Category Archives: Art

Faberge Eggs

My 4th grade GT students study masterpieces each year.  The story of the Faberge Eggs, annually created for the last Russian czar’s mother and wife, fascinates all of us – especially when considered in the context of the tragedy that later befell the family.  I use this piece of history to discuss empathy – how Faberge displayed it with every detail of his intricate creations, and how the Romanovs’ lack of this important trait resulted in their demise.

Usually, my students create their own Faberge Eggs, and then design “surprises” to go inside a partner’s egg.  They interview their partners and play different games with them to learn more about them.  Then they have a week to make a design that will be particularly meaningful for the other person.

I have cried over some of the incredibly creative ideas that some students come up with for this project.  One year, a student created a military medal for a student who had a soldier parent fighting overseas. There have been poems, clay objects, a message in a bottle, flags, snowglobes, and so many other little presents.  The students scored each other on how meaningful the gifts were – and many of them made up for themselves in thought what they might have lacked in skill.

This year, egg designing season rolled around a bit later than usual.  Since Mothers Day is just around the corner, I decided to have the students decorate their papier mache eggs for their mothers rather than their peers.  They also created 3d printed surprises to put in each egg.

As generally happens when I try something new, there were some successes and some failures.  Without the interviews and other activities we did in previous years, some of the “surprises” seemed to be less deep than in the past.  (This could also be because of the 3d printing limitation.)  Next year, I think we will need to do a few activities to help the students understand their mothers as people rather than just parents, and I will open the project back up to any hand-made surprise instead of only 3d printed ones.

Here is a link to some other Mothers Day activities in case you are interested.

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Some of the Faberge “surprises” from a couple of years ago.

Some of this year’s Faberge Eggs and “surprises” (in between paint coats)

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Guernica

Note: As I was looking up resources for this post, I realized that yesterday, the day that I introduced Guernica to my current 4th graders, was the 80th anniversary of its bombing. I’m sure I probably knew that somewhere in my subconscious, but it still sent a chill down my spine when I saw the date.

Every year my 4th grade gifted students study masterpieces of all types – literary, mathematical, and artistic.  “Guernica,” by Picasso is one of the artistic masterpieces that we examine as we discuss the empathy that the visual arts often reflect on the part of the artist.  It is a difficult piece to confront, particularly once you know the history behind it, but I think that it is important to study for many reasons.  Picasso’s internal struggle as a man who disdained using art for political reasons but also a man who felt compelled to convey his emotions with every brushstroke make this painting into an engaging topic of conversation with my students.

Gavin Than recently created another one of his fabulous Zen Pencils comics dedicated to Picasso’s “Guernica,” illustrating a famous quote from Picasso about the piece.  It would be a great way to start a debate in your classroom about whether or not the students agree with Picasso’s stance.  Another philosophical discussion that stems from the painting is the love/hate relationship we have with technology, as symbolized by the light bulb in the center of the painting.  The same technology that allows many people from all over the world travel to see this work of art by air also doomed the Spanish town to being blanket-bombed by the Germans.

For more on teaching with Guernica, here is a Pulitzer Center lesson on interpreting global issues through the lens of the painting.

Older students might also want to take a look at this video, which gives a 3d perspective of the painting.

And, here is a current event news article from Newsela that makes the connection between Guernica and recent tragedies in Syria. (You must log in to view this – registration is free.)

You might also want to try one of these lessons from Read, Write, Think, which also includes links to other Guernica-related sites.

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image from Manuel Galrinho on Flickr

The Hidden Secret to Understanding the World

In my 4th grade gifted and talented class, the students study masterpieces.  In addition to masterpieces of visual art, we talk about literary, musical, and even mathematical masterpieces.  When I saw the title for Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk, “Math is the Hidden Secret to Understanding the World,” I thought it might fit in well to the mathematical masterpiece section.  Little did I expect that it would tie everything together that we had discussed all year.

I should mention that this year’s 4th grade class has some very passionate mathematicians in it.  They worship Pi, see Fibonacci in everything, and sit on the edge of their seats whenever I mention that a math activity is imminent.  But I wasn’t sure they would find Antonsen’s talk as revolutionary as I do.  I was willing to overlook the mathematical examples that were over my head in exchange for appreciating the bigger picture, but would they?

Fortunately, Antonsen’s visualizations managed to maintain their focus, and even their awe at some point, as he gradually brought his audience around to the idea that mathematical equations and representations are actually different perspectives (a few heads raised a bit whenever he said this word, as we regularly talk about multiple perspectives).  The “a-ha” moment, however, was when Antonsen said this, “So let’s now take a step back — and that’s actually a metaphor, stepping back — and have a look at what we’re doing. I’m playing around with metaphors. I’m playing around with perspectives and analogies. I’m telling one story in different ways. I’m telling stories. I’m making a narrative; I’m making several narratives. And I think all of these things make understanding possible. I think this actually is the essence of understanding something. I truly believe this.”

There were audible exclamations in my class when the word, “metaphor,” was used.  We started the year by learning about figurative language.  And the concentration in 4th grade in Texas is on Writing as it is tested at this level for the first time.  So, looking at math as a way to tell stories and show different perspectives really captured the attention of my students.

I often tell my students about my childhood struggles with math, how I was often congratulated on my writing skills but made holes in my math assignments due to all of the erasures.  It wasn’t until high school that I had a few great teachers who taught me to love math and helped me to see that my only obstacle had been my own fear of the subject.

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from Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk

If I had seen Antonsen’s TED Talk when I was in 4th grade, things could have been different for me far sooner.  Instead of feeling like math divides people into those who can and those who can’t, I might have realized that math is actually the language that brings us all together.

FIAT Contest/Celebration

Fish in a Tree, the awesome book by Lynda Mullaly Hunt that I reviewed here, has just come out in paperback.  The paperback includes the main character, Ally’s, complete Sketchbook of Impossible Things.  In honor of this, Hunt has launched a nationwide contest for students in 3rd-8th grades to create their own incredibly unique writing or artwork, photos of which must be received by May 12, 2017.  You can find all of the details, including the list of prizes, here.

Also, if you have time, Mrs. Hunt recently did a live webcast for School Library Journal, and I think that you can view the archive by registering here.  My 3rd graders and I watched it today, and found it very inspirational.  Mrs. Hunt talks about her own learning difficulties, the many real-life models for her characters, and how her long-term goals helped to keep her on track.  If you have spoken to your students about growth mindset and grit, then you will find her speech will really resonate with them!

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New in paperback here!

Happy Valentine’s Day from San Antonio!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a link to the Virtual Valentines Project.  Since my 1st graders are studying different continents and countries, I thought they would be the perfect group to match with a Virtual Valentine.  We were matched with a class in Canada, and will be Skyping with them today.

I wanted the Valentines my students made to reflect a little of our San Antonio uniqueness, so I asked the students to brainstorm some special things about San Antonio that our Canadian friends might not have.  This turned out to be harder than I expected.

“Games?” one student suggested.

“Toys?” another student ventured.

After I assured them that Canada is not an isolated planet in outer space without any stores or internet connections, we narrowed things down a bit.

“Barbecue!”

“The Riverwalk!”

“The Alamo!”

We ended up with a fairly long list, and the students could choose one San Antonio feature to include in their Valentines.  It wasn’t until yesterday, though, that I got a chance to look at them closely.  I thought I’d share a few with you 🙂

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It took me a moment to figure out that this is one of our Riverwalk barges.
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This barge appears to be about to devour all of the ducks.  Since the ducks are larger than the people, that might be just as well.

 

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Unlike most of us who live in San Antonio, I think this student actually visited the Alamo.
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I’m not absolutely sure what’s happening at the top of the ladder inside the Alamo. It could either be someone writing at a desk with a candle or lighting a cow on fire.  I guess I need to brush up on my Texas history. (My daughter just informed me that it’s a cannon.  Oops.)

 

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Yes, we definitely love our tacos in San Antonio!
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It’s rodeo season in San Antonio right now.  As you can see, that isn’t a picture of a cow or a horse.  Apparently, this student’s favorite rodeo experience was the school’s Bike Rodeo.
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This picture pretty much says it all…

Overall, I think their pictures definitely showcase some of our San Antonio flair.  I hope this post makes you smile as much as I did writing it, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!

Atomic

The Kuriositas blog recently featured, “Atomic,” a short video created by students at Columbus College of Art and Design.  The students were tasked with creating animations of some of the elements on the periodic table, and this video is a compilation of some of the best.  Learning about the elements and their symbols would have been vastly more entertaining when I was in high school if I had been given a similar assignment!  In fact, there are a few elements in the video that I would swear I never heard of (dysprosium?), but now I will never forget them.

Head on over to Kuriositas to view “Atomic” for yourself.  Also, if you want more fun with the elements, augment your reality with this activity from Daqri.

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the creators of “Atomic”

CoSpaces

Joe Tedesco, the man behind SA Makerspaces for Education, posted about CoSpaces a couple of weeks ago.  CoSpaces is available on the web, and as a free iOS or Android app.  My students and are still investigating its features, so I may be incorrect about what we’ve discovered so far.

CoSpaces Example

Using CoSpaces on a computer (desktop or laptop), you can register for a free account and then create projects.  To experiment, I created one account that my students could also use (if you do this, make sure each student knows how to start a new project or collaborate with someone else on one).  There are tools on the web browser version to “build” 3-dimensional scenes, somewhat Minecraft-ish. For those of us who are spatially challenged, it’s good practice for using other 3-d modeling programs like Tinkercad.  You can also add your own images as well as audio files.

The scenes can be viewed on mobile devices as 3d by walking around with or moving the device to explore the scenery.  If you have a VR headset, you can also experience the scenes this way.  The video on this page is the best way to understand how it works.  At this time, you can only create CoSpaces projects using a web browser and experience they are best experienced through mobile devices.

An intriguing detail about CoSpaces is that it already has a link for educators in its menu – and describes the many ways it can be used in school (such as storytelling or exhibiting research projects).  According to the site, there are plans to offer classroom type accounts to teachers.

CoSpaces shows a great deal of potential for use by students to create – which is one of the main purposes for technology in my point of view.  I have a feeling there are going to be some exciting advances made by this company as it evolves, so you should definitely check it out.

https://cospac.es/Alkj