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So, I’ve been thinking about professional development lately. In addition to being part of the administration at my school, I am also part of the high school STEAM and English departments, and our division head decided to support each department in a professional development adventure this school year.

This afternoon, the STEAM department had our professional development outing. We went to Philadelphia Woodworks to learn wood turning. In our group of five, two of us (neither of them me) had used a lathe before. The nice folks at the Woodworks had the lathes all set up with blocks of wood. We had two teachers for our group who demonstrated each step and helped us along the way.

It turns out, that you can’t do wood turning left handed. I am left handed. So, here I go turning wood right handed. I am so used to reversing demos in my head that I had a hard time just straight up copying the way to hold the tools etc.

 

After a few hours of work, I am far from being an expert. However, it’s always instructive to be a total beginner again and think about how much information you can take in at once, how frequently you need to check in with the teacher, how hard it can be to turn even clear directions into action, how tiring it can be to concentrate really hard for a long time.

It was also a great group activity.We each left our class with a bowl we had made and headed off to the weekend.

Also, who knew I could get woodchips in all my clothes so quickly and effectively? (Imagine what happens to sand at the beach. That’s pretty much what I managed to do.)

Here we all are with our completed bowls.

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So I’ve been thinking about the catapult project in my Digital Fabrication class. This is the first project in the course and the goal is for the students to gain some familiarity with the iterative design process and the 3D design software that we use.

However, this class lives in the STEAM department. The amount of art in the project was virtually nill. Earlier in the year, I already mentioned my newfound appreciation for cardboard as a makerspace material. And, I have incorporated the cardboard step in my new process here as well. However, it was too focussed on function. Although it can take people too long, in my opinion, to complete the catapult, more of that is about my management than the use or not of particular materials. Anyway, back to the Art. I vowed this go round to be more intentional about the design aspect of the project.

Here is the new process:

  • Some basic work with Tinkercad (skills based, not related to this design challenge)
  • Informal assessment of some key Tinkercad skills
  • Design walk
  • Drawings of catapult ideas
  • Cardboard
  • 3D print models, review, redesign, etc

The new steps here include the basic Tinkercad work, now unconnected to the final project (which at first seemed like a step back from an integrated approach), informal assessment, and the design walk.

CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

I am using this image as inspiration for my new catapult design. CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

The design walk was something I tried to do more informally last semester. I tried sending folks out around the campus to notice design elements in our buildings several of which have interesting and thoughtful design elements. It turns out that students going on independent design walks at the beginning of the course are not my best idea. So, this semester we went to two specific locations as a group. We went to our former library space and our newly built library space. Even though there are no longer shelves or books in the old space, the students remember what it looked like since the new space has been open for under a year. We talked about the functions that both spaces fulfill in addition to the more subtle message that each space conveyed to visitors about how to exist in the space and what it means to study and acquire knowledge.

I also suggested about thinking about their catapult as art pieces and asked them to consider in what type of museum or exhibit it would belong–to take inspiration from that discipline/time period/aesthetic in their design. I am also designing a new catapult.

 

Let the designing begin!

 

So, I’ve been thinking about when the right time for professional development is. Is there even an answer for this?

In an ideal world, professional development would happen just-in-time. The practicalities of this approach are a challenge. It’s hard to plan to attend conferences if one waits for just the right time and certainly hard to get a good airfare or hotel rate. Online, asynchronous professional development to the rescue! I’ve participated in and continue to participate in plenty of that type of learning. It’s a great option that is weather resistant and family friendly. On an individual level, I can do a lot on the spur of the moment.

CCO Public domain image by Antanias on Pixabay

CCO Public domain image by Antanias on Pixabay

However, there are some events worth the effort of planning ahead. Bigger events, national organization events, for example, do take time to plan and don’t change dates because I have had a tiring week. Whenever I plan and attend conferences, whether they are informal EdCamps, conversation driven EduCon, or conferences with big presentations like Project Zero or ISTE, I come away tired and glad to have attended. I am wondering if I can train myself to be ready for learning at a particular time of year or at a particular location. I am not being silly here. Habits are powerful. For example, I have trained myself to sit silently in a room with other people for an hour and not find it strange. For me, this habit is inextricably linked to the time and place. Another example–when I was younger I was lucky enough that my family went to a very simple house in the Poconos regularly. We didn’t have any TV or cable or anything there (it was the dark ages, there was no internet); I got used to and came to appreciate that time there was different, and more importantly for this discussion, I got in the habit of changing my mindset upon turning in the driveway. Conditioned response anyone? It is clear to me that I can and have done this on a small scale for myself. How can some of those habits of mind, attitudes, conditioned responses be applied to professional learning?

An entire faculty is never going to be in the zone at the same time. (And, if everyone were in the zone at once, wouldn’t that be some kind of foul anyway?) Maybe it is more realistic to think about the routines we can develop to do some of the get-in-the-zone work for us. How can I/we engineer that turn-up-the-driveway response when there is a schoolwide initiative that requires professional development?

 

So, I’ve been thinking about too many things. It’s all swirling around in my head and sometimes it gets overwhelming. I’m trying to find some books to hold me up, balance the yelling, and remind me that there is sense to be made.

fullsizerenderI turned to Maira Kalman. When my personal kids were younger, we used to read Last Stop Grand Central a lot. It was the basis of our first family trip to New York. We went to lots of the places we had read about over and over in the book. And, since my kids got me for a mom, we also spent more time that they might have liked in The Met.* Anyway, I have read and enjoyed a number of Ms. Kalman’s works and illustrations. I appreciate that she is an observer and a connector of disparate ideas. I would like to think that I connect ideas in a somewhat similar way. Although we have never met, when I read her books, I feel like we should be friends and take collecting walks together while wearing hats and stopping for snacks. Even though I know Ms. Kalman is not a Quaker, this is the phrase that comes mind when I read her books “that Friend speaks my mind.”

I need to read something that felt familiar, but that also seemed to make sense and that combined facts in ways to help me think about complex ideas rather than something that creates alternate facts to try to get me to simplify complex ideas. Ms. Kalman wrote And the Pursuit of Happiness after President Obama was first elected and she was feeling positive about the country. I would like to be able to feel that way about my country now. I remembered the optimism of the book; however, upon rereading it, I also appreciated the acknowledgment of conflict and imperfection in our origins and ourselves.

This set me on a Maira Kalman rereading adventure. Like my taxonomy projects, I thought 5 was a good number of her books to reread.

I reread The Principles of Uncertainty, which, not surprisingly given the title, is more disquieting. For example, she writes “my brain is exploding. Trying to make sense out of nonsense, trying to tell you everything (everything?) and all the while time is fleeing.” (p.11) Again, this Friend speaks my mind.

I reread Girls Standing on Lawn.

I reread My Favorite Things.

I reread Ah-ha to Zig-Zag.

(I didn’t reread Next Stop Grand Central)

I google her and wandered around her website. I read an interview with her on The Great Discontent.

For me, Ms. Kalman provides one model of how to think about the world in a personal way; she shares her favorite artworks and admires hats in one sentence and in the next takes on the contradictions in our nation’s founding documents.

 

*It is never too early to take a kid to an art museum, says me who strapped my daughter into the baby-bjorn carrier and headed to the Terra Museum in Chicago (sigh, so sad that it is gone) when she was 3 weeks old. It will not surprise anyone to know that she does not remember this trip.

So, I’ve been thinking about this group of taxonomy works for a long time (this is a project where I work on groups of 5 objects). It’s a real collection of loose parts.

There are a lot of loose parts in this project. It combines the following:

  • Pieces of a Sunday NewYorkTimes article about marriage proposals that went wrong
  • Prints made from cabbage leaves
  • Sheet music
  • Small images from a small-scale book of Audubon’s Birds of America
  • Advertising images of large jewelry
  • Boxes of various sizes
  • Fabric

Many of these items are regulars in my creations. This time around the theme is “Audubon’s Birds of America Propose”. Each creation is a little scene with a particular species of bird proposing with jewelry in hand or beak and is accompanied by text from the disaster proposal article. Here is how the idea came together.

First, I was doing some printing with cabbage leaves on vellum. Why? Because I like to print with cabbage. I was printing away, when I noticed that there was a special insert in the Sunday NYTimes that week to celebrate Cartier’s newly redesigned store on 5th Avenue. The was an entire 2 page pullout: the top was an old image of the store printed in black and white on vellum; the second page was the new store today with the red awnings printed on paper. I opened the pages out fully and added some cabbages to that too. I made it look like the trees were growing off the roof etc. Amusing. But, it got me thinking about jewelry and the trees/cabbage prints.

The next weekend, the Financial Times magazine “How to Spend it” (they don’t really mince words with that title) had some huge, glossy ads for Cartier. I cut out some of the jewelry from those ads and others. Then, for some reason I thought about the little (3×3) Audubon’s Birds of America book sitting in my pile. I think I got it for art projects, but have not really used it much. So, I got it out and started cutting up the images so that I had just the birds. I combined them with the prints and the jewelry cut outs. There were some pretty good combinations. In the “Sunday Styles” section of The New York Times there was an article called “The Proposal was Awkward (but the Answer Was Yes)” which was very funny and I thought I could pull from it to add a story element to the images. I planned to put all of this in a box of some sort, to go with the whole proposal thing and added a soft jewel tone fabric covering so that the whole thing would seem jewelry box-like.

For the box, I first pulled out some old cigar boxes I had scavenged years ago. I was working on that for a while. Then, because a couple of the cabbage prints were oriented differently on the paper, I started thinking about smaller boxes; tuns out that really works better–more contained, the birds and the trees/cabbage fill the space. The cigar boxes went back to loose parts pile for a while. I worked on the smaller format.

The first one here has the following text: On a private plane ride over the glorious Manhattan skyline . . . and that’s when he popped the question. Suddenly, a wave of motion sickness hit me like a storm and I proceeded to vomit all over myself. The name of the species (black headed gull) is under the text. It’s hard to see, but I sewed around some of the tree/cabbage print branches and sewed wide-spaced lines across the print.

Second, I added changed the box hinge so that it was cardboard and not just paper and cut off the edges so the top wasn’t so tight. Also, added green bias tape around the edges. The text for the great horned owls is: Turns out he had just proposed–and I had missed the whole thing. I asked him to do it all over again, and this time, I didn’t wear the earmuffs.

I did go back to the larger format cigar boxes after all. The first one is for the buffel-headed duck. Here is the text : He began his romantic proposal but was promptly interrupted by a goose attack. . . we ran and he finished the proposal in the car.

In addition, I tried something completely different in this one by cutting out the cabbage and adding a jewelry box as a stand. I again sewed around the text and species name. Text is: We were hiking at Zion National Park in Utah. It was a pretty intense hike, but he kept saying if I make it to the top he has a present for me. This was just making me angry.

And, here’s another different format. Fabric and paper cover opens with button handle. Species name is on clear covering over box (it was a box of cards), bird, jewels and ribbon/edge are all inside the box. The text is: I went into the bathroom, opened the shower curtain, and found a wet dog and a naked man on his knee with a ring in hand.

The pictures are not great; the things are more fun in person, although the glue is also more obvious.

Once again, the process of making a series meant that I thought about a lot of different versions and pushed my planning much farther than I would have otherwise. The first version of anything is rarely my favorite, but unless I keep at it, that’s where it ends.

I’ve already got two other taxonomy ideas that I am rolling around in my head. With winter break over, I need a snow day for a day of found time to get thinking and making.

So, I’ve been thinking about the looking, seeing, and interpreting skills of my students. I’ve been talking with a few colleagues about a potential broad interdisciplinary, humanities course.

After a long, involved chain of events, I found myself in possession of both a new copy of  Ways of Seeing by Jon Berger and Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry. I purchased them both at the same very small bookstore on a lovely afternoon of wandering about with my husband. Ah, winter break. Picking them both up at the same store was a happy coincidence that made me think about them together.

Anyway, I read Ways of Seeing decades ago and was reminded of it again last school year by a colleague. When I tried to find my copy at home, I couldn’t. So, it’s been on my mind recently as I’ve continued looking for it. Another colleague has been suggesting Syllabus, but her copy is also missing (as in she lent it to someone who keeps forgetting to return it). The two titles were already linked in their lostness, but I did not notice.

Well, now I have put them together as a new twisted pair. (Old twisted pair blogging challenge description)

I am part way through Syllabus and have begun rereading Ways of Seeing. They are certainly VERY different reading experiences; in fact, I really cannot overstate how different. Syllabus‘ pages are combinations of drawings, doodles, and handwritten text. The pages are colorful and lively. There is a lot of space to think and a lot of need to think about what is not being said. Ways of Seeing has images as well, but there is no shortage of words. As a reader, there is a lot of information coming at you in the words, rather than in the spaces.

However, I am also struck by their similarities. Although they are approaching the task from wildly different angles, both Barry and Berger are thinking about the interplay between words and images, seeing and drawing.

As I continue reading and rereading this twisted pair of books, I am getting so many ideas for ways to incorporate these ideas and habits into my English class. . .

Back to reading.

 

Public domain image. This is my idea of a reasonable serving of ginger snaps.

CCO Public domain image.
This is my idea of a reasonable serving of ginger snaps.

So, I’ve been thinking about winter break. What will I read, write, see, make? Students were finished school on Friday 16th, but I was in on Monday and Tuesday for some catch up type things.

In the lead up to the break, I was scoping out the library at school, making mental lists of what books I was going to check out. It turns out I am not the only one who had her eye on a few titles, but I am the one who waited too long. No problem, my list is long. I have at least half a dozen books (some young adult, some not) in my reading pile; I signed up for 2 Coursera courses through MoMA, and have plans to work on a few in-process art/craft projects. This seems like a lot for a break that also includes a major family heavy holiday and a set of papers to grade. To date I have read 3 books–2 young adult (Bone Gap and No Laughter Here) 1 graphic novel (Creature Tech)– and finished a week or so in each Coursera course (turns out there is significant overlap in the classes, so a lot less work than 2 unique courses). I do not think I have ignored my family either; we have done family stuff together, but you would have to ask them.

My point is not to list books read, courses taken etc. I am interested in 2 things here. First, what is it about a break from work that makes me think I have 36 hours in my days that I should fill? Second, what is it about doing all these things that is rejuvenating for me?

First of all, I think it’s the temporary freedom from a scheduled work time that makes me think I am superwoman. If I had an unending number of free days ahead of me, I would not feel the same urgency to read, make, etc. And, let’s be honest, I also excel at sitting on the couch and eating cookies. I am not actually going to do all that, but I like thinking about the options. This is connected to my second question. Just the thought of planning what to read and do is exciting to me. It’s really just another form of brainstorming, WHICH I LOVE. Brainstorming combines so many things that appeal to me–collecting ideas, connecting pieces of information, making odd leaps of ideas, taking notes, more planning. I feel more energized just writing this down (note: I am on still on the couch).

I think that if a break is to enable one to return to something feeling more rested and ready, then making my clearly unrealistic lists does the job almost by itself, as long as I can eat some cookies at the same time. However, just in case I need to do more than just imagine doing all this, I’m planning some art time later today.