Friday, December 17, 2010

Gingerbread Houses

It's gingerbread time!  At this time each year, fifth graders at Currier Memorial build gingerbread houses, and each year they get better.  The little houses are constructed with graham crackers, which are attached with a dab of frosting to an empty milk carton.  The milk cartons are not absolutely essential to this project, but provide a kind of insurance against an unexpected collapse in the decorating stage.  Here are a couple examples of the sweet work happening on Monday.  Families donated the sweets for the houses.  The class collected, rinsed, and dried the milk cartons, and Mr. L cut cardboard bases.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Strathmore Online Workshops

If you've wanted to start a visual journal, but need a jump start; here's a tip. Strathmore Artist Papers is offering a series of free on-line workshops that explores visual journaling techniques through videos and free downloadable instructions.
I'm in the process of putting together a new unit on bookmaking and am very interested in ways to get kids invested in keeping sketchbooks and art journals. I've been collecting resources for a while now and those "free downloadable instructions" sound perfect for the classroom. The first workshop begins on January first and they continue through the spring.
You can register here:
Happy journaling.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Macaroni Patterns

It's December so it's time to haul out the big bin of macaroni and string up something nice to wear.  Little kids (and big kids, too) love making these macaroni necklaces and the results can be surprisingly beautiful.  We're getting low on pasta this year, so our choices weren't as spectacular as in years past.  That means it's time to hit the sales and stock up on shapes.  We make these necklaces in December, because the pasta takes reds, greens, and oranges better than other colors and the classroom teachers think they look so festive.  
To dye the pasta you will need pasta, rubbing alcohol, and dye (food coloring works, and so would a squirt of liquid water color).  You'll also want the large, one gallon zip lock bags, and a tray or plastic sheeting for drying the pasta.
When everything is ready pour a tablespoon or two of alcohol  into the bag, squirt in your color, and pour in the pasta.  Squish and squeeze to move the color around.  When everything looks well-colored pour the contents onto a thick layer of newspaper, or onto plastic sheeting to dry.  (Best to do your pasta dyeing in a well ventilated area or outside because the alcohol stinks).  But, it lasts forever so while you're at it, make a lot!!  To store, I wrap mine up in newspaper and tape shut and I keep the individual packets in a medium sized plastic bin. 
The first time I tried stringing these with kindergartners was a disaster.  The macaronis started rolling off the table and onto the floor.  The kids got really frustrated and started getting up for help.  They crunched macaroni with each step and made a huge and embarrassing mess.  I made a mental note to never to do this again.   Then I discovered this...
Pleat a  piece of copy paper to make a bead holder.  Kids build their pattern in the tray.  When they have created a successful pattern the receive their string.  The string has a piece of tape on one end to facilitate stringing and a bead tied to the other end to keep everything on.  I ask kids to use at least three small shapes in between each large shape to make the macaroni last longer, but am not a real stickler about this as I'm mostly interested in knowing they can make and continue a pattern. 
This photo shows kinders hard at work making macaroni pattern necklaces.  Nothing spilled, no one got frustrated, and everyone is sporting a new accessory this week.

This little guy lost his pattern after the first round, but look at his persistence!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kindergarten Trees and Stars

Not only did kindergartners get to put their newly learned star making skills to the test on this lovely large scale work featuring stars, snow, and pines; they also learned how to fold and cut papers to make  symmetrical shapes.  They designed their tree using that fabulous zig zag line that we practiced earlier in the year, touching the fold only at the start and finish of their line.  After the trees were cut in the cutting station, the stems were glued on at the gluing station, and kids circulated into the painting station for a little sponge painting action.
Painting, as opposed to drawing a star was a new challenge for Kinder artists and the sky is lit up with a lopsided charm.  After attaching their trees, kids dotted on snow with the back end of a pencil.  Well done Kindergarten!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Draw Me a Star

It's winter now and the nights are long, dark, and starry.  I found this lesson on the Eric Carle web site in the resource section called Caterpillar Exchange.  There are a lot of lessons linked to Eric Carle books here and this one, based on Draw Me A Star, fit in well with my thoughts about winter and with the geometric shapes that my youngest artists have been looking at, working with, and thinking about this month.  The lesson is listed as a two day lesson plan, but it took us three days to complete. 
I did this lesson with grades K, 1 and 2.
To begin the lesson we talked about how to draw a star.  Some kids knew how to, some didn't.  We tried to decide if there was just one way to draw a star, or if we could draw stars in many different ways.  We decided there were lots of ways to draw a star.  We looked at the front and back cover of the book and noticed the different stars and then read the book.
After reading the book we looked at an practiced drawing stars.  Really young primary kids were really excited about learning this new skill.  Students were asked to practice a few different ways on one side of their paper.  I asked them to show me their favorite star and then told them to flip their paper over and draw their best star really big.  When they showed me a "keeper", a nicely shaped big star, they set their drawing aside and were invited to the painting station to take a turn at sponge painting a sheet of aluminum foil.  We have a set of those round dabbers and kids loved doing this. The beautiful foils were put on the drying rack.  When they were dry I cut them into strips on the paper cutter and gently laid them onto a tray.   
On the second day, kids selected a few strips and a piece of 9X12 colored paper.  The glue pots came out and kids snipped and glued the bits of shiny painted paper to their construction paper.  We started in the center and worked out toward the edges.  At the end of class these too were set on the drying rack. 
On the third day kids flipped their paper over.  They used chalk to draw a star on the back.  We could tell where the foil was because the paper was "puffy".  When kids were satisfied with their star they cut it out.  They chose a new paper color and glued their paper once again.  They made a "copy cat cut" around their star to add the little border, punched a hole, added a string, and went happily home.

Small note of warning.  Draw Me A Star does contain some very, very, benign nudity.  How you handle this will depend on your group.  I decided to read the book in it's entirety and it led to a very interesting discussion with K, 1, and 2nd grade students.  Their responses to the question "Why do you think Eric Carle chose to show the people this way?" were insightful, entirely charming, and sometimes very, very amusing.
 Stay tuned for some more star-work.

Monday, November 22, 2010

James Rizzi Happy Houses

Fifth and sixth grade students at Currier Memorial have been looking at the work of James Rizzi.  Rizzi is a Pop Artist, best known for his brightly colored animated cityscapes that are rich, full, and bubbling over with life.  Both fifth and sixth grade students made a strong connection with his work.  His cartoon-like drawing style was a big hit with everyone and who can resist his cheerful style?  We looked at lots of examples of Rizzi's work and picked apart the elements of his style.  Each student completed a rough draft of a Rizzi-style building and when they were satisfied with the result work began on a large scale Rizzi City.
I'm so impressed by the commitment both classes have put forward on this large undertaking.  Kids have really put their heart and soul into this project and it's a joy to watch them work.  Fifth graders transferred their designs to mural paper students outlined with ink and brush or with sharpie pen.  Colored pencils were used for the small details.  Larger areas were painted in using liquid watercolor.  When the buildings are dry we'll add the background colors.  

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peace Poster Contest Winner

I was happy to learn this morning my wonderful art student, Dylan Florence was selected to represent our region in the Lion's Club Peace Poster Contest.  His poster will be entered into the state-wide competition and we wish him the very best of luck.  Congratulations Dylan! A wonderful poster and a dedicated artist.
Congratulations to Sophia and to Ashlyn for placing second and third.  I am very proud of your efforts.
As I mentioned, we were hugely rushed to meet out deadline for this project.  I went back to my files looking for photos of the second and third place projects to post today, and I am heartbroken not to have them.  The posters were picked up before I could photograph them all.
Special thanks to all my students who shared their art in the spirit of peace.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Visions of Peace

Upper elementary students at Readsboro Elementary School are participating in the Lions Club international peace poster contest.  The theme this year is "Visions of Peace".  Students started work on these posters just three weeks ago by developing a rough draft.  We decided to participate this year on very short notice and students had just two weeks to work on their final entry.  These are large scale artworks and kids and we were really pinched to meet the deadline.  Our plan is to participate again next year, but to start much earlier in the year.
More info on the contest is available on the Lions Club web site:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Native American Parfleche

Fourth Graders at Currier Memorial School put the finishing touches on these beautiful raw hide bags today.  The bags were made in two art classes.  We used geometric designs to decorate the bags.  The designs are inspired by bags used by Cheyenne, Crow, and Lakota tribes of the American Plains.  These tribes were primarily nomadic.  They traveled by horse with the changing seasons as they followed the great herds across the American Plains.  Because they moved frequently, they needed bags like these to pack food, clothing, and other important items. These bags were typically made of raw hide, which can be made more quickly and more easily than buckskin.  Rawhide is a tough material and the bags are called Parfleches.  The word parfleche comes from the French words "pare" and "fleche" and means...deflects arrows.  Raw hide is tough enough to deflect an arrow and also used to make shields.
To make the parfleche we first looked at artifacts on this website.
We looked closely at the designs, focusing on the lines, shapes, color, proportion, and balance.  To create the design students were given three cardboard templates.  They used a 6"X6" square to outline the perimeter of the design.  They were also given a 3"X6" and a 2"x6"  template to help them sub-divide their square or to use as the wished as a straight edge.
After a rough draft was approved they began their final design on a piece of crumpled brown paper.  Students used crayons or colored pencils to add color to their designs.  We tried to remain true to traditional colors:  red, white, green, yellow and blue.  Students were asked to color heavily and completely.  They were instructed to continue their design onto the flap.  Then holes were punched and the sides were laced up.
This project is one part of a larger classroom based unit of study.  To see the parfleches and other Native American works in progress please visit the fourth grade classroom.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Circle Painting

I walked out of school yesterday feeling like I was on cloud nine.  It wasn't just one thing.  Everything just seemed to fall into place.  Amazing when that happens.  I'm really excited to share a piece of my joy with you...this project.  It was definitely a BIG part of that feel-good feeling.  The idea is derived from Hiep Nguyen's website:  Check it out, all the details about his project are there, along with lots of great artwork and videos.
If you're looking for a great way to explore shape, symmetry, non objective art, and radial design with kids this project has got it covered.   I got a five star rating from kids, plus it's just plain fun.  Here's what we did.
First we watched this....
The kids got it immediately.  Start with a circle in the center and grow a design outwards by adding more circles.  Move around the design and add details to the work that's already there.  
To start we covered the table with a large sheet of paper.  Paint was poured, one color per student each in its own cup.  Each kid got a brush.  To be fair, we counted out around the circle.  Number one started us off by drawing a circle in the middle of the paper.  As he was finishing up, number two added their circle close to, or adjoining the first.  Number three and four joined came in as one and two went out.  Then five and six.  The kids painted from the center outwards.  As the design grows there are more and more places to join in.  After a few minutes everyone was happily painting away.
The amazing thing was the way in which the students worked.  Absolute cooperation.  Absolute focus.  Absolute bliss.
Kids left saying it was the best art class ever.  They told all their friends how much the love circle painting.  They are begging for more next week.
My focus next week is on shape as an element of art and on radial symmetry.  We'll be playing around with this a little and then do another circle painting.
Oops!  Almost forgot to give credit where it's due.  I found this wonderful video and website through Snippety Gibbets Video Site.  Lots great resources here! Check it out

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kindergarten Jungle Snakes

Fourth graders watched the little owl video today and are really excited to start making movies.  In the mean while kindergarten put the finishing touches on their pattern snakes today.  To complete this project they patterned with crayon, water colored both sides of their snake and designed a leafy jungle where their snake would live.  To create their habitat kindergartners painted leaves using green paint on green paper.  We really tried to fill up the page.
Finally, kindergartners created a darker value by mixing black into their green paint.  We wanted to create a lot of shady places for that snake to hide.  The snake was then stapled on and the whole thing matted on black paper.  Lots of fine motor work in this project.  Good work kindergarten!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kindergarten Pattern Snakes

Here's another pattern project.  This is so simple, but my kindergartner's love making these snakes so much that the always request making them again in first grade.  We share with each other what we know about patterns and look at lots of examples.  Kids learn that patterns repeat and that they are predictable (we can usually guess what comes next).  Then they choose the patterns that they want to decorate their snake.  We used crayons first and then water colored to create a resist.  The hardest part about making the snakes is waiting for the paint to dry, because the real fun is in cutting them out.   First, we cut carefully around the outside, and then make the long spiral cut around the inside.
Sometimes we hang them from the ceiling, but often kids beg to take them home right away.  This year we're going to try something a little different.  (If they'll let me).
I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy Accident Studios Are Pleased to Present...

  A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I came up with a new twist on our Owl Pattern Project.  It's finally finished and ready to share.  This year, instead of making the owl and cutting it out, we tried making a 3 part owl (body and two wings). After drawing the owl and the wings, kids filled their design with pattens and carefully cut the pieces out.  They hole-punched and paper-fastened the wings to the body and were pretty excited to pose them in different positions.
After photographing the owls with the wings opened and the wings closed, I noticed that quickly flipping the images back and forth in the display screen on my camera created a fun little animation.  We had a great time playing around with the images, probably not the best thing for my camera, but what can I say?  Easily amused.
Our little  discovery lead to this... 

This is my test video.  I'm not the most techno savy person on the planet and wanted to make sure I could actually make it work before diving in with a class full of kids.  Turns out it was super simple and a great starting place for introducing animation.  The animation was made by alternating two images in Windows Movie Maker which most computers have.
I've got a feeling we'll be seeing a whole lot more birds flying around here soon.
If you want to try it, here are the specifics:  to make the bird we folded a 9X12 piece of paper in half.  The first half was used to draw the body of the owl.  We did this as a guided drawing.  Then kids cut their paper on the fold.  They folded the second piece of paper in half and penciled in the shape of the wing.  Kids used a sharpie to outline the wing on both sides of the paper so they could transfer the outline and get two matching wings.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I like to work in a project at the beginning of the year that asks kids to think about how lines and shapes can work together to create patterns.  This owl project is an old standard that I usually do with my third grade students.  This year I tried it with my wonderful second graders and I'm so glad I did.  They flew with it. I adore how their owls look, like themselves, so very young.

I also tried this with my fourth grades students, but with a new twist which I will share with you next week.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kindergarten City: Mural in Progress

Primary students have been busy creating artwork with a focus on geometric shapes this month.  A lot of designing was done in art centers where students had an opportunity to cut, glue, paint, and color to their heart's content.  We learned how to divide a square to make two rectangles, and how to divide a rectangle to make two smaller squares.  We noticed we could cut diagonally through a square to make two triangles.  And that we can carefully trim the corners off a square to make a nice round circle.  We are learning how to use the glue pot and the glue brush to apply just the right amount of glue.

Last week we closed down the centers and did a whole class project.  We used what we know about geometric shapes to create this beautiful city.  It has flags, sky scrapers, people, lamp posts, birds and airplanes.  Our reference for drawing buildings was Skyscrapers, by Judith Dupre.  Our buildings were designed using crayon on tall white copy paper and then carefully cut out.  We'll continue working on our city this week.  We need a lot more people and some vehicles to complete the scene.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Picture Day! A Whole School Mural Project

This week all Currier students have been working on drawing "head-to-toe" self portraits.  Kids were asked to picture themselves holding something important to them.  They colored their portraits with markers, crayons, and colored pencils, and then carefully cut them out.  I collected their little figures and amassed them on a sheet of white craft paper and posted our very first whole-school portrait project on the big board near the front door at Currier today.   I tried to take a photo, but the picture doesn't do it justice...this is really a special piece of art.  It's like a Where's Waldo of joyful innocence. 
I would like to thank Natalie at for sharing this wonderful idea.  Thanks, Natalie!  Thanks, thanks, thanks!  This was so much fun.
Oh and did I mention...our school theme this year is:  "High levels of learning for ALL students."  (each and every wonderful one).