One of the really cool things about being at a new school (we're in year 3! Mere toddler age!) is that we're taking part in creating traditions and the school-wide culture. I've been here at Energy since the beginning of year 2, and so far it looks like going over the top on Halloween is going to be one of our big school traditions. Both years I've been here, a few clubs have joined forces and made really cool haunted houses in an unused hallway. I think it's their biggest fundraiser of the year, and unsurprisingly so -- they do an awesome job with it!

Last year we were encouraged to dress up on the day of Halloween, but this year, students and teachers were given different themes per day. It was definitely a fun way to show some school spirit and to kind of relieve some stress and tension from grades being due, paperwork piles, and the aforementioned general craziness of October. 

Monday: "Decades Day": I chose '60s and went for a Twiggy-ish look using stuff I already had in my closet and vanity. 

I thought I looked awesome (though maybe a little clown-y) but students didn't really "get" it.

Tuesday: "Neon Glow": This was so fun! I was really glad to get to wash my face and hair when I got home though. The eyelashes were a big hit but SO annoying.This pink spray also stuck in the blondest parts of my hair for quite a while. 

Wednesday: Characters and Superheroes: A trip to Value Village and some glitter fabric paint = Ravenclaw student. There were a couple other Hogwarts students on campus that day, too! I got really envious of all the students I ran into who had been to the Wizarding World in Orlando and had "real" wands" 

Thursday: Nerds!: I had a hard time with this one! I didn't want to go full Urkel, so this was another "what's in my closet" day for me.. mostly video game related items. Several students asked me why I didn't dress up. Guess I'm kinda nerdy all the time!

Friday: All costumes! I was Bob Ross, which only a few students guessed. A lot of them thought I was dressed as one of the math teachers at the school because of my beard... I should note that this math teacher does not have a 'fro or carry around a palette. 

Since they were unfamiliar, we had to watch an episode of The Joy of Painting in my class. It was mostly ignored, but there were a few students in each class who were completely entranced by the show and how calming Bob Ross' voice is. 

Students who dressed up were allowed to enter in a costume contest in several different categories. I think they should have one for teachers next year, too... Look how awesome we look!

Sketchbooks: How & Why

Every quarter, my students turn in a sketchbook to me for a major grade (same weight as one of their projects). To be honest, I am really terrible at keeping a sketchbook, but this year I'm doing some of the assignments along with the students to keep myself in the practice of drawing often. 

At first I did this because it was something that was assigned to me in many of my art classes, from middle school to college. It just seemed like a thing I was supposed to do. Of course I was aware of many of the benefits in terms of keeping up with a drawing practice. However, now that I'm on the teaching side, I love it even more. Here's why:

  • Drawing is such an awesome skill to have. It can help you communicate, it can be therapeutic, it can become a part of journaling your life. Best way to get better at drawing? Draw more. 
  • I get to know a little bit more about my students, especially with some of the more interpretative assignments, like "design your own superhero". A lot of my quieter students really respond well to the sketchbook assignments.
  • It can help even out grades a bit. If a student bombs a project, they can still pull through with an awesome sketchbook and turn their average around. 
  • My students always have something to do in my class. This is especially useful when I'm trying out a new project (which last year was ALL of them) and I'm not 100% sure on the timeline of the project. Finished early? Sketchbook. Waiting on your group member to finish doing something so you can do your portion? Sketchbook. Refusing to do anything else? Sketchbook.

I love that this student even wrote a backstory for their superhero.

It's not all 100% awesome though... I am especially having a hard time getting some of my students away from copying stock images, even though I have asked them to draw from life whenever possible. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that they have laptops and phones.  Many of their sketches look like clip art, which makes me crazy. Or, they rely on the connotations of the object itself to fulfill the prompt. For example, if assign "something gooey", I'll get a bunch of drawings of honey, which I only know is honey because it is clearly labeled in a beehive shaped thing. Is honey gooey? Yep. But does their drawing look gooey? No. 

My students are currently wrapping up their first quarter, so I think we'll talk through some of this frustration once we start the second quarter. I'm hoping in the next quarter I'll start seeing some more original ideas. I also want to talk to them about the idea of "if I didn't say you can't, assume you can" to try and cut down on them asking me if they're allowed do (insert something creative)... because the answer is always yes!

It's mid-October...

.. therefore, I am tired. Lots of deadlines are looming. Students are getting a little more comfortable in my room, and combined with the fluctuations in weather, weird (i.e. tiring) behavior is happening.

The slump is real, y'all. Is it terrible that I'm kind of looking forward to jury duty next week, just for a change of scenery? I'm sure I'll regret that sentiment when I'm at City Hall. 

Mini-rant aside, I do want to share what some of my students have been up to these past few weeks. For our current project, we're using littleBits, which are awesome magnetic circuit pieces that have a variety of functions... and no, they are not paying me to say that, although they are welcome to do so. ;)  Students have really simple requirements: team up and build something that 1. moves, and 2. makes marks on paper. They're limited in some of the parts that everyone needs, like batteries and on/off switches, but aside from that, the field is wide open. 

Right now they're about halfway through. I asked them to turn in a sketch last week of their plans for their machines; here are a few: 

littleBits are incredibly accessible and fun to work with... perfect for me, a teacher who wants to inject some STEAM in my room but lacks a lot of engineering knowledge.

I ran this project in my class last year and it was a big hit. Here's hoping this year's students surpass last year! Stay tuned for videos and photos of their final products. 

Challenges and Rewards of Teaching: PBL Edition

Project-based learning, also sometimes referred to as problem-based learning, is a teaching method that has been gaining traction the past, uh... while. (I don't know how long ago this whole thing started.) The link above is a short & sweet explanation of what PBL is, but essentially it is a system in which a teacher provides a driving question (example: "How can we, as historians, use historical documents to analyze how civilizations rise and fall?") and an end product, perhaps provides some background information, vocabulary, and the like, and then stands back and facilitates. The idea is that if students have a real-world problem, and they go about researching it and executing it in an authentic way, they will be more likely to really learn it and be able to use it in the future (vs. learning for a test) than by rote memorization or by lecturing. I research and learn stuff by reading books or, more often, online via articles, blogs, and watching YouTube tutorials/talks, and so on a bajillion times more often than someone stands there and lectures me about a topic in-person, don't you?

I wrote a little bit about the mechanics of planning a PBL and using this method in the art room here on Teachers Pay Teachers (it's free!), but I wanted to reflect a little here about how the actual day to day teaching part goes. 

It can be really frustrating, for both the students and myself, because a big part of PBL is independent student inquiry, and that's new for a lot of kids. They're used to teachers feeding them a lot more information, and it's hard for me to resist the temptation to just answer them. It's a lot easier for me to just rattle off (what is for me) basic information than it is for me to formulate a thoughtful enough question to direct them to coming to the  right answer without coming off like I don't like them (or teaching), or that I don't have time for them, or that I don't know the answer myself. I try and channel my inner Tim Gunn and be a thoughtful and kind mentor, but it is genuinely hard... Especially when a kid will ask you a question with an answer that (should be) so obvious, perhaps something you just taught them three and a half minutes ago, or that you feel certain if they just thought about it for like a second that they'd have an answer. Some students do this self-inquiry really naturally, but I have to train most them to try and figure it out on their own before coming to me with direct questioning. It's worth mentioning that I have mostly sophomore students -- they have been doing PBL-style learning for a year now.

Right now in my Art I classes, students are learning about using color theory and making a self-portrait using two color schemes. (Side note: I'll be adding this project to my Teachers Pay Teachers list soon!) I started out the project by teaching them some new vocabulary and information, like about warm and cool colors, different types of color schemes with examples, and then told them about the end product I wanted. 

Sample questions I've been getting:
"Do I have to color this?"
"What's the complementary color of blue?" (and similar)
"What's a color scheme?"

Answers I wish I could have given:
(I am a snark monster in my head. I try not to let it creep out to my students. This is perhaps the hardest part of my job.)
"Yes, dummy... It is a color theory project."

(pictured: Leonardo Dicaprio playing me)

(pictured: Leonardo Dicaprio playing me)

"Using colors together in different ways to create different effects." 

Instead, I try and (patiently) give questions back to students, or point them to where they can get the information.
"Have you looked at the rubric?"/"What's the driving question, again?"
"Complementary colors are across from each other on the color wheel."
"Remember that slideshow I showed you earlier? It's online for you to look at."

They're still learning to learn this way, though. A typical conversation goes something like this:
"Miss, when's this due?"
"The calendar is online and posted on the wall for you to look at."
"...You could just tell me!"
"You could just look at it. The idea is that I shouldn't have to answer questions you can easily find yourself. I would have to answer this question probably 20 times a day otherwise."
*teen sigh*

Eye roll optional.

Eye roll optional.

All this being said, I do really like it. I'm kind of jealous of my students. I don't know that I would have loved the teamwork aspect that PBL often brings (most projects are group projects), but I think I would have thrived in the self-directed-ness that PBL allows for. It's more challenging and "real" for the students, I think. I do a lot more online research on topics I'm interested in or need to know about than I am able (or willing) to attend lectures or lessons on those same topics. The skills to be able to find that information, assess/analyze it, and then use it is so, so important. 

Sometimes you hear teachers talking about how much they like that "lightbulb moment" they see in students when they finally get something. That lightbulb is megawatt in a PBL student.

Getting something done because you figured out how to do it yourself and made it happen is one of the most satisfying experiences you can have. My students don't always get there every day, but when they do? It. Is. Awesome. 


How I Became an Art Teacher

Most teachers I talk to fall into one of two camps: They have known they wanted to be teachers since they were drinking juice boxes and wearing light-up shoes, or they never thought they would be teachers and somehow landed there -- from another career, from confusion, from strange pathways through college.
Both groups seem pretty happy, overall. Me? I'm a little of both.

I loved school the whole way through, and I wanted to be a teacher or a librarian when I was in elementary school. I had a GT teacher, Mrs. Hajovsky, that I adored in elementary school. I got pulled out of my regular classes once a week to do amazing projects and puzzles. I wanted to do amazing projects and puzzles all the time, so naturally, I wanted her job. I'm incredibly fortunate to have had lots of great teachers throughout school; I'm still in touch with many of them, including Mrs. Hajovsky.

I often joke now that if you had told me when I was in high school that I would end up teaching high school, I would have cried a little bit. I was determined to make a living out of my art skills, though I wasn't really sure on the specifics of that. I decided I wanted to go to art college by the time I was 16 or so, a decision mostly supported by my family, though there were a few "why not medical/law/business school?"s. 

Fast forward to summer of 2013. I had just graduated from RISD, my dream school, with a BFA in illustration. I had some experience in game design via a few internships I had completed after my junior and senior years. I liked doing that, and considered going in that direction, but I looked for jobs in the gaming industry. They all wanted 3-5 years of professional experience, preferably with my name associated with AAA game title or two. And my portfolio was largely painting-based, not game-assets-based, and definitely not programming- or writing-based.

I decided to come home to Houston. I kept looking for something to do, for jobs to apply to. I started working for a coffee catering company owned by my manager from a high school job. I talked with my high school art teacher and dear mentor, Mrs. Stiffel. She is very involved in a non-profit that brings art after school lessons to underprivileged kids and suggested I start teaching for them, so I did. 

Needless to say, the girl in the front was a character.

Needless to say, the girl in the front was a character.

I more or less liked doing this, but I felt like I had more to offer than and doling out pre-packaged lesson plans and teaching proper scissor usage. (Hindsight is 20-20 though; I have high schoolers that need to be schooled on proper scissor usage.)  I enrolled in an alternative certification program with the intent of teaching high school. I passed my content and pedagogy tests and began looking for teaching jobs. 

That spring, Mrs. Stiffel told me she was going to retire. She and I hoped that I would be able to take her spot and continue her legacy at my alma mater. I did get to interview at my former high school, but didn't get the job. She and I are both thankful for that now, but that's a post for another day. I found the school where I teach now, Energy Institute High School, at a district job fair. I'm saving more details on my school (which I love!) for another blog post. Stay tuned!

I'm really glad I became a teacher - my job is stable, I get to do lots of creative problem solving, and I can spread the joys and importance of art to a lot of students who have had very little exposure to it. I still worry about burnout sometimes as the job is undeniably exhausting in so many ways, but I hope to be teaching until I retire for good.