Preparing the community for an Art Show that might look a little different… (and calming the nerves!)

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It’s all over folks! 160+ individual artworks by our wonderful Grade 3 and Grade 5 artists came to a grand finale with the WOW Exhibition opening night. The entire community was invited to view the WOW Exhibition and peruse the artwork at their pleasure…

Our artists were so excited to show their work to the community. My dear colleague Naomi Feil and I were too, but we were equally nervous at the same time!

Everyday we guided, supported and were cheerleaders for these artists Naomi and I would share the excitement of watching these individual projects come to fruition. Also, we would lament and problem solve the struggles together (I wrote more about these processes back in an old post). As the exhibition date approached we were blown away by what was being finished. Our art teacher eyes and our knowledge of each students individual achievements made our hearts fill with pride… but what about everyone else? We know how far each student has come in their journey… but what about everyone else? In the same way art is naturally subjective so is art teaching. No matter where you are on the choice spectrum as an art teacher, your community comes with a prior knowledge based on what they have seen or have done before.

What would our community think of the changes to our programme this year?

How could we prepare them for the changes and ensure they were asking each artist kind, appropriate questions without comparisons?

Naomi and I have always sat somewhere between the moderate to abundant choice area on the choice spectrum depending on the units of inquiry or homeroom integrations. We have experimented and tried a few things here and there but this felt like first time we formally opened up to full-abundant-choice options.

So we decided to compose an email to parents that was sent out the day before opening night (see below). It explained what to expect, what to ask etc. (A big thank you to Miss L Gould, an Art teacher in Canada using the Teaching for Artistic Behaviors approach we got ideas from her art newsletter)

Also, our wonderful marketing team helped us prepare a flyer that got printed onto nice card to hand out to the parents on the night of the exhibition (fancy!). You can view it here:

WOW Art Flyer

I think it helped prepare the community and help them to understand the changes we are undertaking to art teaching and learning. Also, it certainly helped calm our nerves knowing that this information had gone out ahead of time!

As you can probably tell by the photos at the top of this post the turn out was high. What I loved observing was the time everyone took to really read the artist statements to understand more about each artwork. I overheard some great comments and conversations. The evening was about the artwork, the process, the meaning, the message, the intention, the creativity, the purpose, the journey – it was about the artists. As it should be!

The whole experience reminds me how lucky I am to be a part of this school community that gives ownership and agency to their teachers, that allows us to take risks, risks that allowed every Grade 3 and Grade 5 student show their inner artist, there was a lot of pride in the room that night!



The Humble Foam Peanut as an Unstoppable Creative Force!

When this bag of foam peanuts was donated to the art room I had no idea of the powerful force of creativity it would be… really!

As I mentioned back in this post opening my cupboards at the beginning of the year to make the art materials highly visible and easily accessible for all learners has made a huge difference to choice in my room. When I prepared our “construction area” I filled a little container with foam peanuts… wow, I did not know at the time their value, seriously, these are gold! Check this out:

These students have used foam peanuts to create soft cushions around their teepee… why the teepee? Here’s an excerpt straight from their artist statement: “We created this because we wanted to design a little real-life world of our own where no one could bother us. The teepee represents as the safe shelter for us.


Yesterday this student told me this morning that the foam peanuts are the protective cushioning bags for the spaceship as it lands on a flat landing field:

This student has used the foam peanuts for the exterior texture of her architectural model home:

These foam peanuts are placed inside the belly of a sea turtle (amongst other things) to show the effect of plastic pollution in the oceans:


This student has used foam peanuts in her sketchbook as a part of her planning process for the interactive wall installation she has created for her exhibition:

These foam peanuts are the flood lights on a soccer field:


These foam peanuts come from a trio of artists/historians working on a World War I battlefield titled “No Man’s Land”, the foam peanuts standing up are the sole survivors and the ones lying down are died in battle:

There are foam peanuts inside these pokemon sculptures creating the structure for the arms that then had foil and pipe cleaner wrapped around them:


And just this morning my wonderful teaching assistant used foam peanuts as she worked alongside students who were experimenting with watercolor effects – she did not know I was writing about foam peanuts!


In many ways, I think the foam peanut is my symbol for the year so far. My year of opening up the physical space, opening briefs wide-open and letting students drive… I’ve handed over, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and have been blown away by the happenings…

Students are artists and they are using everyday, throw away objects that do not fit into traditional “art tool and material” categories. Just like all the found object artists that came before them like Marcel Duchamp and Louise Nevelson or the artists still working with found objects today like the delightful Judy Darragh. 

I will never forget the humble foam peanut and all that was created with it, the stories, the plans, the designs, the imagination, the function and purpose, the CREATIVITY!

Next time you get a delivery, save the foam peanuts, open them in your class and see what happens, they are irresistibly playful and imaginative, all hail the foam peanut! (excuse my quick photoshop job on the graphic below haha!)

foam peanut






Honoring artistic voice and choice in the art room – (and managing the practicalities)

Woohoo! Voice, choice and ownership have always been three very exciting words in visual arts education. Three words art teachers know are the key to excited, engaged and empowered artists. Begone days of 20 perfect pumpkins, welcome to more days of individually crafted, unique, personally relevant works of art. Let’s have all our students leave our classes as proud and confident individuals with a creative mindset – there is no such thing as “I’m bad at art” in our rooms.

Hey you! Young artist over there making paper mache topographical maps – add a couple more layers to make it stronger… And you there drawing intricate portraiture – try adding some darker tones to create contrast… Oh lovely, look at your detailed stencil you just cut, that could make an excellent screen print, want me to show you how? Oh hello sculptor! Have you tried plaster strips? That might help you achieve the effect you want…Wow go artist! That is really starting to show your concept, ask a buddy and see if they can catch your message…

Oh happy days in the art room! Wait……hang on… the art teacher is flustered, it is frenetic in here, students are waiting patiently (or impatiently!) we only have 20 minutes to go and we are not going to see each other for another week arghhhhhhhh!


Here is where my ideals clash with the practicalities of it all. Our exciting individual projects are colliding with timetables, clean up, storage, and interruptions… well… interrupting our flow! As a specialist primary teacher to some 330 students who I see for a single 80 minute lesson once a week – I need to help my students make the most of that time to be art-making time! To honor their artistic voice and choice in the individual projects they are pursuing.

Right in the middle of this UOI I thought it would be a helpful process to note down a few ideas and tricks that are helping (or at least I hope they are) the students and I manage our time to make the most of our lessons together (and so I do not forget!).

Here is a little context:

Our current central idea is: When we are in the creative process we “think like an artist” by using the Studio Habits of Mind*. With the enduring understanding being there is a creative process that we go through; that being finding inspiration, developing and planning ideas, creating, reflecting and sharing. We use our sketch book to show this process and lead to a WOW piece – WOW being Wonderful Original Work of art. We are currently giving this a good go with Grade 3 and 5.

Here are some ideas I have so far:

  1. If you are lucky enough to have anther PYP Art teacher in your school then 1. visit 2. share 3. discuss 4. ideate and repeat often! I am eternally grateful to have the brilliant Naomi Feil as my partner!
  2. Layout their work the day / period before / during lunch etc. Seems like simple timesaver, but its not just about saving precious minutes, more importantly its a visual assessment of where everyone is currently at. I can leave little notes on their work and they always have the option to change where they work when they enter.IMG_5643
  3. Material stations around the room so art materials easily accessible (older blog post on that here). No waiting around for supplies.
  4. Empower your teaching assistants – my dear assistant is always introduced as another art teacher in the room, I often catch her helping out students and demonstrating specific art skills… they are lucky, I am lucky, she is a rockstar!Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 9.02.23 PM
  5. Not all students are self sufficient at the same time, it is a delicate balance so I try to do the “three before me” and then add your name to the list. It’s big, its visual, students can see when its their turn and I can add names to those students I would like to check progress on. It’s simple and fair. IMG_5642
  6. Model the creative process – work alongside your students – and share your creative process, in fact I was just having a conversation with a grade 3 student this morning, he was telling me about how he doesn’t like to plan and he prefers to think of ideas while he is making, I shared my process and let him in on a little secret… hey me too sometimes!IMG_5651
  7. Planning sheets (thought collections) completed at various stages. The one below was used to centre their thoughts before they start – I did this during our morning mindfulness session, it calmed the energy in the room. It was nice to take a breath and reflect before makingScreen Shot 2018-02-21 at 9.16.17 PM
  8. Class critique / feedback sessions gallery walk style – I participate with everyone so I can get some feedback in before the creating begins.IMG_5648
  9. Responding to the needs in the room, when only one student needs a demonstration, for example how to create a clay slab, I send a call out, an invitation to all that would like to join. Maybe only 2 students come, maybe half the class does, either way they have new ideas to stash away for another day.
  10. To follow on from responding to the needs in the room I have started my own bank of video tutorials of ‘current art room’ trends based on their interests – at the moment its stencil cutting and screen printing – if you can cope with the kiwi accent they are  here.  This is helping when I am in the middle of an in-depth discussion and someone wanders over asking how to screen-print – I only need to say these three words ‘remember my tutorials?’ (and of course they always do their own tutorial searches too)Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 9.32.49 PM
  11. Work with the homeroom teachers, what are the current UOI’s? Could it feed into the art room or the other way around… Our grade 5’s are working on their self-directed UOI’s at the moment and some students are choosing to incorporate their art into this which is an exciting avenue!

These are just a few of the things I am trying out along the way, what could you add to this list?

(*I have been enjoying reading up on The Studio Habits of Mind i.e. being able to think like an artist and the benefits of the Teaching for Artistic Behavior movement. It aligns well with the PYP transdisciplinary skills and attitudes. A set of skills and behaviors I that will positively impact their continued art education pathways and life outside school.)

Giving Feedback in “the thick of it”

We are a week out from our Grade 4 Exhibition. A week out from trailing the first ‘Spotlight on the Arts’ with Grade 4 as our guinea pigs. Our artists will be presenting a final work based on this stand-alone unit:

Central Idea: Artists use traditional materials and techniques (2D & 3D) to remix their subject matter (Lego) in new, unusual and original ways.
Long story short… I’ve taken the students through a series of traditional observational drawing techniques focusing on tone and value, using Jim Dine as our inspiration etc. etc. the usual stuff… as I am always in the pursuit of student-choice / self-directed artworks / student ownership / whatever you like to call it, I wanted them to enjoy producing something for the Exhibition that is theirs. So, handing them this planning sheet with the premise of remixing all they have learnt and enjoyed in this unit into a final work (more on this crucial step another day). Letting go of the reigns and following their lead; I am their supporter, cheerleader and sous chef. But its not all sunshine and roses, as we are so close to the deadline everyone is under pressure. In this pressure cooker my TA is working tirelessly, students are helping  and encouraging each other, and I, well, I feel like a chicken with its head cut off. Its exciting but I am going crazy! So, the reason I am writing today is because I have had a major break through! On a solitary Saturday morning in the art room, I laid out the student work for Monday morning and strolled through each one in silence, in peace and calm… it is what my wonderful art teaching colleague Naomi Feil and I are always harping on about with our kids, creativity needs time, space, and quiet to work. So, I wrote some last minute tips, questions and prompts on post-its that are otherwise quite hard for me to do “in the thick of it”. The idea is when they arrive on Monday morning they can have their art teacher right beside them in the hopefully make and not break last session. I have planned the rest of the week with spaces to do this again for each class with zero interruptions – I may even lock my door!