A Year of Digital Learning

Another school year is just about over.  I just finished my final project for course 4.  I still have a ton of things to do before the end of the school year.  First and foremost after I get this post done is to finish report cards.

However, I thought I would talk about my wonderful year of digital learning.  Being involved in Coetail has really taken me a huge step forward in the way I view and use technology in my elementary art room.  Things have changed and for the better.

This year I was able to work with grades 1 through 5 using technology.  The technology could be as simple as walking through a museum using Google Galleries to learning about the “Rule of Thirds”.  Sometimes, it was more complicated when I had to use iPads with some of my students in grade 5 and Macbooks for the others to complete an animation project with varying degrees of success depending on the machine and software the students were running.

I learned about different issues that the digital world is facing.  Again some are minor such as who should teach tech standards or how should I brand myself?  Others such as cyberbullying, digital citizenship, and copyright are huge issues that will take time to come to terms with.  All issues need time to be solved and the more we learn about them, the easier they will be to understand and solve if need be.

Throughout the year the issues that were brought up have led to some great discussion.  Our Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays always went very quickly as the discussions were always very lively and thought provoking.  Seeing and hearing people’s perspectives on things always broadened my understanding of things and led me into different directions that I would not have thought about before.  I think it also helped to have the great food that was always provided for us.

The course I enjoyed the most was Visual Literacy: Effective Communicators and Creators.  This was because it was the course most applicable to my teaching ES Art.  I got a lot of ideas out of that class and have already applied a couple of them (Rule of Thirds and Infographics) to a couple of grades I teach.  In some ways this course was kind of like a kid in a candy store.  There is just a lot of things I wanted to try out in the future.

My favorite part of the program was having the opportunity to meet so many great people.  Being together as a group as often as we were was a big bonus.  Everybody was very friendly, willing to share, and learn from each other.  I always came away energized and ready to try new ideas when meeting with them.  Reading everybody’s posts helped out with relating to new perspectives, understanding and learning.  The wealth of knowledge within the group was amazing.

When I initially signed up for this program I was very apprehensive as it had been a long time since I have been back to “school”.  However, this was quickly put aside as I grew more comfortable.  By taking this program I have become a better student, but more importantly, I have become a better teacher.


Talking About Art in a Flattened Classroom

Art is meant to be looked at and enjoyed.  It is also meant to be talked about.  Art is a great tool for raising questions and, ultimately, discussions about things that have been created and seen.

When talking about art one needs to do the following things:

  • describe – talk about what you see
  • analyze – talk about how the artwork was put together
  • interpret – talk about what you think the artist is trying to say
  • judge – evaluate and make a decision on the artwork

My students do not have the opportunity to talk about other people’s art as much as I would like.  In the elementary my main goal for my Art students is to expose them to to each others work.  I want them to be able to describe what they see and then be able to give some positive feedback to their peers.  With the older students I add on the element of being able to give constructive advice based on what they have learned and done in their own work.  In both cases a lot of this is done through simple “art walks” around the classroom and informal discussions at the end of a project.

My students are very used to talking about each others work but that has become old and tired.  For them to keep keep on growing and learning, they need to have those opportunities to show and talk to other students from different schools about their work.

Final images could be posted online. Using technology and the flattened classroom model may be a good solution to this problem.  It would be interesting to set up a group of schools to talk about art that they have done.  It could consist of a local school here in Tokyo, another international school somewhere in the world, one in North America and my current school.  To organize this type of collaboration I would use the model that Kim Cofino talks about in her blog.  As I become more familiar with the process and our own goals, adjustments can be made to the project to make it stronger.    For communication, tech tools such as skype, Facetime or a wiki could be used.

To get started, it would be fun to have each grade level or school participating to do the same project.  I would not want all of us to do exactly the same lesson, but instead to have the students end up with the same product.  For example, have each class do an abstract portrait of themselves.  Final images could be posted online.  How it was taught and the media used could be different.  This would add to the suspense of seeing the final project.  More importantly, it could help generate discussions with students asking questions about how certain things were done or achieved.

I think the biggest benefit from using a flattened classroom is just the simple fact that as a teacher I am expanding my students’ world.  I think we often become a little isolated in our classrooms.  Having the students realize that there are kids from other countries and cultures producing potentially the same art, but in different ways truly expands their world.  It also gives them a better understanding that art can be made by anybody.  Giving the opportunities to talk about their ideas and share their work only makes them become stronger artists and individuals.

Photo by Carl Knudsen

Flipping a Clay Project

I read the article The Flipped Classroom: Myth vs Reality to find out the definition of a flipped classroom was.  The traditional definition of a flipped class is:

  • Where videos take the place of direct instruction
  • This then allows students to get individual time in class to work with their teacher on key learning activities.
  • It is called the flipped class because what used to be classwork (the “lecture” is done at home via teacher-created videos and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.

Each grade I teach does a ceramics project.  The kids really love it and are very disappointed if they miss it.  Each grade does a progressively harder project with new techniques being introduced as well.  This year’s grade 3’s have started on creating a coil bowl with the students who finish early being allowed to create another one.  Those students will then join the 2 pots together to make a coil pot.  All work will have a simple glaze applied to them.

I began thinking about a flipped classroom more after I got myself into a bit of a time shortage with my grade 3 classes.  This year our school has closed for 3 days for weather related reasons and we have piloted a new PD schedule.  Both have had an impact on my art schedule and has left me a little short of time in some grades to complete projects.

As it is too late to fix things for this year I thought I would try a flipped classroom next year.  The biggest benefit I can see right now is that it will give my students more time to work on clay instead of sitting and watching me demonstrate on how to do things.  This often takes up way too much time.

To do a flipped classroom, I realize that I am suppose to make my own videos, but by using these YouTube videos it buys me some time to sit down and make the necessary videos.  For the coil project the students will watch the following videos at home.  The links and titles will be emailed to them in advance.

Stop motion animation on coil pottery

Simple instructional video on how to make coil pots

Simple instructional video on how to make clay pinch pots

Simple instructional video on how to glaze

When they come to their next class, I will just give a very quick review of what they saw in the videos.  Next, I will go over where all of the materials and equipment is in the  classroom.  Once the kids have got themselves organized I will circulate through the class giving each student more individual time than I could in the past.  I think by using the flipped classroom approach I will gain about ½ an hour extra for the class when they are making their pots instead of demonstrating.  Then they would gain another 20 minutes when they are glazing their work.  Even this amount of time will make a big difference in the quality of the work the students are able to do.

Flipped classrooms can really benefit students as they are given more time to work on what they are actually supposed to be learning.  In some ways I think it has an even a bigger benefit to specialist teachers as it gives them more time with their students that they may not have had in the past.  In the end, time with the students to me always something that I really need.

Photo by Carl Knudsen

Art and Project Based Learning

I spent some time looking at this video on Project Based Learning and this one on Challenge Based Learning; trying to understand how I could use these in my ES Art program.  As interesting a PBL and CBL are, my biggest concern is time or in my case the lack of consistent time.  I see my students once every 6 day cycle for 60 minutes.  To put that in perspective, if I spend 5 classes on a project; it takes 6 weeks for my students to complete that task.  That is a long time.  I don’t know how effective PBL or CBL on their own would look like in my particular art program.

I went on to Google to see what other art teachers are doing with PBL and CBL.  I read Project-Based Learning and the Arts.  It talked about how curriculum from different disciplines could be used to help complete a project.  The article also gives examples of how art instruction can be integrated with project based learning. For me to do PBL in the art room might be best in a support role to classroom teachers who have taken on a specific project with their students.

A few years ago a colleague of mine Taryn Loveman created a project based on Explorers and Colonial Times in North America for his fifth grade class.  This project was very big and incorporated Math, Science, Language Arts, Social Studies, Music, PE, as well as Art.  When he approached me about it I was intrigued as this was something different than what I usually did in art.  It was nice to have a change.

There were 3 parts to the overall project that I was involved in.  The first part was to help his class create ships that would be used as game pieces for a game that he created about the explorers ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean.  I was to teach the kids about the types of ships, the different parts of the ships, their basic construction, and finally how to build them.  Our ships were made out of cardboard and tried to follow the basic look of old wooden ships.  Students worked in groups and had to build and problem solve their way through the construction of the ships.  The ships actually looked pretty good when the students were finished.

The next thing I was responsible was the artifacts that were to be recovered as part of a simulated wreck dive which took place in the school pool.  The students researched what types of things had been lost with various shipwrecks and what they looked like.  We then set about recreating gold and silver coins, plates, cups and pots.  All of these items were made out of ceramics that were glazed.  We even made the “treasure chests” that these items may have been lost in.  All of the artifacts were then sunk in the pool and recovered by teams of students who also had to plot and grid on maps where the artifacts were found.

The last thing I helped with was the creation of a colonial village.  Each student was assigned a person and their job that they had to research.  Part of research included finding out what the dwelling they lived in or their place of work looked like and was made of.  Students had to then make a scale replica of that building using whatever tools and materials they could find in the Art room.  A lot of problem solving went into these buildings as there were issues with scale, construction, and finally, on how to best decorate their buildings.

These projects were very different from art projects I had done in the past.  It really allowed for me to integrate Art into the regular classroom on a totally different level than I had ever done before.  It showed me the value of having so many disciplines working together on a common goal.  Now that I think about it, it also showed me that if I can’t do PBL in its pure form in my art program; then being part of a wonderful project in an integrated manner can be just as valuable.

All Photos by Carl Knudsen and Taryn Loveman

How Do I Ensure That Students Are Meeting Tech Standards?

Last week I wrote in my blog about who was responsible for teaching the tech standards to students.  I also briefly touched on how do we ensure that the standards are being met within an integrated model.  This week I want to expand on this based on how I could ensure that my students are meeting the tech standards in an integrated model in my art room.

As I said before good planning and communication can go a long way to making sure tech standards are being met.  The plan would be made by the admin and the tech team.  It would then be shared with the school including myself.

To begin with a thorough plan on what to do is essential.  The plan will allow me to see and understand how the standards will be integrated.  It will clearly lay out all of the objectives that need to be met and how to do it on a school wide basis.  It should also specify my role as a teacher and make me aware of what needs to done and within a specified timeline.

So as an Art teacher, how do I make sure the tech standards are being integrated into my subject area based on what my school has outlined?

Once I understand what the school wants I would look at the different units that have a technology component and see how the standards work with them.  If the technology I am using for that unit does not fit into any standards, then I would modify the units so the use of technology was clearer and met the specific standards.

It could also be helpful if I used integrated tech standards as part of a goal for my yearly evaluation.  This would allow me to consciously focus on the standards and let my administrators see the progress I was making towards this.  In a way this would also take care of any accountability issues and this is ensures that I am following the plans set out by the school.

Getting feedback through peer evaluation or a structure like Critical Friends can be helpful and informative.  Having my peers see what I am doing can be very insightful and help me look at new and different ways I integrate the tech standards in my classes.  It is important to get this feedback as I may have missed something or I can simply learn new ways of integrating the standards.  Another pair of eyes will often help you see things in a new way.

Lastly, I can also look at things just by using self assessments to see if I am teaching and integrating the standards.  I can identify the standards I teach to my students and match them up to when and where I teach them in my art classes.  If I taught them, I make a note of it and if I don’t or can’t, I can see if some of my colleagues are teaching them and those standards can get covered from somewhere else.  I have to remember that I can teach many of the standards, but some of them may not be very applicable to Art.  It is alright if they covered in other subject areas.

There are many ways that I can make sure that they are being integrated into my Art classes.  It just takes some commitment and determination to do it on my part.  It also helps to have a clear direction of where to go and the support of my admin, tech team and my colleagues.  In the end it is important to remember that once the standards are integrated into my classes they will just become a regular part of my program.

Whose job is it?

The ISTE Nets outline standards related to technology in education.

Standards are guideposts for schools.  Teachers, parents, and students use them as a tool to focus on what students are expected to learn.
As these standards become more and more important in the world of education; the question of who is responsible for teaching these standards comes up?

The simple answer is EVERYBODY.  Anybody who is part of a child’s education needs to have a hand in some of teaching the ISTE Nets standards.

cc John M

To get some feedback to on this I went around my school asking different people what would be their role in teaching these standards.  All of the answers are informal, but provide some insights.


•Inform the school community about the standards
•Provide time and organizational structures to enable understanding and
implementation of the standards
•Facilitate growth through workshops and professional deveopment on the standards
•Encourage collaboration and communication
•Assess use of the standards by teachers in their classrooms
•Document the standards in curriculum maps

Technology Coach

•Provide direction and vehicles for introducing tech standards to teachers and students
•Mesh teachers’ instructional beliefs with learning and implementing technology
•Help teachers overcome their fears related to technology and tech standards


•Intentionally address the standards in instruction
•Model, teach, review and continually monitor ethical use
•Document tech standards with in curriculum maps
•Support parent understanding of appropriate and acceptable use
•Embed tech standards in units of study


•Behave ethically, responsibly and safely
•Be conscious about learning the standards and using them consistently in their work


•Model appropriate use of technology
•Understand the Acceptable Use Agreements of the school, and reinforce them with their child
•Monitor their child’s behavior and time online

As educators how do we ensure they are being met in an integrated model?  I think a lot of the points listed above could also answer this question as well.  However, I believe the simple answer is through proper planning and communication.  Having a good plan in place will keep things organized and will lead to less problems from popping up.  Good communication ensures that everybody will understand what needs to be done and how to do it.

I realize that there is a lot more involved than that, but good planning and effective communication between all of the stakeholders will go a long way.

It is important to remember that standards are NOT the curriculum.  However, standards can help in the creation of curriculum.  The NETS standards are there to help us devise curriculum that will help our students as they face the needs of the needs of the 21st century.

Course 3 Final Project: ASIJ’s Zoo Description

This project began a couple of years ago when a friend of mine sent me a link to a site called Bembo’s Zoo.  The site is basically a take on the alphabet.  If you click on a letter, it comes alive in the form of an animal whose name starts with that letter.  However, instead of just being a picture of that animal; the animal comes to life with the letters in its name making a simple likeness to it.  The letters are animated as they move into place and then the animal leaves the page.

When I first saw this I thought it was great and would make a great digital art project.  I trued creating some of my own animals in my sketchbook until I had most of the bugs worked out.  I wrote out a unit plan and then had my students try it out.  We used our old desktop PC’s at that time with Photoshop Elements 5.  The results that first year were mixed as I had the students do their problem solving and designing directly on the computer.  This turned out to be very difficult for the students.  They had to learn the tools of the program and design at the same time.

The next year, we had the students design out their images in their sketchbooks first and then begin finalizing their image on the computer.  This made things a lot easier and as you can see in the Chipmunk example, a much stronger image.

This year we went another step farther.  I had always wanted to animate the letters like in Bembo’s Zoo, but felt that Flash would have been too much to teach in the 5 classes.  Also, our fifth grade was working on 2 different platforms.  Half are on iPads and the other half are using Macbooks.  For the students using the iPads, they are working with Flipboom.  The students using Macbooks are working with a free online program called Pencil.

Flipboom for the most part has been problem free.  Pencil on the other had has been very difficult to work with for some of the students as it does not seem ot have all of its issues worked out yet.  When it works it is great and when is doesn’t the kids get very frustrated with it.

Over all, I think they have had a good experience with this project.  I have got some good results and the consensus from the students has be that it is a worthwhile project.  I have got some issues to sort out with Pencil but overall both programs are easier enough to learn and use.

Here is a link to 2 animations created by a couple of my students.  Also here is a image of a chipmunk created by another student.

I hope you enjoy them all.

*The American in School In Japan utilizes Curriculum Mapping with Rubicon ATLAS.   The following unit is written in the ATLAS form.
* The Art program at ASIJ has limited contact with the elementary school students.  Due to this limited contact, Art only gives an effort grade.  

Course 3 Final Project: ASIJ’s Zoo


I was reading the article Remix Defined, thinking about its history, and trying to relate it to the visual arts.  When remixing started it was about taking pieces of music and putting it together to create something new.  It has evolved now to include images and video as well.  In the visual arts, the concept of collage is very similar as it takes different items or images and puts them together to create a new image.

Collage has a history that goes back to Ancient China.  In terms of Modern Art, the first artists to use collage in their work were Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque around 1910-1912.  It caused quite a stir back then and within a few years both artists left collage and did not return to it.  

Still Life with Chair Caning -1912 cc Jmussuto Flickr

Collage is a technique that has been used by most art teachers in this day and age.  It has now progressed into a unique art form on its own.  It is done by all ages of children and adults.  I have used it with every grade level that I have taught i my career.  It can be used to teach a variety of concepts and it makes for some very interesting art work.

Collage with found Objects – Third Grade

I believe my students could create digital image collages using KidPix or Photoshop Elements.  Digital collage or remixing is the natural next step to take.  However, as I think about how I could use remixing in my ES Art classes, I keep on thinking about are the kids I teach old enough to do a modified or proper digital remix using images, video and sound.  Unless to tools are very basic would I run into the problem of potentially handholding the students through the process and getting very similar remixes.  I wonder if only the most savvy of elementary kids could do it with basic instruction.  I guess then the question becomes is this very good teaching and learning?

Maybe it would be more appropriate if I were to use remixing as a presentation tool.  This past week, we had the opening for our first Faculty/Staff Art show.  As an art teacher I really believe that I have to practise what I preach.  The work that came out of the closet was incredible.  I got me thinking that a lot of talented people have worked at ASIJ over the years.  Also a lot of former students have gone onto have careers related to the Arts.  Here is a list of some of the people I found dong a quick search on Google: Ki Nimori, Paul Tange, Hikaru Utada, Ko Omazaki, Tai Dirkse, Greg Vikse.  They are teachers, former students and board members.  It might be a lot more fun to create a remix based on the music and images of people connected with ASIJ.  This could be a wonderful way of celebrating or promoting the fine arts with in our school or any other schools.

Infographic: The 4″Ss”

One of my favorite projects that I do with my fourth grade students is a ceramics project entitled the Disguised Box.  The idea behind the project is that the students are to create a ceramic box (bottom, 4 sides and a lid) and then changing it into something else.  However, the box still needs to be functional even though it is hidden.  Over the years, I have got a number of different examples from my students.  The most common are cars, trains, tanks, volcanoes and hamburgers.  Overall, the results have been consistently strong and I believe this is because of the unique problem to be solved and kids liking to work with clay.

However, every year I have one or two students who do not pay close enough attention to the class demonstrations on how to build and attach things made in clay.  The results are often lead to their work falling apart and beyond repair in the time they have left on the project.  To help remind the students of the steps to follow when attaching 2 pieces of clay together I created this graphic.

The graphic has a image of a finished teapot (box).  It then uses a slogan I call the 4S’s to remind the students of the stops they are to follow.  To attach 2 pieces of clay together the students must first score, then slip, stitch, and finally smooth the clay out in order for it to stay together.  Scoring is the process of roughing up the surface of the 2 pieces of clay to be put together.  Slip is watered down clay that is used as glue to hold things together.  Stitch refers to pulling the 2 pieces of clay together by pulling the clay from one piece to another usually with a pencil or pin tool.  Lastly, smooth refers to smoothing out all the stitches so the 2 pieces look like one without any seems.

I tried to keep the graphic simple enough that it could be used with the lower grades as well.  I use this technique with all of the classes I teach ceramics too.  Over the years it has worked well, but hopefully the graphic will help students remember how to keep 2 pieces of clay together and they can avoid the sad faces that inevitably come up when things don’t stay together.

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