Category Archives: Creativity

Creating A Lasting Legacy

Awhile back (yes I know it’s been a long time!) I posted about the collaborative school-wide project that I was gearing up for this year.  After a lot of planning, hard work, problem solving and CREATIVITY all of the “pieces” finally fell into place!

A Lasting Legacy (ALL), got it’s start last spring when I was awarded  a $1,000 grant during a SURPRISE all-school assembly!  My immediate thought (after being completely blown away!) was not to buy more markers, art books or supplies for students but to give them an art experience.  As I spoke to the newscaster in my interview an idea began to form.  I wanted to do something big, something that all kids could get their hands on, something…kind of like the unforgettable experience I had when I was a 7th grader in my junior high art class.  I wanted to do a Mosaic Mural!  I also wanted to strengthen the sense of community and belonging, engage students in collaboration and communication, and provide students the opportunity to work with a professional artist and experience a new artistic medium.

Why did I choose a Mosaic Mural?

An effective mural can:

       Give students a voice and a platform to express themselves
Bring people together
Convey a meaningful message
Build success, hope, and school pride
Strengthen the ties between school and the community
Allow students and teachers to collaborate and learn together

AND a lot of other things too!  Students will engage in activities that support both the National Visual Arts Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Skills including: Creative Thinking and Working, Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving, Judgment and Decision Making, Communication and Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Direction, Productivity and Accountability and Leadership and Responsibility.  District curriculum themes including Communities, Working Together, Neighborhood, and Family and Heritage will be enriched throughout the process of creating the large-scale mosaic.

As I mentioned before, it took a lot of work and a lot of planning to get this project to happen.  I’d never written a grant before but after receiving the Channel 5 Grant I was inspired to make it happen!  Many drafts and revisions later I was awarded two additional $1,000 grants; one from the Iowa Arts Council and another from my district’s alumni foundation. I also asked my school’s PTO (who were very supportive!) for additional funding.

After having everything approved both building and district-wide it was time for the students to get to work!  I asked each of my 750 students to create a drawing that depicted out community; school, home, and city.  Concetta and I sifted through hundreds of drawings, sorting recurring themes and images and pulling out unique ideas.  After collaging student ideas together we came up with an amazing design that represents our students and their understandings of community.

Finally we were ready for our Artist in Residence!  I was lucky enough to be able to use our schools ‘multi-purpose’ room as the “Mosaic Studio” so that in the afternoons I could teach K-3rd grade students in my own classroom.  It’s amazing to see how students responded to the studio atmosphere!  It was wonderful to see the way they worked and talked with “a real artist” (yes, that’s what they said!).  I will share more student reflections soon!

5th Grader polishing a freshly grouted mosaic panel!

I’ve just finished the final grouting and am working on sealing the edges of the rounded panels.  The next step is getting our amazing maintenance guys to help me frame and hang the 4 massive panels!  I will share pictures once the panels are hung in their permanent location!

Our community (it's upside down!)

One thing I’d change if I could go back – slow down and enjoy the ride!  I spent so much time planning, organizing and coordinating that I feel like I missed out a bit!  Would I do it again?  Most definitely!

"Spot-Grouting" the heart panel

Check out the full story covered by a local online newspaper here!

 A Lasting Legacy: Ashland Ridge Elementary Mosaic Mural


Finding My “Element”

When I was in college I was a painter and also an art ed major.  I felt like I did a pretty good job of balancing both; in fact, at that time I felt more like an artist and much less like a teacher.  I only took one education class at a time versus the 4 studio and art history classes I was taking each semester.  The creativity and the ideas of the people surrounding me was constant motivation and inspiration for new work.  Little did I know that when I got out into the teaching world things would change.

I was surprised by the demands of the teaching world, especially as a first and second year teacher.  I stayed late every night and planned lessons all weekend.  There wasn’t time for much of anything other than teaching, planning and grading.  Now entering my seventh year of teaching things have gotten noticeably “easier” and I’m finding that I’ve got more time in my day.  The extra time, however, leaves me wanting.  I still feel as though I’m missing something.  For the longest time I just haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it.  I thought that teaching art (which is an extremely rewarding and exciting job) was my thing and that it would be enough to get my art “fix”.

 I’m currently reading The Element, by Ken Robinson for a class I’m taking through The Art of Education.  Robinson’s conversational style invites you to begin questioning whether or not you have found your “Element” or even know what it is.  Through numerous stories of successful and talented people, including dancers, artists, and mathematicians who’ve found their own “Element” despite diversity, Robinson inspires you to look deeper and reflect on your own talents and how they are being used in the work you do.  The book has truly proved to be thought provoking, motivating and revealing.  In working towards discovering my own”Element” I have found that although I’m working in a field where I’m immersed in art and art making, I’m only focused on the work of others.


For 6 years, these paintings have sat untouched in their plastic wrap traveling only from one basement to another.  I haven’t touched my easel, oil paints and canvases since I left college.  Part of it was due to the loss of my “tribe”, what Ken Robinson uses to describe the people who share your “Element” and give you validation and inspiration.  Another reason for my reluctance was simply the amount of time that had passed since I’d last painted and the excuses I’d made for myself not to get started.

So, with inspiration from Ken Robinson and support from my new “tribe” on AOE, I’ve made the commitment to get going, follow my heart, and find my “Element”.  I pulled out my easel, rummaged around and found all of my paints and got to work.  I chose to create a portrait of my dog (yes, cheesy I know, but it seemed less intimidating and I needed that!) as my first leap into becoming a painter again.

As I painted I felt the familiar feeling of getting into “the zone” or what I usually call my Right Brain.  I relished the smell of the oil paints and recalled memories of working in the studio.  Robinson stated, “activities we love fill us with energy even when we are physically exhausted”.  Surprisingly, I painted until 3 in the morning and felt as though I could have stayed up till 6!  The painting is not finished yet and neither is my journey.  I hope to continue to find balance in being both teacher and artist.

10 Ways to Get Your Students to Think ARTFULLY

Teaching kids to think Critically and Creatively is a process.  It takes work!  Students need a variety of quality authentic experiences from which to draw from as they acquire their own problem-solving skills.

Here are 10 ways you can get your kids to think Critically, Creatively, and yes, Artfully!

  1. Let students draw from observation.  Create a still life in your classroom or collect books with lots of pictures of animals, cars, insects and more.
  2. Allow students the chance to connect with their work by giving freedom of choice.  Yes, you can still select an overall theme, but let them choose the “meat” of the work.
  3. Engage your students in rich dialogue about art history and past artists.  Students need to know why artists make art!  In our busy schedules we often don’t devote time to really talk about art.  Let them analyze and make their own judgements.
  4. Give students time to explore the materials.  In most schools kids get to work with clay once a year – that means that the average 5th grader has only worked with clay a total of 6 times!  Let them know the materials and the process.
  5. Teach lessons that call for student collaboration.  Give students the chance to talk out their ideas and build upon the creative thought processes of others.
  6. Engage students in group critique.  Teach them how to give positive feedback and ask questions about art.
  7. Give students the chance to reflect on their work.  Create a reflection form, have students fill it out and attach it to the back of their work or let them discuss their thoughts while standing in line.
  8. Let them plan!  A lot of artists create thumbnail sketches or create a rough idea before they begin their final work.  Planning is the visual brainstorm!
  9. Allow times for complete self expression.
  10. Lastly, model creative and critical thinking.  Think out loud.  Allow students to hear how an artist thinks!

Are You a Creativity Killer?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever begun your lessons by introducing a new artist for your students to study, showed them tons of images of the artist’s work and left it up as an example.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever used “tracers” for students to use as a starting point for their work.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever demonstrated, step-by-step, how to make something.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever drawn on student work or given student’s suggestions like “what if you put a tree there?”.

Chances are, at some point in your teaching, you’ve been a Creativity Killer.  I’ve been one too, but I am determined to become a creativity cultivator, not a killer.

We cannot expect students to be truly creative if we continue to give them all of the answers.

As art teachers, we pride ourselves in getting students to think “outside of the box” and solve problems in unique and original ways.  If a walk down the hallways of your school reveals 25 almost identical Starry Night paintings, creativity has obviously been squashed.

We cannot claim we teach critical thinking if we don’t allow students to think for themselves.

Why do art teachers do this?  Does it make it easier to grade?  To meet district standards and benchmarks?  Are they afraid of losing control?  Making a mess?

Are you a creativity killer?

If you haven’t been to Marvin Bartel’s art education website, it’s a must.

Check out 10 Ways Not to Kill Classroom Creativity!