Saturday, September 17, 2016

a swift shift

A month ago, the school year was about to begin.  I was setting up my 6th grade classroom and in the swing of in-service days before the students arrived.

Then, the Saturday before school began, I had an interesting email which led to a phone call.  The call left me with a decision, stay in sixth grade or shift to high school and teach art.  Not all art, but mostly art.  Knowing the rarity of the situation of course I chose art.

The empty high school classroom before everything was moved over to the elementary.

The following Monday I packed up what I had unpacked into my sixth grade classroom and rolled it across the school to an empty high school classroom.  All the desks were already claimed so I hunted down tables.  And then chairs.  And then whatever I could find in the way of art supplies.

The next day I had students.

The first few days we painted.

As schedules progressed my classes have begun to find their routine.  I begin the day with two middle school classes and two high school classes.  The high school classes are elective Art. Most of my students have never had an Art class.  There is no curriculum, but a few state standards.  We are beginning with the elements of art, then we will shift into the principles.

Two weeks ago we began color.  We spend one day mixing the color wheel before we moved on to a little color theory and taking a look at Kandinsky's Concentric Circles.

Each element has a project to explore that thought.  We used Kandinsky's work as our master study for this project.  The high school classes divided their paper into twelve parts.  Each square had a different color theme focus: primary, secondary, tertiary, analogous, complementary, and monochromatic.

A goal that I had for this project was to have work to display for our Welcome Back to School Potluck and then in the main entrance.  To display the work I knew they needed to be protected by lamination.  One major teacher lesson I learned is that laminators will melt oil pastel.  That was a painful lesson to learn.

The seventh and eighth grade classes are spending a few days a week working in expository reading.  Their project was modified to fit this time constraint.  They had only six boxes to work.

Seeing the results all up together is so interesting.  Forty-four students were given the same parameters, the same instructions, and the same materials but each and every single one is different.  There are some similarities but no two are alike.

I'm really excited to see what the year will bring.  We have already had some very interesting conversation and dialogue about art.  The "what is art?" question has already come up.

I think the statement in KQED's Art School video was a pretty incredible answer.  I made my students write it in their sketchbooks.  "Art is about communication.  About trying to either understand the world or understand yourself." -Nigel Poor

Sunday, August 21, 2016

the Marshall classroom

In preparing my classroom for the coming school year, it starts Tuesday, reflecting on last year's classroom has helped bring focus.  My classroom in Marshall began blank.  It developed and built as the school year progressed.  I really wanted it to be a reflection of student learning.  That was what I kept in mind as it shifted from state to state.

 The south side of the classroom.

This side was really devoted to our reading routine.  Each morning I wrote our agenda for the session underneath the date.  The green writing is the word wall that developed around Thanksgiving.  I made a habit of moving the week's Essential Question to the top part of the wall.  Above the agenda were two important reminders: "Be Nice" and "We are here to learn."  My desk was situated so that I could see the whole room from the rare moments I sat at it.  It was also there so that I could run my smart board from my laptop as well as use my document camera.

 The north side of the room.

The three posters at the top were my CHAMPS.  Champs state the expectations for specific activities.  The tan strips are my Accelerated Reader point clubs.  Each student's picture moved as they read more and earned more points.  This bulletin board was for science and social studies.  The practice developed later in the year.  I would write the essential questions for each lesson and hang the vocabulary cards as we discussed the words.  I would also post copies of our science notebook notes for any student who may have been absent.  The middle chart is the line order and jobs chart, rotating weekly.  It's next to the line up procedures.  There are also little pieces of painters tape on the floor tiles so each number would know where they were supposed to stand in line.  At the right is my US map.  As we learned about each state we colored it in.  Beginning the morning with a state was one of my favorite activities of the year.  Students could name every state by the end of the year.

 At the back of the room was the learning center.

Not having any book shelves in the room this became our bookshelf.  Making the investment in class books was really important.  Having material that was at each student's level and of interest to them was huge.  Illustrated novels helped my students to find reading success and be proud that they could finish a whole chapter book.

 Sketchbooks were also high my list of school year accomplishments.

My brother Sam was able to help supply my class with hardcover sketchbooks and individual sets of colored pencils.  We had a class set of pencils but ownership of their own was way more significant.  I build a specialness to the sketchbooks.  They had a special spot at my desk.  I would make them return them at the end of each session. 

 We used a gold marker to put their names on them.  Obviously all of my students are name Stephen Curry.

 Sketching was especially transformative for one student.  I saw his overall behavior improve and engagement levels go up.  Maybe it was that he got to know me better, maybe my teaching practices improved, but I like to think that he found something to focus on.

 Pokemon.  They all liked to copy Pokemon into their sketchbooks.

I tried to give art significance in my classroom.  We learned all the elements of art.  We painted, sketched, glued, and pasted.  We learned about a few well-known artists.  More than once I found them googling Keith Herring after our study of line.  Mark Rothko also had a fair share of hits.  The hall bulletin board always featured their creative work.  It was collaborative.

 All year long they begged to paint masks, so we finally did.

 As the new school year approaches I keep thinking back to my first class.  I hope the best for them and am grateful for our time learning together and my year as Miss T.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

teacher tech talk [final project post]

Even though the course I took at the Kodiak Island Virtual Learning Conference was on paper circuitry, my learning has certainly reached beyond that specific skill.  Overall I am taking away for the course the idea of new methods of communication and building community.

The district I teach in is physically the size of many lower 48 states, populated with ten small schools.  There are no roads between the schools.  Boat, airplane, and snow machine (when there is snow) are the only means of transportation between each village. Last year, my elementary class had multiple opportunities to travel to other schools and villages for athletic competitions.  They very much looked forward to this and it was a time that they could get to know other students in their extended community.  With all the budget cuts faced in the coming year, I doubt this travel will be possible.  Building that connection across the district is something I feel may have a hugely positive long-term impact. For this reason it is my goal for the coming year is to connect with other 6th grade classrooms within our district.  My hope is that opening a channel of communication will allow for and ultimately lead to knowledge sharing.  

During the course of new teacher orientation and district in-service I would like to begin by connecting with other 6th grade teachers.  My aim is to find at least one other teacher willing to connect on a regular basis.  Last year ClassDojo added Class Story to their platform.  I had the chance to explore it a bit and think it may be a good communication method.  It is secure but easily facilitates allowing other users access. Parents and family can also easily be added to see what is happening in our classroom.

We will start small and simple.  Each day together, we will choose a photo (or video) and summary sentence for our learning.  The goal being that the other class would do the same and the next morning we can see what happened in their class the day before.  This would serve equal parts review and incentive for the new day’s learning.  Once the communication becomes more fluid, I would say by the end of September, I would like eventually like to have the class summarizing for each subject of the day.  The goal being to have other classes in the district doing the same so that we can passively see what is happening in other classrooms.  

The next layer of this communication will begin in the second week of school.  I would like to open a video chat between classrooms to have the students introduce themselves.  The next week I would like for them to have a few ideas about their community prepared to share with the other class.  This meshes well with beginning of the year learning about one another as well as social studies goals.  I am very interested to see what might come of building rapport between the students.  I would like for this to turn into a weekly video chat that has a theme and meets with the learning goals of both classrooms.  This would be a great place to share their makerspace creations and ideas.

Thinking in the long term, I know that this process will shift and I must allow for the outcome to be organic with our classroom.  It would be my hope that by the spring the idea of participating in a shared classroom lesson or learning experience would be possible.  The technological groundwork positive social media skills would be in place.

Friday, July 15, 2016

techer tech talk [part 3]


Science and writing.

When I think about making in my general education classroom my mind immediately shifts to the subject of teaching science. As I began last year, my first year of teaching, I quickly learned that science would be nearly impossible to teach straight from a textbook. It took about three minutes for my students to grow impatient with paragraph after paragraph of words. This may seem obvious, but it was part of my learning process to put the text books away and create a plan B. This included one-session long whole group projects. Additionally, we began to explore science using science notebooks. I used the textbook as my guide and began to pull information, and synthesize it into concepts my students could concentrate on. My overall focus with this endeavor was to keep the idea of scientific inquiry in mind. Alaska State Science Standards (2013) state, "A student should understand and be able to apply the process and applications of scientific inquiry." So we began to ask questions and make observations. We wrote down our observations. We talked about our observations. We found out what hoarfrost was, learned about platypuses, dissected jello cells, measured seed sprouts, and observed erosion in our community.

As I reflect on that year of science, I want to grow this process. Last year’s learning methods were scratching the surface. In the coming year I would like to emphasize the importance of inquiry and be more deliberate about building understanding of the scientific method. As the description of the Alaska Science Standard (2013) goes deeper it states students should, “develop an understanding of the processes of science used to investigate problems, design and conduct repeatable scientific investigations, and defend scientific arguments.” I feel that I have established the first part as the base and this year I want to bring in the second and third aspects. I see “repeatable scientific experiments” as a playground for making. I would like to take these concepts in science and pull them into the culture of my classroom. Our investigations and questions should come from their natural inquisitiveness. Making allows students to realize the questions and ideas they have are the most important questions and ideas. I hope to spread these ideas, concepts, and methods to be more than subject specific.

To grow how they think and reflect on the questions, I would also like to use their constructions to open a platform for nonfiction written reflection and writing. What if the written reflection was also a platform for making...graphic panels?! Having that individual buy-in seems a solid space for building writing skills.

Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. (2013). In Alaska Standards: Science. Retrieved from

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

techer tech talk [part 2]

I jumped into the concept of making in my classroom last year. With my art background, I remember the impact of being able to incorporate creativity had on my own learning process. I was able to witness this in both classrooms where I student taught. There is a powerful learning dynamic that happens when exploration is allowed, encouraged, and facilitated.  I knew I certainly wanted this for my classroom, but finding how to do that during my first year experience was a challenge.

When the year began and we were still in the process of learning each other, step-by-step group projects were necessary. These mostly involved paper and glue using only the tools I inherited with the classroom.

As the year progressed, I found positive results with student-driven, skill-differentiated making. These required more project-specific supplies to be purchased. Acquiring supplies in the village can be a challenge in both planning and logistics. Fortunately, I had a nice team with my mom and brother Sam sending requested supplies. This required a few weeks of advanced planning and backup planning when mail was late. Shifting to student-driven making also required for me to be patient and accept that what a student deems appropriate material usage might be slightly different from my own thoughts. But this was also where discovery, creativity, and calm focus could be found.

As I prepare for bringing making into my classroom next year, I look forward to exploring the ideas of  Vanderwerff (2015), as I try “integrating making in the curriculum” and work to develop a more “making-focused curriculum.” In considering how to facilitate making more heavily throughout my classroom, a few ideas for materials come to mind.

First, I think there is something very important about procuring and using materials that students would have access to in their daily lives. Using simple materials, found natural objects, and/or reused items lets students play with the idea of constraints that Vanderwerff (2015) sets forth: “all creativity needs restraints.”

Second, I also think that it is important to present materials that are more project specific and special for the making experience in our classroom. To do that I am interested in trying Donor’s Choice or looking for supply grants. Exposing students to new materials is also highly valuable for exploration and greater understanding. 

Vanderwerff, A. (2014, May 14). Makers in the Classroom: A How-To Guide. Retrieved June 29, 2016, from

Thursday, June 23, 2016

teacher tech talk [part 1]



I posted my very first tweet at the conference.  

So far I have been resistant to this form of social media. I’m lackluster at facebook, try blogging, prowl pinterest, and am avid on instagram. My experience in twitter so far was it was something my students used to stalk Stephen Curry during choice time, and whenever my back was turned. But then I was forced, more like peer-pressured, into twitter and I saw it. There are a lot of people with really good ideas tweeting them. 

Social media, has shifted in my life from knowing everyone’s life details, to bringing images and ideas that inspire good thoughts and ideas. Living in a very small, secluded community finding like-minded individuals is difficult. But here, on social media, I can bring in fresh perspectives and ideas. 

After a long, cold winter spent in the same square mile outside ideas are vital. Knowing this personal value, I have begun to wonder if my students might find value in it as well. If I’m finding inspiration in the work of artists and creatives all over the world, maybe my students could use this same tool to find inspiration in the things they are passionate about. 

I realize this may be the golden boy himself, but did you know he is a strong family man that shares positive thoughts on how much he loves his kids? This is a good influence. 

I would like to see other good influences given voice in my classroom. My students have good ideas and so do their peers.  I would like to follow the advice of Davis (2015) and let “students reflect about learning and classroom happenings,” as well as have the ability to, “connect to other classrooms through social media.” This might take shape through a class twitter feed or even on our class dojo site. 

And for providing that insight I am now following Vicki Davis, as well as: Dr. Lee Graham, Lee Cockett, Kali Root, edutopia, and yes, even Steph Curry. I’ll be on the hunt for more voices to bring into my teaching frame of view. I would love to connect with more teachers on the Yukon especially others teaching 6th grade in the district. I feel that connecting our classroom to other classrooms is a positive step in encouraging community-wide collaboration and inquiry. Seeing what other students are learning and making has huge potential. 

Davis, V. (2015, February 19). A Guidebook for Social Media in the Classroom. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from

teacher tech talk [preface/reflection]

[Preface: Originally this post began as its own preface to my first in a series of three blog posts. I have decided to expand on the subject a little and create a full post reflection. I am, however, keeping it in the same chronological order.]

Earlier this month I was able to attend a teaching conference in Kodiak, Alaska. I really did not know what to expect from the Kodiak Island Virtual Learning Conference but I did know it specialized in hands-on approaches to teaching science and math. Both of which I am always looking to improve in my teaching practice. I ended up taking a class on paper circuitry. (Truth: I had very little prior knowledge in this area. I just knew I would put lights onto paper.) Electronic workings is kind of where my brain gets staticy. After three days of playing with copper tape, conductive thread, and even playdough, I felt slightly more confident in electricity and knew I could take it my students.

Over the course of the conference I made some interesting discoveries. It was quite the challenge to be the learner. I had to try things that I was nervous to do or just really didn’t want to. In the beginning it was difficult just sitting to listen and follow directions. Focusing for long enough to learn was a challenge. I’m really grateful to have experienced this. It makes me remember that I need to consider my own students’ attention span and lack of interest in certain subjects. I also had a very insightful moment when I was completely repulsed by touching and having playdough on my hands. This has never happened to me and was another moment of realization. Sometimes students just might not like something for no reason other than their personal preference.

We also began to delve into the idea of how to be a virtual teacher. Over the past school year I began to integrate technology into my classroom as I saw need and use for it. I began to learn to use my Smartboard to make lessons more engaging (an ongoing process). My ipad was used as a dictionary and class clock. I learned how to use ClassDojo to encourage motivation and would like to explore this as an avenue to encourage home communication. One of the greatest discoveries I made, however, was bringing in the voices of other educators to deliver more concise learning. Youtube and video clips had a profound impact on my teaching. I learned to use the resource of others who had nailed the lesson. This platform, and the Kodiak conference, has sparked an interest in creating more connection between my classroom and other classrooms in the district. I am eager to facilitate shared learning and communication with other educators. I had not realized there was groundwork already being laid throughout Alaska.

It is for this reason I am excited for the opportunity to connect with other Alaskan educators looking to bring more making into the classroom. For the next month I am following up the conference experience with course that involves looking more deeply into how I can make what I am learning sustainable in my classroom. I’ll be doing a few blog posts that deals with these ideas. This will help me to learn how to bring making into my classroom in a meaningful and appropriate way. Like any technology, it should add value and improve learning overall.