Wednesday, December 5, 2018

An Art Library at @UniLiggett! #ArtsEd #EdChat #MakerEd

I received an email the other day and it blew my mind. Email don't generally do this, but this one shared an idea that I fell in love with right away. I asked if I could share it out and I was given a big thumbs up, so here it is.

Here is the email,

The Liggett Art Library is finally live!

What’s the Liggett Art Library?

Over time, The Curators (a group of Upper and Middle School artists) hope to collect and create a body of student artwork from all divisions in order to:

-Loan artwork to faculty and staff to brighten classroom and office spaces
-Add artwork to empty wall spaces in common areas
-Refresh old displays with more recent artwork
-Regularly rotate art displays throughout the school
-Take a select number of space- or classroom-specific commissions annually
-Build an evolving art collection by keeping student work for a year or more before returning it to make room for new work

How does it work?

It’s pretty similar to any other library.  You can borrow artwork for the school year to hang in your teaching or working space(s).  Each June, artwork must be renewed or returned to the library.  This allows work to be shared, rotated through different spaces, and/or returned to graduating students.  

What’s the difference between the three collections?

The Permanent Collection is work that has been gifted to the library. Since these pieces do not need to be returned to students, they can remain in one location (upon annual renewal) for longer periods of time.

The Temporary Collection is work that student artists have loaned to the library upon condition that the art be returned to them when they graduate (sometimes earlier). If you’re interested in borrowing Temporary Collection pieces, please be sure to check the return-to-student date.

Commissions is the body of custom work The Curators will create for particular individuals, spaces, and/or units of study. Curators is a small group, and there are only so many commissions we can create in a school year, but we’ll do our best to honor your requests as we’re able.

How can I borrow work?

Please email me with your requests.  For now, please keep requests to 1-2 pieces unless you are looking to curate a larger shared space.  Requests received by this Friday 12/7 will be matted and framed for you by The Curators (Art Library Team led by Hope K ’19 and Lizzie L ’20) and hung over break by Jim K (thanks, Jim!).  Requests received after Friday will be hung in the new year.

Thank you for supporting this project.  We’re looking forward to bringing student artwork out of the galleries and into your classrooms!

Helen (& The Curators)

Isn't this idea amazing! I love everything about it! I've already put in a request for a mural for the Makerspace and piece of art done by one of my favorite Liggett artists, Hope Kulka. Here is what I requested,

I am a strong believer in the power of the arts to give a voice to those that feel like they do not have one and the Knights Forge Innovation Lab is going to be a place for all makers, including all artists, to showcase their work and make amazing things. I hope all teachers take advantage of this amazing program and fill their classrooms with amazing works of student art. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Where's Your School Culture? #EdChat

One of the things that stood out to me about my trip to Iceland was the culture of learning throughout the school. Everything was geared toward the learner. As I walked through the school, I didn't need to the examples of the learning culture pointed out to me. I could see it in the classrooms as students interacted with one another. I could see it in the hallways where student work was on display. I could see it in the way the teachers connected with others in the morning. Everywhere I turned, the culture was there and it was amazing.

As I talked to different teachers while in Iceland, I asked about culture and I wondered about how school mandates or new initiatives were rolled out or how teacher voice was part of the conversation. The one big thing I took away was that the culture of the school makes it easier to change whatever needs to be changed. The shared sense of community in the school is a culture that supports change for the good of everyone. Everyone feels like they have a voice in their school. Students feel like they are part of a large community supporting them in their studies. The culture supports the changes that need to be made and lifts everyone up when some are hesitant. They understand that changes are part of the evolving nature of any community. That is what is key. Change is part of any community.

As I talk to teacher across the country, the culture of their school shapes their teaching experience. I think this is one of the biggest obstacles of any school or district that is trying to make sweeping changes in their institutions. You can't expect complex changes to occur in teachers' thinking when a culture does not exist to support those changes. A culture of support needs to be in place before you can ask people to change what they do day to day. Without the established culture, resistance to any new ideas is going to be widespread.

Culture doesn't solve everything. You could have a great culture, but it could be destroyed by poorly thought out plans, ignoring teacher input, focusing on anything other than students, and much, much more. I've seen great school cultures killed. It is sad.

My school is a pretty progressive school and there is a concerted effort to build school culture for the teachers and for the students. In the Middle School, we instituted the House System to bring the sense of community across all three grades. We believe that we can bring everyone together with this system to help make any changes that might be needed over time. If everyone is on the same team, we can all support one another for the good of the school.

I was going to title the post, "What is your School Culture", but I wanted to ask where is it. You might think you have a particular school culture, but can you point to examples of it in your school? What does your school culture look like? Is it inclusive?  Can others outside of your school see these examples without have it pointed out or explained? Ask yourself these questions and think about how you can be a force of change.

Monday, November 26, 2018

@littleBits Are Not Stopped By Language Barriers

One of the things I was able to share with educators while I was in Iceland was the awesomeness of littleBits. With a Code kit and the workshop kit, I was able to open up a world of bits to teachers without the worry of language barriers. While the teachers can speak and read English well, that was not needed as they were able to just grab bits and connect them together. Here are some photos of them working. 

These educators had so much fun exploring each bit and what they could do with other bits. The code kit opened up another world for them because block based coding was new to many of them and it was a great way to take the coding I had just covered in my workshop and connect it with physical items. The teachers had a great time and planned on getting their own littleBits for their classrooms to help students explore the engineering side of making. 

When I look at this for students, it is a big deal because there are plenty of students that struggle with language every day and littleBits is a great tool to allow those students the freedom to create and express themselves even if they have limited language skills. These could be ESL students or others still learning to read. The color coded bits and the easy to use bits make littleBits amazing to have in the classroom because it is welcoming to all students, no matter where they are on their educational journey. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

What I Learned About Literacy After I Left The English Classroom #EngChat #Literacy

Making the decision to move from my high school English Literature and Composition job after 15 years to build a makerspace and support tech integration for teachers, was very tough. I loved working with students and helping them read and evaluate texts. I thought I would never again be able to work with students to help them explore the deeper meaning of a piece of poetry and how it connects to their lives. After a year and a few months in my job, there are some thing I have learned about literacy that were not clear to me while in the classroom.

Literacy takes many forms

One of the things I would always focus on in my classroom is the importance of reading, writing, and speaking. All three allow a person to understand and communicate. No matter where you go in life, these three things will always help you. I see that this is only partially true. A person can read, write, and speak well, but if they do not know how to use those tools to problem solve, how helpful are they truly going to be? Watching students struggle to solve problems in the makerspace has shown me that there needs to be more time given to teaching these problem solving skills as part of their overall literacy. Using those skills to know how to identify a problem, research the appropriate sources, create a protoype, and articulate the problem and solution to others is very important.

There is not such thing as grade or age appropriate (kind of)

All too often, students would want to read something or explore something and they would be told that is not appropriate for their grade or age. The curriculum is designed to for grade and age appropriateness and teachers are stuck in that box. In the makerspace, I have learned that there is no such thing as age or grade appropriateness. If the student is willing to take on the challenge of something complex and want to work their way through it, why should I, or the school, stand in their way? For those that are going to say things like, "So I should let me 5th grader read "Fifty Shades of Grey'?" No, you shouldn't, but you should probably talk to them about why they want to read it and see what is at the root of their request. Let students experiment and push the boundaries of their reading, writing, and making. That is where they will learn the most.

The struggle is real and important

It can be so easy to just write the topic sentence for the student or do the citation for them. It is much faster when you have 29 other students to conference with over the next 40 minutes. However, they struggle of learning to read and write is so important as long as students are allowed to feel comfortable to try and fail. I think I got better with the try and fail aspect of writing in my class, but, for too long, it was a one attempt and move on mentality in my classroom. The Makerspace has shown me how effective a try, fail, try again approach to learning is needed in literacy and everywhere else in schools. Give student the time to experiment with their poetry or their essays. Give the students time to try new rhetorical devices. Let them struggle to find their personal, beautiful, and authentic voice by trying as many voices as they like until the find the one that is just right for them.

Leaving the direct instruction position after 15 years to a position that supports students and teachers in different ways has allowed me to take a step back and really see what literacy, and instruction overall, can and should look like. The best I can do now is share with the teachers around me and write on this blog.