“…the end of the beginning”

I would not have guessed back on January 22 of 2013, as I typed my first COETAIL blogpost, that I would begin this ending blogpost (five courses and 38 blogposts later) with a fractured quote from Winston Churchill.

As I reflect over these last few months of work — the Grade 4 students’ and my own — on this unit of study, I find that we’ve reached places that were not entirely foreseen. This eventuality is a good thing, though it takes both positive and negative forms. As I mentioned in my final blog post of Course #4, I anticipated that this project would take me down avenues that were not on my map when I began. The results are less a polished product and more a series of experiences which have left me (and the unit) at a much more advanced stage, thankfully. And yet it is still a work-in-progress

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Grade 4 reference wall – Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

In my attempt to redesign this Grade 4 unit — on the media, graphic design, and visual presentation — so as to improve student learning, I focused on several goals:

  • As a collaborative IB-PYP unit, the central idea is that “the media can influence thinking and behavior”. In art class we specifically look at how artists play a role in creating visual media that can influence people’s thinking and behavior (this is the visual art focus for the unit). The aim is to help the students to reach an understanding of these ideas.
  • There are other over-arching, subject-specific goals: the PYP Visual Art learning outcomes. These aims for student learning fall into two strands, Responding and Creating. In terms of the former, the objective is for students to provide constructive criticism when responding to an artwork. In terms of the latter, the objective is for students to show awareness of the affective power of the visual arts.
  • As a COETAIL project, there were four goals which centered around authentically integrating technology into an existing unit of study:  (1) Student-Learning Focus (as opposed to “teaching focus”) – to create a more engaging, successful method for students to learn the principles of successful visual presentation via the graphic design principles of Contrast, Unity, and Balance, (2) Connectivism – to create a more far-reaching, global method of receiving/giving constructive feedback at both the rough-draft and final stages, (3) Differentiation – to allow for choice in the design process and to improve and differentiate the assessment process, and (4) Project-Based Learning – to allow for a real-world and authentic design experience and to expand the project into both the 3D realm and the commercial world.
Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

I attempted to use — to varying degrees of success — a variety of tools to reach my goals. Assuming that some efforts would be for naught, not being too familiar with some of the technology, and wanting to take a trial-and-error approach to learning, I planned for more that I knew I would achieve. I structured my tools and approach according to the IB-PYP’s stated role of ICT and some of the skills described therein:

Investigating: I used PowerPoint and its Action Buttons feature to create the unit’s provocation. The students used their MacBook laptops to journey through this “interactive treasure hunt” (a description of this provocation follows shortly).

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Creating & Innovating: As each student was challenged to create an original poster for a personal campaign to effect change, they used their laptops and my classroom iPads to explore graphic imagery in the development of their own designs, and they had the option to create these posters digitally (though, to my surprise, only 3 of 38 students chose to do so, and those 3 became 2 and later 1; those students used the online poster-design site PosterMyWall to do so). Additionally, students who completed the poster project were then challenged to develop a three-dimensional accessory or toy as a so-called promotional object for their campaigns; students used the online 3-D CAD (computer-aided design) modeling site TinkerCad to digitally design their object and then used our school’s 3D printer to produce it.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Communicating & Exchanging Information: The students used Creatubbles, a recently developed art/social network site for children (and their parents and teachers) interested in sharing their artwork with a like-minded global audience; they posted both their rough draft and final version posters on Creatubbles so as to get (and give) peer and adult feedback toward understanding how to improve their designs; Creatubbles allowed for us to take the whole “critique” process beyond the school walls and into other schools and homes globally. They used the AudioBoo app on our iPads both to allow the students to self-assess orally as well as to easily disseminate their critiques digitally (for my reference for assessment, for them to share with parents at conferences, and for me to share publicly on my blog via a Twitter link). As the teacher I was also able to communicate and exchange information using GoogleDocs (questioning students and gathering their on-going feedback about positive & negative aspects of the unit’s activities) and a Facebook group for art teachers called “Creatubbles Passionate Instructors” (the result of discussion with the developer of the Creatubbles site of the benefit for the participating teachers to have a ‘back channel’ by which to communicate about the Creatubbles activities). Lastly, the homeroom classroom blogs were used as a forum for student reflection on the unit as a whole, in both written and video formats (examples to follow further along in the post).

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Collaborating: Student collaboration occurred through the use of the laptop-based PowerPoint interactive treasure hunt (between partners), through the use of the Creatubbles site (critiques of posters between students and their peers, both within school and in other countries), and through the use of GoogleDocs (encouraging discussion both between partners and as a class as they provided feedback on the shared page). Teacher collaboration (re: generating Creatubbles feedback) was attempted via the Facebook page Passionate Instructors and using the #COETAIL hashtag on Twitter.

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Becoming responsible digital citizens: The Creatubbles site has helped to reinforce this skill in that discussions — when students have read and written feedback online — have centered around appropriateness of the language used. Additionally, as students began increasingly to “bubble” (i.e. like) one another’s poster designs and to “follow” one another, discussions arose about the best use of time in class (spending time “bubbling” versus progressing on one’s artwork).

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Grade 4 student feedback for their classmate – screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Lastly, some of the differentiation in this unit was made possible because of the available tech tools: in the assessment process — in addition to the students using a printed rubric and responding in writing — AudioBoo offered the students the chance to respond orally; responding with feedback using GoogleDocs collaboratively allowed for both oral discussion and writing/keyboarding as a response method; and the opportunity to create their campaign posters in either digital (e.g. PosterMyWall) or manual (paper/pencil/marker) form allowed students to work to their strengths/preferences.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Josh’s AudioBoo photograph and audio recording on the iPad Mini – Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

As a point of contrast, last year’s version of this unit plan incorporated none of the above tools, save for laptops and iPads (which were used strictly for image and typeface/font research).

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

As a way to launch our collaborative investigation into The Media, I inaugurated this unit by creating a provocation which was intended to convey basic principles of graphic design and visual presentation: Contrast, Unity, and Balance (or as the students say, “CUB”). Having seen the students struggle to grasp these semi-broad ideas last year, I felt a new approach was needed. During the Adrian Camm workshop, I became enamored with the idea of the interactive digital story: having students take a journey via their laptops in which they are having to make decisions and demonstrate understanding, in a collaborative way (and as a sort-of competition). By the end of the weekend workshop, I’d begun the outline of the Interactive Digital Treasure Hunt Game.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

My flow chart notes – Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

My generous COETAIL colleague Josie suggested I look into the PowerPoint “action buttons”, which would allow me to give my students options and choices at the various stages of the game. Perfect! Although I never thought I’d open my PowerPoint program again, I now saw it in a different light. Because I wanted the students to encounter the ideas of Contrast, Unity, and Balance in a visual, interactive (and thus hopefully engaging) manner, I realized that the action buttons would allow me to give the students autonomy as they traveled through the game, answering correctly or incorrectly and then having to deal with the subsequent challenges in either case.

In the three embedded .pptx files below, I apologize that viewers are not able to interact with these files using the Action Buttons. I tried several ways to get it to work but failed (the WordPress SlideShare plugin is no longer supported, and I could not find any other free options; I’ve embedded the files below using SlideShare and had hoped the interactivity would be supported, but unfortunately it’s not). Nonetheless, one can intuit how the game works by clicking through the slides (many of the action buttons are actually the images themselves FYI), and of course all the content is there. What’s not there is the face-to-face interaction that I had with my students: the Q&As and demonstrations, etc.

Here is Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

No, it doesn’t seem all that lengthy just to click through the slides, yet to my surprise is took three 60-minute classes (minus technical gliches, though there weren’t too many) to get through it for most teams. If you’ve looked closely, you see that at numerous points throughout the three-part game the student partners have to interact with me in some fashion — to answer questions, to show me something, to demonstrate knowledge by explaining something via the displayed artwork. And then I would give them the key to progressing onward to the next state of the game. Additionally, I was keeping track (on the white board) of the progress the teams were making through the 10 stages of the treasure hunt. Also, there was a point system whereby teams could earn extra points by exceeding the expectations with their answers or demonstrations; similarly, teams could lose point due to poor behavior or by breaking the rules (e.g. skipping ahead in the game or copying other team’s answers).

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

The students had different reactions to different aspects of the unit. Although the provocation lasted longer than I had expected, student interest never wavered; they were eager and excited about it for all 180 minutes over those three weeks. One class’s varied reactions to the Treasure Hunt provocation can be seen here (taken from a GoogleDoc task):

CUB Treasure Hunt Feedback created by Aaron Reed - you are free to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt the work

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed.

Here are the students in the process of responding to the prompts on the GoogleDoc:

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Creatubbles —  a site which only went live online in January 2014 — proved to be a compelling if unpredictable tool. The students were slow to warm to it, and understandably so: despite the hopeful claims I made to them about their peers “from around the world” who would give them feedback on their poster designs, the students were somewhat disappointed that they did not receive much feedback. Most comments came from adults (like me and the developer of the site, Paul, who kindly commented on every one of my students’ work). However, once Paul was able to create sub-accounts for each of the students (effectively giving each child control beyond simply reading comments), they realized that they could then comment, follow, and bubble their friends and their friends’ artwork, and then their enthusiasm exploded — although not always in the most productive manner in terms of the development of their posters.

Nonetheless, most students did appreciate the comments they received, thought not all took the advice they were given. Some felt the feedback was very constructive for their designs.

TinkerCad and 3D printing formed the endpoint to the unit. Unfortunately, not all of the students were able to finish their posters with enough time to develop their 3D designs. Once the students had seen some examples (thank you YouTube) of what 3D printing is, its various purposes, and how it works, the excitement level was very high to create and produce something in three dimensions.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Alixe working on her TinkerCad design – Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

As of this blog’s publication, only two students have completed printing their objects (and still have yet to complete the next steps beyond that), while two more are actively, excitedly designing on TinkerCad. The two students who completed their printing essentially had to teach themselves (and each other) how to use TinkerCad, while they had the help of our Tech Head, Mr. Hamada, to do the actual printing.

The girls prepare to 3D print:

Alixe’s runner printing:

Here, Alixe gives some feedback about using TinkerCad and some thoughts about the purpose of her 3D design creation:

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Alixe’s printed product, currently painting in-progress – Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Some of the students created a class blog post and reflected overall on the unit thus far. Some outtakes:

“I have made a poster, I made a plan, I picked what campaign i’m going to do. What didn’t work was that I made a poster in comic life but I thought it was better to draw poster then make a poster in comic life. My first poster had lots of white and no color at all!! so I put colors on it. My plan is to put posters around the building and let the students know to reduce plastic bags. I will launch my campaign before may 1st.”

“I made a poster with a QR code which is a link to a website which has a link to a document with lots of links to petitions and documents with more info and a document for [our class] to write letters to send to ask for dolphin hunting to stop.”

“i have made a 3d model, i have made a poster and i have done my campaign. It have been successful because people want it more longer, because they find lot of fun,the thing the didn’t work out was we were thinking to have “special”  but they were messing around and not lessening to us. My plan is to re glue one of my 3d model because when it print it doesn’t hold.”

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Did I meet my goals for this unit? Yes and no. Looking back over the unit, I met one overarching goal which was for me, as a teacher, to attempt numerous new tech approaches and to learn how well they do or don’t integrate into this particular unit, as well as how they might integrate into other units across the grade levels I teach. This has definitely been a massive positive learning experience for me professionally.

As to my stated goals listed earlier in the post, I would say that the results are a mixed bag. As I’d mentioned in my final Course 4 blog post, I’m aware that I was biting off a bit too much, and despite having my reasons for it, I would say I was overambitious. And therefore I came up short in some areas (by trying to accomplish the various goals, expecting the students to get comfortable with the tools quickly, and also with so much missed time between classes, the focus — mine and the students — was at times inconsistent and fractured).

As to the PYP Unit Central Idea, in my ongoing conversations with students and from seeing their ideas develop, I hear and observe that many of them do have a sense that the media can influence thinking and behavior (we know they have that HOPE based on their ambitious campaigns!) and also of how they do so (in terms of visual communication). Of course, that understanding does seem to vary in depth, and a few students continue to get bogged down in the trees and still don’t see the forest. As to the PYP Learning Outcomes, the vast majority have shown themselves able to give clear, age-appropriate constructive criticism (although the students’ ability to use the terms Contrast, Unity, and Balance is still varied) and able to show an awareness of the affective power of the visual arts (some in verbal form, others through their own artwork, and some in both manners).

As to my four COETAIL-specific goals, again mixed results, though overall positive in the larger scheme of things. I feel that the use of the interactive digital provocation component was the goal most fully reached and the one which I will develop in other grade level art classes in the future. In using technology to focus on the students learning (rather than on the teacher teaching), what it provided the students — independence, engagement, fun/competition, collaboration, and differentiated methods to convey understanding — was a huge improvement over last year’s unit and a revelation to me as a bona fide learning activity. The use of Creatubbles to attempt to go far beyond the walls of the classroom & school in order to improve and broaden the critique/feedback process by connecting with the outside world was a goal partially reached, but with strong potential for future use. The main drawback at this time is the low quantity of comments the students received about their posted designs (plus, it seemed that the majority were from adults, not children), though that may improve in the future. But what feedback the children received was useful to most of them, even if they chose not to follow the advice (by that point, many kids were too beholden to their ideas). Admittedly, I may be responsible for creating the expectation that each child would be getting many comments from many children from many different countries; so I will plead guilty to that optimism. The unexpected bonus was that their engagement with the site increased with the onset of their control over individual accounts (Creatubbles is to them what Facebook is to their older siblings, it seems). So, the idea of Connectivism lives, only it’s in its infancy in this unit. My goal of an improved, differentiated assessment process was reached to a minor degree, but with so many projects still incomplete, most final assessments are not yet done. And so the goal remains incomplete. However, Creatubbles certainly has offered an excellent format for a new (digital, online) type of formative assessment (digital, online, written — and has led to increased ‘casual critique conversations’). And AudioBoo has allowed my two EAL students — who’ve completed their projects — to reflect and self-assess not only in writing but orally and in images. AudioBoo, in conjunction with Twitter and my classroom blog, has allowed me to take the standard Art Critique to another level; from that standpoint alone it has helped me reached one of my goals (more to follow on this point in the concluding section of this post) Similarly, my goal to make this project-based unit very true-to-life (in terms of the students becoming ‘graphic designers’) and to take it into another realm of design (from 2D graphic design to 3D industrial design) has not been fully realized. Time is running out on this unit, and the Grade 4 students still have a 3rd (and hopefully, though now unlikely, a 4th) unit to complete by mid-June.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

These posters (above) were done by students at my school in their homeroom classes earlier this year; each contains some commendable elements, but — from a visual design standpoint — have some glaring weaknesses. The bane of my career (and a great inspiration for doing graphic design projects with children) has long been the very unfortunate state of the average “student-made hallway poster”: usually a messy, unaligned, unplanned jumble of too-many words, fonts, colors, images, and ideas. How is one supposed to get a message conveyed visually without adhering to some basic principles of design and visual communication? That has long been a personal starting point for student learning when it comes to such projects.

Although perhaps we can’t know the long-term effect on student learning at this point, evidence of students’ learning is seen in their improved graphic design (even when some continued to struggle to define Contrast, Unity, and Balance orally) and in their sketchbook feedback, and heard in their conversations, critiques, and verbal feedback.

In looking at the students’ final posters — in comparison with their earliest attempts and before discussion and critiques of how to convey ideas visually and utilize the design principles (contrast, unity, balance) — some improvement can been seen in most students’ work. There is a range in terms of how much improvement, of course. Some students are more able to explain orally how the design principles work, while others are better at conveying their understanding through their artwork. A few students are quite adept at both. Here are some samples of student work — their initial, week one sketches along side their final products (some posters are not fully complete):

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Several of the students’ audio/photo self-assessments (critiques of their own posters); links go to the AudioBoo site:

https://audioboo.fm/boos/2066352-alixe-4d Alixe on her poster about fitness and health
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2066380-Wyatt’s comments on his poster about solar energy
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2066527-Joshua reflecting on his poster on recycling
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2066562 Harry on this poster about saving electricity
https://audioboo.fm/boos/2066411-jennifer-4d Jennifer on her poster about recycling

Student feedback about the unit’s Central Idea and one of the Learning Objectives:

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Discussing the principles of design early on in the unit:

Students critiquing the rough drafts of their classmates:

One student’s campaign was about healthy living and getting students to eat more vegetable and less meat. She initiated a “no meat Monday” idea, and after interviewing the cafeteria supervisor, she posted this recently to me on her classroom blog:

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

And perhaps this girl actually convinced someone to go out and do some exercise:

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

One student focused on the design principles in his data analysis of advertisements seen in Tokyo:

Image licensed under a CC Evan's post-field-trip data collection poster - Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Evan’s post-field-trip data collection poster – Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Looking back over the past 3+ months of work and mixed results, I will certainly alter some approaches in this unit. Part of these amendments includes looking at my too-many-approaches-and-tools and deciding which were most beneficial and how best to use them, i.e. streamlining for a more efficient unit of study. The fact that we did so many things other than just ‘make a poster’ seemed to be confusing to some children, and when art class is only once weekly, some had difficulty keeping a consistent mindset about their poster design ideas. The organization and logistics of this unit must be a major focus for me next year.

    • From a practical standpoint, I would like to be more explicit about the design cycle; although we followed the design cycle, I did not specifically break down the stages and refer to them during each class, and I think this (along with keeping a timeline of due-dates) might have helped move the project along at a better pace and helped the students be more efficient.
    • It’s clear that creating age-appropriate learning activities that are engaging, are social, are collaborative, and allow students to be independent and to display their learning in different manners is a good thing. Thus, I will retain — and improve — the Adrian Camm-inspired interactive game and will rethink and reuse the Creatubbles social/art site for next year’s unit. In the interactive game, I will need to redesign the aspect which requires the students to demonstrate their knowledge in order to move on to the next stage (the check-in with me, face-to-face, creates a bottleneck where other teams have to wait in line). Perhaps the game can include the assessment, whereby the correct answer automatically advances them to the next step, or perhaps the end of each of the three games provides a hyperlink to a document or site that is a kind of quiz and then results in providing them with the subsequent downloadable .pptx file. As for Creatubbles, next year I will be able to give the students their individual sub-accounts (all under mine for security reasons of course) from Day One, which hopefully will get them engaged with it from the outset. Also, I ought to meet with the site developer to determine how the site is growing and what his expectation are for user growth over the coming year (assuming that increased users will result in increased comments/feedback for my students); also, I may need to connect with specific art teachers in other schools in order to set up some formal feedback sessions so that the commenting is reciprocal — rather than just posting poster images and hoping that people will comment; some strategizing on my part is needed. On a side note: I had originally thought to use Artsonia before finding Creatubbles, but Artsonia seemed too big; however now I’m thinking that “big” means “more users”, so perhaps that’s an option for one of my Grade 4 classes next year? The two efforts I did make to increase the feedback to my students’ posted designs — to connect with Creatubbles art teachers on the Facebook page and to Tweet a request to the #COETAIL community — did not appear to effect an increase in comments.
Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Screenshot image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

 

screenshot-of-tweet-asking-for-coetail-colleague-feedback-on-creatubbles-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed.

      • The students’ excitement about 3D design and printing was palpable. Sadly, the length of the unit meant that very few were able to finish their poster designs and self-assessments with enough time remaining to work on TinkerCad and create & print a product. Next year, I hope that the honing of the unit means that everyone will have the opportunity to participate in this final stage of the unit. Art teaching — perhaps all teaching — is sometimes so much less about the subject matter and so much more about logistics, organization, and time.
      • Lastly, I referred to “the treachery of images” in my last blog post. One big-picture focus that eluded me this year with this unit was the idea of surface versus content, that a pretty exterior might hide a rotten interior, that an amazingly successful advertisement might in fact be advertising a product which is inauthentic, dysfunctional, or even immoral. Perhaps this discussion is best suited for older children (I last did such a unit with a Grade 10 printmaking class some years back), but certainly it could be addressed in an age-appropriate manner with these Grade 4 students. Again, if I can manage the time and logistics of this unit better, I hope to include this idea in our discussions (certainly it’s an appropriate corrollary to the Central Idea “the media can influence thinking and behavior”).

Looking at my unit plan, it verifies what I’ve already mentioned in this post: I’ve currently got an overabundance of goals and tools and activities. Leading up to doing this unit next year, I will need to hone it to be more straightforward and efficient, for me and for the students.

As this unit and as COETAIL wind down, I’ll want to share my reflections and experiences with my colleagues. Fortunately, as I have some fellow Y.I.S. teachers here in my COETAIL cohort, they will see my formal presentation later this month. Beyond that, I could share at a faculty meeting and/or at an afterschool Tech PD session; I may Tweet an announcement with a link to this COETAIL blogpost on my two professional Twitter accounts (one COETAIL-specific, one for my current classroom teaching); and I may post information and a link on art teacher forums such as one for Asia Art Educators that I belong to.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Zhu

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — indeed. Some version of this notion is one of my two greatest learnings from doing this Grade 4 media unit. Regardless of how we as teachers plan, regardless of what we want/expect to happen — or think will happen — regardless of what we want the technology or the children to do, we need to be prepared for any eventuality. And although at times, things don’t work out as expected or desired, the outcome is always productive in terms of reconstructing the lessons and the unit for the future. I continue to remind myself that My Assumptions are only that, and that Reality is what I have to respond to: to observe how my students react to and learn from these activities and to reflect on that, not on what I’d hoped would happen. It’s not that this understanding is new to me (and I’ve made educational technology a professional focus for 4 straight years now, around the time I attended a two-day workshop with Jeff Utecht at ASD-Qatar), but in terms of a highly concentrated and hydra-headed attempt at technology integration in a single unit of study (thank you COETAIL Course 5), this learning has hit home sharply and in a variety of ways, and it has reminded me that being flexible, open-minded, quick to adapt, humble, and realistic are key attributes for a teacher to maintain an environment which enables successful student learning.

The other big takeaway for me — and I am a teacher with a fundamental belief that engaging students is a necessary component to achieving student learning — is the unequivocable proof that the integration of technology is not only a fundamentally authentic approach to engaging students in their learning but also one which (1) has fantastic, exponentially growing possibilities and (2) allows students to be part of the growth and discovery inherent in the technologies. HOW the students engage with and use the technology can help educators determine how best to use it.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Ian Guest

Did my implementation of technology meet the definition of “Redefinition”?  I find this a difficult question to answer. Admittedly, a few tasks the students engaged in were simply Substitution and Augmentation. As to the main efforts I made with technology integration — (1) the interactive digital PowerPoint treasure hunt provocation, (2) the use of Creatubbles, (3) creating (PosterMyWall) and/or assessing (AudioBoo/Twitter/blog) with digital tools, and (4) the introduction of the industrial digital design world (TinkerCad & 3D printing) — their implementation fell somewhere along the SAMR spectrum.

      1. I feel that the PowerPoint-based provocation approaches the notion of “redefinition”. From one perspective, one might argue that if a digital book is just a substitute for a paper book (or is merely an augmented one), then isn’t a digital interactive educational game not much different that the physical version that one could create? I suppose; however, the informational and activity hyperlinks to online sites that my game incorporated could not be achieved in any way except digitally. Moreover, the ability to organize clear, high-definition digital imagery for each pair of students, to allow the game to be played by any number of students at varying times and paces, and to allow the game to be adjusted on an on-going basis takes it at least to the level of Modification, a “significant task redesign”. I will be happy to get feedback from my COETAIL classmates as to whether or not it meets the qualification of Redefinition; as it stands now, I’m doubtful.
      2. The Creatubbles website offers much potential for this unit, yet as I’ve stated, I’m not sure it was harnessed in the best manner or perhaps the site itself does not yet lend itself to my hoped-for goal. Or maybe I am still unable to envision how it might be best utilized. The idea of getting feedback on student work from peers around the world is not new. I remember having pen-pals when I was a 2nd grader myself. So I could have photographed/-copied my students’ work and mailed it to an art teacher in another country and waited for their return with written feedback paperclipped to each roughdraft poster. The quality of the feedback might actually have been better than the digital comments the children received on the Creatubbles site. On the other hand, by using a website, the key component of time is drastically altered: digital communication is infinitely faster than postal mail. And the reach of a social site such as Creatubbles (not unlike Facebook) is vast, whereas how many envelopes full of photocopies of artwork can one teacher mail and to how many other art teachers? The practical (cost-effective, labor-saving) reality is that the ability to cover time and geographic space digitally far exceeds that of any physical delivery/mail system. So where does that put the Creatubbles component on the SAMR scale? Is it a “direct tool substitute with functional improvement”? (i.e. Augmentation). Yes, it certainly is that. And does it qualify as Modification? (Is it a “significant task redesign”, allowing “the teacher/student to do old things in new ways”). I would argue that yes, it is and does. Does it create “new and different learning experiences for the students” with the “creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable”? (i.e. Redefinition). As it stands now, as I utilized it during the unit this year, I don’t think so; however, between the children’s excitement at having their own accounts on an art website that is also a social media site and the potential growth of the site among art teachers (and museums and families) around the world, the potential is certainly there.
      3. PosterMyWall — the online poster design software/app — was used by very few students. Since I began writing this post recently, one more student stopped using it and has returned to making his poster manually. One girl did use it and finishe her poster (see above). PosterMyWall is straighforward Augmentation, but I actually balk at saying it offers “functional improvment” because by eliminating the need for some manual tasks (using a ruler, measuring the lettering spacing, creating/mixing specific colors, among other basic tasks and skills), it allows students to make imagery that they haven’t really “earned”. Some would say, “Who cares? This is the world we live in today.” I would say, “It’s lost opportunities.” But maybe I’m old-fashioned; maybe the need to use a ruler or estimate space or sketch is no longer a need but a choice since there are tools to do these things for us now. AudioBoo is an app (there are others like it) which I have come to appreciate very much and to use frequently. Because AudioBoo allow students to respond verbally to prompts about their artwork and to share it digitally in a variety of ways (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, SMS, email, Tumblr), it is truly a wonderful modification of the traditional art critique. Before I knew of such apps, my students would do an oral or written critique of their art; the oral critique was lost as the sound waves dissipated, and the written ones lasted as long as I kept the papers it was written on (both, therefore, challenging to organize and access — let alone share with large numbers of people). Now, as the students record their reflections and photograph their work, they click a few more buttons and their critiques are automatically Tweeted to my classroom Twitter account and end up on my classroom blog in a Twitter feed column, both for the enjoyment of students/parents/teachers (e.g. at a conference or meeting) and potentially of the general public as well as for my own reference as the feed becomes essentially my filing cabinet of student critiques. Perhaps it does go beyond Modification. Is this process a Redefinition of the old method? Indeed, such digital critiques are arguably “previously inconceivable”, but I’m not sure that they are as much ‘learning experiences’ as they are ‘assessment tasks’.
      4. The integration of TinkerCad and a 3D printer into this unit — as a way to move the unit from being a 2D graphic design project to being also a 3D industrial design project — certainly allows the students and me to do old things in new ways. It’s a major modification over the way an elementary art teacher might have done such a unit only a few years ago. I can imagine that the old-school opinion might be that what we have here is merely Augmentation, that TinkerCad and a 3D printer are simply replacing time-honored industrial drafting skills and a woodshop or metalshop. Whichever way one might argue it, I don’t feel I can rate this aspect of the unit too completely, simply because this part of my unit wasn’t addressed in full. It became an extra activity for a few students who happened to finish their posters earlier than all their classmates. Certainly the TinkerCad software and the 3D printing technology have literally redefined how design is done and executed and by whom (turning anyone’s garage into a mini-factory). But my unit of study can’t take any Redefinition credit for that. My implementation of these technologies is too incomplete and fractured as it stands this year. Much potential is there, and it’s another area to focus on for next year’s Grade 4 students.

 

“To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often.” – Churchill again. Not sure how he’s made his way into this post, but it seems as if Winston had some insight into teaching and learning.

The Treachery of Images


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by rocor

I’ll get back to Magritte’s famous 1929 work toward the end of this post. Switching gears to another of the 20th century’s great creators of art and imagery, J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Not all who wander are lost.”


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by something something…

Well, sometimes I wonder… This Grade 4 unit in which I’ve been immersed is very much akin to a journey, much more so than other units I’ve taught. Most likely the issue is that more than in any other unit I’ve taught — aside from my 1st year teaching I suppose — I really have not known what the destination would be, despite what I thought it *should* be. Nor did I realize how many forks-in-the-road and rest-stops there would be along the way.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Insomnia Cured Here

With a backpack full of COETAIL, my 40-odd Grade 4 students and I have been searching for a way to understand how the media influences thinking and behavior by acting as graphic designers intent on visually communicating messages of personal import. As my bag of granola (er, patience) runs empty, I’m now — finally, thankfully — starting to see some fruits of all of our labor: endlessly iterated rough drafts which now exhibit some of the hallmarks of good visual design (i.e. the principles of Contrast, Unity, and Balance). We’re not quite there yet but…


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Shawn Knight

Anyway, without mixing too many more metaphors: as the end of the unit and of COETAIL near, I ought to consider where the students are now, what comes next, and how we’ll wrap up our unit of study.

Beyond (a) the varied reactions to — and good feedback from the students about — the Digital Interative C.U.B. Treasure Hunt

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photo-of-grade-4-googledoc-feedback-in-progress-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

…and (b) the mixed results thus far incorporating Creatubbles into our world…

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photo-of-grade-4-art-student-reading-Creatubbles-comments-feedback-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

…there have been other developments.

  • At the outset, students were given the choice to create the final draft version of their posters either manually (created by hand on paper with pencil and/or markers, colored pencil, paint) or digitally (using their laptops, drafted and colored and printed out from their choice of software). There was some good discussion about the types of programs that could be used to make the posters on laptops (among the students’ suggestions: Photoshop, Pages, the dreaded ComicLife, the postermywall online poster creator, Word). As I vaguely referred to at the end of an earlier post, one boy seemed initially determined to create his poster on Minecraft, to which I said: “OK! Do it!”, despite the fact that I did not see (nor could he explain) the connection between Minecraft and his campaign to stop littering and soiling our earth. But hey, what do I know about Minecraft and who am I to stop a generally-not-interested-in-art boy from pursuing a creative activity that he’s passionate about? In the end, he was frustrated by various aspects of logging in at school and at home on different computers with his father’s account, by being limited to his Minecraft Hours at home, and by something related to the building of his idea that he didn’t want to explain. So, this boy had ended up making his poster by hand. Of the other 46 Grade 4 students, one girl decided to create her poster on her laptop (and is currently only one of two students to have completed her final draft), and two boys — working as a team — are creating their text online using ComicLife while choosing to draw their imagery by hand. So, in the end, I’ve been surprised at how few students wanted to create their poster digitally. (By the way, the latest development of the two-boy design team is that when one was absent last week, his partner went rogue and decided to go solo and create an entirely new design. Ah the drama in the world of advertising design…)


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Charles Crosbie

  • As I’d mentioned in my last blog post for Course 4, I was hoping to have time for students to go down another digital avenue with their campaign and have each student create a 3D model of a marketable campaign poster character toy in both plasticine & digitally-rendered/-printed. At present time, the two girls who have completed their posters have moved on to working on TinkerCad on their laptops, using an account created for us by one of our tech teachers (renown COETAIL instructor Clint Hamada). Each is working to develop some sort of three-dimensional character or object related to their campaigns, not unlike the merchandise that comes with each successive Star Wars movie or the toys I used to find at the bottom of my cereal boxes when I was a kid (do they still do that today?). Then, once the scheduling of the teachers, students, and 3D printer can be arranged, we’ll head over to witness the first live-and-in-person 3D printing of these two girls’ lives. They are, suffice to say, very excited — if still not totally certain what “3D printing” is.
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photo-of-grade-4-art-student-designing-on-TinkerCad-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

  • A final thought has to do with a critical big-picture issue which I have yet to address and may simply save for a unit-end conversation with the children. Although the more I think about it, perhaps it’s something that should be an unit-opening focus. Perhaps incorporated into the provocation (the aforementioned Digital Treasure Hunt). The issue — as related to our Central Idea of “The media influences thinking and behavior” — is that of Surface & Substance, or Surface vs Substance, or The Lies That Are Advertising, or The Treachery Of Images (apologies to Rene Magritte) or… I could go on. What do I mean? Put it this way: arguably one of the most powerful examples of successfully influencing people’s thinking and behavior via visual design (contrast, unity, and balance) was that of Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Party. Not to belabor the point and without peppering the blogpost with an excess of too-well-known images (check here and here, among many other places on the web, if you’re curious), how do we convey to students that just because a picture or poster or advertisement or video “looks great” or “looks authentic” doesn’t mean it IS great or authentic. How do we assure that our students are focused on making their work successful visually without letting them forget that the content matters even more than the composition? During this unit I’ve been pounding this holy trinity of Contrast, Unity, and Balance into my students’ heads, and yet I have not dealt with the dark side of the issue. The upside is that the content these 9 year olds are developing posters around are issues about which children are often very passionate (clean water, protect animals, eat healthier, etc); so we’re not dealing with negatively-charged topics, generally speaking. Challenging and a bit controversial yes, but evil — Third Reich evil? — no.

Heading into spring now, the Grade 4 students (and I) have still got a fair bit of work left to accomplish for this unit. Most are now working to complete their final draft poster designs. How many will have time to design a 3D token or toy or “collectible” on TinkerCad remains to be seen. How I address the issue of “things are not always what they appear to be, boys and girls”…


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by The LAMP

…remains to be decided. And lastly, to what extent has the integration of technology in this unit created transformative learning experiences for the children? That is, beyond substitution and augmentation to modification and, hopefully, redefinition? I look forward to reviewing the unit as a whole in my next post.

Developer/Artist vs User/Viewer: where technology + art intersect


cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo shared by naitokz

It may not be spring yet, but more Grade 4 students are starting to blossom and to finish their campaign advertisement poster rough drafts: completed, photographed, and posted to www.creatubbles.com.

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And as posted on the site yesterday, she’s ready to receive feedback from other Creatubbles users:

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photo-of-grade-4-art-student-artwork-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

Still, it’s already early March and only two students have completed their final posters. It’s been a very, very slow-going project (mainly due to the delays noted in the previous post, plus art class is only a single 60-minute class per week). The Grade 4 homeroom teachers have already moved on to Unit 4, whereas I feel like we’re still building up steam here in Unit 3. But we’re pressing on.

Earlier in this unit (Central Idea: “The media can influence thinking and behavior”), a main focus was integrating technology as the provocation component of the unit: students learning about Contrast, Unity, and Balance by engaging in a digital Treasure Hunt (structured on the idea of an interactive story, as inspired by Adrian Camm at his weekend workshop here in Japan).

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students-checking-their-treasure-hunt-game-status-photo-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

Another — ongoing — focus of my COETAIL course 5 final project is attempting to use technology (1) to take the students’ artwork out of our classroom, off our campus, and out of Japan, making it available for worldwide viewing via the Creatubbles site, and (2) to bring people — students and teachers and parents — from around the world into our classroom in the form of their comments about these Grade 4 students’ artwork.

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screenshot-Creatubbles-activity-page-with-student-artwork-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

(As you may notice in the odd — unintended — graphic configuration of the above page, some visual kinks are still being worked out by the Creatubbles developers. It’s a very new site, launched in January.)

Since my last blog post, some 14 additional students have posted artwork on this art/social network for children and waited patiently for feedback (advice, critiques, suggestions, compliments) to come in the form of online comments — or even simply as a ‘bubble’, akin to a ‘like’ on Facebook.

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screenshot-of-bubble-comment-icons-from-creatubbles-site-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

The reality at the moment seems to be that the initial onslaught of comments that the first several students received has died down considerably. For example:

  • the first five students who posted over a month ago have received a total of 27 comments (average: 5.4 comments/student)
  • the four students who posted about a month ago have received a total of 5 comments (average: 1.25 comments/student)
  • the six students who posted about 1 – 2 weeks ago have received a total of 11 comments (average: 1.83 comments/student) — and note that Mr. Reed, yours truly, was responsible for 6 of those 11 posts
  • and the 8 students who have posted within the past week have received a total of 2 comments (0.25/student)

I have been back online at the Facebook page created for art teachers who use Creatubbles, looking to publicize our efforts a bit more…

screenshot-of-post-to-Creatubbles-teacher-group-page-from-Facebook-site-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

screenshot-of-post-to-Creatubbles-teacher-group-page-from-Facebook-site-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

…but I feel like I’m skewing the data; I feel like I should just let it run its course and see how this effort to use Creatubbles to engage “worldwide” with other art students/teachers works. Maybe I need to step away.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Amir Syed

In fact, maybe I need to realize that what I assume Creatubbles is best for may not actually be correct. Maybe it won’t work. But does that mean the effort is for naught? Or is there some other way to use it to my/our benefit? As I mentioned in an earlier post when Course 5 was just beginning:

In the end, some things will work; some will not. There will be failure, and that’s a good thing. I’m sure I’ll be discovering new things right up until April. Now that that’s acknowledged and I don’t have to treat the unit plan in and of itself as the holy grail, I believe I’ll feel a lot more relaxed to enjoy the unit, to play with these many new ideas floating around in my head (some of which are already in the plan, others of which may find their way there as the lessons develop), and to be open to heading down some other roads less traveled — the students and me — as the project progresses.

In any case, I really don’t know how often those other Creatubbles teachers visit that Facebook group page, nor how much time they have in their own classes to dedicate to critiquing our work. Likely, little to none. The single most active commenter on my Grade 4 students’ graphic design work is the developer of Creatubbles, who is doing what he can to promote active participation on the site. As for some of the other users who have posted comments, they appear to be mainly teachers — based on the language — though it could be coming from students via their teachers’ account. It’s hard to tell from my side of the Creatubbles screen.

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altered-screenshot-of-creatubbles-site-by-AReed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

So — ever mindful of the notion that being less rigid and linear and rather more open-minded and receptive — the step backwards can often be a fruitful thing. Something else that’s becoming clear in here in Course 5, something that I remember as a topic we’d discuss in our art classes in university when I was an undergraduate: the relationship between the artist (and his/her intent or purpose in creating) and the viewer (and his/her interpretation or understanding of the creation). Of what import is it if the artists intends one “meaning” and the viewer understands something entirely different? Might there be more than one correct answer to a question? (Egad, how hard is it to convey this notion to students… to adults even?) Is a “correct” answer the best answer, or even always a good answer? Are there always answers?


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Museo Reina Sofía

So it can be with technology: a person or company develops a program for a particular use, yet over time the users of the program create new (and in some cases better or broader) uses that were never foreseen by the developers. Though there are numerous examples, I can speak to my personal experience here. In my last semester in college — focused as I was at the time with computer animation, having worked with Rebecca Allen in two consecutive courses at UCLA — I did an internship with Alias Software in West L.A.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by janoskpalko

At the time (1990), Alias created software which was designed for the industrial design world; their software allowed designers (of cars, furniture, appliances, etc) to model and alter their designs on a computer — rather than in clay or wood or paper, for example — in a fraction of the time and effort that the usual process would require.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Matty Ring

versus


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Hans Westbeek

My job was to go to the west coast industry shows (like SIGGRAPH) and show the passers-by how a quick wire-frame model could be quickly rendered, colored, and made to look three-dimensional with the use of light and shadow (my standard objects were a ballpoint pen and Bart Simpson’s head). So what happened? Hollywood got wind of what the software could do. By 1995, Alias Software and it’s rival Wavefront Technologies had both been purchased by Silicon Graphics and merged into a single company called Alias/Wavefront (and later Alias Systems Corporation). The result:

and

and

and

Among many others.

Well, you get the idea. To be sure, industrial designers (and architects and graphic designers, among other designers) are using 3-D software today, as the developers of Alias had planned and hoped over 30 years ago. But the way that this software became the genesis of a whole new, huge creative tool — a new genre, really — within cinema and television is, to me, fascinating and a brilliant example of the very overused term “thinking outside the box”.

It’s the sort of occurrence that I keep in the back of my mind when encountering a student who seems entirely off-track with the rest of class or with The Almighty Lesson Objective; I have to ask myself: is this students simply not understanding what we’re doing or not making an effort to engage OR is this student looking far beyond the lesson into a more complex/interesting/unintended possibility? Not that the latter happens everyday in the classroom, but in all the biographies of creative people I read, it’s fairly striking how many considered themselves — or actually were — failures in school.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Jonathan Swinton


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Steve Rhodes


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by scorzonera


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Steven Zucker

As Max Cohen says, “personal note”… Personal note: keep an open mind with every last student. Speaking of students, what happened to the focus of this post? Consistent with numerous entries on my COETAIL blog, I’m suddenly finding myself in an entirely different place that where I started.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Simon Bisson

Back to Grade 4 and our media unit. Now that I’m struggling a bit with the fact that in some ways Creatubbles is not working out the way that I had envision (envisioned, planned, hoped, promised the students, etc), what next?

Well, here’s one thought. If Creatubbles isn’t — at least not yet, but then how much longer does this unit last? — bringing people and their feedback from other parts of the work into our classroom, then perhaps we’ll use Creatubbles to stay local instead. We’ve already done direct peer-assessment both verbally and in writing (sticky-notes attached to sketchbook rough drafts) within each of my three Grade 4 classes. So now perhaps we extend our reach out of the classroom (but not beyond the walls of our school) and offer critiques (compliments & suggestions) to these young graphic designers’ fellow students in the other Grade 4 classrooms.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by RaeVynn Sands

Snow, PD, vacation, art… has anyone seen my students?


cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo shared by yy90125

Between our school’s “ski break” vacation (during which I got to see the new Andy Warhol show at the Mori Museum in Tokyo), two days of professional development (‘The Next Chapter’ of the MYP program as well as the PYP self-study), and a half-day due to the snowfall here in Yokohama, I had not a single Grade 4 art class between during the stretch of February 1-16. That’s more than half the month.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Steven Zucker

It felt a bit like the unit — the core of my COETAIL Course 5 project — dropped off the face of the earth for a while there.

One of the frustrating aspects of the Feb. 1-16 was timing how it — temporarily, I’m pretty sure it will be — is affecting one of the tech integration aspects of the unit. We (several of the students and I) finally got some work posted on the Creatubbles interactive art website — and then we sort of disappeared. And, frustratingly, that seems now to have taken the steam out of our artwork and process for a while.

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creatubbles-activity-page-description-and-samples-of-student-posts-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

Here’s what happened: Right at the end of January, several students were the first to have finished rough drafts of their poster designs for this current unit’s campaign (see my earlier posts here and here for details). And these young art students had photographed their work so that I could post it to the Creatubbles site for other worldwide Creatubbles users’ feedback. And then… the aforementioned long pause.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by LEOL30

There were initially quite a few user comments on each of the students’ posters (mostly from adults it appeared). So during those 17 days, I did drop by the Grade 4 classrooms to chat, posted notes on each Grade 4 classes’ blogs, and re-notify their homeroom teachers about the critique-like feedback those students received. A couple students even came in to my classroom before school to look at the Creatubbles site with me.

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But until this past Tuesday, I hadn’t recently worked with an entire class together to review the project, show them the Creatubbles site, discuss the feedback, and show them who it was responding to their artwork. Here’s a sample of the comments that one of my students received about her poster rough draft (click this and the other screenshots for a higher resolution view).

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Creatubbles-comments-for-one-grade-4-student-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

In any case, I’m hoping that in tomorrow’s (Friday Feb. 21’s) two grade 4 classes we’ll forge ahead and be back on track and get a few more rough drafts photographed and posted. And in case any of the other Creatubbles users around the world have forgotten about us, I’m going to get onto the Creatubbles Passionate Instructors Facebook Group page and post a note to the other art teachers on Creatubbles, to let them know that we’re back in action and will be posting more soon. Which makes me wonder: in the time that Grade 4 and I have been out of touch, how many new users are on Creatubbles? Based on some of the updates I’ve been receiving from the Creatubbles developer, I know some new schools have recently joined.

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student-working-on-his-poster-rough-draft-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

One last note on a logistical issue that arose where the Creatubbles site is concerned:

I’d spent some time with the developer of the site to figure out how to get each student’s account configured in the easiest way (usually, it’s done at home by the student with the help and oversight of a parent, as the site was originally created to be used individually like a social network, not as a class as I’m doing it). Meaning: I needed to figure out a very efficient manner to give the kids their generic accounts, get them to log in, navigate the site correctly, and change their email addresses and create new usernames. I didn’t want to take up an entire 60-minute art class doing only this (and troubleshooting any problems that could arise). After a couple trial runs myself, some minor glitches on the site which they fixed, and several back-and-forths between me and the developer over a few days, it seemed that I was ready to do it with each class as a whole. I was finally ready to breeze through the accounts set-up with the kids and quickly move on to the poster designs again. And then, less than an hour before the first of the three Grade 4 classes arrived, I had a sudden flash…


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Zulkarnain K.

…”Do I need parental permission to give these 9-year-old students their own individual accounts for a public, external (non-school-affiliated) website?” I briskly walked down the hall to my principal’s office — wondering the entire way, ‘Why am I just thinking of this now?!’ — to find out that YES, that’s probably the safest approach (for a few reasons that I’ll decline to share publicly), even though the site developer is a known, trusted person (a school parent).

So, I quickly decided that I would instead be the one and only YIS Grade 4 user of the Creatubbles site and that all student work would be posted, shared, accessed, etc, through me and my one account. Which is what I’ve done thus far, as you can see below.

Mr-Reed-profile-page-on-Creatubbles-with-student-work-posted-and-credited-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

Mr-Reed-profile-page-on-Creatubbles-with-student-work-posted-and-credited-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

For now, this approach seems to be working OK. It actually gives me the control over the project that I want, although it takes away some of the students’ independence where the Creatubbles site concerned (they don’t do the posting). And it’s a bit more work organizationally for me. Fortunately, because the site is public, the children can browse the site and see their work (I’ve labeled it with their first names) and any comments people have made. Of course, for every comment made comes an email in my Inbox announcing it. So I created an entirely new email account dedicated to Creatubbles.com, which has made my already too-busy school email Inbox just a bit less crowded.

So, onwards.

As anticipated in my last post from Course 4, events are occurring that I did not anticipate, and I’m mostly rolling with the punches, putting out fires and they spark up, enjoying the work the children are making (well, when I see them that is, HA HA), and re-thinking and tweaking some of the tech integration as I go, making plans for how to do some things…


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by allison

…differently next year.

The Last Supper


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ruslan

(Well, it was lunch actually but…)

And so the Yokohama-Tokyo Cohort #2 met for the final time as a class on Saturday, our last meeting before the final presentations on April 26. Catered by ZEST, it was our last deliciously hand-crafted meal together.

As always, the face-to-face session proved to be constructive and clarifying. I know that many COETAIL students do all their coursework online, and — having taken one online course for my M.Ed. degree — I am glad that my COETAIL experience is not an online one. The face-to-face interactions, the unplanned conversations, the quick Q-&-A’s, the lean-over-someone’s-shoulder-to-learn-about-a-new-site-or-app-or-wiki, all these things are invaluable and simply were not a part of my online class experience.  This last COETAIL class was no different: those loose ends of my thoughts about my Course 5 project were mostly knotted up by the end of the day. Anyway, nuff said on that.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Lee Morley

At this point, as I’ve already begun my unit — kicked it off in December with my Adrian Camm-inspired ‘digital interactive treasure hunt’ game — with my Grade 4 students as they embarked on their new Unit about the media (central idea: The media can influence thinking and behavior). You can read my thoughts on that provocation here in my last post.

blog-post-image-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

blog-post-image-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

Since we finished the Treasure Hunt Game, some students seem to understand — in either basic way or a more advanced way or, honestly, not very well — Contrast, Unity, and Balance, which are the key principles in creating their posters for their campaigns. One boy even created a poster (not as a part of art class, that is) to reflect his understanding of some aspect of the Grade 4 fieldtrip to Shibuya (Tokyo) to collect data about advertisements. In his poster he addressed Contrast, Unity, and Balance, and even though one of his definitions was not 100% accurate, his self-made poster certainly displays those design principles fairly well. A pleasant, unexpected surprise!

photo by AReed - of Evan's CUB poster shibuya easelly_visual - Please do not use or reproduce this image

photo by AReed – of Evan’s CUB poster shibuya easelly_visual – Please do not use or reproduce this image

Now, the students have recently chosen a global issue for their campaign and have been struggling to create a local message to convey to their audience here at school.  For example, a student who is focused on ‘conserving clean water’ might choose “Turn Off Taps” as the specific local message and solution here on campus to address this issue. And in art class, we are attempting to turn these messages into posters: deciding how to combine text and image(s) to create a compelling, interesting, effective visual AND how to incorporate Contrast, Unity, and Balance successfully.

grade-4-wall-for-Unit-3-photo-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

grade-4-wall-for-Unit-3-photo-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

The next integration of technology in this unit is an attempt to transform the critique process, from something local (the usual real-time, face-to-face peer-evaluation within the same class or grade level) to something global yet immediate (digital peer-evaluation with art students at schools in other countries). Of course, we could do something global without it being digital, as teachers have long done by sending work back-and-forth in the mail to pen-pals at other schools. But by working through a site like Creatubbles — a children’s art-focused site where artwork can be displayed, shared, commented-on — we can post our graphic designs as rough drafts and get feedback from other art students (theoretically) as fast as they can view them and type in a reply. Basically, we’re trying to turn the comment icon into a critique icon. But how can we let these various art students around the world know that we’re not interested in just displaying our artwork but in getting their feedback as well?

creatubbles-with-Gr4-Unit3-activity-shown-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

creatubbles-with-Gr4-Unit3-activity-shown-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

Well, this is where Facebook comes in.  Well (*ahem*) time will tell, but this is where I think Facebook may come in handy. Fortunately for me, I had a sit-down with the developer of the Creatubbles site recently, and through our discussion we realized that it would be advantageous for the various art teachers — whose students’ work is posted on Creatubbles — to be able to communicate between one another about their students and projects and ideas. So he kindly created a group on Facebook called ‘Creatubbles Passionate Instructors’ where we can meet one another, ask questions, exchange ideas, etc.  A few days ago I introduced myself and our Grade 4 unit, and I asked those teachers to consider having their students look at our poster designs and comment with their feedback.

facebook-creatubbles-art-teachers-group-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

facebook-creatubbles-art-teachers-group-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

But our expected feedback may not come for some time as I’ve just learned in the last 24 hours that many of the schools now on Creatubbles are in Turkey and are on a two week holiday.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Gerard Queen

So in the meantime, I’ve got my Unit Plan in one hand and scribbled pages of notes and stickynotes and emailed-ideas-and-edits-and-questions-to-myself in the other. I’m ready to revamp — once I take a breather, maybe a night out in Tokyo tonight will do the trick — my Grade 4 plans over the weekend to accommodate what I’ve seen and heard this week in class: the varying levels of comprehension and completion where many things are concerned — the unit central idea, the notion of a Global Issue versus a Local Message, the principles of Contrast/Unity/Balance (not to mention How To Use A Ruler, How To Draw, How to Create 3-D Letters, and so on). So although it may have been the last formal supper for COETAIL for us (informal as they are), there’s plenty to chew on over the coming weeks.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Janet

And I didn’t even get to mention how Minecraft has somehow wiggled its way into our graphic design unit. Depending how it plays out, I’ll update that situation in the next blog post.

The interactive story as metaphor for COETAIL Course 5

interactive treasure hunt game CUB gr4 - screenshot by AReed - you are free to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt the work

interactive treasure hunt game CUB gr4 – screenshot by AReed – you are free to copy, distribute, transmit, and adapt the work

The above screenshot is how Course 5 officially began for me.

Actually, that’s how it began for my Grade 4 students. For me, it began — well, I suppose it really began back in Course 1, or perhaps I could say it began several years ago when I attended Jeff Utecht’s workshop at my old school (American School of Doha) called “Advanced Moodle” during which he remarked that those teachers with a keen interest to pursue further some of his workshop’s ideas might want to look into something called “COETAIL” — er, getting a bit tangential here…

[“distraction as metaphor for professional devel…” nevermind.]

For me, it began near the end of last year at the Adrian Camm workshop. I have always enjoyed interactive stories and any type of game which becomes a journey. As a child, I loved the Encyclopedia Brown can-you-solve-it? books which allow the reader to figure out the solution to the plot’s mystery.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Nick Douglas

And of all the video games out there (and I mean the big ones at our local 7-11 into which we’d drop quarter after quarter), Donkey Kong was my favorite — although I never made it to the very end, to what I recently learned is known as The Kill Screen (having watched this documentary, The King of Kong, over the recent winter holidays).


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by alx K

Tech Integrator Extraordinaire Adrian Camm allowed us workshop attendees to play around with some digital interactive stories/games, and I immediately realized that this was the provocation I needed for my then-upcoming Grade 4 unit on Graphic Design (the over-arching/central idea of which is that the media can influence thinking and behavior). There’s more here in this post from Course 4 about the design focus.

After some discussing with my table-mates, I learned of PowerPoint’s “action buttons” and decided to start putting together my unit provocation then and there. As this is a PYP collaborative unit, I met with the Grade 4 homeroom teachers to review our respective contributions and responsibilities in this unit (we’d done it last year but in a very different fashion, and not in a very tech-oriented manner — at least not in my art classes). Pointing out that the key to good graphic design is the utilization of Contrast, Unity, and Balance (concepts which don’t come easily to 9 year olds), I volunteered to kick off the unit in my class by having the students do a digital, interactive treasure hunt in which they were searching for the meaning of the design principles Contrast, Unity, and Balance (“CUB”).

describing-unity-during-treasure-hunt-gr4-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

describing-unity-during-treasure-hunt-gr4-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

Although it took quite a few hours to design and create and test and edit in PowerPoint, I thought it might take only one class period to complete. In fact, it took 3 class periods (that’s 3 weeks, as they only have art once/week). And even then, some two-person teams did not finish the entire game (comprised of 10 different challenges spanning 3 consecutive PowerPoint files and ending with a logo design practice project). The downsides were that the whole provocation took a lot longer than I’d planned (fortunately the homeroom teachers were in no hurry with the unit) and that because they have to interact with me one-on-one at times during the game (to answer a question or do a demonstration so as to proceed to the next challenge) there was sometimes a bottleneck of students lined up waiting to see me (i.e. unproductive time). However, the upside is that — when we debriefed this week and reflected on the game and on their understanding of CUB, they all agreed that they had fun playing the game and enjoyed the challenges; they said they liked working independently in paired teams; they said some challenges were more difficult than others; some feel they understand the CUB design principles well, while others said certain ones are more clear than others. And I will admit, the concept of “unity” takes some time to understand, let alone to explain to someone else.

treasure-hunt-checklist-gr4-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

treasure-hunt-checklist-gr4-screenshot-by-AReed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

What’s the point of all this? As a kid, I was definitely engaged with stories and games, with pretend JOURNEYS (well, not so pretend to me). Someone else had created them and set them up, but I felt that I had some control and could enjoy (or suffer) from the decisions I made and the skills I learned. I’ve long felt — and increasingly so as my teaching experience grows — that a core component of any lesson or unit plan has to be engagement: the children have to want to listen, to participate, to be there. If the students are not engaged to some degree, what’s the point? And as any teacher or other professional who has ever attended a conference can relate: who enjoys or learns anything at a boring workshop?


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Victor M. Campos, Jr.

The interactive story as metaphor for COETAIL Course 5: here I go, embarking upon this Grade 4 Art Unit journey, making choices along the way, some certainly to be wrong (or perhaps just ‘unproductive’), others hopefully right. I’ll try to remember to treat it like and game, too, and to have fun with it. We’ll find out later if this provocation was successful: do the students actually understand Contrast, Unity, and Balance, and can they successfully use them in their design for their campaign poster projects?

Course 5 begins. It is indeed game-time, in more ways than one.

 

Planning, failing, risking, learning

With all the thinking and reflecting teachers do about What Really Helps Children To Learn?, I myself cannot help but reflect on the many moments in my life when I knew I’d learned something.  And if I’m being honest, most of those memories are not the ubiquitously-noted “Ah-ha!” moments but rather the lesser known “Oh-no!” moments.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Scott

I have always learned and continue to learn best from my mistakes. I remember well the situations in which I’ve failed. There have been and continue to be many. And they rarely fail to have a positive outcome (e.g. learning) to counter whatever negative pall has been cast over the memory of the experience. Lest this blog post become too auto-biographical — and dull and/or humorous — let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up…

princess-bride-inigo-montoya-screenshot-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

princess-bride-inigo-montoya-screenshot-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

But perhaps “fail” isn’t the best word to use; “mistake” is a bit easier to deal with. Plus, children in this YouTube age have a slightly different definition of ‘fail’ these days:

The unit plan that I’ve created here as my Course 4 final project — found at the end of this post, horrific formatting courtesy of WordPress — is necessarily the same unit that I’ll be pursuing (have already embarked upon in fact, as of last week) for my Course 5 End-of-COETAIL project. And my over-arching approach to developing this unit has been to acknowledge to myself from the outset that I really don’t know how everything in the unit of study is going to play out — for a lot of reasons. And thus I’m also acknowledging something that I know to be true (but apparently don’t often think about): that there are always many approaches attempted that end with with a fairly high rate of failure, of unexpected outcomes, and of frustration. That’s how new units — and pretty much everything else — go for me.


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Alvin Trusty

And although I technically ‘did’ this unit last year, the grade level teachers (with whom I’m now collaborating) and I have agreed to change my role. Rather than me doing a parallel “art-version” of the unit AFTER they have completed the formal unit, I will be co-teaching the unit with them and take over the visual component of the instruction; this decision was made only three weeks ago, so my planning has headed down a road less traveled earlier than expected. Which we’ll take as a good thing. And, as I mentioned to my colleagues in our grade-level meeting last week, I’ll be incorporating technology into the unit in a way that currently isn’t in the formal plan — and *ahem* trying not to drive them insane in the process. So, the crude version of what I’m saying here (if I can mutilate a metaphor or two) is that my unit plan includes several kitchen sinks, a kit, a kaboodle, and a bunch of drawing boards to which I’ll be going back during the process of… ah, never mind.

Wait, on second thought, is this a good approach? Just blindly throwing everything into it, convinced of its wonderful brilliance, smiling to the world, and hoping all goes well?


cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Angelo Carosio

Yup, should be fine.

Meanwhile, back on planet earth: Courses 1 through 4 have given me more ideas that I know what to do with, and now here I am trying to re-visit them (the posts, the articles, the notes, the agenda links, the bookmarked sites) and figure out which would be most appropriate for a Grade 4 unit about the media’s influence as experienced through advertising.

Rather than my typical approach of trying to plan and set every flawless detail in stone beforehand and then worry unnecessarily when THE PLAN is not being followed meticulously, I’m going to take a step back, breath (thank you, yoga), and focus on the these goals and guidelines:

  • the PYP Central Idea
  • the Design Cycle
  • the Studio Structures from the arts education research of Harvard’s Project Zero
  • the upper echelon of Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • the NETS standards
  • the aim for transformative integration of technology (SAMR)
  • Project-based learning
  • Flipped learning
  • new tools and doorways (e.g. Pages, Audioboo, www.Artsonia.com, Creatubbles)
  • the students’ engagement with the lessons and their learning from it
  • working collaboratively with my tech-friendly colleagues (i.e. not going rogue)
  • expecting failure,  learning from it, and readjusting the unit accordingly

and lastly

  • Connectivism

Less minutiae; more big picture…


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Andy Proctor

…and so the unit plan follows suit. And in placing Connectivism last, I’m emphasizing to myself — reminding myself — that this is one area in which I need to make more strides. Not simply in the making connections generally, but in reaching out with my students and their work beyond the walls of the school. By nature, I’m hermitic; with my art classes, sometimes the most ‘public’ things get is the display of work on the walls. But I realize that the tools are readily available now to make connections, to communicate, to exchange, and to learn with people outside of our little world here in our classroom, on our small campus.

screenshot-of-yokohama-internation-school-on-google-maps-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

screenshot-of-yokohama-internation-school-on-google-maps-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

As I mentioned — and just to provide an early peek into the unit — we already began the project last week. I designed the provocation for the unit: an interactive story (a text- and image-based treasure hunt to be more specific) intended to introduce the three primary principles of art used in graphic design: contrast, unity, and balance.

screenshot-of-interactive-treasure-hunt-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

screenshot-of-interactive-treasure-hunt-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

Or as I call them: CUB. The acronym is actually a re-working of CRAP (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity), or CRAP Design, which comes from the book “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” by Robin Williams. Not only is CUB a more palatable word to use with young children, but Contrast Unit Balance are three of the Elements and Principles of Art and Design, where as in CRAP, only Contrast appears on this list, a list which is so essential in visual art education (repetition, alignment, and proximity are contained in Unity and Balance).


cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo shared by Ryan

Thus far, I must say that having the students explore new definitions and concepts in pairs, digitally, at their own pace, through interactions with images, video, and words, and by making choices in a (semi-) competitive environment is a whole lot better than: Teacher Stand In Front Of Students, Explain Meaning Of Contrast Unity Balance (see… just reading that is boring).

screenshot-of-children-doing-digital-treasure-hunt-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

screenshot-of-children-doing-digital-treasure-hunt-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work

 

Whether I do incorporate all the aforementioned items remains to be seen. In the end, some things will work; some will not. There will be failure, and that’s a good thing. I’m sure I’ll be discovering new things right up until April. Now that that’s acknowledged and I don’t have to treat the unit plan in and of itself as the holy grail, I believe I’ll feel a lot more relaxed to enjoy the unit, to play with these many new ideas floating around in my head (some of which are already in the plan, others of which may find their way there as the lessons develop), and to be open to heading down some other roads less traveled — the students and me — as the project progresses.

Oh no!!…on to Course 5.                                                                                  Bismi’llah.

Digital management: or, How I learned to stop worrying and love the device

Let me see, some way for teachers to ensure that digital devices are being properly used, monitored, and managed in classrooms? Hmmmm, Dr. Strangelove, do we have anything like that in the works?


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Frank Kehren

OK, Kubrick fanboy is done for the moment.

When we use digital devices — in my classroom’s case, it’s six iPad Minis, and sometimes laptops if the students are asked to bring them — one of my primary guidelines is that whatever the students are doing, their actions much be toward Creating Something. Creating something is not limited to making art on the iPad itself (I have several apps for that kind of exploration). Children may be on Safari, for example, so as to do a web search for step-by-step instructions on ‘how to make a three-dimensional paper dinosaur’ or ‘how to draw a castle’ if that’s where their inquiries have taken them. Or they may use YouTube to find a video demonstrating how to draw, paint, or construct something. Occasionally (as happened a couple weeks ago), I’ll discover that a student is simply watching a cartoon episode, and so that’s when — presented with a perfect teachable moment — we pause for a moment to discuss exactly what Mr. Reed means by “creating something.”  It hasn’t been a huge issue yet; I really haven’t had students accessing sites that they shouldn’t be or else I’m a complete Mr. Magoo. I must say that on the whole they’re good kids and respond to a request to return to their artwork. But it may different one day, with a certain child or class or at another school.

Students-documenting-and-critiquing-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

Students-documenting-and-critiquing-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

One reason I notice that it doesn’t become so much of an issue (and here I’m thinking of my Grade 3 students and their current unit of study) is that students are for the most part engaged in their classwork. Now, that could be interpreted as a pretentious statement, but actually I am not suggesting that I am the most engaging teacher in Yokohama; so allow me to qualify that statement. What I am suggesting is two things (two approaches to the use of technology in the classroom, which by the way do not work 100% of the time):

  1. Limit the use of the iPads or laptops (or whatever device it may be). This method necessarily implies that the devices are only given out when there are specific undertakings to be done, and so as long as the teacher is diligent in keeping the children on-task (as much as that can be controlled), there isn’t much wiggle room for them to stray into areas where one doesn’t want them to go. The other side of this approach is the argument not to limit the devices; some might say that the spirit of inquiry-based learning should lead a teacher to allow the children to explore and discover how to use the devices and apps and web-based sites and programs. I don’t have a particular counter-argument; I just haven’t — with all the time we spend with hands-on projects and tools and materials and processes and trial-and-error messes and so forth — had that much time to allow the children to use the iPads exclusively. Oh, p.s. tech devices and paint/clay/water/glue/etc do not go well together.
  2. Promote collaborative projects. I feel that when students are involved in something — a unit of study — which is shared across subjects and teachers, they are more invested in it; it’s a bigger deal than being involved in disparate activities in different classes (which, in my case, just end up being these once-a-week things they they do with that art teacher guy; believe me: that describes the first decade of my career when I was that lone classroom up on the top floor where kids went to do art but which, sometimes, didn’t really seem to be a part of the rest of the school). Being now in a PYP school where the collaborative aspect is taken very seriously, I’m lucky to be more a part of the action. Even in my units which are not officially or formally ‘collaborative’, most are run parallel to the units the students are engaged in in their homeroom classes. The point is that when students come to me they already have a fair amount of prior knowledge in the central idea and theme we’re addressing. They’re “into” it; they can teach ME what they know and get our projects off the ground. For example, in the aforementioned Grade 3 classes, they are now studying Exploration. The unit involves the 3 homeroom classes creating plays (script, characters, setting, costumes, etc, as the Drama and Music teachers are also involved) based on their learning about drylands/deserts, arctic regions, and mountain wilderness. So, in art class, their challenge is to create the essential props for the play; not the props which they could find at home (backpacks, water bottles, ropes, boots) and not the props which are cool and interesting but extraneous (a patch on the jacket, a favorite hat, a bracelet someone wore on a hike once), but those props which, visually, help the audience to understand the storyline and characters’ roles. By the time they realize that it’s their responsibility to design and construct these things (snowshoes, pick axes, leafy vines, video cameras, still cameras, and a snow storm) in three weeks’ time, they are pretty excited. So, when I finally give them the iPads with the instructions to use them to find reference imagery to help them create accurate three-dimensional versions (‘fakes’) of these things, they’re quite focused on doing just that. I haven’t had any problematic issues with the Grade 3 students as of yet.
Students-collaborating-and-designing-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

Students-collaborating-and-designing-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

My middle school classes (grade 6, that is) offer different challenges. They are far more tech-saavy than my younger students; they are very curious; they are socially involved; they are willing to push limits; and they are immature. My over-arching control over the limits on technology in my grade 6 art classes is simply to tell them when they should have their laptops open (i.e. for specific assignments when I want them to be accessing the Grade 6 Art Wiki where all the unit and lesson plans and assignments are laid out week by week) and when they should be closed. For the most part they are compliant and good about it. One issue which has come up recently is that of Listening To Music. They are eager to do it. Some have made the good argument that it helps them concentrate, which I completely understand in that when I myself am involved in making artwork, I often listen to music and find it a helpful accompaniment to my work. I initially told them that they would have to ‘earn’ the right to lisen; that they’d have to show me that they can follow the classroom guidelines first before I consider the music question. Finally, in Week 9 when they began their work on their final project, I allowed them to listen to music via their laptops & earphones/headphones. Thus far it’s mostly been a non-issue. But with a few students I am noticing that their own management of the music, their searching for and selection of songs, may be becoming a distraction. I’ve caught a couple students just watching the music videos — which, during an observational drawing project, is a bit of an issue (maddeningly, one student didn’t see it my way: “I’m just watching a video!”, he indignantly stated). So, the ratcheting up of the management of devices is imminent.

Students-following-instructions-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

Students-following-instructions-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

The home front offers another side of the issue. One I’m thinking of is multi-tasking — the students’ interaction with so many devices and types of tasks and activities at the same time.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Damian

Because so much of our students’ live occur away from school, parents are a potential x-factor. This article from Common Sense Media describes parents as the one big factor in helping students manage their multi-tasking and the downsides thereof. The author Caroline Knorr urges that parents be pro-active in several ways: encouraging their children to read more (to help train the brain to focus); in starting good habits early (establishing boundaries during homework time); in modeling what they preach (not texting while having a conversation); in keeping distractions to a minimum (helping kids do one thing at a time); and in paying attention and connecting the dots (to note when and why grades begin slipping).


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Daniel Lobo

OK, the above image may be a bit dramatic. But I mention this article and the role of parents in their children’s educational well-being because — as in my reply to Milan’s post about her experience “flipping” her classroom — I believe out that one of the biggest challenges we face (more in some schools than others, as my experience bears out) is the home environment. No matter what lessons we prepare, no matter what we say to children, no matter how comprehensive our school’s Digital Citizenship Week may be, some children may still suffer due to a lack of shared goals and/or a lack of reinforcement where mom and dad are concerned. I’m not sure it something that can be ‘fixed’; it’s merely a reality for teachers to be aware of.

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Students-inventing-and-exploring-Mr.-Reeds-image-on-behalf-of-Y.I.S.-Please-do-not-use-or-reproduce-this-image

The management of devices in the classroom can certainly be controlled to a large extent by the teacher. Strategies much be in place and in some cases must be tailored to the age group. Personally, I feel very fortunate not to be taxed with the kinds of challenges that some teachers in some schools certainly face when it comes to the digital side of students’ lives. But I must be mindful that not all of my students will stay at the school where I teach currently; so, whatever parameters I can give them now might serve them very well when they move and enter a school where the limits are not so defined.

We all know what can happen when one person gets a wild hair and decides to start fiddling with switches and buttons…


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Insomnia Cured Here

What is the future of education?

Well, there’s a simple little prompt.

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Although at the time I didn’t have such a monumental question running through my head, last spring I headed to Rinko Park in Yokohama’s bayside Minatomirai neighborhood with a picnic basket and the May 20 edition of the New Yorker magazine. In that issue Nathan Heller gave a broad and also very detailed view of what MOOC learning is all about and could be all about in the coming years. I have to say that I was blown away. What hit me was that, whereas I’ve pretty much become accustomed to Life In The Digital World (carrying a Star Trek-like device in my pocket that enables multi-way communication, expecting information to be available at the push of a button, apps that increasingly do amazing or simply fun things to make my life seem easier, etc), MOOCs are a whole level above devices and buttons that makes tasks easier and faster for individuals — amazing and totally addictive as those things are. MOOCs are an example of the gigantic transformative power of the internet on a global scale.


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Chris Dlugosz
Back to my old hobby, I’ve plugged “the power of the internet” into a Creative Commons + Flickr search and come up with this image as the first result. Pointless blog pause.

The potential effect of MOOCs reminds me of the One Laptop Per Child idea, Nicholas Negroponte’s efforts to “design an appealing, inexpensive laptop computer, which…would help millions of the world’s poorest children transform their lives by fulfilling their educational potential”, attempting to ship “a total of 2.3 million laptops to some 45 countries.” Although the OLPC project hasn’t (yet) worked out as optimistically foreseen, it is one example of a way of using technology to effect global change.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Michael Porter

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Lai Ryanne

OLPC is like MOOCs.  It’s this global reach — one which potentially transcends factors of economics and nationality and geography — which fascinates me and makes me think that this is the (well perhaps not THE but A) future of education. Wikipedia summarizes a MOOC as “an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for the students, professors, and teaching assistants.”


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Mathieu Plourde

What does this mean? Let’s look at it from this perspective: when you consider what it takes to be a participant in higher education, a few basic things are required (some of which some people take for granted, or at least I used to): you need to be near a college or university or have the ability to travel to one; you need to have a place to live near that school or have the ability to transport yourself to and from it on the days classes are held. Some people cannot participate in higher education because they cannot reach the university. The university might be in another city or country. The person might not have the ability to travel to it. No car, no train, no transportation of any kind. No money for it even if it exists. No VISA to enter the country where the university is. Some people are hindered by other circumstances: their job’s time schedule or their family situation or other life obligation doesn’t allow for taking classes or the necessary commuting to and from the school. I could go on.


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Bret Saalwaechter

Where are MOOCs the game-changer? With a MOOC, education is vastly accessible and potentially free. Anyone with access to a digital screen and an internet connection can take classes at, for example, Carnegie-Mellon University free-of-charge. People who actually seek a degree would, of course, pay tuition. But the access to the information and content is not necessarily limited — computer and web access aside — by a person’s pocketbook or passport or location on the earth. One class could have 300,000 students without the university having to worry about holding the class in the largest football stadium every built. Ha ha.


cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Warren Rohner

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the many upsides to classes being held online as opposed to in-classroom. Here are a few others my COETAIL classmates and I came up with:

  • as time goes on, the teaching videos are improving (better production values; more money is spent to produce more complex, engaging presentations; e.g. a professor lecturing on a battle in ancient Greece can be filmed at the battle site)
  • university study can be scheduled around one’s life needs, not the other way around
  • can be translated into multiple languages
  • functions across time zones
  • truly brilliant professors and their lectures/demonstrations can live eternally

In any case, for the moment, MOOCs are not going to change my immediate world or my elementary and middle school art classrooms. The only relationship I see is that I do my own version of teach-by-video, in that I create short videos for my students. I created 30-some, low-budget (i.e. no-budget), low-tech, no-edit, shoot-and-post videos last year. They serve a few purposes (as I’ve mentioned it seems countless times in this blog): 1. they allow me to present information to children in a format that engages them; 2. they allow children to replay the instruction and demonstrations at their own pace whenever they need it, thus freeing me the teacher up to work with students who are working at another level or on another task; 3. they exist online for others in the school community to access as needed or desired for their own learning.


cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Nico Roicke

I realize that MOOCs have their detractors and that criticism exists. But personally, I see the upside over time being so much bigger than the downside. And this is from someone who went to art school where that personal face to face engagement with the professor and the materials and the other students was/is so critical (actually, for me the jury is very much still out on how a studio art class will work as a MOOC, but I’m quite fascinated to see what someone comes up with). MOOCs also give the word ‘democratic’ a bit of fresh currency. I’m not sure playing fields are ever truly level — except in lawn bowling — but MOOCs offer yet another possibility and would seem to have a very bright future ahead.

Reverse instruction, play, & game-based learning… into the art classroom

Reverse instruction. Hmmm, well, this is in reverse…

…but it’s not what we’re talking about here.

Games. I know a few games…

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by janet lackey

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New-Zealand-versus-Japan-2013-photo-by-this-blogger-Aaron-Reed-you-are-free-to-copy-distribute-transmit-and-adapt-the-work


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Wally Gobetz

…but that’s a little off the mark for game-based learning in education. OK, maybe that last one would work. On second thought, maybe they ALL would work.

Play. There’s a fine line between play and mayhem, of course.


cc licensed ( BY ND ) flickr photo shared by unicefiran

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by tup wanders

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Matt

In any case, I’d like to look at each of these topics — reverse (or ‘flipped’) instruction, play, game-based learning — as a way of getting some creative juices flowing (creative in the developing-a-new-unit sense). I’d like to examine them and reflect on some aspect of each in relation to my art classroom: What do I understand about it as it might apply to my students’ learning? How applicable might the approach be for me? How am I already using some aspect of the model, if at all? How might I use one of these approaches, at least in part, in the new unit I’m developing?


cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Megan Morris
(Clearly, integrating tech isn’t a neat and tidy process. And in case no one’s noticed, I am increasingly using blogging as a method of brainstorming and developing ideas for my teaching… er, my students’ learning.)

So, flipping the art classroom? As a (primarily) elementary school visual art teacher, we do everything — what might otherwise be considered in-class work or homework — during our face-to-face art class. In other words, I don’t give homework in my classes (aside from the occasional need to have students talk with or interview people, e.g. such as family members in order to gain an understanding of family history toward creating a family portrait). So, although I think the idea has great merit (and the moment it was explained to me I’d wished I’d had a few of my own high school classes ‘flipped’ when I was a student), I’ve not been sure how to pursue it formally in my class. Then I read a post by Melissa Enderle, a fellow art teacher across the Sea of Japan in Seoul, South Korea — suggested by Jeff Utecht (thanks, Jeff) — in which I noted a very good idea: provide students with, for example, a tutorial video related to the upcoming lesson as a way of sparking and interest in a new topic and of providing a basic level of knowledge about the theme or process to be covered in that next art class (or for motivated students, challenging them to attempt some part of the project as suggested/demonstrated in the tutorial and bring it to class to be used as a talking point for the lesson).

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Additionally, on the topic of reverse instruction, I will note that for a specialist in a PYP school, the classes are in a sense flipped/reversed by the nature of the integrated PYP units. Students come to my class having learned much of the content of the unit in their homeroom (and sometimes other specialist) classes, not unlike a high school math student might learn the content of a math lesson by watching a Khan Academy video; then, in my art class, we use that content information to help us to create our projects, to discuss and apply the new knowledge in a way where I can act as a support, an editor, and a guide for the students. And, hopefully, students are bringing those visual and creative experiences back into the homeroom classes as examples of how their new knowledge applies in other areas.

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What about play? Play-based learning, that is. I’ve been intrigued by the notion for as long as I’ve known of the term.  When I looked at one set of descriptors (from the book Einstein Never Used Flashcards), below, I realized that my classroom and our activities have some similarities to play-based learning but is not a model of it.

  • Play must be pleasurable and enjoyable.
  • Play must have no extrinsic goals; there is no prescribed learning that must occur.
  • Play is spontaneous and voluntary.
  • Play involves active engagement on the part of the player.
  • Play involves an element of make-believe.

Many children do enjoy and find pleasure in creating and making visual things (what we usually call ‘art’ in my classroom). Some of the choices the students make is spontaneous and much of it — ideally, in a PYP program — is voluntary, or at least driven by student choice or choices. Certainly, there is much active engagement on the part of my students (see my previous post in which I discuss how my classroom reflects many aspects of project-based learning). And occasionally our art projects do require some element of make-believe or fantasy (and frequently involved the use of students’ imagination). I think the main sticking point for me is the second point, that play must have “no extrinsic goal; there is no prescribed learning that much occur”. This is not to say that I am not in agreement with the idea (to the contrary, I use the 60-minute transition class between one unit and the next as an opportunity to give students “free-choice” to create what they want without any expectations except that they are “making something”, which for some children is among the happiest and most productive time spent in my room…or at least the time resulting in the most diverse and unique artwork). My issue with this point is that I’ve found it hard to authentically incorporate it into my units. Yes, the design cycle does include INVESTIGATE as a major focus, and theoretically one could incorporate play into it, but what teacher outside of an early learning classroom (a Montessori or Reggio Emilia approach) actually allows students to play with “no extrinsic goals” and “no prescribed learning”? I guess my point is that this is the aspect of play-based learning that most teachers — with all the expectations and assessments and training and ingrained expectations that is behind all that we do and plan for — would be very challenged to do authentically. Which isn’t to say it’s not a great idea.

What about game-based learning? I just attended this workshop two weekends ago:

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Mr. Camm covered many areas including: game theory and design, interactive fiction, how to make a game (old school style), and character design. By day two of the workshop, my focus was on how I could create a sort of interactive story for my Grade 4 class. Well, let me qualify that: not so much a story but rather a treasure hunt. Instead of the reader making choices as he/she progresses through the story toward different conclusions, he/she would make choices (i.e. would answer questions by clicking on-screen buttons, either multiple choice or true/false) based on their understanding of the new content and then attempt to reach the one conclusion which confirms their learning. For example, if the student makes the wrong choices along the way (e.g. incorrectly identifies a secondary color as a tertiary color), he/she would be humorously redirected to turn back and try again. Perhaps along the way, I would have the students leave their digital realm (they would be prompted in the story to do so) and come to a table to do a task — actually creating an example of the content they’ve just been exploring — so as to get a physical and material interactive experience with the subject. This is my initial thought and what I’m developing for my current unit. Rather than using the (1978 copyright) Quest program which we attempted in the workshop, I would use PowerPoint and their ‘action buttons’, time being of the essence.

OK, back to the unit… the clock on COETAIL Course 4 is running out!

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