Four years ago, I was part of a conversation advocating for a 8th grade art class that earned high school credit. I was approved to be part of a small group of schools that pioneered the concept in our county. I was lucky to have a supportive administration that worked with me to create the class. Now that we are nearing the end of the 2015-16 school year, I wanted to take a minute to reflect upon the experience.
8th grade Visual Arts Comprehensive (HS Comp) for high school credit is a class in middle school taught with high school standards in a fast paced, high expectation, advanced level setting.
Students are asked to apply for HS Comp at the end of their 7th grade year. They have to be motivated, hard working, and show a love of the subject. Students have to agree to keep a sketchbook in, and outside of, class. They also agree to create and update a digital portfolio and to complete two county mandated assessments.
I have been teaching HS Comp for 3 years now. I see 6th and 7th grade students light up when they find out that HS credit is offered for an art class in 8th grade. I see students who have designated art as their 'thing' feel rewarded when they are part of something like HS Comp. I have seen students create things that I did not know was possible for this age group.
Students who take HS Comp in 8th grade create the opportunity to jump into studio classes upon entry to high school. We noticed that freshmen were being bounced from HS comp to make room for seniors needing a fine arts credit. Taking the class in middle school helped with this issue.
Students who are ready for higher level art classes have their needs met. They are able to work in a faster paced class with more freedom to experiment with art media and tools.
Students inspire each other to try new things and reach higher levels of creativity and success.
You grow as a teacher due to the growth of your students.
Students are given the opportunity to create a digital online portfolio.
Students "get ahead of the game" and are able to take AP Art in high school.
I have had AMAZING work for art shows and contests.
I love it (that counts as a positive... Right?)
Some teachers in the county had a mix of HS Comp kids and on-level 8th grade students in the same class. In this case, teachers were essentially teaching two classes in one period. I am aware that HS teachers do this on a daily basis, but it is a difficult change to make (I have whole classes of HS Comp, so this did not apply to me. This year I teach 2 classes of HS Comp and it is wonderful).
Higher level art students help raise the level of inspiration in the class. On-level students very often raise their own goals for their work when they see what other students are doing around them. I have high goals for ALL students, but sometimes students need to see the higher level work of the students around them to grow individually.
It is a little difficult for some to become accustomed to teaching four grade levels (6th, 7th, 8th, and HS Comp) when you are used to teaching three.
Things I had to change/think about:
I have always used sketchbook/journals in the art classroom. One of the differences between the on-level and the HS Comp 8th grade class is the sketchbook assignments given for homework. In the beginning, I was too lenient with due dates and it created a grading nightmare for myself. After the first year, I figured that I had to stick to my due dates regarding sketchbook deliverables.
I had to learn that not every kid that wanted to be in HS Comp was a fit for HS Comp. I love the passion of the students I teach, but by putting kids in HS Comp who are not ready, I set some of my students up for failure.
On the flip side, I had to learn to not get my feelings hurt when students who were ready for HS Comp decided they did not want to take it.
I had to extend my hours for my HS Comp students. I am here every morning, I am here during a few lunch periods each week. I let kids take work home over the weekend. I extend due dates for projects if needed. I talk with kids after school on Edmodo. I email students who need extra help. I let kids know I would stay after school if they needed me. I have a little group of 8th graders who have made my classroom their second home.
I have to dedicate time throughout the year to take kids to the computer lab so that they have the opportunity to type up and post any assessments to their portfolio and to update their digital portfolios with their assignments and sketchbooks.
8th Grade HS VA Comp Work
The comfort zone can be the sweet spot for many educators.
It is the place where they are confident and masterful in the media, techniques, technologies. Sometimes the comfort zone helps teachers to be their best. It allows them to raise their students' excitement levels and speak unwaveringly with knowledge about the lesson.
As glorious as the comfort zone can be, it can also can create a hindrance in personal growth for some teachers. Yes, the safe zone feels SAFE, but the bright shiny lights of excitement for a new project start dulling as time goes on and the project is taught...and retaught...and retaught. The comfort zone can become a rubber band that bends and stretches but keeps the teacher from breaking free to try new things, teaching styles, or technologies.
At the end of last year, I came to the realization that I had entered into the comfort zone. I had passed the sweet spot and needed a change of pace. So how did I break my own self inflicted band?
I have had a running joke with my department that technology hates me. I feel dumb when I use my smart board. I delete things off the staff drive by accident. My computer refuses to connect to the server. I'm pretty sure that I am the person that can break the Internet.
This year, using Osmo in the classroom helped me to break the band. I also have a new classroom iPad that we use daily for research, art drawing apps, or with the Osmo.
I have extended my PLN, gained knowledge from other subjects, and shared the happenings of my art room with Twitter. I won my classroom iPad by being open to using Twitter at a fine arts meeting. (You can follow me on Twitter @wallerart)
I have made online tutorials and a blog. I EMBEDDED CODE. Come on, people...if that's not a band breaker, I don't know what is.
I changed my projects up this year. Yes, I still use a ton of my old projects, but rewriting my lessons in a new way to bring life back into them.
I created new projects! My students worked BIG (3'x5') and small (#minimarch). We used recycled media in a new way. I gave more time to students for the power of play and experimentation with new media and tools. We now have floor work space in the art room, a collaborative doodle board, and a artist block post-it center.
It’s okay to break the band, try new things, make mistakes, and fail or flourish. Sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. Growth as an educator will not happen if the band is not eventually broken. Teachers should be changing, growing, and developing the person that they are in order to change, grow, and develop their students.
Examples of student work using Osmo's Masterpiece App:
Earlier this year my amazing media specialist asked me if I was interested in an Osmo . They were having a buy-one-get-one (for a classroom teacher) event and she was planning on buying one for the media center. After finding out what an Osmo was... I was hooked.
So... What is the Osmo?
The Osmo unit is a white base piece that houses an iPad. There is a mirror encased in red plastic that slides onto the top of your iPads camera. The mirror redirects the camera downward and records your hand as it interacts with the different apps available. We use the Masterpiece app and the Tangram app in the art room.
My students love the Osmo Masterpiece app. It is easy AND fun to use. They can pick from the pictures preloaded on the app or they can search the web with the app to find something to draw. The app records the students work as the draw and creates a speed clip of the student working as well as a picture of the finished work.
I have been using the Osmo to record myself and my students working on their projects to see if we could create speed films without looking up pictures... AND IT IS SO COOL.
I started posting to Twitter (@WallerArt) to share the videos my students made and @playosmo started retweeting what I was sharing. My kids love to see their work and my work being shared in the Twitterverse.
I had parents e-mailing me before the holidays asking me what an Osmo was and where they could get one because their kids wanted one for Christmas.
Osmo has sent packages filled with swag on 2 different occasions. The customer service is wonderful and responsive in email and in social media.
What do I use the Osmo for?
Student who traditionally don't appreciate art class (the few and far between) have been coming in to the art room in the morning before school and at lunch to ask to use the Osmo.
I use the Osmo as a motivational extension activity.
Students can work individually or paired up.
It is a great tech tool to use in the art room.
Students struggling with portraiture learn to see proportions in a different way.
Students learn to draw while looking at an object and not their hand.
Helps with focus.
Add on activities for students who finish early.
Creating AMAZING speed art videos.
So... whats the downside to Osmo?
You have to have an iPad.
The iPad has to be out of its case to be used with the Osmo system (BIG problem in some classes).
Kids can get really dependent on it and not want to draw from life or from their own imagination.
I only have 1 Osmo so the kids fight over it.
I loved the Osmo so much that I even bought one for my own kids. Also- I used the Osmo to make my first tutorial! Click on the button and watch me awkwardly explain my favorite Osmo app.
Examples of teacher work from Osmo's Masterpiece app:
The concept of play isn't new in the classroom- but in the 'test everything that resembles learning' era it is harder to validate time for play.
We need to make sure (in our struggle to think out of a box and shove art into a testing bubble) that we make time for the importance of PLAY.
Art lends itself to play with the different materials, media, and technologies we have available to us. We connect! We reconstruct! We blow thoughts up, rearrange them, and come up with brilliant ideas and works of art.
Kids learn better (and knowledge sticks with them longer) when we make sure the power of play is added into our units and projects.
Free days to experiment with new media, catapults, art with food, pop-up art shows, spur of the moment competitions, chalk days, and aesthetic walks are ways to incorporate the power of play into learning opportunities in the art room.
We talk about the power of play being important to students... but did you ever stop to think that it is important to YOU? Tell stories, engage with the students, try new things. Our teaching styles get stale without enjoyment.
I've been known to rock a banana costume, sing loudly, and dance around the classroom.
How do you play?
One of my favorite projects to do with the kids is the Animal Spirit project.
Kids research the animal of their choice and we talk about flora, fauna, and habitat. It is a great way to make connections to other academic subjects! Taking the project a step further I approached my HS credit 8th grade class with the idea of creating a coloring book for the community. We talked about making it a digital download to minimize our cost and maximize our sharing power.
As kids finished drawing their animal spirits and got themselves ready to move on to the next step (watercolor pencils) I took pictures of their work. These pictures have allowed my students to give back to the community. We have sent the link to children's hospitals, assisted living facilities, and local schools.
The feedback has been wonderful. I am so excited that other teachers plan to use the coloring book in their classrooms and plan to create coloring books with their own students!
1. What has been your one biggest struggle during this school year?
The biggest struggle this year has been finding time to participate is all the great art events in our district! Cobb wellness contests, Diversity show, Art from the Heart, Love Your Health contest, Bus Safety contest, Middle School Masters show, Junkyard Wars, Kiwanis showcase...
2. Share two accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.
Working large! One of our STEM classrooms had a delivery of tables at the beginning of the year and I confiscated the boxes they came in. At first the boxes were used as individual traveling galleries placed around the school. They ended up being used as the base of a recycled material mixed media portrait.
Use of technology! I used QR codes for our schools art show this year and I designed this nifty site. I have also discovered the Osmo (which has the AMAZING Masterpiece app).
3. What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
I want my 8th Grade classes to have a pop up art show within the next few weeks and invite their academic teachers.
We need to finish our collaborative coloring book in 8th grade and send it to local schools and hospitals.
I need to organize a contest for this years 7th graders to design the 8th grade shirt for next year.
4. Give four reasons why you remain in education in today's rough culture:
I continuously learn about myself and the world each day.
I have a belief that children can change the world and I want to be part of that.
I love working with quirky kids.
Art is so important to me that I want to seed it in the hearts of others and help it take root.
5. Which five people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these five questions.
I was challenged by Jenell Novello. I want to challenge: