Category Archives: instruction

Stitchery

I admit to being on the fence about some media techniques we teach in elementary art. Take stitchery for example.

Stitching Techniques by Virginia Wright, art teacher

Is stitchery a medium and art form artists might choose to express their ideas in an artwork? Absolutely! Is stitchery a useful skill? Sure. Is it a skill all children should learn while in school? In this century, maybe knot (oops, a little mispelling there).  Is stitchery a fundamental art skill that must be included in a quality art program? I’m gonna go with no.

I guess this is one of those art vs. craft arguments. I put stitchery in a class with weaving, leatherwork, sewing, basket weaving, carpentry, and pottery (I’m sure there are others). Functional objects are at the core of each of these crafts, yet in every case the skills and materials of the craft can be applied to create meaningful works of art. Where to draw the line is the subject of a long-argued aesthetic debate.

What do you think? I’d like to know.

The amazing, blanket-sized stitchery techniques display shown above was created by one of our passionate stitchery experts in the elementary art program. Thanks, Virginia, for sharing your work with everyone!

Ten Things Better Than a Color Wheel

Let me get right to the punch line. Don’t waste perfectly good instruction time having your students make a color wheel!

https://www.guirys.com/the-color-wheel-company-the-big-wheel-classroom-color-wheel

There’s a reason there’s an uninspiring, frumpy old lady shown in this photo. Color wheels are boring! If you need to hang one in your class for reference, FINE! But there is far too much to learn to ask your students to make one. 

I may be a bit biased from one of my own teaching experiences. I once had a colleague who’s Art 1 students spent nearly the full first quarter painting a perfect color wheel. The result? By Halloween they hated art and wished they never signed up!

Here are 10 ideas better than a color wheel:

  1. Practice gesture drawing with primary paint colors.
  2. Collaboratively sort, arrange, and rearrange hundreds of different color objects or 1 inch squares from color print (magazine) pages by color groupings or relationships. 
  3. Set up a competitive painting challenge in which students complete as many tasks as possible in a given class session. Each task combines color theory and painting skills. For example: create a gradient wash with a vibrant hue. Create a natural texture using dry brush technique and a neutral color. Create a gradient blend of complimentary colors. Etc. 
  4. Play with layering color gels and filters. 
  5. Make artwork by layering colored tissue paper with a wash of glue (creating a transparent effect).
  6. Challenge your students to fill a hundred or more squares on a painting surface, each with a variation of the same hue. (Use this as the ground on which a meaningful artwork is created.)
  7. Collaboratively reproduce a “pixelated” image of a famous artwork or school mascot using food coloring and water in plastic cups arranged in a grid. (Photograph from above.)
  8. Provide precut papers with all of the necessary colors and have table groups race to arrange them into a color wheel as a warm up. 
  9. Have students use color relationships to arrange themselves in different ways according to the clothes they are wearing. 
  10. Have students photograph objects with their phones and arrange the images by color. 

And if none of these suit you fancy, just have them paint! They will learn more about mixing and using color in an authentic context than they will by making a color wheel. 

Got other ideas? I’d love to hear them!

Support for Arts Integration 

“As the only school system with its own arts integration office” Prince George’s County Public Schools presented their progress and successes in bringing arts integration to all of its 208 schools. 


This is work in progress, but student engagement and test scores are improving — and the work is continuing. One reason for its success is the degree of support this effort is receiving. Evidence of the support is here in the room. Elizabeth Stuart, the visual art supervisor, is joined by division leaders including Amy Rosenkrans, Executive Coordinator for Arts Integration, John Ceschini, Arts Integration Officer, and their Chief Executive Officer (superintendent) Dr. Kevin Maxwell. 

You read that right! The superintendent from a large Maryland school district came to NYC to help present this work to art educators. 

Embrace the Shake

So you decide to make an artwork. What materials will you use? How big will it be? What is your chosen subject? What style will you employ?

You haven’t even started, but already you have put a number of restrictions on yourself. Why is this such a natural part of artmaking?

In one of my Big Idea posts, Why Teach with Big Ideas, I mentioned Embrace the Shake, a TED talk by Phil Hansen that addresses the idea of working within limitations. Not all artists have something happen to them  (like severe nerve damage) that forces a particular limitation on their artmaking, but whether they know it or not, artists apply limitations to their ways of working all the time.

As educators we should embrace the shake for one very big reason: Working within limitations is the nature of problem solving. I mean, come on… describe a math problem you have ever seen that doesn’t provide parameters?

Consider how you could develop a learning sequence to help students understand that/how artists create restrictions for their artmaking and eventually prepare students for designing their own restrictions.

Realistic vs. Authentic

My school division is all abuzz about Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Performance-Based Assessment (PBA). In comparison with the No-Child-Left-Behind-years obsession with standardized testing, it is refreshing to see more emphasis on these approaches, but I believe we have a scalability problem. The problem is with authenticity.

PBL by Jeff Lonnett, art teacher and PBL specialist
PBL by Jeff Lonnett, art teacher and PBL specialist

PBL and PBA are both at their best when the work that student’s do is authentic. In a learning context, “authentic” is defined as “real-life” or “real-world.”

Take, as an example, a school that is about to begin a renovation. Students at this school could be asked to redesign the school library and the architects and designers could use the student projects to really-actually decide how to renovate the space.

That’s real world! But how often can you do this? My school system has more than 185,000 students. If we were to insist that PBL and PBA be truly authentic, like the example above, we would mathematically reduce the frequency of these real-world experiences to… well, to the frequency with which they are already happening.  (Although we might solve all the worlds problems… with kids’ solutions.)

If we want PBL and PBA to happen more often in our schools, we can’t have every student solving truly authentic problems all the time! Fortunately, we at least have some words from Christopher Gareis to take the pressure off:

Things we have students do are not [always] truly authentic, but we can design learning activities and assessments to be realistic.

In other words, we can design authentic-like experiences for our students. We can create scenarios of potential real world challenges, and through this approach be able to expose students to engaging problem solving experiences.

Make it realistic, and when you can, make it authentic.