Setting up the Studio Challenge 2014

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I took this picture of period 4 at work on Wednesday as I was explaining how to take a panorama picture to one of the kids using the computer center. So this is a group of 8th graders all busy using choice centers.

First, some more details about the kids doing this challenge. I have my classes’ everyday for 50 minutes. Starting this year, we are on a semester basis; previously we had been on trimesters. Our classes are not really electives. Kids can be part of the music program and take band or choir all year, or choose the “Unified Arts Strand.” This year kids rotated between a section of Robotics and a section of my combined digital and traditional arts class.

We have about 700 students in grades 6-8. Many ELL kids and Special Education students, Kids with low state test scores or extra learning needs have extra math or reading classes instead of art or music. We are about 70% free/reduced lunch (identified, not everyone that would qualify signs up for the program, so the number of kids living in poverty is higher than we can track) with a lot of transient families, including “homeless” (we define homeless as kids in transition that might be in a shelter, doubling up with other relatives and that sort of thing, but also living out of cars and other none traditional housing.) While other schools within my district charge a $10-15 class fee to all art students to supplement their budget, I can not do that. I really love our population, even with all its challenges… And I live right in the neighborhood. 🙂

Period 2 is a group of kids that I have had all year long (with the usual influx and egress of kids) they are 8th graders and the bulk of them are kids I have taught for all 3 years. But others are new to art, exited out of Special Ed classes, moved from other schools etc.  So far this year we did a still-life unit, a Photoshop unit, a clay unit, a portrait unit, a unit where we communicated an abstract idea about our future dreams, and a theme unit “home is where the heart is“, we also have used sketch-up for a couple projects and did a video project. They have had some good exposure to a lot of different mediums and have had a variety of choices mixed into it throughout the year. One area I admittedly don’t do much with is paint. I don’t have enough room to dry more than a few paintings at a time. But you will see painting selected as a choice occasionally in some of the projects. There are 26 kids in this class.

Period 3 is a group of 7th graders. I have also had them all year and they have done most of the same assignments as the 8th grade class. This class is more of a handful with more kids with behavior issues or low abilities in reading and writing that impact their learning. Several kids in this group are low level English Language Learners. This group has 24 kids but sometimes feels like 30. Most recently I did a unit with them on computer science and video game programming using code.org. Lots of great problem solving skills were learned, yet many of them struggled to be that self directed problem solver. So I do anticipate this class struggling with this unit more. It is likely that I may have to add more structure to this group for them to continue in this way of learning.

Period 4 and 6 are groups of 8th graders that came to me at the beginning of this semester. Some of them I have had all 3 years, but the bulk of them are new to art. 4th period seems to be the group that has higher level kids that are in our gifted classes, sprinkled with a few ELL kids. They have been very self motivated and eager learners since the beginning of the semester. Period 6 is a whole different ball of wax. Despite being my smallest class if the day at 23 kids, the management makes it feel like more. Only about 3 of them have had art before, tons of absenteeism in this group and a whole heap of teen angst, anger and apathy. It is a big risk doing this challenge with this group, but I am really hoping they might rise to the challenge. A girl can hope right?

Monday: This was an intro day, not a work day. I prepared the centers ahead of time with more signs and labels then did a tour with the help of a slide show. (2014 choice challenge unit INTRO.) I went over what was in each center and how to keep that center cleaned and organized. I described the different challenges and some basics on how to earn points. They got the hand out and I had them highlight everything on the checklist that seemed like something they wanted to do. I made sure they know that highlighting did not commit them to doing that challenge; it only pointed it out for them to look at again later. I then asked them to add up the points of all the hgihlighted things to see how close they were to the required 150, then to go back and add more highlights if they were not close enough. Some excited buzz already started happening as the kids realized some of the new freedoms they would have. But there was also the usual grumblings of “I don’t get it” and “I don’t like anything on here.”

Later in the week kids kept running into the same problems and questions, so I designed mini lessons to address those issues. I quickly realized they didn’t know where to look for help. I had one of my adult educational aids look through the textbook I have, to find pages that address all the challenged. She post-it note tabbed one copy and made an index for the challenge sheet. I realized that on the next set of challenges I might need to be more overt and specific on which resources are available to help kids. I also had been neglectful this year of actually setting up my classroom library (which I have to pack away every summer) so I finally dug out my books and put them out in various centers. I also realized they really didn’t get how to document their work, not surprising since I had always done it for them. And they didn’t really understand how to apply the boosts. So I had some mini lessons for those. (2014 choice challenge boost details)

By Thursday and Friday, when I made them pause for these mini lessons… They were frustrated by it.. Because they were chomping to get to their studio work and did not like being delayed! I did let them know that I would be starting most days with these mini lessons, but would always keep them to 5 minutes or less! I am planning next week to show a video on 1 point perspective, show the Photoshop lady website, discuss attachment choices for sculpture, change the points on sketchbook drawings from one point each to five points each and show off some of the drawing books I dug out and show a short video about pointillism.

Overall the classes struggling most with the challenge are the ones I expected, the 7th graders and period 6. But they are getting into the groove, just taking a little longer. I still have the usual suspects that I have to push and prod. But a few kids that struggled before, are shining with the new options. One other problem is that of all the centers, sculpture is showing the most popularity particularly for period 4 and 6. They have not had an opportunity yet to experience that medium. My sculpture table only fits 4 kids at a time and those projects tend to take a bit longer than other projects. So I do have kids itching to get to that center. I think I will start a waiting list.

Next up, some of week one’s projects and learnings!

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What kind of student or school challenges are preventing you from starting a studio-based program?

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