Tag Archives: artist units

Artists Solve Problems

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Our second in-depth look at an artistic behavior in Art 1 classes was “Artists Solve Problems”.  For this unit, I really wanted to give my students a chance to create some art, while figuring out how to overcome a problem or problems.  I feel this is a very important skill to have for life…not just for art making.

We started off the unit by watching the TED Talk by Phil Hansen, “Embrace the Shake”.  Most students really enjoy watching this video.  They are intrigued by how Phil fulfills his need to create while overcoming his perpetually shaking hand.

Our next activity came to my from my friend and fabulous art educator, Melissa Purtee.  Earlier in the school year, she wrote about game she played with her student on the first days of school called “What’s in the Bag?”  I read her post and thought this would be a great activity for students to begin working on problem solving skills.

I created 6 bags for each of my art 1 classes.  That required my students to break into 6 teams of 4…no one was allowed to work alone. (Working together in a group was another problem to solve.)  Each group picked a prompt from the bucket and then received their bags.  They were given an hour (broken up over 2 classes) to bring their prompt to life.  Bag contents included: a portion of an egg carton, 3 pipe cleaners, a cork, a round plastic piece, 10 popsicle sticks, 2 tongue depressors, some puzzle pieces, 3′ strip of lollipop wrapper, 3 small square chipboard pieces, and 2 rectangular chip board pieces.  They could also use the bag if needed, but it was not required.

After time was up, students were asked to present their creation to the class, addressing the following topics:

  • What was your prompt?
  • Talk about your creation BEYOND “this is my project”…DESCRIBE IT!
  • What was the hardest problem to overcome building your creation?
  • How did you overcome it?
  • What was the best part of this activity?

Lastly, each class took a closer look at the creations and then voted for the 2 they best felt fulfilled the following criteria:

  • Best interpretation of the prompt
  • Best visual appeal
  • Best craftsmanship
  • Best use of materials

I also showed a few other videos along the way for kids to see how real life problems could be solved in fun, artistic ways.  The videos came from The FunTheory site.  Thanks Ian Sands for showing me that one.

Our final activity of this Artist Solve Problems unit was SCAMPER.  I learned about SCAMPER while at a Gifted and Talented training this past summer.  Out of all the different activities we went over at the training, I felt SCAMPER was one that I could actually take back to my classroom and have the students use.

I wanted my students to create an artwork, on their own, but I wanted it to fall under this unit.  I thought with SCAMPER I could kill 2 birds with 1 stone so-to-speak, as I have a ton of old student artwork that I no longer needed or wanted.  So, this was a great time to use them.  Students will pick an artwork from the pile and use it to create a new artwork.  The catch is, they have to choose one of the letters of SCAMPER when creating their  “new”artwork.  Subject matter, medium(s), and technique(s) are all up to the student.

S = SUBSTITUTE

C = COMBINE

A = ADAPT

M = MODIFY

P = PUT TO OTHER USES

E = ELIMINATE

R = REARRANGE

Modify was the letter most used in the activity. But, a few really dug in with combine, rearrange, eliminate and put to other uses.  I wish I had some of the before images, but I don’t.  Oh well.  Anyway, they stepped up with SCAMPER–some students taking the artwork so far off the original…YAY!  One student totally took her piece apart and created a whole new piece.  (The feathered bird above–it was once a rhino.)  One note I did have for myself for next year is to have a wider variety of old artwork for the kids to choose from.  Too many of the same starting image and ending with not changing the image enough.  Thanks DBAE. Live and Learn.

As we have moved on from this unit, I can see my students talking with each other and trying to work through problems on their own first before involving me.  This is huge.  It leaves me more time to walk around and chat and get to know my students.

 

Finally Figuring It Out

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It took the better part of the year, but I think I have finally figured out my Art 2: Painting/Drawing class.  Last year I ran art 2 the same way I did my Art 1.  All of us were new to TAB, so, I felt the need to make art 2 different wasn’t necessary.  But, this year, since I had some kids from Art 1 in my Art 2, I had to change it up.  I started out with an altered books unit I had done for many years.  It is basically a way to get students exploring using media in different ways.  However, the kids were not exploring and were not really understanding the purpose of the book, but they did them anyway.  In my gut, the class just felt off.  I told the students this, and they kind of looked at me funny, but were willing to just go with it.

After about half-way through the second marking period (we run classes for a full year, broken up into 2 semesters consisting of 3 6-week (mostly) marking periods) the class and I “started over”.  I stopped with the altered books and put them into the storage closet. We went back to what I knew worked–themes.  Students were coming up with some great ideas.   I thought things were finally on-track until I was talking to a student during our second theme and asked him how he was thinking of proceeding with his idea.  I asked about media and paper type.  He looked at me like I had 5 heads.  Then I took a look around the room, and I began to think the class looked like it was a beginning class, not a class that had gone through a year of high school art already.  Yes the students had good ideas, but the artistic process stopped there. There was no skill development, there was no risk taking, no reflection, no connections.

At this point, what does any good art teacher do?  Do they just keep on keeping on?  Or do they reflect on what is going on and change things to help better the learning and understanding?  I chose the later.  We would “start over” just one more time.

By this point, it was the end of the first semester.  This gave me the much needed time to really reflect on what my students needed.  It was at this point I was going to try a unit style that Ian Sands developed.  It involves 3 parts:  digging deeper, challenge, and create.  (You can find examples of his units here.)  I borrowed his unit, Artists Steal.  The students were successful.  I mean, there was still work to be done, but for the most part, the transition was a smart one.  I could see them beginning to have a deeper understanding of things artists do and how they, artists, create their artwork.  Many of the kids used what they created in the unit challenge for their artwork.  I was impressed by the level of understanding of appropriation.

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Sponge Bob

Next it was time to create my own unit.  I followed the “formula” for the unit and I decided that our next unit would be “Artists Tell Stories”.  I came up with a digging deeper section, a challenge and a create section.  With this unit, I saw several of my students really looking at artwork and finding out the story behind it or reading the story it was telling.  They were also providing an excellent reflection on the video they chose to watch.  Link  Link  Link

They say third times a charm, and they were right.  I am glad that I went with my gut and stopped and started things over twice with my students.  I can really see the growth taking place now and I can see their work having deeper thought and deeper meaning.  Is this by any means perfect?  Of course not.  It is a work in progress.  They know that.  If it were, we would have done our current unit (Artists Represent), and the next two (Artists Abstract and Artists Are Non-Representational) first.  But, hindsight and all.

I’ve got a couple of things to change on the structure of the units…like removing the option to create a pinboard of artwork.  I found this isn’t lending itself to any deeper understanding.  And, I need to work in more skills bootcamps, but that will come.  Right now, as much as I want this particular group of students to explore different ways of art making, all but 1 or 2 don’t really want to, I think right now that momentum they’ve got going with exploring things artists do is more important than interrupting them to explore painting or printmaking or something like that.  It’s all about choices and finding the right balance in the class.  And with one and a half marking periods left, I feel I have made the right decision for both them and myself…..but mostly them.

I always say that my TAB classroom is a living entity that ebbs and flows with the needs of the students.  My art 2 class this year proves that.  If you are feeling a class is off, or they need something they aren’t getting at the moment, stop and reset.  It is okay.  It can only help.  Be transparent about what you are doing; your students will understand. Mine did. And remember, it’s all for them.