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I'll admit it. Middle school is the grade level I struggle with the most when trying to figure out how to run my choice-based classroom. It is likely because the makeup of my classes vary wildly from year to year. Some years I have all the students who aren't enrolled in music, and other years it is opposite band. Some students actively choose are over a music class but most are in there by default. The size of the classes in the last four years have ranged from 6-19 students. Each semester I end up waiting to see the makeup of the class and then responding to it, offering the level of choice that I feel the students are ready for and typically giving less direction as the semester progresses.
This year I had a fantastic 7th grade class. There were only 9 students in the class and they were pretty artistically motivated. I was able to give more freedom earlier on than usual. We had a loose pattern of an assignment that started with an open-ended prompt followed by time to work on independent projects. Some students kept coming back to their independent projects throughout the semester and others would complete multiple projects while their classmates finished up their assignments. I saw a lot of collaboration from working together on constructing sculptures to sharing ideas and inspiring each other.

I am looking forward to seeing what these students create as 8th graders!

We went through a lot of cardboard!
This flower was gifted to the kitchen workers and brightened up the lunchroom for the rest of the school year.
A couple of students even explored digital paintings using photoshop and a graphics tablet on the left and procreate on the right.
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I've written about the State Fish Art Contest before (see posts here) because I feel like it, along with the Jr Duck Stamp, are great programs that merge art and science. It's always a choice for my students to complete the art and an additional choice on if they want to enter the contest or not. This year I only had 3 students choose to enter... and 2 were my own children! My kids worked on their projects over spring break and it was a good distraction from screens since spring break in Kansas is usually too cold to do much outside.
My oldest son chose the Colorado state fish- the greenback cutthroat trout. He had watched me using watercolors a few months before so he was excited to try out some techniques. He drew the fish and used masking fluid to trace the outline. He used a wet on wet technique to paint the water, letting drops of color fall on the wet paper and then sprinkled coarse sea salt and some table salt on the wet paint to create a pretty cool effect.
When the background was dry, he painted the body of the fish and later used colored pencils to add details.
Showing off his finished painting
My middle son used a wax resist technique, adding watercolor over his crayon drawing of a channel catfish.
Some states have a lot more participation in this program than others. It is not well known in Kansas but it is a worthwhile program, especially if you have students or children of your own interested in wildlife, conservation, or environmental science.

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I think it is important to practice what you preach, so I try really hard to make time to make my own artwork. That has looked different in the past year with the addition of my 3rd baby but I feel so much better and more like myself if I do something creative, even if it's only 10 minutes at a time, and I think it is good for students to see me working on my own art. During the spring semester I managed to make 2 11x14 oil paintings of my oldest and youngest sons. I finally found got the right reference photo for my middle son so hopefully I will get that painted by the end of the year. 
Both paintings were made in my classroom. I started the first painting you see here because a student wanted to oil paint a portrait so I decided that would be a great time to start one of my own to demonstrate. I worked on it sitting next to that student and a few minutes here and there when all the other students were working independently. I just found a strategic location where I could see everyone and it worked out great! I also spent a couple of lunch sessions painting after I finished eating and stayed after school to work on it while my older boys played on the play
I like taking progress photos while I work. It helps me to reflect on my process.
I took the painting to Highland Art Day where I added it to the teacher display. While walking around checking out all the artwork I overheard another art teacher making disparaging comments about teachers who have time to make their own artwork. How they (we) must not have big classes and can't possibly have children of our own... I was nearby wearing my youngest in a moby wrap at the time! I was pretty frustrated at the time at the rude comments and chose to go get a snack instead of confronting the other teacher. I may not have classes as large as some art teachers but I work just as hard and trust me, small schools have their own issues. No situation is perfect but I wish we could build each other up instead of putting down others who we perceive to have it easier. 
The two paintings side by side
The next painting showed more of the figure. It fits the personality of my oldest who loves to build and explore, and is not super comfortable smiling at a camera!
This painting was more of a challenge for me. I wanted to use the same style as the first portrait but I had so much more information in my reference photo. I eventually accepted that they were going to have different styles but as long as each represents the subject well, I'm ok with that.
More progress photos
Finished painting
How do you make time for your art? Do you ever work alongside your students?


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When I started teaching at this school the art show was held at the same time as the awards and spring activities night. We set up the show during the school day and then my principal and I had to take it all down at the end of the night since it was held in the gym and would need to be out of the way for graduation on Sunday. Last year I asked about moving the art show to the same evening as the spring concert and calling it Fine Arts Night. This year I took it a step further, inspired by art teacher Shawny  Montgomery, and encouraged the advanced seniors to set up a display of their best work from high school. 
Next year I plan to make it part of their final to create an invitation to give to family and friends, set up the display, and attend to be able to talk to people about their art. We may even get punch and cookies- this year it fell the same week I had pneumonia so it was pretty simple. 



Do you do anything special with your seniors at the end of the year art show?

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In the spring semester I gave my computer graphics students several options to complete a design product for a real “client”, mostly for school organizations or events. The design that blew me away was a logo for our band and vocal classes. The student incorporated a treble clef into our cobra logo and I thought that it was so clever. The logo will be printed on t-shirts next year but the designer was about to graduate and wanted a shirt before she left. To solve this problem we broke out the screen printing materials for the first time! We followed the directions and it worked just about perfectly. 
 Next we decided to let art club students screenprint their own t-shirts. I reused an old screen for this and we started to have a few issues. Let’s just pretend we were going for a distressed look. This was the sample I made on construction paper to remind art club about bringing a shirt. 
Feeling overly confident with a new screen I volunteered to make t-shirts for staff members for the last day of school when we play against the students in a dodgeball game. I tried I think 3 times and could never get the screen right. The screen filler washed right off like it had never been exposed to the design. Running out of time and not knowing how to fix it, I followed my friend Tranda’s (Ag Wife Artist Life: http://agwifeartistlife.blogspot.com/2017/03/screen-printing.html?m=1) steps to make a screen using mod podge. I had to simplify the design a bit and it also has a distressed look, but I was still happy with how the shirts turned out and got them completed on time. One of the students saw me in my dodgeball get up and told me I was “so extra!” I totally take that as a compliment. 


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I don’t miss a lot of school. I’d never missed more than 2 days in a row aside from maternity leaves but that all changed the last month of school! Somehow I ended up with pneumonia. I stayed home from school for 3 days and then ended up in the hospital for 2 more after I “failed” outpatient antibiotics. It was tough being away from my family, little stressful making plans for school (but would have been worse without my awesome sub), and a little boring being stuck by myself in a hospital room. Luckily my husband was able to follow the directions I gave him to find all my watercolor supplies so I could work on gifts for my graduating seniors. 
This was one of the get well soon cards a kindergartner made me. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to say “I love paints” but I love that it says “pants”. :)

 I don’t have one “thing” I do for my seniors every year. This year I made 5x7 inch watercolor paintings based on the students’ interests. They didn’t take me an unreasonable amount of time to complete, they made a nice gift when I slipped them into affordable frames, and it kept me entertained in the hospital!
Here are the supplies I used:
(If you decide to order through these links I receive a small commission at no additional cost to you)


When my oldest sons visited they made requests for paintings too. Their paintings are the “rainbow bunny” and chameleon in the lower right. 

While I don’t recommend getting stuck in the hospital, I do suggest having art supplies to keep yourself busy if you find yourself in that situation!


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One of the questions that always comes up when discussing Teaching for Artistic Behavior is does it meet the standards? The answer is yes! TAB can work really well with the National Arts Standards.
When I was planning my 7th grader's choice ceramics project, I used 3 standards as the focus:
VA:Cr1.1.7
I can apply methods to overcome creative blocks.
I can use different approaches to solve problems.
VA:Cr2.1.7
I can demonstrate persistence in developing skills with various materials, methods, and approaches in creating works of art.
VA:Cr1.2.7
I can develop criteria to guide making a work of art or design to meet an identified goal.
I explained to the students that we were going to discuss what they think makes a ceramic project successful and then they would work together to decide on criteria for success- this is the identified goal from VA:Cr1.2.7. The students said the main success points for them were:
1. Details to make it look realistic, like adding textures
2. Coloring makes sense
3. Stable- stands or sits how it's supposed to
4. Smooth seams and stron attachments

As the students brainstormed, I recorded what they said and then printed the finalized list for reference. 

We looked at Oldenburg's and Thiebaud's food pop art before we started the project so that students who were more comfortable with having a starting point could use food as a theme. Others came up with their own ideas and checked with me before starting to work.
I made a rookie mistake when firing their projects. I had recently fired to cone 5 for the first time and programmed the kiln too quickly to notice that it said 5 instead of 05. Their projects were... a little crispy. A few melted and they were all dark brown. Thankfully they were very understanding and ok with painting with acrylic instead of glazing! I won't make that mistake again!

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Highland Community College hosts a high school art day each spring and it is an event to which I enjoy taking students. It is close to our league art competition so I usually only take a handful of students. This year we had the 3 seniors who had been for a couple of years and we chose a couple underclassmen so they could learn the ropes and be ready to continue the tradition.

Attending the art day is a good experience because it exposes the students to a big variety of artwork from schools of all sizes. The quality of the work is always impressive and it shows the students what is possible! 

While the show is being judged there are a variety of on-site competitions happening. My students' favorite is always the sidewalk chalk competition with the them of art history with a modern twist.

When brainstorming in the days leading up to the competition, one of the students joked about doing a My Little Pony parody. I told them the first horse painting that comes to mind for me is Napoleon Crossing the Alps. What started as a joke ended up being their idea!


It was starting to sprinkle toward the end so it got a bit rushed but I thought they did a nice job and it was such a fun idea!
We were also thrilled to receive 2 honorable mentions in the art show. The first year I took students was the first year that every school in attendance received an award so an honorable mention is nothing to scoff at. 
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I usually try to find one service project that students can help with each year. This year, thanks to a donor who helped with the cost, my advanced class participated in the Memory Project.
If you are unfamiliar with the project, the idea is that students create a portrait of a child living in extreme poverty and the portrait is sent to them as a keepsake. It's all about spreading kindness and global awareness.

We were matched with an attendance center in Colombia and sent photographs of the children. I demonstrated oil painted portrait techniques (it's kind of my thing) and the students either used oil paint or another 2D medium. The majority of my students chose oils with a few selecting colored pencil.

When the portraits were finished, we slipped them into plastic sleeves and mailed them off. The next step was just waiting to hear that the delivery had been made and then eventually we were sent a video that showed the children at their center receiving their portraits from all the participating artists.

This was a good experience for all of us. The students tackled portraits, which they usually avoid, and did a wonderful job. Plus, they were able to spread some joy and felt good about that. We will participate again in the future!

The only bad part of the project is sending them away! I printed copies on nice photo paper for our spring art shows and competitions.
Here is our group picture with the portraits we made.

And here is the video!
The Memory Project- Jackson Heights 2018 - YouTube
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One of my roles beyond PreK-12 Art Teacher is Prom sponsor. I actually really love planning the decorations and even get really in to my spreadsheet. I thought it might be helpful to share how we decorated for prom and even my shopping list to save you some time.

(As an Amazon Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases you make with my link, at no additional cost to you.)

Here are some pictures of our set up. We have 4x8 foot 2x4 frames hinged together in the middle that we use to define the space of the dinner and dance floor without creating artificial walls. We cover the frames with SmartFab. It is more opaque than gossamer and cheaper and easier to cut than regular fabric. I buy the 4 foot rolls and it fits perfectly. We bought dark blue SmartFab and then ran purple gossamer over the seams from the floor draping up to a hula hoop suspended from the rafters.

Since we wanted to incorporate a lot of trees for decorations, we had some saplings cut down that were coming up in less than ideal spots and I cut some branches from shrubs that were overgrown, and those became trees! The stand alone trees had bases made from scrap 2x4s that came out around the bottom in an X shape. We also made a couple of screens by sandwiching branches between 2 2x4s and then adding another scrap piece perpendicular to the row for support. The trees were embellished with ivy vines and wisteria. We bunched up green gossamer along the bottom to disguise the wooden supports.

We have 2 arches that slide together now that a parent donated an extra she picked up at an auction. They are designed to have a satin cover but we left them uncovered so that we could wrap lights and vines around them which fit the theme better.
Here is our entry to the gym with the branch screens on either side and the decorated arch. 
We used purple lights around the perimeter of the room. I picked them up 1/2 off the morning after Halloween. At the right of this photo you can see the 2nd arch which led back to the photo area.
The table runner is 16 inch wide gossamer with our centerpieces- my favorite decoration- on top. The napkin rings were made of a wired vine which we also incorporated on the rim of the jars in the centerpieces.


I LOVE how our centerpieces turned out this year! The students compromised when discussing the prom theme and ended up merging the girls' and the boys' ideas. To tie it all together we have antlers and fairies. There was a log slice as the base of each, covered with preserved moss, which we bought in bulk. We added an artificial succulent for interest near the mason jars sprayed with frosted glass spray paint and filled with battery powered led fairy light packs. An antler shed wrapped around each and we had a silhouette of a fairy against the lights. To disguise the battery pack, we added a 3D butterfly sticker to each. We ordered them to use as decorations around the room but found they had magnets- BONUS!- so that worked perfectly.
  

The chandelier was a hula hoop with lights, ivy, and roses draped around it. It looked brighter in person. I had my first ever gallbladder attack and ended up needing to leave prom early so I didn't get as many pictures as I usually do. In fact, I did not get any finished pictures of our photo backdrop! It was so pretty. We draped blue and purple gossamer on the wall and hung a swing from the rafters. We covered the cable of the swing with rope, vines, and flowers to make it look more natural and had trees behind. The floor was covered with brown butcher paper and we used green gossamer again to hide the supports and look like plants. I wanted to order artificial terms or buy real ones but that didn't fit in the budget this year.

All in all, this was a really pretty prom and I recommend the theme!

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