgotten about but have come back to is VoiceThread. I have helped foreign language teachers use it in the past, so perhaps I just got stuck in putting it in that bucket. I don’t know.

Anyway, my students and I were doing research on installation artists. After a brief introduction to the movement from an art colleague, they were off and investigating individual artists. As it turned out, I did not have time in the schedule for students to present their findings, nor was presenting really a goal of this mini-unit. Side note: What to do with research findings so that there is some audience or use for it beyond the researcher is often a conundrum. If I do the presentation thing, it ALWAYS takes WAY longer than planned. Plus, often it turns into a different person lecturing. Is that really what I want? If I give student groups an entire class period and make it clear they need to engage and teach the class versus just dump information, they can do that. But with the ~10-minute time frame, by the time you add class participation, each little report out is taking over class again. Ok, back to the main point here.

I had several goals for this little mini-unit:

  • First of all, I wanted students to learn about installation art as a movement.
  • I also wanted students to become more familiar with how to talk about this kind of work, so I had them incorporate information from reviews in their research.
  • I wanted students to learn about at least one artist in more detail, but also to hear about a few more artists.
  • Finally, I wanted the presentation itself to invite interaction, connecting it to installation art in a way.

Hello, Voicethread.

I teach seniors so I didn’t figure I had to do too much explaining. I sent them the link to make an account; I did a little bit of explanation in class; I directed them to where the how-to videos were online. Some students found the drawing tools and really used VoiceThread to a fuller extent than others. And, a few students had minor technical issues. Overall, the learning curve for using VoiceThread was a non-issue.

When I look at the whole thing, it worked really well for the goals I had. Students could easily share their final work with their small group and with me. Not only did it allow for written or audio comments by the student-researcher but really lent itself to interaction, which was the most challenging goal to achieve without using extensive class time. Having students interact with the final presentations is a baby step towards one component of their culminating assignment for this unit, and being able to practice the interactive piece and think about ways to engage your audience will be helpful moving forward.  

(I would embed one or two, but all the comments are identified with the student first and last names. You’ll have to trust me on the quality.)

Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

 

So, I’ve been thinking about hyperdocs. @TeacherDebra, my amazing colleague, first introduced me to Hyperdocs and the Hypderdocs ladies last year. I loved the idea but wanted to make sure it translated to my older (12th grade) students. (Why do I even think this thought anymore? I have yet to come across an idea that can’t translate up or down the grades. Yes, it sometimes changes more in translation than other times, but really I have been at this too long to let myself fall into that thinking trap.)

When I first looked at some examples, I was uncertain. Some of my hesitation was about the potential to be making a pretty worksheet. A pretty worksheet is still a worksheet; it’s not significantly better as a learning activity than an unattractive worksheet. But, that is my job–to create quality learning experiences that don’t turn into the equivalent of a worksheet no matter what fun tool I use. So, I gave it a try.

My first hyperdoc was for a unit in my Good Reads class last fall (12th grade English elective). It served more as a long-winded explanation of one, extended activity. I got to have a few additional bits of information in there, but it was in many ways a pretty activity description. It didn’t connect enough to the bigger picture of the unit or what the purpose of the activity was in the larger assessment plan. I knew this activity was supposed to set the students up for a writing assignment. So, I should have centered my entire hyperdoc around that bigger idea.

 

 

This year (another 12th grade English elective) I have been using them to better effect, but I can still do better. First, I created one to outline just a few days of class work in conjunction with our summer reading. We had already talked about the book itself. This work extended our discussion. I wanted to model the pattern of looking at a bigger question, doing some research, thinking, thinking some more, and coming to some conclusions. 

 

I did a little better job here with connecting to the goals of the work and connecting that to our unit goals, but there’s still room for improvement.

I followed a similar pattern with my next hyperdoc. Again, this covered our extension of the unit once we had done our basic reading and looking at art. (I posted the same information on our LMS but in straight text; students mostly preferred the hyperdoc version.)

 

Looking at these now, with some distance, I see that even these improved hyperdocs don’t do enough to make the learning goals clear enough. It made so much sense to me, the unit planner, but for everyone else, it still leaves a lot to be desired. I appreciate that these two recent hyperdocs do clearly highlight the thinking patterns I was aiming to reinforce, which was a big part of what I wanted to accomplish in these mini units.

I have one unit left in my current English class. I should take advantage of what I have learned in reviewing my work and try again.

What advice would you give me?

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So, I’ve been thinking about student choice and format of work. I have been trying to remember and put into action what Marc Prensky said at an ADVIS event several years ago, “assign the verb not the noun.” This means assign what I want students to do, not exactly the tool or format it must take. (I wrote about something else from the event at the time; isn’t it interesting what you think is going to really stick with you and then what does stick with you?)

To date, I have been able to put this idea into action on more creative assignments. This year I have assigned things like “research and share your findings” or “demonstrate interdisciplinary thought” (that one really made folks crazy) but not “powerpoint presentation” or “podcast”. As it turns out, most students ended up choosing a similar format for these exercises, but I made a real point to talk about the actions and the important thinking work rather than numbers of slides or minutes of audio.

The current assignment my English 12 students are working on is the first time I have assigned “write” and not added “a paper” or “a story” after it. The assignment is, for the most part, an analytical paper that is meant to get students thinking about two works of fantasy and some other big ideas of the course. It is an assignment that lends itself to a typical English paper, but it is not an assignment that REQUIRES a typical English paper. It turns out that for the vast majority of my students, a regular, old English paper is just fine right about now. However, for one student a screenplay was the format of choice. He is SO excited about this prospect. Now, I did not just say, “great. Go for it. See you later.” We chatted about some of his plot options, and I definitely pushed for one particular idea over the others (which I thought was manageable and better answered the requirements of the assignment). It still may not be great. However, the student has been working hard on it, and, given that. I think there is a better chance that the finished product will be a better representation of this student’s best work.

Whenever I assess work, I want to learn something about the student’s progress with a particular skill or mastery of a particular concept. If I know that the student didn’t put forth much effort or that the format in which I collected this data was particularly difficult for the student, then the results on the assessment are less meaningful for me. Of course, there are some assessment formats that may be important skills as well. In that case, I just need to be aware of what I am actually measuring when I evaluate the particular assessment.

Back to my student. I have read the first draft and have made a number of significant suggestions. So far, the student continues to be willing to engage in the discussion; therefore, I am still positive about the experience for the student and the amount of thinking the student has had to do about the ideas and content. Since I always want my students to be successful, I hope that there is a lot of revising between now and the final draft. The screenplay has a lot of potential. But, even if it doesn’t get a lot better, I will know that I am looking at the result of significant time and engagement.

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So, I’ve been thinking about the iterative process in Digital Fabrication, the STEAM class that I teach. The course is a minor and only a semester long. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some goals.

One of the things my STEAM colleagues and I have been talking about is how important it is that everyone who takes a course in our department, major or minor, experiences and practices of the iterative design process. We really want students to try to make something and then try to make it better. Most importantly, we want students to believe that this process is the way design and creation work, not just what you do when something doesn’t work the first time.

What I have been noticing is that some students want to keep working on that first design until they think it is perfect before trying it out on the 3D printer or laser cutter. Here are my issues with that strategy:

  • Too much time has been spent on the initial design without any testing
  • So much time leads to so much investment and often less willingness to alter fundamental parts of the design
  • And, now there is just less time to spend on the next drafts

So, I’m looking for ways to force my students to get that “shitty first draft” (term courtesy of Ann Lamott and her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which I am reading at the moment.) out of the way so that we can move on to the better second draft. Currently, we are working on making geared drawing machines. (We are basing our design on this Tinker Crate project.) Finally today, I gave the group a time limit to get a cardboard model built and ready. Students were in groups and I may also have said that I was also trying to complete this challenge and it would be sad if with many people to work they could not get something done and I could. I do NOT like to do that kind of thing where I put myself in competition with the students in this way, but I was desperate. I did make it clear that I had not done this project either.

In the time frame, we had 3 models. Then, we made a list of information we learned that we could take to our next versions of the various parts–actual sizes, relative sizes, pieces to be made with each tool and in each material. We also considered some ways that we would stage the creation of some of the pieces to give ourselves more margin for error. Then in a next draft, we could add in another set of specifics. And, we divided up the jobs so that we can get a next draft completed very quickly.

Finally!

I think there might be something to the idea that we make several cardboard models so that we each have to wrestle with the project as a whole, and then collaborate in bigger groups or one big group to make the next version. Once we get a few more pieces ready, we can test our machine for real. If it works, I totally want one.

 

 

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So, I’ve been thinking about observing classes. Last spring I joined our upper school division head in doing short, unannounced observations of classes. The observations are only 10 minutes long.

Last year I followed up with a short conversation and then an email that summarized my observations and our discussion. I made it to see 35+ classes last spring. I was very nervous at first. I have worked very hard to build positive relationships with as many teachers as possible; it’s the only way I know to get people to consider using technology in the classroom and keep using it once I am not around. Adding observing to the list of things I do changes things. I admit that I started with some folks with whom I felt comfortable. I steered clear of departments in which I teach, unless I asked if I could come to see something in particular. I built up my own comfort with this new role and moved to other teachers and departments. I loved it. (I wrote about it twice last school year.)

This school year I am continuing with general observing and have three teachers that I am evaluating. For those teachers, my goal is to see a class (still 10 minutes) once a rotation (7 teaching days), with a goal of 20 observations for the year. As a group, the evaluation team in all divisions is using many ideas from the Marshall Method for mini-observations. So, we are doing lots of short observations, having a brief follow up conversation, and sending an email with several positives and one item that might be a question or a suggestion. For the folks I am not evaluating, but simply observing, I just send a follow-up email.

That’s a lot of introduction to get to my point. It’s going great overall. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • I make time for this every week and block out time on my calendar to make time for this work.
  • It really does only take 10 minutes to see a lot and then another 10 to write a follow-up email.
  • A lot of teachers reply to my email which leads to either a face-to-face conversation or email exchange about strategies, technology, or students.
  • Some teachers still want to make time to sit down and hear more about what I saw.
  • One teacher who is being evaluated, but not by me, asked if I would still come in and observe because my feedback was very useful last year.
  • When I get to see teachers a second time, I start to notice their “signature moves,” some of which I am adapting for myself or recommending to others.
  • As I get to know teachers as teachers rather than lunch table companions, I can recommend or share techniques from one teacher to another or suggest that a teacher observe another teacher in particular.
  • The culture of the classroom, although invisible to my eyes, is obvious to the rest of me.
  • In particular, I tend to focus on student engagement and class culture.

Earlier this fall I had a real victory with a particular teacher. First, a little background. I waited quite a while before observing this teacher last year. I wasn’t too sure there was much enthusiasm for my visit; the follow-up conversation was difficult to schedule. This year I checked in with this teacher about a student I teach whom this teacher had taught the year before. We had a lovely conversation and it turned out my write up had been helpful to the teacher later in the year in other circumstances. Then, after my first observation this year I got this reply to my follow-up email:

Wendy,

Thanks for this. When you have a few minutes (ha) I would love to hear more of your impressions, thoughts,  and—in addition– advice. I found our conversation from your previous observation enormously helpful.

Sincerely,

teacher-who-might-not-have-been-very-excited-to-see-me-last-year (not a real name)

Now, not to reveal too much here, but to receive this email made my day. As I have said before, I play the long game. I think I first learned this when I taught in Chicago Public Schools. I just kept showing up, not quitting, figuring out a little more, ignoring the little stuff (and some big stuff), trying again, hoping that people were giving me another chance (just like I was trying to do). Don’t get me wrong, the little and big stuff does get to me. I just try not to let that be visible in public. Because it’s a long game, sometimes it’s hard to see the progress. This email was great proof that it’s not just a long stalemate; it’s a long game, and I am putting points on the board.

So, I’ve been thinking about contour line drawings. It’s fall and that is what my personal kids were dong in art class; so, that is what I did as well. The other thing I have been thinking about a lot is layering. At the moment, I just don’t seem to think any of my art is finished if there is just one layer.

A colleague of mine was relating a conversation between two former students. One asked the other why he always worked abstractly or something like that. He replied (and this part I do have correctly) that he “couldn’t hide behind brushstroke” like she could. This led the good-brushstroker to reconsider the other student’s opinion and even seek it out when it came to composition in particular. This little story really got me thinking.

First of all, I really relate to the one student’s recognition that brushstroke (or technical ability to represent what is in front of you) was not his area of expertise. I used to have more ability in the brushstroke department, but as it turns out if you don’t practice, you not only don’t get better, you do a little backsliding. Shocking, I know. The fact that I can see this change in technical proficiency does not make me feel good and probably contributes to why I have trouble even calling the things I make art. It’s so easy to see the expression of that skill, and therefore it’s easy to be impressed by it. While I could with practice get back some of that skill, it is just not something I have enough time for at the moment. I’ll get to it. That’s where the layering comes in. Taking bits and pieces of other works or images or whatnot and combining them is a way of working with which I can experiment. I can put pieces together, move them around, move them again, try something else, all in a reasonable time and, if I don’t glue anything, I can put it down and look again a few days later. Lots of actual drawing or painting I can’t do.

For these images (part of my ongoing taxonomy work where I try to make 5 images in a series), I started with those contour line drawings of chairs on music score paper, kept with my Audubon birds theme (preferably in a totally different scale), and added some other this and that. Also, I cannot say enough how much the self-imposed 5 images requirement is a catalyst.

Here we go. In no particular order, this is what I made.

Very basic in a lot of ways. I like the different scales of the chair (which is a kid-size chair) and the bird.

 

 

Maybe the garden image on the right doesn’t work–wrong size, too dark? The bird and chair combo works for me.

 

This one also includes a woodblock print. The chair got a little too washed out. The blue stripe on the right seemed too dark, so I added some thin paper over it to tone it down.

 

I thought there needed to be something significant on the left, and so I added a print of a cabbage, which extends the size of the image. Not sure about that. I do like the birds in the tree/cabbage.

 

The bark paper on top of the image around the chair works for me. Not sure if there needs to be something else here too.

So there you have it. Conour line drawing of chairs, birds, music, and other spare parts.