Category Archives: nextgenteachers

Things to do at the new job:

  1. Start Monday. (Woohoo!)
  2. Use no textbooks.  Textbooks, especially ones about technology, seem like they’re out of date before they’re shipped.
  3. Avoid handouts whenever possible.  Papers have an annoying habit of getting lost, “lost,” or simply ignored.  Also, I’ve never seen a school copier go more than 4 weeks without having a spectacular meltdown.  Handouts have their uses, but I refuse to be one of the teachers staring at a copier exuding the magic blue smoke 5 minutes before class and wondering what I’ll do now that my entire day’s lesson plans are shot.
  4. Avoid paper whenever possible.  When I first played with the form feature in Google Docs, my initial thought was “I could use this to build a test!”  I don’t think I’ll be using Google Docs for everything, but I will find ways for students to hand their work into me digitally.  I’m looking at a Drupal installation for this at the moment, though I might play with Moodle if Drupal doesn’t fit the bill.
  5. Use wikis.  They’re easy to update, tamper resistant, and can replace textbooks and handouts in my classroom.  The best part is I expect my students to have a sense of ownership if they know that they helped make the class “textbook.”
  6. Tie art in with everything.  It’s an art class.  It’s a computer class.  It’s both.  I intend to keep it that way.  The technology aspect is hard to avoid when teaching in a computer lab, but one can lose sight of the art when dealing with MS Word.
  7. Avoid busywork.  As any former substitute will tell you, a class can sense fear.  They can also sense when you’re wasting their time.  Every lesson I plan will have me asking “When will they need to know this?”  I’ll ask, because my students will be asking as well.
  8. Have students blog.  Maybe not every day.  Maybe not every class.  Maybe not in a way that allows the whole world to see everything they write, but every day people are using social networking platforms in ways that will hurt them in the long run.  One of my goals is to teach them how to do it responsibly.
  9. Blog more.  This is a new position with a very open curriculum.  There are frameworks in place, of course, but I have a lot of freedom and that means I’ll be trying a lot of new ideas.  I intend to share what does and doesn’t work.

Hey, I know that guy!

Made some origami for his kids a few years back, actually…  In any case, here he is speaking in front of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Scott Kinney, Vice President at Discovery Education, at a hearing regarding the Future of Learning: How Technology is Transforming Public Schools on June 16, 2009.

On Language

128347380320000000conservativecat.jpgI’m one of those teachers who will respond to the word “mines” by asking “Gold or silver?”  and the question “Can I go to the bathroom?” with “I don’t know, can you?”

Yeah, you can say I’m a stickler about some things.  It’s genetic, I think.  Just try ending a sentence with a preposition when my sister’s around.

I’m critical about this because one of the things we teach in school (according to our curriculum, at least) is how to communicate well.  People who speak “properly” are more likely to do well in interviews and score higher paying and/or better quality careers.

But it’s not the only way people speak.  I dare you to turn on a radio and count how many times the word “ain’t” is used in one hour’s worth of song lyrics.  There, it’s acceptable.  In school, it’s not.

It gets worse when you head online, where sentences like “LOL school is teh suxxorz I hav a gud job even wit low gradez.” are easily understood and not criticized for grammar or spelling … in some circles.

“In some circles” is apparently the key phrase here.  In art we need to know our target audience, and we use our works, whether they’re visual, auditory, or something else, to communicate something.  I’m not likely to use Modernism to illustrate a children’s story about a young boy’s first week at school.

But online we have a wide variety of audiences with which we can participate, and the language norms can be incredibly different in each tab of our browser.  Several people I follow on Plurk and Twitter are fans of some strangely talking cats, but you still won’t see us posting things like “I can has Summer vacation!” or “Invisible budget” in our Professional Learning Networks.

So, if you remember how I started this post it’s safe to say I’m not in favor of students handing in essays written in 1337 or LoLspeak, even though I’m capable of communicating in both.  But I’m not so quick to dismiss these offshoots of the English language.  They were created by a generation that found themselves understanding the new technology far better than most of their teachers, so they built their own rules around it.

And if you look at it that way, it kinda roxxorz.

10 Ways To Be A Better Presenter

Josh Wolff's Adventure

Having survived my 4th consecutive year presenting at MICCA & a few other places, I think it’s safe for me to say I know one or two things about it.  At least, I’ve yet to have a session that ended emptier than when it started, so I’ve got that going for me.

So here’s a list of 10 things that, if done correctly, will help your audience stay engaged and secure in the fact that you know what you’re talking about.  (Or at the very least, they’ll help you fake it.)

They’re numbered, but the order could be changed.  I’m not giving much thought to that part.

10. Market yourself. Don’t spend too much time on this, but your audience should know why you’re worth listening to on this subject.  Are you a DEN Star?  Google Certified?  Do you have 20 years experience working with Web 2.0 technology?  (OK, maybe in dog years…)  Spend 30 seconds telling them why you’re special.  Letting them know how to contact you if they have more questions later is good, too.

9. Don’t sit down. Some people can get away with it, but most of us can’t.  An enthusiastic presenter is more likely to capture an audience, and you can show your enthusiasm better while up and moving.

8. Podiums are walls. Even if they aren’t the big, bulky, “This could stop a truck and still be usable” podiums, they create a barrier between you and your audience.  Don’t hide behind one unless you audience scares you.  (In fact, don’t use one then, either.  Audiences can smell fear.)

7. PowerPoint is there to back you up. Not the other way around.  Substitute “PowerPoint” for “Keynote,” “Prezi,” “Google Presentation,” or whatever you intend to use.  If all you’re doing is reading your slides, you’re wasting space, time, and potentially oxygen.

6. Limit yourself. Just because a product or service can do 53,781 different things does not mean you have to cover all of them.  Tying in with #7: Just because PowerPoint has a plethora of transitions does not mean you should try to use all of them in a single session.  “Random” is the worst possible transition choice ever.  In both cases, you should pick your favorites and stick with those.

5. Ask questions. Your audience is full of intelligent people.  (Granted they’re listening to you, but there’s no reason to let them know that’s a strike against them!)  The questions you ask could be ones that just check to see if they’re paying attention or ones that change the course of your discussion topic, but they should have some way of knowing that you’re acknowledging their presence.

4. Don’t print your PowerPoint. I’m not just saying that because as I type this it’s Earth Day.  I’m saying this because paper is made of matter.  The science geeks out there (including me) will be happy to tell you that means it has mass and volume, and that means 2 reasons why your audience will resent your 10 page printout once it’s added to all the other printouts they’ve collected at that conference.  It adds up and shoulder pain is serious business.  Do them and yourself a favor and make a wiki with all the useful information on it.  Share the link at the beginning and end of your presentation and everyone will be happier for it.

3. Don’t admit mistakes that don’t mater, but admit the ones that do. So you wanted to cover 21 different Web 2.0 sites and skipped #17?  Forget about it.  If you have a wiki (you read #5, right?) they’ll be able to find ay small points you missed on there.  But remember that with the exception of my 2nd grade teacher, we’re all human.  Breathe deep, correct it if you can, acknowledge it if you can’t, and move on.  Your audience will respect you more or it, trust me.

2. Have a backup. PowerPoint will crash.  The network will go down.  Something will go horribly wrong if you don’t have a plan B.  When I’m talking about websites I’ll usually have screen captures of all the features I want to showcase, just in case.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  I will not share that story.

1. Your presentation will never be finished. I’ve seen keynote speakers changing slides shortly before they presented.  I myself have redone a presentation several times, then scrapped the whole thing to start over again because I wasn’t satisfied.  Leonardo da Vinci reportedly said “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”  That you want to keep making it better is admirable, but don’t stress out that you’re not “done.”

Help me at MICCA!


For the 4th year in a row, I will be presenting at MICCA.

For the 1st time (for this conference, at least…), I will be presenting twice.

And as usual, I’m opening my handouts up to everyone who wants to add in their two cents.  I feel they’re ready to go as-is, but that doesn’t mean I’m the only person who knows what he’s talking about!  (I’m hoping for supplementary information, not for someone to do the work for me.)

My presentations are as follows.  Click the links to see, edit, and/or add to my wikis:

Art 2.0

…how art lessons in the computer lab can reinforce other subjects.

Paper, pencils, and paints are good, but there are also plenty of free art projects that reinforce other subjects and can be taught using just computers. This session will showcase some tools, tips, and tricks that any teacher can use.

Personal Learning Networks

…how microblogs and more can make you a better teacher.

Personal learning networks (also called professional learning networks) are a quick, easy, and free way to continue your professional growth as an educator using web 2.0. This session will explain PLNs in more detail and show a variety of free sites that can be used to build your own.

What can I do with these? Review

What do I do with these?The first WCIDWT was posted entirely on a whim.  The tech person at one of my schools gave me some interesting pieces of plastic, and the pack rat in me just couldn’t say no.

Of course I had no idea what to do with them, so I snapped a quick picture with my BlackBerry and used Flickr to post the photo and my description/question to this blog.  The whole process took less than 5 minutes, but the responses were nice enough that I ended up using the same post as a warm-up for my Art Club.

What do I do with these? (Part 2)Part 2 was a similar situation, except that the source was waste scrap paper that was just too small for most of the projects I’ve done with my students.  Again, 5 minutes of work yielded some awesome responses from both the followers of this blog and my Art Club.

So … I think I’m going to keep this up.  As I find new, unusual, unorthodox, or just plain industrial waste materials, I’ll post a picture and brief description and ask for your insights.

Creativity can be an awesome thing.  It can be even more awesome in a group setting.

Don’t mind the shavings.

Garbage never looked so good.

I handed colored pencils to my 1st graders today.

This was not too surprizing, as I did the same thing last week.  What I have noticed, however, is that most of my teachers with younger students don’t let them sharpen their own pencils whenever they need to.

I, however, do.  I would much rather see a student raise their hand because they’re having difficulty with a portion of their composition  than because their colored stick isn’t pointy enough.  As a result I usually announce in the beginning of the lesson that if the pencil needs sharpening, they can just get up and sharpen it.  I even go so far as to explain when a pencil needs sharpening and how to sharpen it so that it doesn’t disappear forever in a pile of shavings.  (Colored pencils are much softer than the 2B kind.)

You know what happens next…



That’s right, any student who found a colored pencil that was not ready to vanquish a vampire was at the sharpener ready to go! This included those who had white colored pencils.  Did I mention this was a lesson where they used white paper?  Well it was.

This is the point when the classroom teacher looks at me with a patronizing expression that says “That’s why I don’t let them do that.”

And I look at them with a nervous smile that says “Eheheheh … I’ll be right back.”

The next minute or so is spent turning kinds away that don’t really need to sharpen pencils, as well as enforcing the “Turn it 3 times then check” rule of sharpening.

And you know what?  That’s it.

Occasionally a student will have a relapse, but for the most part they know my rules and what’s expected of them.  They’re fine with that because they’re getting a cool reward in the process – an awesome art project.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the initial stampede was in fact because they wanted to revel in the idea that they could go and sharpen any pencil that needed it.

So how does this relate to technology integration?

You have to ask?

A new tool is a new tool, and new freedoms are promptly exercised.  There will be chaos, but if you stay alert it will at least be organized chaos and learning will still be accomplished.  Eventually, the chaos will be replaced with something better – a class full of students who are able to learn without raising their hands to ask permission for each step.

I’m not sayin’.

I dont know the answer either, kids!Dan Meyer seems to have come across a recent theme in his lessons: he’s not giving them the answers. I think that’s awesome.

This is something you could very well expect to see in any art class that has a good teacher, since in art you will often find three or four (or more) opinions about composition, color choices, techniques, or even the definition of “art” itself.  We can’t give a single answer because there isn’t one.  We’re kind of forced into the scenario of not giving an answer at the end of the lesson that students can expect to see on the final.

Mr. Meyer, however, is a math teacher.  There are very concrete answers that can be figured out when encountering math problems.  Two plus two has an answer.  If solving for X yields more than one possibility, you can graph them to show the whole range.

Sometimes the conversation, the act of sorting things out with your peers and learning for yourselves what the right questions are is more important than coming to a specific teacher-sanctioned conclusion.

Giving an answer at the end can disguise that simple fact.  I’m glad he’s realized this so early – I know more than one teacher twice his age who’s yet to have that sink in.

What’s in a name?

I have over 2,000 students (not including teachers who are also, technically, my students) spread out over three schools.  This is a daunting task for many reasons, but only one of them irks be to the point that I’ll mention it at the start of this blog post:

I can’t remember that many names.

Oh, I’ll make valiant attempt.  There’s a handful of students whom I do know by name, but there’s just no way I can learn who everyone is when I see them so rarely.

They do know mine though … well, most of them.  To some of my students I’m “Mr. Smith.”  To others, I’m “The Art Guy.”  At the insistence of some teachers in one of my buildings some call me “Mr. Aaron,” though I’m not too keen on that.

artguy128In any case, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my “Art Guy” moniker.  Originally it was a name given to me by a student, and it sort of stuck.  It smacks of just enough irreverence to make it amusing to me even though some classroom teachers who don’t know me try to correct their students when they hear it.

It’s a great nickname to have when you’re the only art teacher around, or failing that the only one that’s a guy.  For that very reason when I started my first forays into edublogging and podcasting to find there were no other art teachers playing with the same technology that entertained me so much (at least none that I saw…), “theartguy” seemed like a perfect screen name for me.

Art_Guy_Shirt.jpgAnd it has been.  I have found countless friends and joined more Web 2.0 sites than I can remember using that screen name.  It’s how I’m identified by pretty much anyone on the internet who knows me.  My target audience has never been limited to just other art teachers – far from it in fact, because in the beginning it was such a rare occurrence to find one of us blogging.

But times change.  These days I’m far from being the only artsy person out there with a blog/podcast/vidcast/and so on., and I think that’s totally awesome.  When I got started I brought an art teacher’s perspective to these new technologies with which we were playing, because in some cases it was quite different from a [insert any other content area here] teacher’s perspective.

Now, the art teachers that are blogging have their own little corner of the internet to form their Personal Learning Networks.  Networks where they don’t have to start off by saying “As an art teacher…,” because their target audience is other art teachers.  Again, this is awesome.

But it also means I’m not the only “art guy” out there.

If I walk into a room full of 30 students ready for an awesome painting lesson, I have no problem calling myself the Art Guy.  If I walk into a room with a decent percentage of other art teachers … I hesitate.

There is more I want to say, but this post is long enough for now.  Expect another installment later.

Prove Me Wrong

WARNING:  I’m either on a high horse or a soapbox grandstanding with an overinflated ego right now.  I’m not always this smug or confrontational (I hope…), but some recent events have led up to this post.  Read at your own risk.

HPIM5128.JPGI do the impossible. Daily.

“He won’t do any work. Just let him sit there.”

“This class will never be controllable when it’s snowing outside.”

“These special ed. students don’t have the hand-eye communication to use scissors.”

Each of these statements is something I’ve been told by a classroom teacher. Each of these statements have been proven wrong.  See that photo?  It was taken by a 2nd grader, then submitted to a juried art show.  It got in.  Don’t tell me photography can’t be taught to 2nd graders.  I could add more examples, but do I need to?

It is a personality flaw quirk of mine to, when I hear something cannot be done in the classroom, see that as a challenge.  Sometimes it turns out the chalenge issuer was right, but more often than not I get to show them what a little effort and guidance can accomplish.  They had given up on those students because they did not think they had the time and/or the energy to accomplish the aforementioned tasks and teach the prescribed curriculum.  Understandable how they got to that point – I’d be there too if I was in their position – but that doesn’t mean I’ll let it stay that way.


When a classroom teacher tells me they’d love to include more art in their lessons, but they just don’t have the time / energy / creativity / inspiration to do that and cover the mandated curriculum….

Challenge issued.

Challenge accepted.

Just don’t keep saying it can’t be done after I prove you wrong.