Where do I see myself in five years?  Ten years?  What am I looking for in a Masters program?  What do I want to do with that Masters degree?  These are questions I need to start answering.  It's time to seriously look into Masters programs and continue my education.  Not just because my five year window after earning my provisional teaching certificate is closing but also because I'm feeling the pull of wanting to be "on the other side of the desk" again.  I miss being a student.  

Originally, I expected to go for a Masters in curriculum or reading - as those are two of the most typical and respected Masters degree programs for educators - but I'm realizing my passions lie elsewhere. I blame my participation in Art21 Educators.  What I really want to pursue is integration, bringing the humanities together and exploring a single idea through a study of literature, history, visual art, current events, civics, etc.  Developing the Freshmen Seminar and Symposium programs at school added fuel to the fire.  I love those classes: Seminar because it integrates English and Social Studies into an exploration of urgent global issues and Symposium because we investigate interesting themes like gender, protest, and insanity through all of the humanities. They're engaging classes. Fun to teach. Fun to be a student in. They foster creating thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, quality research, synthesis, evaluation. They pull all of the humanities – all of the subjects I love – together into a cohesive whole. I want to design more classes like them. To push integration. To immerse myself and my students in ideas and to tackle those ideas for every subject area angle.  

As I've been thinking about integration and my future as a teacher and my potential Masters program, strange, coincidental (?), fated (?) things have been happening, more kindling for the fire, so-to-speak. A few weeks ago, one of my fellow Art21 alumni recommended a book to me: Roberto Bolano's 2666. The prospect of having someone to chat about literature with – a two person book club – was quite tempting and I ordered the book immediately. The brick of a book – 900 pages – arrived two days later. I'm only 20 pages in. It's dense. And I can tell it will be a romance already. Four literary scholars, a shared love of author Archimboldi, traveling the world lecturing and participating in panel discussions, writing critical essays, immersed in the literary world. These are all things I romanticize about as well. A life I might live in a parallel universe. Or a life I might live in five years. Ten years. After I complete my Masters program.  

And I thought it was funny, strange, coincidental, fated, that a colleague would hand me a book about characters living the life I too have been thinking about living at some point in the future. And this realization reminded me of a TED Talk from Amy Tan on where creativity comes from.  

In the video, Tan talks about the idea of an idea. How it develops. And she talks about the seed of an idea. Not fully formulated, not clear, no idea of where it's going to go. But then life starts sending you funny, strange, coincidental, fated signs that grow your idea. The stars seem to align. Seemingly unrelated things start fitting together and your idea starts to take form. I think that my future, my mission as an educator, my Masters thesis – my “idea” - is starting to take form. 2666 is one star, aligned. One drop of water, one ray of sun, growing my idea.

And then on my drive home today, another star, drop, ray. NPR playing low in the background as I reflected on my day. The name “Klimt” caught my interest – my favorite artist – and so I turned up the radio. The story featured Eric Kandel's new book,The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain. Kandel talked about the integration of the sciences, particularly psychiatry, in the study of art history. Amazon's description of the book is as follows: 

A brilliant book by Nobel Prize winner Eric R. Kandel, The Age of Insight takes us to Vienna 1900, where leaders in science, medicine, and art began a revolution that changed forever how we think about the human mind—our conscious and unconscious thoughts and emotions—and how mind and brain relate to art. 
At the turn of the century, Vienna was the cultural capital of Europe. Artists and scientists met in glittering salons, where they freely exchanged ideas that led to revolutionary breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel takes us into the world of Vienna to trace, in rich and rewarding detail, the ideas and advances made then, and their enduring influence today.
The Vienna School of Medicine led the way with its realization that truth lies hidden beneath the surface. That principle infused Viennese culture and strongly influenced the other pioneers of Vienna 1900. Sigmund Freud shocked the world with his insights into how our everyday unconscious aggressive and erotic desires are repressed and disguised in symbols, dreams, and behavior. Arthur Schnitzler revealed women’s unconscious sexuality in his novels through his innovative use of the interior monologue. Gustav Klimt, Oscar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele created startlingly evocative and honest portraits that expressed unconscious lust, desire, anxiety, and the fear of death.
Kandel tells the story of how these pioneers—Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, in turn influenced the founders of the Vienna School of Art History to ask pivotal questions such as What does the viewer bring to a work of art? How does the beholder respond to it? These questions prompted new and ongoing discoveries in psychology and brain biology, leading to revelations about how we see and perceive, how we think and feel, and how we respond to and create works of art. Kandel, one of the leading scientific thinkers of our time, places these five innovators in the context of today’s cutting-edge science and gives us a new understanding of the modernist art of Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele, as well as the school of thought of Freud and Schnitzler. Reinvigorating the intellectual enquiry that began in Vienna 1900, The Age of Insight is a wonderfully written, superbly researched, and beautifully illustrated book that also provides a foundation for future work in neuroscience and the humanities. It is an extraordinary book from an international leader in neuroscience and intellectual history.

So I ordered it. How it relates to my idea, my future, my mission, my Masters, I'm not sure yet. But it felt like a star/drop/ray.

I learned about Fotoflexer at the MACUL conference.  It's a fun web tool that lets you upload images and tint them, layer text and clip art on top of them, and apply other editing techniques.  This was one of the web tools that I was least enthusiastic about simply because I didn't have any immediate, great ideas about how to use it in class.  When I shared different web tools with my staff - Scoop.it, Pinterest, Photosynth, and others - this seemed to be their least favorite as well.  Well, after today, I'm a changed woman with new appreciation for Fotoflexer. 

This is my fourth year teaching George Orwell's Animal Farm, and I wanted to do something new with art integration in my unit.  We already study propaganda in the unit, and I wanted my students to apply the techniques we've learned about and evaluated in various pieces of propaganda by creating their own propaganda pieces.  However, we've spent a lot of time analyzing propaganda and not enough time analyzing the novel or characters, and so I designed an activity which married the two.  Students picked their favorite character from the novel and brainstormed the character's likes, dislikes, values, interests, mottos, etc.  Then, the students had to select several propaganda techniques to sell their character's life philosophy.  They had to pick propaganda techniques that matched their character's personality.  This would show me that the truly understood their character's voice and tone, that they identified propaganda techniques used by their character and were able to infer which other techniques would fit their characters, and that they could apply all of these concepts to create an effective piece of propaganda.


It was so much fun!  Fotoflexer is really easy and quick to use, and students were able to create meaningful works in a short amount of time.  One of my frustrations with some technology and programs is that they take so long to learn how to use and that students end up spending more time navigating the program than they do mastering the standards.  If the standard is to explore technology and use it to communicate a message, that's one thing, but when the standard is to analyze a character's voice, the vehicle for demonstrating mastery of this standard should be a help and not a hindrance to learning.  Several students commented on how easily and quickly they were able to create something they really liked and felt adequately demonstrated their understanding.

Student Work:

A few students recorded themselves talking about their own propaganda pieces on ScreenChomp.  The first is of me modeling the process for them and the following are a few samples of their work:  
Student feedback on Fotoflexer:

* "It helped me to think symbolically."
* "I was able to get my point across visually."
* "It was much faster and easier than drawing it out myself."
* "It helped me to think more about my character's personality."
* "Although I'd rather draw it myself, I liked that it didn't take long but I was still able to show what I learned."
* "It made me think about propaganda's presence in pictures.  It's not just in writing or what people say."
* "Two people could upload the same original pictures, but all of the editing features made it so that even two of the same image looked like completely different pictures."
* "It was quick to throw together when with your own hands, it would take hours to do the same thing."
* "It helped me to picture my character and how their looks show their personality." 
I love lit circles: open-ended questions that trigger in-depth, reflective, analytical discussion of the text.  They're a staple in my classroom.  And a few weeks ago I did a twist on the lit circle and instead had students do a symbolic analysis of symbols from Catcher in the Rye and then demonstrate their learning visually and textually.  Listening to their conversations about which visual elements to include in their work helped me to understand that thinking visually could give them new ideas and broaden their understanding.  It's not like they were just demonstrating what they already knew using pictures instead of words; thinking of pictures triggered new thoughts for them and added more layers to their understanding of a particular symbol.

Why not apply the same idea to something other than a symbol?  A character, perhaps?  I experimented with this last week and made a board on Pinterest for a character we were studying.  Searching for images and analyzing how the images related to the character strengthened my analytical skills and helped to build my understanding of the character.  It was a great exercise for me, and so I turned it into a lesson for my students.  Getting Pinterest accounts set up for each group was a pain because of their "invitation only" policy coupled with our school's blocks on facebook.  But once we got all of the logistics ironed out and students started making their pinboards, I heard the same great kind of conversations that I heard with the Catcher in the Rye symbol poster activity.  The criteria for the activity is as follows:

* Each group is assigned a different character from Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie (you could do this same activity with any work of literature)

* Create a pinboard to communicate your character's "world."  What likes, dislikes, interests, personality characteristics, values, dreams, etc. define your character?  You want your board to represent these ideas visually and to show your understanding of your character.

* Select a quote from Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie that gives insight into your character.  Type up the quote, being deliberate about font style, color, background, and size.  Then, save the quote as an image.  You want the tone of your image to match the tone of your character.  Upload it to Pinterest and provide a caption about your choices in formatting the passage and how it gives insight into your character.

* Pick a celebrity who you would cast to play your character.  Pin an image of them that embodies your character.  In your caption, explain your choice in casting.  What about the celebrity's appearance, personality, and roles they're typically cast for made them a good match to play your character?

* Select at least five other images to pin to your board that offer insight into your character, and write a caption about how they give insight into your character.

The students have spent a class period and a half working on their pinboards.  In addition to making their own boards, students have been commenting on one another's and engaging in an ongoing dialogue about the characters.

Here are some of them!
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Attached: a list of free web tools with classroom applications across the curriculum

Things like:

Virtual Field Trips
Google Museum
...and more!
A 90-minute prep hour first thing in the morning is a beautiful thing.  Time to settle in, go over the day's lesson plans, grade a few things here and there, and think about the presentation I'm supposed to give tomorrow on free online programs with great classroom applications. 

In an earlier post, I started playing around with Pinterest, considering its different uses for learning.  And so this morning, during my prep, I started a new board without really knowing what to do with it.  I reflected on the previous day of classes and this great conversation we had in AP about Tennessee Williams's The Glass Menagerie.  We did two jigsaws: one on the characters of Amanda, Laura, Tom, and the absent father; and a second on elements of craft: setting, stage directions/body language, music, and symbolism/metaphor.  I've only read The Glass Menagerie twice before teaching this unit, so I still have a lot to learn about it and its characters. 

Laura, the daughter, is interesting to me because she doesn't have a strong presence or personality, but I feel like there's more to her than meets the eye.  Yesterday in our lit circle discussion about Laura, we noted her interest in beautiful things and how Williams projects images of blue roses and winter scenes on the screen while Laura talks.  And with that idea in mind, a concept for my pinboard came into being: an exploration of the symbols associated with Laura and how they give insight into her character. 

I went to google, typed in symbols, looked through the image results, and pinned whichever ones sparked a new thought for me.  Then, with the caption feature, I wrote a couple of sentences of insights into the symbolism.  I compiled a board of six pins with accompanying captions in about 40 minutes, and I'm walking away with great insight into Laura.  Pinterest also allows you to comment on one another's pins, so I'm going to ask my AP class today if any of them will respond to my captions and maybe even add their own pins and captions to the board.  It was a good brainstorming, symbolic analysis, and reflection activity.  Being able to respond to one another's pins also makes it a good discussion board and a place to grow ideas.

At the MACUL conference a few weeks ago, I heard a couple of presenters namedrop "scoopit."  Since I'm giving a little presentation on Friday to share what I learned from MACUL with the rest of our staff, I thought I'd look further into it to see if it might be worth presenting.  The verdict: it is.

So, what is it?

Scoop.it is a website where you can curate your own content and make a digital magazine page.  You can search for a topic, and the results will be a list of related (and sometimes not-so-related) content.  You can pick from the list which content you want to upload to your own post.  Then, like with Pinterest, you can install a "Scoop.it" button to your toolbar and as you come across related content surfing the web, you can sync it back to your post.  Pretty sweet...
So I started experiment, thinking forward to my upcoming unit in English 11 on logic, suspicion, and hysteria in Arthur Miller's The Crucible.  Only one story recommended by Scoop.it was relevant, but it was a start.  Then I started surfing the web for info on Arthur Miller, the Salem Witch trials, and McCarthyism, as well as sample unit plans for The Crucible.  Whenever I came across a site I liked, I "scooped.it" via my new toolbar button.  I think Scoop.it has great potential as a unit planning tool.  Whenever I'm designing a new unit or looking for fresh resources for an old one, I look to the web for related current events and texts that touch on similar themes.  Scoop.it would be an awesome place to compile all of these sources.  What's really nice about it is that you can write an accompanying caption with each story that you link back to your scoop.it page.  So many times in the past, I've bookmarked a link to go back to later without recording why I saw it as relevant.  With scoop.it, problem solved.

Another idea: I've also been playing around with the thought of using scoop.it as an anchor activity.  You could compile a set of resources for students to peruse when they finish early, want to do further investigation, or want to synthesize the central class texts with other texts to engage in some higher-level learning.  With the caption feature, the teacher could write instructions for different activities the students could do for each link.  

I'll be posting an RSS feed of scoop.it in my blog....and will surely be playing around on it again sometime soon.  :-)

Here's a screenshot of my in-process scoop.it post on "hysteria" to give you an idea of the layout of the program:



So Pinterest has been on my radar for a few months, but I hadn't taken the time to play around with it until this morning.  And now...two hours later...I might still be in bed, but I do have two pinboards under my belt:

One for my "Current Anthro Obsessions"
...and a second called "Books Worth Teaching" - the books that are part of my curriculum this year
It's fun stuff...potentially addicting.  But with some nice classroom applications.  Here are my ideas so far:

* A pinboard of a story's setting (with accompanying captions - maybe quotes from the text to accompany the images)
* A pinboard that documents a character's personality, interests, values, etc
* A unit planning tool to pin different texts, quotes, and artworks all centered on a shared theme

I am wondering: Is there a simpler way to embed my pinboards into my blog?  I ended up printscreening,cropping the screen down to just the image I wanted, saving and uploading it, and then making it a link.  I know there must be a simpler way - I just don't know how....
As I've been planning for my upcoming Project Term classes this June, I've been looking through Art21's exclusives videos for inspiration.  Season 6 is premiering in April, so there are several "preview" clips for the upcoming season.  I came across this one from artist David Altjmed.  Like him, I am drawn to pastel colors, but sometimes in combination they look baby-ish or Easter-ish.  Too cutesy.  I like that he "infects the prettiness" of the pastels with grays and browns.  It reminds me of my macabre class that I'm designing called "Why We're Drawn to the Darkness...", where we'll explore themes of lightness vs. darkness, attraction vs. repulsion, beauty vs. the grotesque, etc. 

One of the art books I bought to help me plan for the class is Art that Creeps: Gothic Fantasies and the Macabre in Contemporary Art, and one of its featured artists in Nicoletta Ceccoli.  Her work uses pastels, and she too "infects the prettiness" with both darker, duller colors and darker content and themes.  Her work below, The Princess and the Prey, seems at first whimsical, sweet, something out of a fairytale....adorable, even.  But the girl rider doesn't seem innocent.  She seems sad, certain, poised.  And her steed looks alarmed.  The beast she is slaying too human, too calm.  Dice scattered in the background.  Grays and dusty blues and greens smudging the pretty pastels.  And yet I like the work more because it's not so predictable, so Disney, so cutesy.  She looks like a serious heroine, and a smart one, and one who knows the woes of the world.  
The Princess and the Prey is from the book I purchased, so I've spent some time studying it over the past few weeks.  But as I was looking at Ceccoli's website, I saw many other interesting pieces from her portfolio.  The one I'm posting below, Contrary Mary, triggered a giggle when I first looked at it.  I love the toughness of the girl, pulling up her skirt, and then the surprise that it's not her lady parts that she's showing off to the boy, but a dragon.  Like she's saying, "don't mess with me, little man."  And he is, literally.  She seems condescending, maybe.  That she pities how stupid the boy is for approaching her or for trying to woo her or for trying to violate her.  Again, the same silent, knowing look.  Not angry.  Not afraid.  Just aware.  And self-assured.
This Thursday and Friday is the MACUL conference in Grand Rapids that I'm attending with another teacher from school.  Our principal is looking into iPads and their classroom application and has lent each of us one to try out and take to the conference.  Just from playing around with it over the weekend, I came across two great ways to use it in my classroom:

1) - Streamlining my use of Wordle

Ahhhh....if only I'd had the iPad just two days earlier and a mythology lesson would have gone so much smoother.  As a review of our hero unit, I had students compile list ofthe characteristics of each hero.  After they finished with one hero's list, I frantically typed their list into Wordle while they created the list for the next hero.  I'm a fast typer.  And still the activity took far too long.  If only I'd had the iPad and knew to use the "Dragon" voice recognition program.  That way, students could just read aloud their lists and the computer would register and compile the list.  Then all I'd have to do is copy and paste the list into Wordle - and voila! - soooo much faster.  But of course I couldn't paste the list into Wordle - I instead used another free word cloud program - because Apple doesn't support flash.  Grrrrr....which is also an issue with using Glogster, another free online program I use in my classroom.  So while I like the convenience of a tablet, the iPad might not be for me simply because it doesn't support flash, and I happen to love and use many programs that do require flash. 

2) - ScreenChomp

This is an easy-to-use program that allows you to upload a photo/document and record yourself annotating and narrating that you can then play back as a presentation.  I immediately thought of using the program to model art analysis and to have students record their own art analysis presentations.  I asked a couple of student volunteers to take a photo of their Catcher in the Rye symbol posters, upload it to the app, and record a brief presentation of themselves discussing their symbol and poster.

Can't wait until MACUL to see how else I can use the iPad in class!  
Today in AP English we started our unit wrap-up on "Alienation as a Form of Self-Protection," a unit centered on J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye."  I planned a symbol analysis activity for them.  We started by listing symbols from the story.  I had four in particular in mind, but we ended up creating a list of 12 (+1 for a group of students who were absent on the first workday).  With six group, two symbols assigned to each group worked out perfectly.  Their assignment was to create a poster of sorts, one for each symbol, and their posters had to include the following:

* visuals: of the symbol AND both literal and abstract representations of what the symbol represents
* text: themes, insights given into Holden through analyzing the symbol
* novel passages: quotes from the book that inform our understanding of the symbol's meaning

This was a new activity for me, and I wasn't really sure what to expect.  They worked for the entire 50 minutes, and while their posters are still in the early stages, I'm pleased with what I've seen - or more accurately, heard - so far.  The conversations while students discussed their ideas and how to execute them on paper showed me they had a thorough understanding of the plot, that they'd noticed and been analyzing the symbolism throughout the novel, and that they had great insight into Holden's character.  I do acknolwedge that the class with which I piloted this activity was a best-case scenario: I've had these students for years; they're used to having open-ended discussions about literature, and they're practiced in propelling their own conversations without much direction from me; and I've already done a lot of arts integration and transliteration activities with them, so they're comfortable thinking textually and visually.  I think what worked so well with the activity was that it was even more open-ended than lit circles.  They didn't have focus questions; it was more general: they just had a focus idea, a symbol, and there's a lot of room for interpretation with that.  I'm posting pictures of their progress thus far, and once they've completed their posters and presentations, I'll post their completed work.

Symbols (I realize some of these are more metaphoric, but I'm going with it anyways):
* Allie, Holden's deceased younger brother
* Allie's baseball mitt
* Holden's hat
* "The catcher in the rye" song
* The prostitute
* Phoebe, Holden's younger sister
* The carousel
* The duck pond
* Holden's morbid fantasies/imaginings of being shot and having his guts spilling out everywhere
* The movie theatre
* The museum
* Jane

Student Progress:

Students' completed symbol posters and accompanying captions:

    About Me

    A lover of literature and the arts and an advocate for global awareness and active citizenship, I spend my days with high school English and Social Studies students exploring why it all matters and how they can have a voice in the world.  This is my space to document and reflect on my practice, note happenings in education, and share my appreciation for the arts.


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