I spent a good part of my summer creating my online classes using the Schoology website platform.   I developed just the first semester of curriculum, and now that I have a better feel for the ins-and-outs of Schoology - and plan on developing second semester this fall.  Having spent several weeks working on Schoology, I have a decent idea of its features - both the good and the bad.
- Free
- Any school can create an account with Schoology
- Resembles social networking sites so it's easy for those familiar with Facebook to navigate
- Crisp, clean layout is easy to follow
- Allows you to structure your curriculum in an organized, hierarchal format with main folders, sub folders, and so on
- Has a running sidebar of upcoming assignments/due dates on the right side of the screen to serve as reminders to students
- Teacher and students can create a profile complete with photo, mini bio, interests, etc. to help participants get to know one another
- Teacher and students can post updates and share links to relevant articles and YouTube videos
- You can develop quizzes and tests with a variety of selected response templates, not just multiple choice 
- Students can submit work privately through DropBox or publicly by posting a link to a discussion board
- Schoology tracks the students' grades
- Every assignment is automatically accompanied by a comment box - similar to a Facebook wall - where students can ask questions, you can clarify instructions, etc.
- You can set individual due dates for assignments, unlike some online learning platforms where the entire class is due at the end of a semester.  Setting individual due dates will help keep students on track to complete the course at a comfortable pace.
- You can create folders for whatever purpose you want.  I have ordered folders for all of my units, but I also have a "Resource" folder with lectures on convention rules and essay writing.  That way, students don't have to sift through an entire unit's content for a refresher on how to structure a body paragraph.

- Not visually dynamic
- You can "hide" unit folders and then "unhide" them, but it unhides them for everyone.  You can unlock folders on specific dates which is better than nothing, but students work at different paces, and it would be more helpful to have the Unit 2 folder unlock automatically for students after they complete Unit 1.  Instead, you  have to either set an unlock date or manually unhide the following folder for everyone once one student gets close to completing to present unit folder.
- If you've already ordered the assignments for a particular unit, know that if you edit an assignment's point value or due date, the assignment gets bumped to the bottom of the list, and you have to reorder the folders all over again.
- Once you create a title for a class, it's stuck that way.  And you have to give your class a title in order to create a class space.  This was an issue for me because I created a stand-in title of "American Government" until I came up with a better name, "Civics & Citizenship", but the class is stuck with the stand-in title.  
- You can't develop all of your class's content on Schoology.  I don't mind this, but it's good to know.  You'll have to develop hand-outs in Word, design web lectures using programs like Prezi or Educreations, etc.  Schoology is more a space to upload files you've already created, a place to design tests, than an end-all be-all for class development.
- You can't copy and paste quiz questions from one quiz into another.  For example, I'd like to pull questions from all of my unit tests to plug into the midterm exam.  That's not currently an option with Schoology.  So instead, I have to open two tabs: one with the quiz that I'm copying questions from, and the second with the midterm I'm creating to paste the content into.

All-in-all, using Schoology has been fairly painless.  Only a few frustrating days but never to the point of wanting to use another - and ultimately costly - platform.  The cons are glitches and oversights more than intentional choices, I think, and therefore I expect most of them to be ironed out in the coming months.  I'd recommend teachers of all subject areas to check out Schoology, not just to develop an online class, but to use as a supplemental tool or for flipping the classroom.  Teachers could post video lectures of basic content (like convention rules and structuring an essay), design remedial or advanced activities for those lower and higher achieving students, and create a space for the class to share out resources and ideas.
I love Anthropologie.  It's not secret.  I spend too many hours perusing its website.  Because I "like" Anthro on facebook, I'm able to stalk it even more: reading its status updates and photo shares.  Well, today Anthro posted a feature from their web mag on India in five senses.  Sounded interesting.  I'm sitting here doing nothing, sipping some water as my spiced chicken and stuffed peppers bake in the oven, waiting for Kyle to get home.  So I check it out.  And it was one of those moments when teachers are out, living their normal out-of-school lives, and something hits them as a great potential teaching idea!  We are always on the lookout - consciously or subconsciously - for teaching material.

Anyways - here's Anthro's feature: 
I plan to use this idea in my Arts History class.  Students will already have used Pinterest to introduce themselves, and I was considering using Pinterest again to have students visually represent the Romantic Era and then write accompanying captions.    Now I think I'll have students make a PowerPoint - or if students have tablets, something like MoodBoard - to represent the sights, sounds, textures, smell, and tastes of Romanticism.  I also like that the Anthro feature has a paragraph introduction.  I can see students creating a title slide with the introduction and then dedicate each of the following five slides to a different sense.  I like using photo captions to lend some context to the images so that students have to justify their choices and articulate themselves both verbally and visually.  

This sensory tour activity would obviously work well in geography or cultural studies classes.  But what about English or Art when you analyze imagery?  You could have students read a work - The Great Gatsby with its color imagery comes to mind - and put together a sensory tour that visually represents what the author puts into words.  Then, instead of written captions, you could accompany the images with passages from the novel.  

I can also think of an icebreaker on the five senses.  With the start of the school year coming up, I always dread trying to come up with an engaging icebreaker that hasn't been done a zillion times before.  What about a "My Summer in 5 Senses" activity?  Rather than having students do the hum-drum "share 3 fascinating things about yourself!" which rarely produces fascinating results, why not focus in on memorable summer moments?  It gives students a chance to share the highlights of their summer and also briefly reminicse about their beautiful summer lives before school sprung upon them yet again.  To test this out, I'm going to reflect on my summer in five senses:

Sight - Sitting on the deck of the Delta Queen looking at the downtown Chattanooga sitting high on the cliffs with the river spread out before us and the mountains encircling the city was a beautiful, peaceful, and memorable sight.

Sound - I become a little obsessed with Cher Lloyd this summer.  I love her hip, poppy, sassy music.  Listening to her sing about "turning her swag on" was pretty spec.   

Touch - While camping in the UP, Kyle and I spent a long afternoon playing in Lake Superior.  We made muddy sand balls and whipped them at one another.  I remember really clearly the feeling of scooping up the wet sand, letting the lake water drain between my finders, and packing the sand together into balls before chucking them at Kyle.

Smell - Sleeping in past 6 a.m. each morning this summer has been grand.  Dragging myself out of bed, stumbling into the kitchen, and whipping up a quick cup of coffee on the Keurig to get the day started: even better.  There's nothing like the smell of coffee to make mornings more enjoyable.  

Taste  - It seemed so special but was so simple: Kyle and I shared an ice cream cone of hand-scooped Mackinaw Island Fudge while visiting Tahquemenon Falls in the UP.  Cool, creamy, and delicious after hiking around the park.

That was quite fun.  Ima do it.  Thanks Anthro!  For your beautiful clothing, gifts, and decor, AND for your inspriring ideas.



One of my goals, as I'm designing my online classes, is to expose students to a variety of free online web tools.  In our first semester of Arts History, we'll be covering six eras together and then students will select three from a list of options to research on their own.  Lots to pack in in 3 1/2 months of time.  Initially, I wanted students to make a coffee-table style book for the Medieval era using Shutterfly, but I realized it would be too time-consuming with too much time spent on formatting the project when the bulk of the time needs to be spent processing the content.  I went to one of my trusty online resources, http://www.21things4teachers.net/, for ideas.  If you've never visited this site before, it has great lists of resources depending on what you're looking for collaboration, visual learning, presentation, or digital learning tools.  

They provided a link to something called PhotoPeach, a site that allows you to make slideshows that play like a video.  They're pretty visually dynamic because rather than sticking on a single unmoving image for each "slide" the camera zooms in or out or across the image to make it look like it's playing.  The great thing about this is that you don't have to program it to do the zoom; it does it automatically.  You write a caption to match up with each image, and it will scroll across the image at whatever speed you choose.  The best part, I think, is that you can layer music over it.  The site has a selection of musical works, but even better, you can upload audio from any YouTube video to your presentation.  Seemed easy enough, but I wanted to make sure it would work to meet my project's learning objectives.  I opened the assignment file and scanned through my objectives and the criteria I laid out for my students, and I got started working on the project myself.  Whereas students will have to include three artforms in their presentation, I only included one.  It took me under two hours to complete the project.  Granted, I didn't have to do much research on the content like my students will have to, but I did do a little research to refresh myself.  But just two hours to research images and artworks for my slideshow, to write out all of my captions to meet the criteria laid out in the assignment sheet, to organize the images, layer music on top of it, refine my wording a few times, and voila.  And that's on a dail-up speed internet connection.  That's certainly less than half the time it would have taken to make a Shutterfly, and I spent the bulk of my time researching images and wording my captions, not assembling the format of my PhotoPeach. which I think is fairly new as it still has very few users.   

Seemed easy enough, but I wanted to make sure it would work to meet my project's learning objectives.  I opened the assignment file and scanned through my objectives and the criteria I laid out for my students.  Then I got started working on the project myself.  Whereas students will have to include three artforms in their presentation, I only included one.  It took me under two hours to complete the project.  Granted, I didn't have to do much research on the content like my students will have to do, but I did do a little research to refresh myself.  But just two hours to research images and artworks for my slideshow, to write out all of my captions to meet the criteria laid out in the assignment sheet, to organize the images, to layer music on top of it, to refine my wording a few times, and voila.  And that's on a dail-up speed internet connection.  That's certainly less than half the time it would have taken to make a Shutterfly, and I spent the bulk of my time researching images and wording my captions, not assembling the format of my PhotoPeach. 

The program could be used as an alternative to PowerPoint or Prezi, but it's meant to stand on its own, whereas students usually use PP and Prezi as visual aids to accompany an oral presentation.  It's also meant to be image-centered as opposed to text-centered, and you're very limited on how much text you can fit on a slide.  There's a plus side to that too though because it forces you to break the information down into concise, easy-to-process chunks.  I think it would be a great tool for students to tell a visual narrative, to give a history report on an important event, to do a presentation on an artist and show several of his/her works, or for art students themselves to create a personal portfolio presentation with a collection of their works and artist statements alongside each.  Teachers could also use it to design presentations to deliver content.    

Simple and quick with engaging results.  Highly recommended.  

Tech Tools


I'm designing two online classes for the fall: the first is an Arts History class, an English elective, and the second is an American Government class that earns students a credit in English and a half-credit in Civics.  I wanted to try my hand at designing online classes because I haven't been thrilled with what I've seen of online English classes.  They provide great grammar lessons, but I don't find them super engaging and I feel that reading and writing aren't being paid enough attention.  And so, I signed myself up for designing a couple this summer.

One of my goals has been to investigate all sorts of tech tools to enhance the learning experience for students and to give them opportunities to experiment with the different resources out there.  As I've been chugging along, I've come across a few stellar sites and programs for both delivering content to students and for students to use to demonstrate learning:
This is timeline development site.  You can entitle your timeline, chart events along the spectrum, and attach images and captions alongside each event.  One of my units is on the history of American Government, and I plan on asking my students to use TimeToast to help them organize their research.  

My fave app for creating "video" lectures.  Unlike Screenchomp, you can add more and more pages to your lecture, so the images and next change throughout your presentation, kind of like you were flipping through a PowerPoint.  You can record your voice as you type things on the page or insert new images.  The app does a nice job of allowing you to share content orally and visually.  The one pain in the butt about it is that if you stumble in your speech while it's recording, you've either got to keep going or start entirely from scratch.  You can pause the recording and just record in small chunks, which is helpful, but I still wish there was a way to undo the last recording session without having to erase the entire presentation.  You can undo text and image placement though, like if you spelled something wrong or had a typo.  It's also a nice program because you can annotate on the page while you're speaking.  And unlike Screenchomp which just allows you to annotate with a stylus, you can insert text boxes and type into it in Educreations.

MoodBoard Lite: 
Another great app.  It's like an interactive poster making tool.  You can insert text boxes and images, and you can go straight to the web from the program and insert images with the url attached.  I'm making a MoodBoard to introduce each of my units.  It has the unit title posted, essential questions listed, a few applicable images to the unit, etc.  Students are also supposed to reflect on the MoodBoard infographic in a class discussion to introduce the unit where they have to respond to the essential questions to show their prior knowledge and also reflect on what the images represent.  It's really easy and fast to use.  I've also saved the MoodBoards as images and then uploaded them into Educreations presentations.

Wordle is one of the tech tools I keep going back to and finding new ways to use.  This time around, I created a Wordle to introduce my Arts History class.  I inserted the Wordle as an image into an Educreations presentation where I give a mini-lecture on what the class will be about.  You could also insert a Wordle like this into a class syllabus or enlarge it and hang it as a poster in a classroom.

More later!    
This is the third year that I've taken classes to the University of Michigan Museum of Art for docent tours.  The museum's educational tours are truly awesome.  I email the museum a couple of months out to set a date, let them know the theme we're studying in class, send along some of the driving questions of the unit, and they do the rest.  The put together an hour-or-so-long tour with a few different artwork stops along the way that match the theme of the class.  Pam Reister has been out tour guide for the past couple of years and she always puts together something so thoughtful, focused on the theme of the class, and considerate of ways to get the students to interact.I've taken classes for Women's Studies, Shakespeare, Creative Writing, and the Macabre.  Each tour that UMMA has planned has incorporated a different set of artworks, sometimes there are repeats, but what's said about the artwork varies greatly from tour to tour, so it's like experiencing the artwork in a completely new way each time.  Here are a few strategies they modeled for looking at art:

Creative Writing:

1) We approached a painting with several subjects and objects in it - people, a covered wagon, a bucket, a basket, a pile of bones, etc.  Each student was handed a slip of paper with a different object from the painting written on it.  Students were given 5 minutes to write either about their subject or from their subject's perspectives and then share out with the group.

2) Next we looked at landscapes and students had to write about the scene and create a sensory experience by using imagery to help the reader see, hear, smell, taste, and touch the scene being described in the scene.

3) We were given free reign in the modern art section to pick a work that we liked and write a four line poem about it:
- Create a title for the work
- Write a line with an action phrase in it
- Write a metaphor/simile about the work
- Create a different title for the work to close the poem


1) We looked at a lot of portraits and to practice their acting skills, students had to study the work and draw conclusions about the personality of the subject and then act like them, both talking aloud, gesturing, and making facial expressions.  It was great fun.  

I'm really grateful for such a great arts resource so close to school.  
I need to take note of a successful happening today. Classes are wrapping up, and most classes are working on their final essays or projects. Next week will be chaos. Students scrambling to get things in at the end of the semester. The stress of finals. All-nighters. Tears. Frustration. ...For both students and staff. But today I had a calm moment before the storm. My AP English students have already written their final essays, and I met with them one-on-one today to pass back their essays and talk about their growth, strongest areas of improvement, and things to focus on next year. And after meeting with all of them and reflecting on their progress, they have all grown so much! Every student has now nailed developing a clear thesis and organizing their ideas into a cohesive essay. This year, many of them were able to move into the aesthetic world of writing...playing with syntax and alliteration and metaphors, weaving artistry into their writing. And the reason I think they've come so far is because we've done so much writing, so many one-on-one conferences, so much revision. And I just wanted to make a note to myself that one-on-one conferences are the way to go. Students get individualized instruction, the teacher knows what each student's strengths and struggles are, and it builds that relationship. I am vowing to do more one-on-one conferences in all my classes, during worktime, on small assignments, etc. Not just on big projects or papers. I'm always milling around while they work in small groups anyways, but I don't get great interaction with them that way. One group member acts as spokesperson and I get to hear everything they know, but not what their quieter classmates know. More one-on-one conferences across all classes - not just with upperclassmen anymore - and for more and smaller types of activities. Quick, on-the-spot, formative assessments. My brain might be as fried as the students' this close to finals, but at least some of that reflective practitioner is still in me!
Kyle and I just returned from our annual spring break trip to Savannah, GA.  This trip, we visited two museums and saw some really great and inspiring exhibits, some of which were fun and whimsical and an experience in and of themselves, others sparking reflective, analytical discussion, and still others applicable to the Social Studies classroom.  

Museum Visit #1: The SCAD Museum of Art 

Our first museum visit was to the new SCAD Museum of Art because artist Fred Wilson had an exhibit there entitled "Life's Link."  I first became interested in Wilson after watching his Art21 segment where he talks about having little interest in creating new things with his hands.  Instead, he wants to manipulate and curate and assemble things which already exist and fashion them in new ways to create new meaning.  I was expecting to see one of his traveling collections, something similar to what I saw in the Art21 episode, but instead I saw exactly what drew me to him in his episode.  Wilson came into the SCAD museum and looked over its permanent collection of art centered on black history, its Walter O. Evans Collection of African-American Art..  He then selected several of the artworks and reinterpreted them using Savannah bricks.  He had tons of the bricks brought in - bricks stored and left over from building projects, walking paths, ruins from around the city - and next to each piece of artwork from the original collection, he assembled a set of bricks into a sculpture that represented or reinterpreted the original work.  

Fred Wilson's reinterpretation of the Douglas work which hangs at the top of the "staircase."

We moved out of the Wilson exhibit into a hallway where two SCAD students ushered us through a door off to the side that we would have otherwise missed.  The SCAD staffer gave us an overview of artist Sigalit Landau and her exhibit entitled "One Man's Floor is Another Man's Feelings", a theme woven throughout the exhibit being the conflicts and issues revolving around her native Israel.  She explores conflict and interdependence and unity, often using textiles or resources associated with the region.  While this context certainly influenced and clarified my understanding of the work, it also confined my reading of the work to just the artist's intent...or the museum staff's interpretation of the work.  I prefer to study a work on my own first, before even looking at the title, because I want to think on it with as little influencing my reading of it as possible.  Once I've had some time to explore it on my own, then I like to learn the title and more context about the work.  That way, I walk away with a broader understanding of the work and have a few, varied readings of it, as opposed to just one limited - albeit maybe the "intended" - interpretation.  Three works in particular stood out to me:

The first work, Azkelon, was a video projected on the floor of three men on a beach, throwing knives to acquire new territory and then marking off boundaries, always trying to grow their space, invade their neighbors, and take over their land.  It was a such a repetitive process: as soon as one man would start to "win", another of the two would reclaim a chunk of the winner's land, and everything would seem to equalize again.  The process kept repeating, no one ever progressing or winning, stagnant, eventually just ridiculous.  

Sigalit Landau's "Azkelon"
The second work, which I just realized mentions the same "Azkelon" as in the previous work, is a short video of men and women sitting around a table.  A little girl underneath the table tied their shoe laces together, trying to unite them, but all of the men and women got up, leaving their shoes behind.  In the end, the little girl is left alone under the table, enclosed in a ring of shoes all tied together in a circle around her but with no people filling them.  I wonder if this represents the people's economic ties to one another: that their resources are shared or traded but that there's not unity amongst the people.
Sigalit Landau's "Erasing the Border of Azkelon"
The third work, Salted Lake, was a video of two boots made of salt sitting on the top of an iced over pond.  The video focused on the boots the entire time as they slowly melted the ice underneath them, and finally, slowly, painstakingly slowly, thawed the ice and dipped beneath the surface.  I wondered if this work was commenting on the conflict: stagnant, slow, frustrating.  But when the boots finally dipped beneath the surface, was that hope that the long, ardous conflicts would someday be resolved?  Kyle's reading of the work was that the countries in conflict are a sinking ship - or pair of boots - slowly bringing on their own demise by staying so firmly footed in their own ways, refusing to acknowledge and respect one another.
Sigalit Landau's "Salted Lake"
Classroom Applications: I see really great potential to create a unit based around these artworks, to explore the conflict, how it originated, the different countries' viewpoints and issues with one another, and to then offer more contextualized readings of the artworks based on what students learned about the history and economic and social climates of the different countries.

Museum Visit #2: Telfair Museums - The Jepson Center

The Jepson Center for the Arts (A Telfair Museum)
The second museum we visited was The Jepson Center, and while we've seen several exhibits there - from psychedelia, to nature and wildlife collections, to historic photographs and paraphenelia from Paris - the two we saw this last visit have been my favorite Jepson Center shows.  The first was a collection of light sculptures from artist Leo Villareal.

The show was pure fun, wondering "How did they do that?", "It reminds me of a party or celebration!", "I could stare at this forever...", etc.  While the works weren't really thought-provoking for me - I didn't see them as political or social commentaries - I really enjoyed the experience of just looking at them, examining them from all angles, laying on the floor underneath one of them and staring up at it.  Some works had a disco/Vegas/rave/dance party vibe to them.  Others had a tranquil/sun setting on the horizon/glowing quality to them.  It was wondrous and cool and magical and sparkly and pretty and amazing and entertaining, and I loved loved loved it.  
And I'm kicking myself for not picking up Villareal's book at the museum shop, and even though it doesn't compare to seeing the works play out in person, it's a piece of the experience:
The last show - which I only went to because Kyle was really excited for it, and he's rarely psyched to go to museums...he'll go...just with minimal enthusiasm - was on video games as a form of art: "Game Change: Video Games as Art Medium and Inspiration."  I have to say...I think I liked the exhibit just as much as Kyle did.  I had never thought of video games in the ways that these artworks provoked for me.  The first couple of works were videos of the artist exploring the boundaries of the game: walking along the edge, pushing through boulders or walls until the screen warped, just wandering through the scene.  These "walk" videos explored the limits of the illusion of videos games and those moments when you slip out of the illusion when the game warps or loses its fluidity.  There was one video of a walk through parts of Lake Loch Ness and some land bordering it.  I loved the transportive quality of it, where you feel like you're walking through the space and getting some glimpse of experiencing the real thing.  It's the same reason I love literature, but I guess I hadn't really thought of video games in that way.  

Classroom Application: You could have students do a piece of writing to transport you to a particular place.  Be very descriptive, offer a sensory experience, really try to recreate the space in as much detail as possible.  But at points, remind the reader that it's an illusion.  Go over-the-top with mood, romanticize the setting too much, make it feel more like a memory or fantasy than reality.

There were also a couple of montage videos trying to define what makes a video game a video game.  The artist zeroed in on archetypal elements of video games: jumping, ascending, battling, running, etc.  The jumping video had 1-4 second long clips from video games spanning decades and genres, showcasing the function of jumping: the desire of freedom and flight, to avoid obstacles, to move and progress, to reach great heights, to score points or rewards, to mount something, to run away, etc.  It was really interesting to see all of these moments from video games compiled in sequence, and it made me think about the ideas of jumping and ascending in more figurative, connotative ways.  

Classroom Application: Have students pick an archetype and create a compilation video of film clips or a text of quotes characterizing the archetype.  You could also have students select a theme or symbol  and synthesize passages from different texts into a "found" story or essay or manifesto.  You could have students select and define a particular plot element and compile a collection of climaxes or resolutions.  You could have students select a figure from history and compile all of the different ways they're portrayed in literature, film, news stories, etc. to help define their character.
Yesterday I attended a day-long workshop, Arts 21 meets Fluxus, at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.  The workshop was geared towards art educators, but the group I went with consisted of me, an English and Social Studies teacher;  two art teachers; a math teacher; a science teacher; and a math and science teacher.  In all there were about 40 teachers attending, and I was surprised and happy to see that a few others besides those in our group were also non-art teachers.  The workshop was everything I look for in a good workshop: a mix of theoretical lecture and discussion, specific teaching strategies, an exploration of new content to bring into the classroom, and that post workshop high where your brain is filled to capacity coupled with feeling refreshed and invigorated and itching to get back into your classroom to try some new things. 

The big idea that I took away from the workshop was "play."  We talked about giving art students time to play, to pass out tons of materials and have them experiment with new techniques.  I thought about applying the idea to my English classroom and having play days for students to experiment with punctuation and syntax and different elements of craft like metaphor and imagery.  Typically, when I ask students to write, there's a specific prompt I want them to answer or there are specific devices I want them to practice using.  Very structured.  But valuable because I need to assess their progress on a particular objective.  But also probably terribly boring when I don't also give them the opportunity to just play with language and write about what they want to write about.  I love playing with syntax.  Creating a rhythm.  Breaks.  I love experimenting with different punctuation to achieve just the type of flow I want.  And I'm a bit disappointed in myself for not giving my students to opportunity to play with language enough to maybe come to love the musicality of it.  And they might hate it.  And not see it as play at all, but as torture.  But maybe if I roll it out after some playful videos and quotes to get them into the mindset of experimentation, there's a chance they might have fun with it.

Play also seems to be a theme in artist Oliver Herring's work, and we watched a good chunk from the Art21 episode on Herring yesterday at the workshop.  The process for a few of his works involved people spitting different colored food dye up into the air and letting it spray onto their faces and shirts.  It sounds kind of gross, but Herring was taking people out of their comfort zones and asking them to do something kind of crazy and wild...and fun.  And the photo portraits of the men drenched in dye that resulted are so cool and colorful.  It looks like the portrait subjects spent the day in a paint fight, running and splashing around, and the portrait captures a quiet moment after all of the excitement died down.  And the portraits, these men covered in color, make you wonder about the story behind the picture.   

Here's a small clip for the Art21 episode on Herring.  You can see the whole thing here:  http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/oliver-herring 
The final portraits (Source:  http://www.pbs.org/art21/slideshows/oliver-herring/selected-artworks):
Herring is also the creator of TASK: part game, part icebreaker, part team-building, part art-making, and all fun and creativity.  You need only a group of people, a box, pencils, some slips of paper, and basic building materials to do it: string, cardboard, paper, markers, crayons, recyclables, etc.  Each person in the group writes a task for others to complete and places it in the box.  Then, each person grabs a "task" out of the box and completes it.  Once you complete a task, draw a new one from the box and write a new one to place into the box.  

I've participated in two TASK events.  The first was on my first day of the 2010 Art21 Educators Summer Program; Art21 and Herring hosted it at a gallery in NYC.  At first, it was really uncomfortable being thrown into this controlled chaos with so few rules.  But once I started in on a task - creating a luxurious spread of treats and devouring them like Cookie Monster - it was silly and fun and playful and comfortable.  And the tasks were so varied: "transport me to Paris" became a huge Eiffel Tower constructed on the wall, made out of black tape; you can imagine what "write 100 different words on 100 different post-it notes and collage them on the window" would look like; and "make a jungle canopy" had strings and paper draped across the ceiling.  The TASK event introduced complete strangers - these 15 educators from across the country - to one another in such a playful, fresh way.  Starting the series of workshops with TASK set the tone for the summer program: open-minded, creative, innovative, adventurous, collaborative, and fun.  We know we'd be out of our comfort zone, that our experience would be an overwhelming, chaotic, intensive 10 days, but that it would be controlled and productive, just like TASK.

That fall, I participated in my second TASK event.  The art teacher from my school, who is also my Art21 Educators partner, and I hosted a TASK event on the first day of teacher workshops before the start of the new schoolyear.  We used it as an ice breaker to get the staff united for the start of the school year and also to get our creative juices flowing and a dialogue started.  As summer winds down, the first day of back-to-school workshops aren't typically approached with excitement and fervor, and so we wanted to do something fun to get our staff excited for the upcoming schoolyear, to wake them (and ourselves) up out of their summer stupor and get ready to take on the year.  Just as much fun as the TASK event in NYC and probably even more uncomfortable for some of the left-brained teachers, but everyone bought into it eventually, showing that TASK isn't just for creative types; it brings out the creativity in everyone. 

"People are more unusual, complicated, eccentric, playful, and creative than they have time to express."  - Oliver Herring

And Herring provides his collaborators with the time and space to be all of these things.  I think all of us need to make a bit more time to be these things more often as well.

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." 

    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.


    November 2012
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    Black River
    Damien Hirst
    Online Class
    Spot Painting
    Web Tool Wednesday