Be Brave Enough to Suck at Something New

 Well, it's been literally YEARS since I've posted on this blog.  A lot has happened, while nothing has happened.  

The district I work in uprooted and redistricted students and staff -- it was hard, it was uncomfortable, and also beautiful and helpful.  I went to a building where I knew NO ONE -- I sat in the parking lot pulling a Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off (if you know you know).  Turns out I had found a home I didn't know I was missing.  I found a group of educators that I gel with, that really do believe in being a village and team.  There are so many DOMINATE personalities on this staff that it should create drama and fights -- but somehow everyone kind of respects the power.  

Covid hit.  We went home for spring break and didn't return.  

The following year we started remote and proceeded to have 5 full schedule changes through the year as covid variants showed up and CDC guidelines changed.

The year after that it should have been easier.  Things were "normal" with masks being mandatory.  Somehow that year was the HARDEST year I've ever had teaching.  Don't know if the toll of the prior year was still hanging on -- or if it was the collective burnout from society.... but it was an awful year. 


This year.  This year feels different.  Most people aren't in masks, though I am, and Covid still requires 5 days at home -- but isn't causing ICU panic and terror.  

This year one of my schools popped a fifth section of kindergarten (normally we have 3) and art got kicked out of their room.  We are in a flexible learning space, which is WAAAAYY better than a cart, but way suckier than being in a room with a door and walls. 

I cried.

I was mad.

I asked a friend if their school needed an art teacher.  I was done. 

My second building assignment has changed almost every year for 5 years.  We beg every year to not move because the relationships we build are important and are hard to it build EVERY year.  Then we sit at beginning of the years kick off where all they talk about is connection and relationships.

I teach 7 classes a day without time between over 7 grade levels.  It's grueling. 

I love it. 

I love the kids. 

I love the mess.

I love the noise.

Loosing our classroom space was the final straw.  It was time to move on. 


Then an old coworker from the middle school called me and asked if I might want to teach middle school.  

One room.

5 classes over 3 grade levels.

No traveling.

No sharing. 

Yes.  Yes I'll come to middle school.

So here I am.  A few years later where everything is different, but nothing is different.  My room still has the same carpet, the room is still full of noise and mess. The kids are older, but kinders are still kinders and fifth graders are still fifth graders.  

With lots of mixed emotion I'm closing the chapter on elementary school and jumping into middle school.  I can't wait to have a room I don't have to share.  Kids that I see EVERY day instead of once a week.  I'm excited to see how middle school is the same and different from elementary.  I'm excited for the spunk and sass and silliness of middle school kids.  I'm excited for all of it. 

Marigolds, Sunshine, Kittens, Rainbows

First off, I want to make something super clear -- I believe that keeping a positive outlook in a tough situation is needed.  It helps to keep you from feeling overwhelmed, keeps you task oriented, keeps you moving.

Now, in saying that - I'd also like to talk about the danger of always being Mrs./Mr. Sunshine and Rainbows.  Sometimes things suck. Sometimes things are terrible.  Sometimes things are sad. Sometimes things are hard.  It's okay to be overwhelmed, it's okay to be mad, sad, upset, annoyed, and frustrated.  It's how we keep ourselves safe, its how we learn to managed those feelings and emotions.

I've read an uptick in positivity articles these last few weeks.  Maybe they have always been there, maybe they always surface before a school year starts and I've just never noticed.  My district went through some shrinking pains last year, redistricting, shuffled teachers.  People are nervous and overwhelmed, so it may be due to that, that I've been more sensitive to these types of articles.  

Every article I've read has touted be positive, be a marigold, ride the energy bus, be sunshine and rainbows, be kittens, always smile, never yell......... in basic principle, I get it - and mostly agree (see above) but it also sends up red flags for me.  Being positive all the time doesn't solve problems, it ignores them.  

Feeling angry, upset, disgruntled, about a situation is not bad.  It's what you do with those feelings.  If all you do is sow more anger and frustration -- you aren't helping the situation or yourself.  However, if all you do is pretend that everything is hunky-dory -- you also aren't helping the situation or yourself.  (This is how people stay in unhealthy relationships - work and personal) 

Taking the angry, upset, disgruntled feelings and unpacking them is probably the most productive.  Are those feelings due to a long build up of local politics? -- Choose to be involved for change or let it go.  Are those feelings due to colleagues? -- Maybe less time in the staff lounge, switch committees.  Are those feelings due to managers/admin? -- Maybe talking to them -- or perhaps a new job -- or maybe acceptance of it and move on.  Is it the actual work? -- maybe it's time for a new job.

I wish some of the MANY articles I've read would talk about this.  It's impossible to be happy and positive all the time -- besides, it's not healthy or productive.  Again, I get the concept in general and as I said in the beginning, a positive outlook will often get you further in a tough situation -- but it's not going to solve your situation.  Pretending things are okay when they aren't, looking for the good when things are bad can be dangerous -- it's how people convince themselves to stay in unhealthy relationships.  Recognizing your feelings and understanding what is causing them and choosing what to do next is far healthier and productive.  

I wish the articles would acknowledge that it's okay to have things suck from time to time and to feel all those feelings and then decide what do to about it -- not just mask it with positivity.  


Opportunity - Gorgeously Messy

Today I had the privilege to attend an Arts PD at our local University.  This PD wasn't for just visual arts - but for music, dance and theatre.  The original brochure seemed vague - the day was to be dedicated about teaching for student expression. No keynote, no session to pick between - I wasn't really sure what we were getting into. All I knew was that the district was paying for us to go and I would get to spend the day talking about what I actually do instead of talking about reading/math or some other initiative that I would need to modify/alter into my room.  So, I figured, even if it wasn't a great conference, it would be WAY better than the alternative.

Well, as it turned out - it was fabulous.  The seemingly vague brochure was right on target- we spent the day around the theme of 'expression' and there weren't keynotes or labeled sessions because it was very organic.  There was light direction, but that was it - the attendees were allowed to move through the day and be inspired where they were at.

We watched and experienced a bunch of university students in their craft.  We talked with them in an honest dialogue about how they got to where they are - what inspired them.  Where or who made them decide to major in the arts.

We talked in breakout session with our colleagues about key words and phrases about what we teach, why we teach.  We came back together and shared those lists.

We ate a FABULOUS lunch which included some of the best chocolate cake, well besides my mom's.

In the afternoon we watched a professional dance group that is doing a residency at the university.  They have a very unique company which provides a lot of improv from the dancers as well as the audience and composer.  It was beautiful, and surprisingly moving.  I found myself lost in the movement along with the composition - tears stinging in my eyes.

In one of our table talks, when we were wrapping up our day - our discussion leader looked at me and asked, "So, when do you have time to make your own art?"  I am sure this was meant to lead into the fact that many art teachers don't have time or the energy to keep up with their own work.... but I was never an artist first.  Many arts teachers started out as a musician or visual artist first - then decided to teach.  I'm one of the few that didn't fall into art education that way.  I went through school feel stupid.  I didn't mind school - but it sucked for me.  I was good at art, enjoyed art.  I loved doing crafts at home - making bracelets, painting, pearler beads..... but that was never viewed as 'important' or 'smart'.  It was seen as cute and crafty.  It wasn't till college that I had my moment where I went "huh - this is how normal people feel in class".  I was sitting in my weaving class and one of the only students who 'understood' the warping board and how to dress a loom without notes.  It was in the moment where I went "no one expressed to me that art could be a job - that I was smart and good at something I could make a living at".  So, I went into art education wanting to be the person I never had. 

I think though - when looking back on the day, the most powerful part was realizing that we spent the ENTIRE day talking about teaching and students and the word 'rubric' 'lesson plan' 'student growth' 'data' weren't really mentioned or key noted in any discussion.  When we discussed what we teach- no one mentioned a lesson, or color theory, or perspective -- it was all about opportunity, mistakes, failing, asking for help, trying again, trusting, and exploring.  The arts teach their own skills and foundations based on their craft, but what everyone is really teaching is expression and how to start, fail, try again -- how to preserver.  The arts are beautifully, gorgeously messy.


4th Grade: Silhouettes and Oil Pastel

I have no idea what to call this project - but it is really amazing and cool.  I got the majority of this lesson from smART Class, and then tweaked parts.  The high contrast, and visually dynamic product was perfect for my fourth graders.

The first day students and I reviewed what they know about colors - which colors mix to make others, which ones work well together, which ones make brown... etc.  Then we passed out liquid watercolors (honestly, never going back to cake watercolors), and two coffee filters per student.  Students were in charge of folding their coffee filters in half, twice, getting a paint brush and painting them.  This seems easy and perhaps 'boring' but the kiddos LOVED it.  The coffee filters absorb and bleed the colors around and into each other - something paper normally won't do.  It was fascinating.  The first class I introduced this to, I also planned to have them cut out their black paper - but only two kids got that far, so for rest of the classes we just enjoyed the painting.

Pumpkin patch and skeletons coming out of graves!
The second day I introduced what we were going to do with these filters.  (I purposefully did not tell them when they were painting, because I didn't want them to over plan).  I stressed to them that they did not have to do Fall or Halloween - but anything: a normal day, Christmas, Easter, a pretend place.  Our goal, rather, was to use shapes and size to help communicate to our audience what was happening not to do just Halloween.

Knee-high by the Fourth of July
Next, students used a tracer to trace and cut out a hole on their paper.  Next, students unfolded their dry coffee filters and picked which one to use for their project.  (I had students make two so that if they hated one they had another choice, and if they made a mistake on their coffee filter that we couldn't solve they had a back up).  They taped their coffee filters on the back of their paper, flipped it over and went to work drawing with a Sharpie in silhouette style. Some students really struggled with the idea of silhouette and others nailed it.  I think, in the future, I will try and introduce silhouette more purposefully and see if that helps.

The simple added detail of a house number.
The third week we busted out the oil pastels and grew our picture out into the black.  I encouraged students to take what they had already draw and continue that into the black space.  We did part of one on the board together - they brainstormed a bunch of ideas for me and then I did a 'think aloud' where I said everything I was thinking, including mistakes and changing my mind about things.  I reminded and encouraged students to use their knowledge about perspective - things far away appear smaller and things closer appear larger.  I also showed them how wonderfully oil pastels layer and blend.  I encouraged them to use more than one color for each part of their picture - if you have pumpkins, do more than just one color of orange.  I would show them and they would all 'ooooh'  'ahhh - that looks so real'.  I then, turned them loose.  Many remembered about perspective and applied it, some still are struggling with the idea that sidewalks should appear larger at one end.

On the fourth and final day students finished up and we did a whole class review/critique.  I post all finished work on the board.  I then set a timer for 10-15 minutes, depending on how much work is complete.  I explain to the class that if they need all class to finish they can use all class - however in 15 minutes I will clean up everyone who is done and we will do a class review.  They may join us as soon as they are complete.  So, after fifteen minutes I ask everyone who is done to clean up, anyone who is not done should ignore clean up and continue to work.  I pull everyone to the carpet and I lead them through a series of open ended questions.  Sometimes I ask them to point, sometimes to raise their hand, sometimes to pair share, sometimes share to the whole class.  My goal is to get them to look more critically at their own work and be inspired by each other.  Some questions I tend to ask:
"Find yours on the board.  When you have found it, please point at it so I know you found it."
And the field goal is good!
"Put your hands down and look at your own work.  Find something you feel you did a good job on.  When you have something, raise your hand. (wait for all hands).  Please share quietly with someone next to you".
"Look at the projects and find one, that isn't yours, that captures your attention.  For some reason out of all of them you keep coming back to this particular one.  Raise your hand when you have one. (wait for hands).  Now look at it more closely, maybe compare it to others around it - what about it captures your attention?  Notice I didn't ask which one you liked - I asked which one captured your attention and why.  When you share please use your artist words to describe what captured your attention for example: Ava's really captured my attention because the texture of her grass makes it look like its blowing in the wind.  NOT: I like Ava's because it is pretty.  Share with your neighbor about which one captures your attention and why."
Snow angles and the Aurora Borealis.
"Anyone want to share out to the class about which one captures their attention and why?" -- As kids do this I do not agree or disagree with their picks - simply  "okay" and call on another.  This review is not about what I think.
"Point at one that you feel used color really effectively -- find another"
"Point at one that you feel is very unique."
"Point at one that you feel has strong craftsmanship"
"Find yours again.  Look for something that you would change or add.  Maybe you were inspired by another student's idea or use of material.  Tell your neighbor.  Does anyone want to share out what they would change?"

Those shadows and highlights!

::Happy Sigh::

My last post was about how burned out I felt and how I was terrified that I wouldn't love my job anymore.

Well, we are seven-ish weeks into the school year and it's amazing!  I really do love my job.  I am a little weary that we are still in the beginning of things, but so far so good.  I have really ENJOYED my students so far this year.  Whenever I get stressed out, I try and remember to put it aside and be present at the moment with my kids.  Am I perfect about it - heck no, but things are WAY better.  My students seem happier too - they seem more willing to run with ideas and go for things - which could totally not be true.

I have a lot of posts and projects to update about - lots of neat ideas I have gathered and then introduced to my kiddos.  I will try and get some posted today, but first I have some bulletin boards I need to finish.

For more timely updates and pictures of what is going on in my classroom - follow Organized Chaos on Facebook



Okay. Let's be honest for a moment - the last handful of years have been tough for me in the teaching world. There have been lots of changes, and shifts in my professional realm that haven't all been easy to understand, accept, or adapt to.   During these changes, I tried to give the benefit of the doubt, I tried to be positive, I tried to express my thoughts and ideas.... But I kept feeling mad, disappointed, and the worst - frustrated. I felt like everything was a fight. I felt like giving up. 

I felt so burned out. 

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out
why I was so emotionally exhausted and fried.  Did I feel frustrated and burned out because of all the changes and shifts, or because every year my job has to survive the chopping block in April when the budget has to be balanced, or from constantly having to defend and advocate for the arts, or perhaps the "honeymoon" period was finally over after 8 years.  My conclusion - all of it. All of it was a contribution to my burnout. 

So, when the school year ended last spring and I packed up my classrooms, I decided to take the summer off - like off, off. No planning lessons in July, no planning the years units in August, no workshops, no school related books, no school email, no blog posts, no going in early (which I did break for a day). I decided to take a real break from it all to try and adjust my attitude - to let the burn out wash away.

Did it work?  I don't know. 

Teachers report back next week. I am anxious, as always, but also afraid that my burnout hasn't gone away. To be honest, I am terrified that I won't love my job like I use to. I use to be so sure that my vocation, or calling, was teaching art. I am afraid that I may have fallen into that young professional teaching statistic of burnout.  I hold onto the hope that I am just in a rut - that, like everything in life, there is a fluidity to it and if I hold on long enough, it will circle back.

My plan this year is to let go of everything I don't have control over, which I know is way easier said then done. I lost a lot of energy and a lot of momentum the last couple of years fighting and stressing over things I had absolutely no control over and I can't do it again.  It's not good for me, it's not good for my students and it's not good for my program. So, a new year, a new plan - it's all about my kids in my classroom, it's all about making art and thinking like artists - it's about celebrating mistakes and learning to preservere, it's about providing kids with a different way to think and succeed. I can't control if the district decides to tank the arts, or a slew of other things - so let's live in the moment we have and not worry about the future. I have this year to make a difference in the lives of my students - one day, one art class at a time. A friend of mine, who has provided lots of inspiration over the years, has coined the #everydaymatters and I think I will follow him in this journey. I need to reconnect, refocus, and be present with my kids this year, because everyday does matter. 

So, here is to a new school year. A new vision, a new attitude, and hopefully a renewing year. 

(I typed this post on my phone - please forgive any mistakes.)


Upper Elementary Guided Sketchbooks

So, earlier this year I mentioned that I was going to do guided sketchbooks with my upper elementary students (3-5).  So far I LOVE it!  The goal of the sketchbooks was to review skills, introduce skills, and even have some fun.  I wanted the sketchbooks to be an activity we did to warm up the creative sides of their brains - much like warming up your voice in music, warming up your body in dance or P.E.  I am not sure if it actually warms up the creative side of their brain - but I have noticed it totally focuses the kids.

For the first 4 minutes of every art class the students sit at their seats with low lighting, a sketchbook page and no talking.  I decided to have this silent to help their brain switch over, but also to help them focus on doing one task for only a few moments.

When the time is up students attached their newest page to their sketchbook and prepare for instructions.

While some kids love it and some tolerate it - I have found that these simple four minutes do A LOT for the kids and for me that I never intended.  For many students that four minutes helps to reset their day/mood.  On more than one occasion I have had a student come in hot-to-trot or in tears - whether from a rough day or moment -- those four minutes in low light without talking and doing something creative will often calm them down.  It also seems to focus the class as a whole when it is time to work on the current project - they are still themselves, but not quite as revved.

These small four minutes at the beginning of class also provides me with some time to breathe.  My classes are back to back - no 5 minutes between classes here, so when one class leaves, another is at my door.  While I do my best to prep for the day - sometimes it just doesn't get done, or it can't sit out all day.... blah blah blah.  So these few minutes provide me with a second to finish prepping paint, switch out the board with class objectives, or simply take a deep breath.

The sketchbooks have also been great on limiting the amount of free draw paper my students consume!  They may freedraw on the backs of the sketchbook pages, or work on old pages.

OH! Also, having this 4 minutes at the beginning of class is great for kids who NEVER finish their projects.  Instead of having them do a sketchbook page, they work on their project for those 4 minutes without talking! It is amazing how much they accomplish.

So, how does this all work?  Well I started gathering ideas on Pinterest this summer.  Then the tough part - how I am going to have time to do all of this?!?! I went back and forth on a few ideas that ranged from pre-done books to index cards -- nothing was going to be fast and cheep.  Then from somewhere in the universe the idea came to me.  Use normal paper and cut it in half!  I wanted to make sure the students had enough room to draw on the same side as the instructions so I cut each paper in half the long way.  In word I turned my paper landscape, copy and pasted images from my sketchbook idea page, turned them sideways, and put two on each page.  This way I could easily print them from either school.  I print what I need for the week, use the automatic 3 hole paper puncher in the lounge (that way the holes always line up), cut in half -DONE.  I did have to spend a few dollars at each school buying enough one inch binder rings to hold the whole thing together -- but it seems to work fine.

"You're a fun activity once a week"

Did the title of this post make you cringe?  It certainly took me off guard when a co-worker said this to me.

I was in her office talking about something - venting most likely about something ridiculous that was happening, but I can't remember what exactly.  All I remember was talking to her and saying something about how what I do is important too and she agreed by saying "you're a fun activity once a week".


I am certain she meant it as a compliment.  I am certain she has no idea how much it felt like a sucker punch.

I NEVER know how to respond to comments like these, especially when I don't see them coming, especially when they come from people who I thought understood what I really do.  I just don't know how to respond.

Over the next few days this comment rolled around in my brain from time to time.  What really bothered me about this comment?  Did it bother me because it was partly true? Did it bother me because I feel I am so much more than a "fun activity"?  And the answer is yes, yes to both.

Art is once a week and it is fun - so yes, art is a fun activity once a week.  Maybe this isn't such a bad thing after all.  I mean, when you think about things that are 'fun' what do they have in common generally -- laughter, good feelings, people, communication, engagement, the confidence to try something new and more.  I am happy to say that often the art room is all these things.

I think the part about the comment that bothered me was that while art IS fun, its not the purpose of art.  The purpose isn't to be fun, fun is a byproduct of doing something creative.  Being creative is naturally fun - it's engaging, it's interesting, it often provides natural problem solving and critical thinking, and even natural communication points.  I never plan a lesson to be 'fun' - it just happens when lessons are full of engagement and opportunities to make creative choices.

So, yes, while art is a fun activity once a week - that is not the purpose of art.  The purpose is to provide young minds with another way to think, a space to take risks and not even know it, to grow problem solving and critical thinking skills, and to become more themselves. 

In the meantime, I will try and come up with a variety of retorts to comments such as these that will help to educate those who think art is just 'fun' while honoring and owning the positives in such comments.


2nd Grade: Wild Things

For years I have been doing a project based on "Where the Wild Things Are".  We talk about texture - real and applied.  Some years I have the kids use chalk, other times colored pencils and while I always repeated the project, I was never really happy with it.  I always felt that it was more flat than I wanted.

Well, problem solved.  I am not sure how or when the idea came to me, but BAM there it was.  The students would make their "wild things" on  aluminum and create their habitat on a background paper with bright colors and ideas!

So here we go - first off we watched this fabulous and slightly corny video I found through Pinterest  -- careful it's catchy and will get stuck in your head for the ENTIRE day:

Next, we read "Where the Wild Things Are", the beloved classic.  After we read the book we went back and took a long hard look at the Wild Things.  We discussed their implied textures and how it looked like it felt a certain way.  There is always ONE kid in every class that shares how each wild thing is made up of different animals which is a great segway into the project.
"It's a cat and a fish - get it? It's a catfish" - Aiden

As I send students back to their seats I ask them to think of an animal and raise their hand.  Next, students help me build an original wild thing using four or more animals.  The kids tend to get real excited and a bit rowdy at this point - who can blame them when there is a tiger, turtle, wolf, snail, dragon on the board!?!?

Next, the kids draw their own wild things using their own idea on a piece of paper.  They need to make sure to draw their implied textures!  When they are done I tape their papers onto a piece of aluminum, hand them a magazine and tell them to trace their wild thing really hard on top of the magazine.  I don't tell them why, I want them to discover it themselves.  Sure enough, about two seconds into tracing they figure it out - one by one and its a beautiful sight.  The students realize that as they are tracing their pictures, it is transferring to the metal and you can ACTUALLY feel it - their implied texture is now actual texture. 

After their wild things are traced I show them how to tool their metal by pushing parts with either their pencil or a capped marker.  We discuss how you have to visualize what you want and then think it through - for example: "If I want my tiger stripes to pop out on the front I need to push them in from the back" or "If I want my scales to sink into my animal, I need to push them in from the front".  There is some serious visualized and planning during this step.  You can almost see the gears in their brain moving as they increase their spacial thinking.

After they are tooled to the students liking they color accordingly with permanent markers, which is a treat within itself.  Then, once they are colored, students cut them out - CAREFULLY.  I told them to cut off extra if it got in their way and to be careful because the metal can be sharp.

LASTLY, students created an original habitat for their wild thing to live.  Their habitat could be based on a real place: forest, jungle, volcano - or could be made up: candy land, new planet, an island made of cookies.  The goal for their habitat was to use their drawing and coloring skills to communicate to the audience what/where the habitat was.  So, if they did make candy land, then they would need to figure out what kind of shapes and colors they would use to communicate that to a viewer.

After they drew their habitats with a black oil pastel, they colored it in with chalk pastel.  I ask the students to channel "Goldilocks" from the three bears when they color.  This comment gets a variety of gut reactions from the kids that range from giggles to pure confusion.  Quickly I ask them about the porridge - too hot, too cold and just right.  The beds - too hard, too soft, just right.  I explain that they need to color not too hard, not too light, but just right.  Then they understand.

In their final class students blend their habitats starting at the lightest color to the darkest.  Students bring me their habitat and wild things and show me where to hot glue their wild thing.

I absolutely LOVE this project.  Students get to be as original as possible while also learning some great technique and skills.  For most of my classes this whole thing from start to end took about three 50 minute sessions. (Day one: intro and transferring wild thing to metal.  Day two: start habitat. Day three: finish habitat, finish wild thing)

Forgive the pictures - the pictures no where near capture the awesomeness of this project - metal is really hard to photograph!


BLVisuals @ Stadium Elementary

A few days after BLVisual's visit to my fourth graders - they sent me this video.  It really captures the excitement, awe, and pure awesome from the day.

When talking with my classes this last week many of them said, "If I had to score 1-10, I would say 100!"


4th Grade Visiting Artist: BLVisuals

I can not come close to expressing in words the amount of joy, wonder, and excitement that filled my room yesterday afternoon.  BLVisuals let each student pick their own colors for a bandana - swirl them as desired and help dip, rinse and dry.

While students were waiting for their turn at dipping or simply trying to be patient while their creation dried - the group at BLVisuals brought along some fancy glasses that order colors in your depth of field.  Hot colors in the front (closer to you) and cold colors in the back (further from you) giving anything with hot and cold colors an element of 3-D!  It was amazing! Students loved looking at posters and their bandanas with the glasses.

Students were also excited and encouraged to take their tapestry/bandanas and hold them in front of color changing lights - which in turn, magically, changed the colors on their bandanas! 

Every year each of the arts teachers in my building are in charge of bringing in an artist from our field.  Our AMAZING PTO sponsors these visiting artists and their workshops for our kids.

Pretty sure my students would describe the visit as "Best Day Ever".

BLVisuals dips most anything fabric and frequently travels to festivals and dips patron's arms.  Their paint is a unique blend of acrylic paints - their beautiful creations on skin last about the length of a temporary tattoo while being permanent on fabric.

It was a truly awesome day.


Second Full Week

Today ends the second full week of school.  To be honest, it is finally starting to feel awesome to be back in the groove.  This was the first year that I didn't feel ready to come back, I was mourning the loss of summer.  I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that last year was a pretty rough year.  There were a lot of changes in my school that I was struggling with embracing or even simply accepting.  This year is a bit better, mostly because I am making a conscience effort to have a better attitude - to accept the things I can not change, and to embrace and love the things I can.  There are better days than others, but it totally helps that I have some totally rockin' colleagues that are helping me to keep me accountable.

On top of having an overall better attitude, I am rediscovering my love of teaching.  I am remembering how much fun it is to teach art.  Last year I felt annoyed quite a bit by my students choices and behaviors and while some of it was warranted - it was mostly me just being grouchy.  So this year - a clean slate for all, including myself.

I have set my standards high for myself and my students.  I remind students quietly and gently (unless there is safety involved).  I am hoping that if we can start out the year with love, trust, compassion, a sense of humor, and consistent expectations/consequences that the students and I can have an even more productive and highly engaging year.  So far so good, though it still is the end of the second full week!

I started off the year by asking students to show me about their summer on a piece of paper.  I did this project last year and LOVED it.  It takes only one day and I get to catch up with kiddos - I can start building those relationships with the kids that need a little extra love to feel comfortable to succeed.  It gives me a chance to practice procedures and protocols without yacking at them for 50 minutes.  I also have a chance to fill bulletin boards with work for curriculum night the first week of school. 

Our first 'real' projects began the next time I saw them.  I am hoping to include some more 'skills' into their work this year without doing too many "draw like this" lessons.  I really love having them be creative and stretch their own ideas - but I also am seeing some holes in their skills that I need to try and boost.

For the upper grades (3-5) I am starting guided sketchbooks this year.  Each day they come I hand them a half sheet with some kind of guided drawing/thinking lesson.  The students then work on them for 5 minutes without talking.  I am hoping these will help boost their drawing skills, their observational skills, their confidence, their patience, and even their problem solving skills - as I answer no questions during the five minutes, nor do I answer "is this right?".  Before we started the sketchbooks I explained to the classes that it is about warming up the creative side of their brain.  In PE, dance, or music they do warm ups to prepare their bodies/voices - in art we have to wake up the creative side of their brains.

So far I have classes that really have embraced the 5 minutes and others really struggle with not asking for help or looking for the 'right' answer.  I ask them to do their best and to work for the WHOLE five minutes.  It has been interesting.  So far it seems that the classes that really embrace the 5 minutes seem to be more focused on their work come work time - instead of it being social hour.  I will try and remember to report back at the end of the year to reflect on how it went over the course of the year.

After the students do their warm up sketchbook page for 5 minutes - they add it to their sketchbook and prepare for that days lesson.  If students finish the day's lesson they go back and finish their sketchbook page(s) before they can do something off the Finished List.

I am doing my best to step up my program in a way that we all work smarter, not harder -- hopefully my new school year resolutions will hold throughout the year!


Thanks Jeremiah

This week I had a small group of students come to art a few minutes early.  I always love moments when I have just a handful of kids, especially the normally quiet kids, because I get a chance to really hear them.  These students had just come from a pull out support group for reading.

One kid, we'll call him Jeremiah, puts his head on the table, looks and me and says, "I don't like school."

There was a pause.  I am never really sure how to respond to this statement.

He then proceeds to say, "I don't like most of school.  I do like art and P.E."

I asked him why he liked those parts of school.

He took a second and said, "I like art because I get to do things like paint and create.  In P.E. we get to run and play games."

I can't remember what I said, or if class came in - this quick conversation not only made my heart break but reminded me of why I do what I do. 

I teach art for kids like Jeremiah.  I teach art for kids that 'learning' is a true struggle.  They have to work 3x as hard to learn the same information as "normal" kids -- everyday, for 7ish hours they struggle -- then 2ish times a week, they get to be "normal" - they don't have to work so hard, they can enjoy learning.

I teach art for the kids that need a place to smart, to overcome their dyslexia, their ADD, their processing delays -- I teach art to gives kids a place to feel like everyone else, while becoming more themselves.

Thanks Jeremiah for refreshing my perspective.


Best Pencil Sharpener EVER

As an art teacher my pencil sharpeners get A LOT of use - and not the sweet gentle kind of use - but rough use - pencils, colored pencils, 800 kids a week kind of use.

I gave in a few years ago and bought one of those 150.oo pencil sharpeners and while it's still kicking just fine - I have discovered this little hand crank pencil sharpener that does a way better job and wastes way less pencil.

I e-mailed the guy at Classroom Friendly Supplies to see if he would send one to me to try and out and write a review of it on this blog.  I warned him that it was going to be put through the paces in my art room and that I planned on using it for months before writing a review.  Most pencil sharpeners can hold out for a month or two in the art room before starting to spit, sputter, over heat and then die all together.

I received my adorable pencil sharpener back in the fall and I had seen other classroom blogs rave about how well it sharpens - they didn't lie.  This little baby does it all and does it like a champ!  I wasn't sure how it would do months later - but honestly, it's still sharpening like day one!

- Compact.
- Sharpens pencils (both colored and normal) to a crazy amazing point.
- Wastes less pencil - no over sharpening here!
- Quiet
- Price
- Order replacement parts

- Doesn't mount securely with the mount it comes with (maybe I'm just weak or my students real strong)
- Takes a little while to teach kids how to use it. (Once they know it's a dream)

That it.  I have found that it sharpens normal pencils perfectly every time.  I had a whole bunch of economy pencils donated to my room - those really terrible cheap ones where the lead isn't centered in the pencil and the erasers make pink streaks on paper instead of erasing.  I ALMOST threw them all away because my 150.oo pencil sharpener couldn't handle the crooked lead - they always sharpened having one wood side really long and no way to write with the lead.  On a whim I tried them in the Classroom Friendly Sharpener - and wha-la, they were sharpened just like any other pencil.

Later in the year we were doing a project with colored pencils and colored pencils are terrible for normal pencil sharpeners.  The colored lead is way softer and almost gummy - it messes with the blades and motor of normal pencil sharpeners.  Most art teachers won't allow colored pencils and normal pencils to be sharpened in the same sharpener.  Kind of like having paper scissors and fabric scissors - same idea.  In my opinion I don't have time to hand out hand sharpeners to kids and then police them to make sure the shavings get in the trash or that they aren't making rosettes out of the sharpened pieces... so I just have the kids use the electric sharpeners, which is hard on the sharpener.  See the circle of issues?!?!

Okay.  So I took my Classroom Friendly Sharpener and I put it to the test.  We sharpened colored pencil after colored pencil.  It sharpened them BEAUTIFULLY.  The only thing I had to be careful of was that the over sharpening protection for normal pencils doesn't work with the colored pencils - the lead must be too thick or too soft.  About 4 full cranks and the colored pencils were sharp.  The only other issue was that the lead of the colored pencils would occasionally break in the sharpener and I'd have to take the blade out and get the lead out.  This extra step took about 30 extra seconds when needed - nothing crazy or hard.  The best part was that after sharpening all those colored pencils, the next class needed normal pencils - and it worked just like it did when I pulled it from the box.

This pencil sharpener in the REAL DEAL.  Kids love using it (even so much that one class I had to take it away because they were purposely breaking their sharp pencils to use the sharpener again and again).

So if you are tired of burned out sharpeners that seem to last a few days past their warranty and then sputter and die - get yourself one of these sharpeners!  It has been used EVERYDAY by hundreds of kids ALL year and it's still going strong.

I am impressed! 

**I also just used it last hour to sharped some chop-sticks to use them like shish-ka-bob sticks for making holes in clay for beads.  It sharpened the wood sticks perfectly and still sharpens normal pencils like I just took it out of the box.  Try that with an electric sharpener!!! **


I'm A Finalist!

It's been a CRAZY week, but I found out that I am a finalist for The Art of Education's "Art Ed Blog" contest. hooray!  The first year I ranked 4th, last year 1st -- this year is yet to be determined.

If you enjoy reading Organized Chaos please go to:

And vote for me!  

Here's the kicker - the contest ends tonight February 7th.  So don't delay!

(If there are other blogs there that you love - you can vote for more than one.)


Last Day To Nominate!

Today - January 31st is the LAST day to nominate your favorite Art Ed Blog(s).  Don't assume your favorites are already nominated! 

All you  need to do to nominate a blog is click on the link below and leave a comment stating which blog you'd like to nominate and why you love it.

Click here:


If You're Not Prepared to be Wrong....

A very eloquent and wise man, Sir Kenneth Robinson, once said, "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original".

Not only do I feel this statement is very much true - but it happened in my classes the other day.  I was working with my 2nd and 3rd graders on their piece of artwork for Young Masters.  I always do projects that are high success, but also highly original - I decided that 2nd and 3rd graders would be doing zentangles this year.  I know all my students can create with lines and shapes, but this would be one of the first times I would not be allowing pencil first - but straight to Sharpie.

To get my students creativity warmed up for this project I showed them part of a zentangle video on youtube.  I asked them questions like, "What are they drawing?" -- I would get a laundry list of answers like: scales, hills, bumps..... I then would ask the question again.  The students seemed confused.  I would wait a few seconds and there was always one kid that would see through the design and realize they are actually drawing curved lines which then remind us of things like hills, scales, bumps... 

So we go on with the video and notice they use squares, circles, dots, straight lines, coloring in spaces and leaving other spaces open.  We discuss pattern and rhythm in each section.  I then asked the students if they know how to draw straight lines, curved lines, squares, circles -- etc.  They agree they know how and are starting to get real excited.

I then explain that they will be doing a warm up zentangle on a post-it.  They will be doing it with a Sharpie and any 'mistakes' they make will need to be problem solved and pulled into their design.  

This is where it got interesting.  

At one of my school the kids were excited and ready for the challenge.  In fact I had to wait multiple times for them to stop talking so I could finish my instructions - they were so excited they couldn't wait to share their ideas!  They were jumping at the bit to skip pencil and use sharpie straight away!

So then at the end of the week I went to my other school and these kids panicked.  Full out, panicked.  They were almost arguing with me to use pencils or to get an extra paper incase they messed up.  I spent far more time with these kids building up their confidence and convincing them they would be fine.  The post it note was just practice and it was okay if they didn't like it in the end.

Whats the difference between the schools?  Socioeconomic? Atmosphere? Personal relationships?

There are many small differences between the schools - but they are mostly the same.  My kids at the school that panicked are often better at following rules and expectations, but their socioeconomic status is similar to the other school, and most of the kids, at both schools, I have had 2 or 3 years -- so our relationship is pretty strong.  I personally believe that the reason I had students in one school panic and the others not is due to the fact that non-panic school is a school of the arts.

My school that is a school of the arts is NOT a fine arts school.  We are not a school that trains kids in the arts - we have no band or dance troupe.  Instead we infuse arts into the whole educational system.  Students transfer and connect ideas between classes - they learn about texture and patterns - they are asked to compare relationships, look for symbols...etc across disciplines.  These students also have dance and drama in addition to their 'normal' special schedule.  

Kids that come to the school for the arts are continuously asked to take chances, take risks, throw out an idea, perform in a small skit, join in conversation, think about something from a different point of view, problem solve and critically think about questions.  Students at this school are prepared to be wrong, to make mistakes.  Students at this school are encouraged to take a chance, and are supported through their thinking/exploration.  While music and art provide this -- dance and drama really help to drive these concepts and ideas home.  Asking kindergarteners to act out simple fairy tales, teaching 3rd graders to do improv -- it not only enforces their reading/writing skills -- but teaches them to 'prepare to be wrong'.  In dance they are asked to come up with movements that inspire or represent a concept/word/idea.  Students at this school are asked to explore answers instead of giving the correct one.

Now, lets take a moment and realize that my other elementary school is VERY supportive of their students.  Students feel safe and get a an amazing education there.  Students are very thoughtful and take learning risks there as well -- but in a different fashion.  

I truly believe that both my schools offer an exceptional education to students and the point of this post is not to give more props to one over the other, but to try and understand why two similar groups of kids would respond so differently to the same project.

Back to the project.  As the students were doing their warm up post-its.  I had them work silently for 5 minutes.  I wanted the to really concentrate on their visual thinking and felt talking would be too distracting.

After the 5 minutes was up - I let them share their ideas from their tables, then bring them to me.  I put them on the board and we quickly discussed that when they were working on their 'final' paper that if they needed some inspiration that they could come look at their class's thinking for ideas.  

It is important to note that after the warm up both schools were ready and raring to go, and that their warm up thinking/solutions were very comparable.  The warm up provided my traditional elementary school students with the chance to be wrong and when they worked through those mistakes without an eraser or a new paper - they had the confidence to be original, just like my school of the arts kids.

So in the end both sets of students had the same outcome - but that initial jump into a project was so very different.  As much as working at two buildings can be frustrating - moments like these, I find fascinating.  


TenThousand Hours -- Thank You Mackelmore

For some reason, this year I have often felt frustrated and tired about continually trying to voice the importance of art.  In the past it was a much more positive venture for me and this year it's harder.  Perhaps it is because I feel like I have less support - more people I'm trying to convince and show that Art is more than singing notes or learning to mix colors.....

But even though I have struggled more with this, this year - I by no means plan to give up or give in - I am far too stubborn for that.

In times when I feel this way the song Ten Thousand Hours by Mackelmore and Ryan Lewis always gives me a spark of energy and truth.  This is not the whole song, and I have underlined the parts that feel so very real to me.

(There is a verse before this part)

A life lived for art is never a life wasted
Ten thousand

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me
Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me

Now, now, now
This is my world, this is my arena
The TV told me something different I didn't believe it
I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea
I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential

And I know that one day I'mma be him
Put the gloves on, sparring with my ego
Everyone's greatest obstacle, I beat 'em
Celebrate that achievement
Got some attachments, some baggage I'm actually working on leaving
See, I observed Escher
I love Basquiat
I watched Keith Haring
You see I study art
The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot
I will not be a statistic
Just let me be
No child left behind, that's the American scheme

I make my living off of words
And do what I love for work
And got around 980 on my SATs
Take that system, what did you expect?
Generation of kids choosing love over a desk
Put those hours in and look at what you get
Nothing that you can hold, but everything that it is
Ten thousand

Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me
Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands
Ten thousands hands, they carry me

(more verses after this)