Rainbow Warriors

Browser Window pixTo those of you who think that newspapers only report bad news, I say “HA!” and “HA AGAIN!James McHenry Elementary School really has a good thing going for it with Mr. King and his Rainbow Warriors program, which is one of the many reasons why I’m glad it’s one of my schools.

I won’t read you those two articles word for word, but this is one of those programs that just gives everyone involved a positive mental attitude. Kids, parents, teachers, everyone’s glad it’s there. I also like the goals that Mr. King has in mind for the future, although I may have to talk with him about building a web site. A paid site is nice, but there are plenty of hosts out there (Geocities for example…) that can give you space for free.

So, who else has some outstanding news about their school?

Book Review – Photography: A Crash Course

Brushes IconIt should go without saying that a good teacher should know his or her subject area well enough to teach it without a book. Being able to and having to are much different things, however, and I for one am grateful for that. Texts are wonderful resources that can foster discussion, provide background information, and give step-by-step instructions on how to complete tasks. One book that is a good example of some of these things is Photography: A Crash Course by Dave Yorath. (Sure, I could find a lot of this stuff online, but I like the tactile nature of books as much as I like the interactivity of the internet.)

The very name implies that this book is meant to be a textbook of some kind, although it’s my opinion that it would best serve as a supplementary text rather than the main book for any particular course. As rich with information as it is, the book is only 144 pages long, including the index, and a majority of that space is filled with the book’s 400 assorted illustrations.

I must admit that the price was right. The book’s list price was $14.95, but it was in the bargain books section of Barnes & Noble for $4.99, roughly a third of the list price.
As a mostly self-taught digital photographer I found this book to be quite intriguing. True, it said little on how to do this technique or develop that kind of film, but where it lacked in instruction it made up for it in historical information. At the top of each page was also a timeline explaining what else was going on at the time that that page’s content took place – a wonderful way to help readers keep everything in context.

As much as I liked the book, I think it would actually be a bit too difficult for most of my current students (since I’m teaching elementary at the moment). My best use for the book would most likely be to digest it’s information and provide regurgitated chunks to my class as they pertain to any particular lesson. Were I still teaching high school, I think I would seriously recommend the purchase of 30 or so copies for use in the classroom. High school students would be more likely to create involved photography projects anyway.

A day in the life of a tech addict Art teacher

circuit boardAs a teacher, I pride myself in using technology intelligently every day to help with my lessons. I include the word “intelligently” because as cool as computers are, they aren’t always the best solution for every problem encountered.

For example, let’s take a look at my typical day. I start off checking my e-mail and my schedule for the day. As I can only teach each class once before I move on to my next building, every day’s schedule has different classes at different times. My brain would deflate if I tried to remember everything, so I write my schedule out in iCal (a calendar program for the Macintosh) and sync it with my Palm Pilot. I have it set so an alarm goes off five minutes before class starts as well as five and ten minutes before the class ends. That way, I can’t loose track of time.

In the classroom my main use for technology has normally been for presentation purposes, but it’s difficult for me to use it on a frequent basis. As I have no room of my own and teach in four different buildings, I have a wide variety of classroom settings – some rooms have computers hooked up to TVs, some have opaque projectors, and other rooms have only the standard overhead projectors and blackboards. This limits my technology usage, as it’s often not worth it to create a PowerPoint presentation for a single class when you have twenty classes or more for which you have to prepare.

Lucky for me, this does not mean I must forgo technology entirely. Whenever I want to include a photo of a famous artwork or some other reference material for the students, it’s a simple thing to print it out on the school’s color laser printer. Websites like Artchive.com are full of images that are perfect for my lessons, although sometimes I have to pick them carefully.

During the lesson I’ll often walk around the room with my digital camera and take pictures of students with their art projects. The kids really like this and are often more than happy to work harder so they can show off for the camera, but my main objective is to archive the activity for later display. Parents and kids love to see visual references to projects they’ve done, and the display helps to reinforce the lesson later on.

After each class is over it’s my job to show off, or as my job description puts it, set up a display of student work. If the project is flat I can do this by hanging them on the wall and printing out a paper with the project title, objective, grade, and teacher’s name.

I’d love to hang three dimensional work from the hallway ceiling, but then any small air current would cause them to move, which would result in the alarm system going off at 3:00 in the morning.

I don’t wish to be chewed out at 3:30 in the morning when the Principal, Building Supervisor, and local police find out it was my display that triggered the alarm, so photographs have to do. Lucky for me I’ve been taking photos of the kids with their projects during the lesson so I can print them out after minor adjustments.

Modifications include some cropping, but mostly eliminating those glowing red demon eyes that some kids seem to get. Using the “red eye reduction” setting on my camera doesn’t work well, since that involves multiple flashes and the younger kids just won’t hold still for all of them. (I end up with a lot of pictures of kids walking away when I try that.)
I teach three classes a day like this, with my so-called free time dedicated to setting up displays and preparing materials for the next day.

At the end of the day I check my email once more, throw a few podcasts on my palm pilot for the ride home, and head out.

When I started working for my Master’s Degree my situation was much different. Instead of four elementary schools I taught at one high school. While I had my own room with a TV I could hook up to my computer or one of the two classroom computers (thus allowing me to incorporate all kinds of technology into the daily lessons) I still maintain that wild horses couldn’t drag me back to the higher grade levels. Maybe I’ll teach college some day, but never high school.

I didn’t just use computers and TVs last year; I also made good use of my digital camera. My Art II students spent the good portion of a marking period drawing out short animations frame by frame, then digitizing them using my camera and a tripod. The final steps were completed when they compiled them in iMovie and added sound effects.

Of course I also did the standard PowerPoint presentations, but when we went into the computer lab I also made sure all their instructions were on my school web site. That way if they missed a day (or if there was a substitute) they were still able to work. (Of course few of them worked away from my presence, but it really mattered for the handful that did.)

Suffice to say, I used technology a lot more in the classroom last year than I do this year. I like to think I still provide a good educational experience, it’s just that it’s more analog than digital now. Last year I could open a web page to show the entire class an artwork, and this year I have to either show them a page in a book or a printout from that website. I still think I use technology well every day, but a lot of my tasks are
more support tasks that the students don’t actually watch me perform.

Since I only see my kids up to four times a year this time around, fancy technology lessons are still in development. (Digitizing animations is almost out of the question entirely, although we do happen to have some digital video cameras I could borrow …. )
My students last year were encouraged to use technology several times each marking period, if not every month. My elementary schools this year are quite different, with one school not able to use the computer lab for anything other than testing for most of the first marking period. When I eventually do a computer lesson, it will most likely be in small groups using my own laptop, since it’s the only computer in all my buildings of which I can be certain of it’s abilities.

I’m relatively famous!

Browser Window pixA while back I fired off an email to Steve Dembo of teach42.com about several things, including a mysterious person named GCPS who was posting all kinds of useful educational links on a regular basis.

At first Mr. Dembo and myself were both under the impression that GCPS was a person who was just very, very helpful, but then I got to thinking. You see, I work in Prince George’s County Public Schools, which we often shorten to PGCPS. That made me wonder if the “PS” in GCPS meant “Public Schools” as well. One Google search later and I found this site. Looks like my hunch was right.

So why am I famous? Well, that little revelation got me a mention and a link on teach42’s most recent podcast. Mr. Dembo might not think of himself as famous, but someone who has to get paid hosting because over a hundred people are downloading every podcast he does is much more famous than I am.

The term I like to use sometimes is “relative fame,” although I’m still looking for a better name. Everyone’s famous to someone, even more so in this wonderful world of education. For example: last month I covered a lunch duty for another teacher. It was Kindergarten and 1st grade. You should have seen it! Half the kids were waving and telling their classmates “The Art Guy’s here!” (As if my ego wasn’t inflated enough already.) To them the art teacher is a celebrity, more so than Dan Rather, Ted Turner, Clarence Thomas, or many other household names that we adults know.

On the other side of the coin I’m a nobody to most other people outside my four schools, but that’s ok. I don’t NEED to be famous to everyone. I don’t NEED to be a household name. If I wanted to be, I wouldn’t have chosen teaching as a career. I’m doing this because I love to do it, and because it pays the bills.

I may not need it, but I have noticed that fame can be very encouraging. The kids are always glad to see me, and I feed off of that energy every time I walk through a classroom door. I grew up a bookish introvert, but in the classroom I let my extroverted inner child out to play. I know I’ve had a good lesson when even the classroom teacher cracks a grin at my dry humor or, better yet, joins in and makes an artwork along with the rest of the class.

Well that’s enough ranting for now – I’m off to check the RSS feeds of people who may not be famous to you, but they most certainly are famous to me.

Mastering PowerPoint

circuit boardThere are some who would say that PowerPoint® is a teacher’s best friend. After all, here is this simple little (ok, not so little …) program capable of displaying any media you choose, and all you need to do is drag and drop! If you’re giving a linear presentation, and chances are you are, then this is all you need to know.

However, there are other times when a linear presentation just won’t do. Perhaps you need to go to a certain slide during a question and answer session. Better yet, what if you want to create a quiz? What to have some mathematical computations going on in the background to make the whole presentation more interactive? Sure, go ahead!
Oh, wait … they didn’t cover that in the faculty in-service, did they? Oh well, what do you expect from fifteen minutes of instruction and a half hour of “play around with the program” time. Lucky for you, there are enough people out there who have not only figured this stuff out, but are willing to share. Among them are the good people who maintain the Internet For Classrooms website, which happens to have quite a few tutorials on it.
Scrolling down to the “Advanced” section of the tutorial list, the instructions on how to create invisible buttons caught my eye. Wait, invisible? What good is that? Bear with me here, I’ll get to that.

First of all, the tutorial is written totally in html code – although at the end a link is provided to a sample PowerPoint. The text includes many, many pictures that show in detail exactly what needs to be done. These pictures are simply wonderful – in fact I think that I wouldn’t even need to read the tutorial so long as I could look at the pictures. These pictures are obviously screen captures from an older Windows operating system, but I won’t hold that against them. They were just planning to help the largest percentage of PowerPoint® users possible. The Macintosh version is still similar enough to make this tutorial useful to me.

So what could I use this for? Well, it’s rather convenient that you asked. Something I routinely do as an Art teacher is show artwork to my students. Normally this requires that I be there to point and talk. With this setup, however, I could section off different parts of an artwork to be buttons and have each button link to a different slide. When students see a section that interests them, they can click on it to learn more about it. If I’m lazy and don’t want to make multiple slides, I could have the buttons play audio files where I talk about that section of the artwork rather than force them to read.

I could put a bunch of artworks like this together to make whole chapters of informative multimedia books, then go take a break while the students all use my PowerPoint® presentations and become so enthralled that they fail to notice my absence … or rather, maybe I should stay in the room in case anyone has any questions for me. Yeah, that’s what I meant.

Oh clip art, where art thou?

I’ll admit I myself have an aversion to clip art, but then I make my own stuff all the time and not everyone does that. As a result, I present to you several alternatives to making everything from scratch. I assure you that I’ve never seen a principal act in the way portrayed below – I just wrote that to add some humor.

Your mission: Replace the school’s old web site with a web site that looks nice. “Looks nice,” so far as your principal is concerned, means graphics on every page.
The problem: You’ve hardly any time to finish it (your principal is already planning to show it off this Friday during an in-service) and your school hasn’t bought new computers since 1996. You’d use your home computer, but a recent accident involving a cat, pet allergies, and a double tall mocha latte has rendered your home computer temporarily inoperable. What do you do?

Wait, before you start revising your resume (there’s plenty of time for that this weekend) there is hope. A good color scheme and table layout can make a web site aesthetically pleasing, and the information you can’t reuse from the old site can easily be updated to be current, assuming you’re on good terms with the school secretary.

95% of your work is done – now all you have to worry about is your principal’s hair brained … that is, visionary idea of including graphics on every page. Making decent graphics on a school computer is out of the question. Not because they don’t have graphic design software that can run on the school computers, but because you don’t have graphic design software that will run on those computers.

Fortunately for you, there’s plenty of clip art out there. The nice thing about clip art is that it’s free, but the downside is that you often get what you pay for. Sifting through the pixels, you come across a site called FlamingText.com. FlamingText has clip art you can use, but its most noticeable feature is its free header image creator. Less than five minutes after finding the site you have a title image with the school’s name ready to display on the school site. A weaker teacher would have cringed at the pop-up ads, but you toughed it out.

But one title does not a happy principal make. With more exploration you come across a site called Classroom Clipart. This site does have a place for you to sign in and another to sign up for it’s newsletter, but it’s still free so long as it’s used for educational use (K-12 only) and you don’t get rid of the watermarks. The clip art is all organized by category, and offers a variety of pictures from low resolution computer generated images to some rather nice looking photos. You grab a few images that relate to the different subject areas and move on.

Your final stop in search of graphics takes you to Web Clip Art, brought to you by the good people from About.com. This free site has it’s own clip art (including some background images), as well as tips, tutorials, and links to other good clip art sites. Perhaps you should have come here first? No matter, you now have all the graphics you need and you still have time to go to lunch and complain about working too hard to your coworkers in the faculty lounge – and all you had to do was have your morning classes watch movies instead of doing any real work!

Edugadget

Browser Window pixGolly gee whiz, I’ve got more content!

When I created this blog I wanted to use it not only to to provide useful information to others, but to also show the blend between art, tech, and education. (Insert venn diagram … here.) As such, I always get a kick when I see other web sites that blend some or all of these things.

So when teach42‘s Stephen Dembo podcasted about Edugadget, I was quite pleased indeed. Edugadget (not to be confused with Engadget, another nice tech site) has a plethora of posts on software, websites, and ideas on how to use technology to improve the quality of education. If you’re a teacher who’s interested in technology, then you should check this site out – or better yet, subscribe to their RSS feed.

Edit: Just found out I wasn’t linking to teach42 as much as I was linking to Edugadget again. The problem should be fixed now. Thanks to Stephen Dembo for pointing it out. And no, I don’t think you’re egocentric. :)

Drawing / Sketching

brushesInterested in improving your drawing skills? Well you can always take more Art classes, buy drawing books, and join local art clubs – all of these are helpful in encouraging you to push your skills to the limit. However, you can also try visiting online “how-to-draw” sites for advice and information. They’re often not as detailed as other methods, but they’re a lot cheaper.

One of my favorites is a site entitled Drawing / Sketching. This is actually part of the About.com network, which I love because it’s more than just a search engine. Each section is maintained and regularly updated by someone currently in that particular industry (or if there is no industry for that category, someone who at least has a lot of experience).

Drawing / Sketching is no different, as it’s maintained by an Art teacher named Helen South. On her site, she does a good job of updating frequently and providing pertinent information, advice, and links. I must admit, I’ve used some of her tutorials when making take-home lesson plans for high school students. If you’re an Art teacher or Art student, you should really check out this great resource.

myImager.com and FlamingText.com

brushesLet’s say you’re teaching a web design or digital photography lesson. You’ve made all your plans, you’re ready to go, but you have one problem – you didn’t sign up early enough to use the computer lab that has Adobe Photoshop installed on the computers. There’s still a lab available, but those computers are so old that they won’t even run a current version of Photoshop.

So what do you do? Well you could reschedule, but do you have a plan B to be working on in the classroom? There is a plan B, and it can be used in that other computer lab. myImager.com is a website that allows you to upload and image, then edit it in a variety of ways. It’s not as full featured as some of the more well known image editing programs out there, but in a pinch it’ll do the basic stuff for you.

If you have an image already uploaded to a server but want to edit it a bit, you can always head over to FlamingText.com and use their photo service. This isn’t FlamingText.com’s key feature (as you may guess by it’s simplicity). Rather, they have a very nice system for creating headers and banners that say whatever you want them to say – including choice of fonts, colors, and even (in some cases) animation.