Saturday, December 11, 2010

Balancing Creativity Via the Web

There's a lot of background thought that has to go into planning something as big as putting yourself out there on the web for the whole world, let alone the students you are teaching, to see and use as a base-camp of operations within the classroom. I chose to take my website development a bit further than this class asked of us, not simply incorporating one lesson to be accessed and participated in, but the start of a site that I could use more frequently throughout the school year, within any school setting.
My eCoach was a great tool to use. The templates were somewhat (because I don't quite fall into the category of a novice, nor a native when it comes to technology) easy to navigate through, adding images, links and subcategories where needed. If I had found this site a few years ago, my classroom would have been that much more technology driven. Why is it that no one ever shares this kind of pertinent knowledge with the rest of the "common" teacher-folk, that we have to invest in our graduate degree to experience it (I ask myself as I write)?
The program takes a bit of time to develop, I have found, but is well worth the effort. In the end, my students will be able to interact with my class in and outside of school, administrators will be able to view a portfolio of my past student's work and my own, and parents will also be able to include themselves in this education conversation, because all of the information will be there (linked from whichever school district I end up teaching in), so hopefully their support of the arts will increase ten-fold as well. That is my hope.
Art is a language that is everywhere, but if kids are never exposed to what else the world has to offer them, beyond the small expanse of their known world, they'll not understand the importance of thinking creatively and critically, just going about their business in the areas of Reading and Math, forgetting the facts that letters and numbers were derived from artists and then came the rest.
I'm glad to have had this opportunity to grow my knowledge and to begin to take steps toward a more technologically-friendly tomorrow. Your feedback is welcome.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Real World Applications

Any individual person, not just those who are endeavored for learning, or for that of higher learning, are looking for purpose to the life that they are leading. We, as teachers/educators, have our wok cut out for us these days. Students are crying out for relevance to what they are learning and regurgitating to receive that final grade. When the material does not relate at all to the world they are living in, constantly battling, each day they quickly loose interest and become complacent, resorting to just going through the motions. So, it is our duty to incorporate as much of what they are engaged in outside of school, within the brick and mortar of our educational institutions. By tapping into the technology-laden society and incorporating tools that they can also use later on for other endeavors outside of the classroom, a.k.a. hybrid learning, teachers will find that their students will begin learning without knowing that they are learning. Art teachers have an opportunity that is more vast than the regular educator, in that their hands-on dimensional projects within the classroom can be aptly enhanced by incorporation of technology. Students are never bored with what they are learning, if they think that they are having fun, and enjoying what they are learning. The Arts provide this for many people, through enjoyment and satisfaction of producing something that comes naturally, that of expressing themselves. The inclusion, rather than expulsion of technology, whether through online discussions, reflections, or self testing of the material, relevant information that is related to the topic at hand will not only enhance but produce higher level, critically-thinking learners in an environment that a majority of students may know better than the instructors themselves, therefore providing an opportunity for growth on both sides of the learning spectrum.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Video Professionals

Sure I've taken video. But, I know what my talents are and usually in the past I've given them to someone else who is more techno-savvy to save me the time and headache that are involved with such an endeavor. Do you know what I found? With the introduction of JayCut, the video process was somewhat easy. It was finding the time to record the video that was the issue, on just the right topic, on just the right day. Since the holidays are hear, the topic that I chose to do my research on were a hard-find. Museums are closed and travel to them in a couple hours away. In the end, I may not have produced a great video, but I am assured now that those I produce in the future are going to be fantastic!
The video project idea that I came up with was one focused on artists who came from Iowa, Grant Wood of Anamosa; Marvin Cone of Cedar Rapids and Rose Franzen of Maquoketa; naming the project Small Town - Big Time. However, there is so much information on each artist, that I decided to focus on just one. Rose wasn't free, since they were traveling for the holidays and Marvin Cone's exhibit of cloudscapes had already been taken down from the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, so the choice of Grant Wood was clear. And besides, his work is plastered and parodied the world round, so I took a trip to Turner Alley, a tour of his studio and then hit the museum (since videography is prohibited there), just to see his works up close and personal (Coe College's library was closed for break, otherwise there would have been opportunity there as well).
My thoughts: however, not as hard as it seemed once I got my feet wet, a video assignment takes more than a lot of effort and as a teacher it would probably take up the whole of a school year's quarter to produce a quality work that would be acceptable, within the classroom, if given as an assignment to students. The teacher, if assigned this kind of endeavor, would be forced to produce it all in his/her free time. This was something great to learn, but I still may leave it to the professionals who like to play around with this medium (at least for now). I would like to continue the thread of Small Town - Big Time, but I also think that the Power Point presentations that we did previously would be a fine outlet for those kind of topics (especially since I do not have a travel budget and proximal availability to art museums where I live).

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bridging the Visual Media Expanse

It is true that most people embrace the visual world. Heck, we're bombarded with our senses ever day and this country that we live in hits you over the head with multi-sensory images, sounds and sometimes even smells...but, I am finding that more and more, as I travel through this digital media realm that I am resistant to the use of technology...I put on the brakes, procrastinate, and even decline even exploring these areas because one, I do not enjoy them (I'm more hands-on creative and a computer screen is too flat) and two, I am not familiar with them and so care not to even indulge. How many of our students are that way? Once they have decided that they would rather not, they will not or do not want to learn. The learning wall raised and almost impenetrable. So, I ask myself, how am I going to get over this hump?
The presentational information for the video I put together seemed like a great topic, Small Town - Big Time, however daunting a task to complete the task of what I have envisioned. I have lofty dreams of what I would like the video to look like, but have not the resources near to produce such a quality video that I would be proud of. To make an interesting working discussion of Iowa artists Grant Wood and Marvin Cone would take some traveling and even to interview Rose Franzen would be too much to ask of a holiday weekend when so many businesses are closed, art galleries included, and the artist's personal schedule. These have all been factors in my neglect of the topic.
Tomorrow may be a different story. So, I will attempt to do what I can, but like any student I can only promise quantity but not quality and that's not how I like to do things...more to come.

Monday, November 15, 2010

PodCast Nation

We are a people that wants, as Andy Warhol once said, our fifteen minutes of fame. We have finally reached that pinnacle in our frame of history, where the Internet has provided so much exposure and interaction the world over, conversations between like-minded people, where any topic or question can be sought out at the flick of a keystroke and any information that you want to share, can be. Today, more than ever, each individual on the other end of the modem or broadband connection is reaching out for someone to listen to what they have learned or what they have to say, watch what they have produced, or share in their ideas as unique human beings. The World Wide Web has done that for us.
So, when I was asked to create a podcast, I thought about what topic interested me and how I could possibly use this medium in the future, for teaching Art History at the graduate level (or even advanced high school, for that matter). I had used the GarageBand program, available on Mac, before and yet, it had been like anything else that I have creatively touched in my life, a toy to play with, and once uninterested, left it to lay. It had been two years since I had thought about podcasting and so, I approached the program recommended for this class, ProfCast, with more interest, since I now own a PC.
We wrote a planning worksheet last week, which seemed like a reverse-order thinking for me: to think about and plan out the whole thing before beginning. Okay, maybe that's how lesson plans are written too, but its always hard for my brain to work backwards just the same, to visualize what the end product will look like before beginning and finding a totally different outcome...
I ran into a few hurdles while recording and realized that every window needed to be open on my desktop screen, so that I could easily push a button to cue the music, power point that went along with it, and the voice recording program. I had it all done, or so I thought, told the program to share, saved my work and then went back to listen and double check it before finalizing a post: no recording at minutes of nothing-air and back to the drawing board.
Okay, start volume was on mute! Finished the recording in record time. Here's a taste,  but I'm sure your students will do better than I.

Things to think about when using this tool with students: first, you may want to make sure students are placed into groups, so that if something is not understood they don't get frustrated and just quit, instead they will have their peers to get feedback from; second, be sure to walk them through the steps of creating the script, recording the audio and/or video, and the making of the power point, making sure all steps are taken to break down the assignment; and lastly, give them time to pace themselves, hear themselves recorded and allow them to take the necessary time to rework what is not performing correctly.
If they don't feel too much of a pressure crunch about their pace, they will have a great time producing a short lecture of sorts on a topic that they're interested in and be able to share what they've learned with the Podcast Nation that we've helped them to become a part of through this invisible thing we call the world wide web.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Redesigning Wavelengths

Whether through the airwaves or broadband cables, audio and video, the Internet has brought many people together in real-time to share their views, express their interests and collaborate in many ways never thought possible a century ago.
Podcasts, for instance, utilize audio only software, record a person's voice and can be listened to anywhere, anytime, on any topic. Just take a moment to check out these sites:,,,, only a few of the resources out there. Also, Smithsonian Education's website is very helpful as well.
Many podcasts are set up in a talk-radio fashion, with music marking the intro, change of topics and ending of the broadcast. On many levels, they are talk-radio, only in a more accessible medium that the web provides, making the topics all-inclusive for anyone who would wish to listen, rather than being able to tune the radio dial in. However, XM Radio also helps people listen to stations via satellite, by tuning in to whatever genre they are interested, but that's a topic for another discussion.
In many instances, Podcasts are used as an ongoing discussion of a certain topic, which provides educators and students alike, with avenues in which they may engage in serious content, the topics that matter most. With some pre-pod research and some technical savvy, the "meat" of that year's curriculum can be tapped, chewed and swallowed, because it has created a more interactive platform in which to learn about the subject.
Another simple variation of the Podcast, a Vidcast, or Vodcast which includes, what the root eludes, video to accompany the audio. These can be set up in many platforms. The audio can be played in sync with one or many images that are under discussion, or set up to record the actual presenter. Unlike YouTube, a video sharing site where anyone and everyone can broadcast anything under the sun, a Vodcast takes on a more formal presentation. However, I have found many YouTube "How-To" videos very helpful, so a vodcast could be uploaded there as well.
Take a look at this interview with my brother as artist The radio show has set this up in such a way as to see footage from his work, and to see all person's present in the interview process. Personally, I prefer the vodcast, because I am a visual learner than auditory and the information in the Podcast would have to be replayed many times over for me to get the information processed.
In both of these, Podcast and Vodcast, the audience has been targeted, and in my case, I would be targeting art related topics, not necessarily educators, but the purpose would be for anyone who would want to learn more about how to become and remain creative, through discussion and reflection. How ever we use these technologies, the work is in the details before it ever hits the waves. So, we have written a couple vodcast plans to implement later, so check back to see those postings.
This is what appeals to me with all of these mediums because it provides a chance to share ideas, almost as fast as telepathy, and helps the world become smaller by empowering them to come together and think bigger.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Cyber Struggle

Whew! It seems that the last few weeks, if not last few months have been saturated with the discussion of proper language and the fundamentals of being a "good citizen" on and off line, through the many technological venues that our society has created for the "good" and "growth" of our culture. Cyber-bullying is proving to be more common and threatening than the average school-bully pushing you down on the playground, stealing your lunch money and spreading hateful rumors. The difference is that they are doing all of this and more on a public platform, where they don't even have to look the victim in the eyes and everyone in the universe can be jump on the bandwagon to choose sides.
The topic was first broached and brought to the forefront of my mind in this fall's issue of Instructor magazine, an article by Caralee Adams, and then pointed to and discussed again in my NWP Journal Writing Seminar, through St. Ambrose University, a couple of weeks ago, where I shared my own personal encounter with this phenomenon, and now this week in my Integrating Technology class, through AAU.
I have to agree that there is a problem and that not all educators acknowledge the problem within their realms of education, let alone know how deal with it or to add it to the discussion in their curriculum without adding a heavy load to their already busy schedule of meeting state standards.

There is a more urgent call to educators to step up their game and remain in constant focus of the cultural climate of their classrooms and school grounds, now more than ever. This seems to be another avenue where it all comes down to educating social values and good citizenry and including it into the current curriculum. Until we can find a way to help our students relieve the boredom that they feel, therefore lashing out their frustrations on the rest of their student population, we must make a difference in their lives by setting an example as good citizens ourselves.
The problem is that technology has lent itself to a much more impersonal state of being for many born-natives of the era and coping mechanisms have not yet been fostered for our youth to acclimate to the force that is present. They are still our youth, and still need to have their hands held in the proper functions of communicating within a public setting, which the Internet has proven to be. For instance, to point out that they would not cuss out their mother in church on Sunday, in front of the whole congregation, would make a beautiful point that is to say that doing it online is the same thing.
Basically we need to make an effort reinvent the "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" philosophy. The world will thank us later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on

The education debate that Robinson has delivered here, and in various other talks that I have previewed, stresses the fact that there is a dire need for educational reform, not just in the United States, but all over the world. We have to ask, what is education for? Who is it for? What is important and what can be thrown out?
While mathematics and language are always at the top tier and are of the utmost importance, they can be taught throughout every aspect of education, including art, music, dance and the rest of the arts. Educators must become creative enough to see this connection if we are going to be able to keep our children interested in school, interested in their future, interested in creating a life for themselves where their professional passion takes over and their work seems less a stress as it is a work of pleasure.
Creativity itself plays a significant part in our journey from youth to adulthood. We are born with a beautiful knack for happiness and play, but are asked to throw that out the window for an industrialized education product, through testing that supposedly proves how "smart" we are. Education without creativity, helps the student loose the sense of their own specific talents and helps them to become frustrated with the world around them, lashing out in forms of frustration that include cyber-bullying, because they have been forced to place their divine purpose on the back-burner and made to regurgitate facts and figures without any real life application.
The education debate over the loss of creativity makes me think of people in history such as Christopher Columbus, the Wright brothers, Albert Einstein, Richard Wagner, Abraham Lincoln, Issac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Tesla and Westinghouse. These were all people who made great strides toward a better way of living, but were also laughed at by the creative use of their ideas, or were ridiculed for being different. FDR brought our country out of The Great Depression through an understanding that the arts needed to be supported and cultivated and charter schools that embrace the arts are producing children with higher test scores. Is it just coincidence? I think not.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wikis as Interaction

It has occurred to me that photo-editing was required, but I had arranged my image before shooting it. So, not that it matters at this point in time, but here is a cropped, inverted variation of what could have been done to my original image, focusing on line, color and balance of the picture field.

Moving on...this week's topic was to make a wiki page, something that can be accessible to students and add yet another field of discussion for them to participate in and outside of the classroom. This, like the blog, can be added to, edited by and managed by students, however monitored for content postings, as always, by the administrator of the page, the teacher.
I have used the wikispaces website before in my time teaching, but had used it for the English classroom, as a place to post and discuss works from authors/poets that related to the themes we were discussing in class. More often than not, it proved to be more of a chore for the students to complete the tasks listed in the wiki.
However, this being said, and after viewing a few other educational wikis, Visual Art Education, and Research in Contemporary Art, I found that a wiki does not need to be interactive, though it is a helpful tool for discussion, but can be used as any tool needed, like these informational sites offer.
After perusing the ZoHo website, I found that it was just as user friendly as the wikispaces was for me previously, so I jumped in to make another page. With the easy navigation and instructions for use, ZoHo was something I thought thought that I'd try out. Take a look and let me know what you think:
After all, as a visual art educator and visual artist myself, I decided that I wanted to make my classroom that much more interactive about the theory of art and yet be open to the possibilities that each individual artist brings to the table, as a student. My wiki would be used as a supplemental activity, to be referred back to throughout the project being carried out and the materials and focus at hand.
I would also like to, as I add content to the wiki, turn it into something like the Research site, where it can be used as a syllabic overview for the class, and a stepping-off point for research within the classroom. Enjoy! I know that I did.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Should Photography be Perceived as an Art Form?

The conversation in class this week revolved around Photography and the use of it as an art form. Photography is a rather new, expressive form of art and technology has made it readily available to people from all walks of life, not just artists with an eye for composition. Museums, for years, have hosted photographers who have held a distinct vision of the world around them. Their quandary has been about how to now come upon a means of distinguishing artist photographers from the multitude of mass-media photography. So, the argument was whether photography should be accepted as an art form or whether it should merely be left a means of communication outside of the art world. It is an art that is still evolving.
It is true that myriads of people, through the vast displays of rapidly growing technology in the world, have access to one form of camera or another and with the sharing and printing capabilities that the internet provides, through sites such as Flickr, Snapfish, Picasa or many, many other editing programs like Photoshop, the world of photography has become smaller.
Photography was once a novelty, something produced by professionals for an audience. Now, one only needs to point and click and the image is captured. But, there is still an art to capturing a great photo...composition...This week's class, an an art major before I became a teacher, was a brief review of how an image must be composed to convey its message effectively to an audience: balance, simplicity, the rule of thirds, etc. Any visual image must be set up in this way, websites, paintings, prints, and namely photographs. I remain an amateur photographer, though I know how to compose, edit and print these for my own purposes.
Here are the photos that I manipulated for this class
I will remain with the notion that photography is an art form, a rather new one, but all art forms are constantly evolving as time goes on, otherwise the artist would no longer be in existence. When restrictions are placed on an art form, it no longer is art. The field of communication should be allowed to be open and explored. We have not seen the last of this controversy.

Photo Editing

Days Gone By - Original
Emerald Tone
neon sign
shrink wrap
stained glass

Monday, October 11, 2010

Use of Technology Debate

So, this week was a rather burdensome one: weighing positives and negatives of creative license, fair use and copyright along with the good and bad that comes with the use of Power Point presentations as an educator. Sometimes, I see things better from one side of the coin than the other, but this week's topics prompted many high-brow discussions from my artisan friends, causing me to reflect from both sides on the coin.

Take, for instance the idea of my perspective as an artist. For thousands of years our culture has evolved and learned from previous generations through visual cues and ideas. Human beings, especially creative artists learn from those visual cues and manipulate those images to fit their own ideas about how they be made creatively better. But, as an artist I would feel a mixture of flattery and horror if someone were to steal my image and play it off as their own. So, there's the question of artistic license? I create to learn and I share my final product with the world, hoping to help them see things from a different perspective, but not all artist are like that. Most of them are out to make a buck (or two) or make an impact and break into the "art world". But, once that image is displayed for the world to see, it is influencing someone. Right?

And if you ask me about Power Point presentations, I always find myself frustrated and non-interested, as person sitting in the audience, when someone gives a PP presentation. I end up reading what's on the slide (or view the graphics) and then tune out, because my auditory learning skills have never been the greatest (don't tell anyone, but I'm a doodler). It is always helpful if the presenter has something relevant to hand out while they are speaking, that relates (but is not a regurgitation from the PP) to the topic. "Audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure," says Edward Tufle's article Power Point is Evil. I know as the educator, since I get bored easily, that my students are probably going to be ten-times more bored by sitting through a PP, regardless of the visual media, but if neither are there and I'm not interacting physically with the material, I'm not paying attention!

Here's a version of a PP presentation for a review of vocabulary words that I feel are important for students to master before they go on to 3rd grade. Enjoy!

So, are there other ways to stimulate student retention, interaction and familiarity with exploring the information that they are learning? Sure. Just ask them and they will show you many avenues that they have found to present the information. Just check out the link of one site that we found in the last couple years. Prezi. It's like a virtual web diagram and it keeps me interested when I see it presented because all of the different media involved with PP can also be utilized there, but the way it moves...well, you'll see... Pretty cool!
What kind of ideas created created this walkway? There are vertical and swirling diagonal lines with horizontal railings and a pathway for pedestrians. It had to come from somewhere...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Evaluating my Learning from an Educator's Viewpoint

I like the idea that I am a life-long learner. Some of my teachers (family and friends included) must have done something right as they were teaching me the ways of the world. Where once I was a teacher, (who never thought I wanted to teach, but loved every minute) here I am, a student once again.
This week our class took a solid look at how to evaluate a website to be used in the classroom and the validity toward the subject being taught in the classroom; at developing a gradebook that utilized Microsoft's Excel program; and also about developing rubrics for learning, used to evaluate student learning.
The first was something I had thought about, because I remember my own English teacher warning us about not trusting everything that was available online or even in print unless we had heard the information from a few different sources. The second was a program that I have been using recently for database information, but had never been forced to utilize in the classroom. The latter, rubrics, was something that I was already familiar with and had already had the pleasure developing, something I also knew what would work and what wouldn't because of my background in education and contact with students.
Evaluation of a website is quite a bit more critical than I had once thought. Finding the intentions of the author and the validity of the site are easy upon a glance, but depending on the content of the site, whether it is historical fact or research-based information, the importance lies in the date that the information was last updated. Is it relevant? Current? Gospel to the world pertaining to its facts? The other importance of the site is whether the site itself is a credible source of information and what other sites trust their information by linking to them. I had always thought that as long as I recognized the name of the organization (Smithsonian, Metropolitan Art Museum, etc.) that they should be a trusted source. I had never considered the other key inclinations toward their content.
As I said, I had experience with Excel, but had not been forced to use it to this extent before now. It was a useful tool to have the knowledge of for future reference, if and ever I come across a school I am employed through who does not have their own grading program. Thankfully, I had been blessed with a fairly understandable program the last four out of the five years that I taught. The first year, it was all done by hand, which doesn't have the perks that an accessible (by parents, administration and teachers) online network has, but we were all learning (the students and I) that year anyway. That was a "Thank God" moment when the school finally implemented that program into our district. It saved so much time and did the same thing that Excel offers now, printing graphs and charts, averages, etc.
Rubrics, on the other hand, can be quite complicated and yet can be very general in nature. I had played around with online resources before when making an evaluation rubric for presentations and projects. The Rubistar link is quite helpful, giving you a template to work with (which makes it a no-brainer rubric), but also affords the teacher the chance to plug in their own information. It was quite easy to use. 
In my opinion:
Like a text book, websites, student lesson plans, rubric evaluations, and projects need to be relevant, recent information tailored to the students you are encountering and interacting with and about the subject it is relating to, so that students researching have truthful knowledge to grasp and hold onto. By keeping everything fresh in your classroom, the students will thank you for it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's it For? - Creativity Through Technology

So, I went back to school so that I could be a leader in the education reformation that desperately needs to take place in the US. I am in my first semester, in a totally digital age, where I can take my classes on-line, which is all so very new to me.
In the past, I have squirmed when someone wanted me to use the computer to do anything other than type a paper, surf the web for ideas, or email some friends. I have no idea what was out there and really didn't want any part of it...especially in the art class room. I am facing my fears, one day at a time...and you know what?! I'm liking what I am encountering...granted, I have hit a few snags, felt like my ship was about to sink, trying to figure it all out...but, I'm a survivor (as most creative people are) and so I stride forward, in the midst of the storm.
I have learned so much in so few weeks, that makes me realize that this technology thing isn't nearly as hard to maneuver as I had once thought. (Though I'm still having a bit of trouble with one class and assignments).
We are in the digital age, our children are more skilled at using these instruments of communication than I am (but I hold that I can communicate with others very effectively, verbally) and they are also more visual than most other generations and because of that, I feel that they are more creative individuals, hands-on and critical thinkers. So, why not join them and see what it is that they can teach me about communicating?
Join me on my journey to seek out more creative ways of educating our nation's youth...they are board stiff and crying out for someone to step up and make changes happen. Let's spark a couple fires!
The conversation starts here!