November 28, 2014

A Healthy Turkey Treat and Little Editing

A note to you: HAPPY THANKSGIVING! I've been writing on this blog a long time (sometimes more frequently then others) but I'm Thankful for all of your blogs and for being able to follow your adventures of family, teaching, making art and life. I enjoy getting to know so many of you a little better through Facebook and at art conferences and email. This has been a really cool outlet. Thanks for reading!

This Thanksgiving was pretty low-key and fabulous. My husband had his first holiday/day off in a long time! He's a chef. Wait. .  . there's more, then he gets the flu or maybe it's just a case of his body telling him to slow down. He works 60 hours a week minimum for the past (well his whole life) so once he has the chance to relax, he gets sick. None of you know how that is right;)?

I have been begging him to slow down. In fact, we are in the midst of some big life changes (I can feel it) to help us get back to basics. Basically, we just want to see each other more and spend more of our time doing creative/meaningful things.  Me and my husband have everything right now, we have each other, we have health, a wonderful little girl, wildly creative spirits and we want to enjoy those things. There is so much we do and have that just squelches our creativity and health. . . so like all good artists we are EDITING. Plus, I read somewhere that we have the right to pursue our happiness? So that's something I've been working on for the past couple years, it's hard to change old habits. But when I use the word EDITING I always have no problem with change (whether it's with my lessons or my house or relationships) I wonder if any other artists work this way! Are you doing any life EDITING for the new year? 

Here's a view of Thanksgiving morning at my house (my girl has a cold again, so look past the dried bogeys on her face and Elsa dress with pj's!)

One of the teachers at our school came down the hallway with a parade of these little turkeys held proudly by her class. I knew I just had to try it. So there was some crafting going on Thanksgiving morning! Check out these HEALTHY TURKEY TREATS

October 30, 2014

You Just Had To Be There! The best conference ever.

This week I went to our state's art education conference. I have to say it was really refreshing to be face to face with so many art educators.

Here's how my day started. I dropped my daughter at PreK and started driving to the conference. I was daydreaming about my lessons for November and missed my exit by 10 minutes! There was no consequence for me being 15 minutes late (which usually would be earth shattering!) that in itself was refreshing. I slipped in the back of the conference hall just in time to hear about a monumental art installation that is happening in my state. 

Artist Ellen Griesediek is on a mission (for the past 15 years) to create the largest piece of interactive indoor artwork in the country to celebrate US! Okay, not exactly "us", but to celebrate working Americans. This piece has been in production all over the US for the past 15 years and children are taking part in every square inch of this mural/installation/sculpture. It is going to be erected in a local factory building (after they raise the roof three stories to the toon of a million dollars.) Although Ellen has created the design of the mural it is ever changing as kids from around the country work on each piece. It is not a "paint by numbers" as each child has lots of freedoms within their section of the mural. You know what I'm thinking??? YES, our school HAS TO BE PART OF THE MURAL. Working in the inner-city and hand to mouth most months I have mixed feelings during her presentation. Every emotion from excitement (this is beyond comprehension) to confusion (we used how much of our tax payer money to create this piece) to disbelief, but the big take away is this, energy is contagious. Her energy for the project was palpable in the room and we were all excited to be a part of the madness. YOU HAD TO THERE to feel momentum her passion created.

Next was a hands on clay workshop. I always learn something new in clay workshops. This was no exception. Want to stop making hundreds of slabs? Cut a piece of paper the size you want the slabs to be. Have students flatten a circle to larger then that size, then use the paper as a template and cut off the excess clay. The best part of this workshop though was how the presenter engaged us with his silly antics. For example, when we were learning the proper way to roll a ball of clay he would say, "NEVER roll the clay in the palm, because (pause for the dramatic effect) there is hot lava in your palm." SEE it just doesn't sound funny online! YOU HAD TO BE THERE.

From our clay workshop.

I need this book! Josefina. . .
crazy long for me to read aloud.
Did I mention it is a great book to have for a parent volunteer;)

Friends that I met while at the conference, went to the weaving workshop where they learned ideas for weaving with non traditional materials. SO COOL! I wish I was there!
The beginning of a weaving on a plastic fence.
The possibilities are endless! Right?!

Another highlight was the Self-Hypnosis workshop. WHAT??? This is something that YOU HAD TO BE THERE to get. First the energy of everyone in the room was completely open. One of our local shamans, Joyce St. Germaine always goes out on a limb and offers a completely amazing experience for art educators. We learned how to calm our left brain (by giving it analytical work to do) to open our right brain up to self hypnosis.

I am risking half my readers thinking I've lost it by telling you about self hypnotizing, but it was so amazing I think someone out there might benefit from the practice. First I have to tell you I am NOT a skeptic. I believe in the power of the mind. Basically all you are doing is using the power of your thoughts to manifest a focused and relaxed state. It's what new self-help books namely, The Secret try to claim as well. . .  a "secret."

The most amazing part of the workshop was when she asked how long we all thought we were doing the hypnosis for. I truly believed it was a solid 10 minutes. When I looked at my cell phone I realized it had been 49 minutes! I never felt better and every ache in my back disappeared. We learned a way to relax in shorter time periods between classes. I even asked her if to show me a way to help my brain remember all the names I encounter in a day.

The absolute most valuable part of the workshop was meeting people face to face.  I have notebook full of people I want to contact about about collaborations, or just to reconnect. I went to the conference alone and was really happy I did because I got to sit with lots of people and learn about their schools, programs and lives.

What I learned from this workshop was much more then  self-hypnotizing, day dreaming, clay lava loving, fence weaving nonsense, what I learned was that energy can be CONTAGIOUS! In a world of screens and online learning, we need to sometimes remember, to make connections, get to know people, get inspired by the energy in a room, it takes time, energy and sometimes a little money. But it's worth it, because sometimes you just HAVE TO BE THERE.

I hope you all had a great state conference! I am thinking of presenting next year, which scares me to death (and that's a good thing for me!) Does anyone go or present at their state conferences? Tell me something good!

October 2, 2014

The Best "DATA" You Will Ever Get

Does the word "data" make you throw up a little in your mouth. This gag reflex is common among artists and becoming an epidemic. Data and accountability has become the new "answer" to the perceived problem of kids not achieving. This "problem" was created by the very thing that is trying to solve it, the impersonal nature of our lives. Life, even in my cozy art room, has become about the bottom line. How many kids can fit in a classroom, how many classes can fit in a day, how many minutes of instructional time can fit in a schedule. Most of the data we are asked to collect carries little meaning in the reality of our job, to teach children. This bit of "data" that I'm about to share with you is the most useful tool I've ever received to help me better understand my students, their families, and the values they are raised in.

I gave my students a little worksheet "Parent Homework" in the beginning of the year. It asked one simple question, "Tell me one thing you think I should know about your child."  I wasn't sure if I'd get any of this "homework" back working in the inner-city school where parent involvement is a struggle. I totally didn't expect the stacks and stacks of papers that flooded my mailbox. I received about 300 back (although I will count them more accurately soon to fuel the data train:) This is a huge credit to their teachers as well who helped students follow through with my request. I filed all of the returned "homework" by classroom teacher in a binder.

I read each one, laughed and cried at some of the things I read. Most were happy tears. Parents cheering their kid on "I know you can do this! It's going to be a great year," one mom wrote to her son who obviously struggles with school and ended her note with a smiley face. It was like opening a million lunch boxes and finding those little notes about how much these children are loved. There were others that were a little more negative, some that wrote back in different languages which I still am working on translating, some that did their best to write in English recognizing that I am too dumb to speak their language (after 8 years of working here I still only understand minimal Spanish), and some the very few who didn't return one at all. . . well that definitely said a lot.

So why do I call this data? Is it truly data. Well I had to look up the word myself to make sure.

Data: things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.

Using that definition I think this just might be data. I have already used these "parent homework" sheets a lot while trying to "reason" with some question or concern I've had. Whenever I'm having an issue or a question about a student, I look at this sheet, the few sentences sometimes tell me something that I didn't know about a student that helps me connect with them, or it tells me who takes care of them at home, what that person expects/thinks of them, what language is spoken at home and so much more. I ALWAYS check this sheet before I make a phone call home. This lets tells me who I will be talking to, what their perceptions might be and how they might be able to help. If I shared the actual parent responses from this "homework" it would become really clear to you how these responses can tell me all this. 

I keep all the letters in a binder by class for easy reference.

These are BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLES of how parents help me get to know their children. 

I will share one with you that is not too personal so you can see what the "parent homework" looks like. I encourage you to do the same and save them. They will tell you more in one week about the students you work with then anyone could hope to learn in months. Data in my arty opinion should be used to change the way we perceive a problem, approach a problem/situation, but never to solve it. There are no problems that all this data collection can solve. I think the sooner the government realizes that data doesn't solve problems, people do, we will finally be on the road to education reform that we desperately need.