Carli’s Classroom: An Inspiring Day

There was such soft light flowing in the classroom, when I arrived.  The students and I didn’t end up closing the blinds until the sun started pouring into the classroom, during late morning.  When I arrived, I knew it was going to be a great day.

I am passionate about teaching in the role of guest teacher.  I have only a short while with the children and I want to be the very best that I can be to influence empathy, peace and learning.  I was excited to be working in Carli’s Grade three classroom and she’s given me permission to share this post with you, in the case that you want to extend off of any of these ideas and explore some alternatives.  It’s funny that we run to Pinterest for ideas when right across the hall from us, are a whole number of masters who can mentor us and inspire us with new ‘ideas’.

To begin my morning, I read over, for myself, the posted Pedagogy for teaching.  I remembered this from another visit, but wanted to remind myself.

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The community group tables allow for easy access to materials and tools that might be needed.  There is shared responsibility for their organization and upkeep.

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Student notebooks/workbooks are stored in those little white bins on the shelves…they are stored throughout the classroom in order to avoid traffic jams.  The students know where each of their items is located.

I love love love the books and really enjoyed looking at the book, Where Children Sleep by James Mollison.  I need to get myself a copy of this.  Instead of circulating and having the children read aloud to me during our individual reading time, I had several students come to me and read from this book as I sat in a comfy chair.  It wasn’t long before one of the children came to me with a student-made book on the same topic, created last year, by the Grade twos.  I think this is a beautiful idea.

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Books can be a discovered throughout the classroom, linking up visions with concepts and making learning real and rooted in literacy.

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Students created, in science, their own Rock Museum.  They enjoy using their vocabulary.

They had done lots of research and study!


When students have a guest teacher, they get to wear the mantle of the expert and spill over with conversations about the things they have learned.  Our birthday girl brought in crystals and minerals for her sharing from the comfy chair.  The kids were overcome with excitement by the ‘rare’ stones.

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I appreciated the student-made posters illustrating the Rights of Every Child.  Those are three D models of the structure of the ear done in partner work…made out of modelling clay.  The students have left rocks and minerals and have begun their study of sound, hearing and the ear.  I have to say, as an adult, I had forgotten the various physiological components, but these guys could give it to me rote.  I LOVE THESE MODELS!

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I felt this cold coming on and felt a bit of a headache.  I asked the students, if later, I could try out their Peace tent.  They enthusiastically told me, YES!  I have to confess, when they went out for recess, I climbed in and just chilled, exploring their posters, their sayings and their origami paper folding.

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Math centers were tons of fun, with the kids, getting up and rotating through the four stations every 15 minutes.  This gives the students opportunity to move and to shift focus.  Awesome.  I discovered that I’m not very good with Tangrams.

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For those of my readers who follow me, you know that I enjoy engaging nature where and when I can…getting out daily, with my border collie, Max.  Well, if you can’t get out there, then try to bring bits of it inside!

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And never ever forget that you are always learning…and that it’s a treasure to others that you share what you learn.  Thank you, Carli Molnar!  Thank you, Grade Threes!

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More on Carli’s classroom HERE.







Inspiration in Courtney’s Classroom

Some days, when I have low energy, I don’t feel up to mixing buckets of paint, although I believe strongly that the more our kids enjoy the tactile/sensory/exquisitely beautiful experience of paint, the better.  Last night I tossed around and couldn’t get myself to sleep.  I did warm milk and read way too many pages in that book over there.

So, this morning, early, I decided that I would focus on some drawing skills with Courtney’s grade threes.

I stepped into Courtney’s classroom and was in love.  I felt that the space said immediately, “Welcome.  You are here.  You are safe.  This is how we have a lovely time learning.”  Thanks for that feeling, Courtney.  While I’m still waiting for permission to post these photos, I’m going to go ahead anyway…always good to share generously with our colleagues, in the case that they can pick up some ideas for another year.

Chalk board and chalk…two wee chairs…love this!  Students can play school and practice their math facts and making words.  Coo-ell!

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Word walls!  They never go out of fashion!  I like that the children’s script is present and that these are not stylishly created by the teacher or an assistant.  Ownership!  Whoot!

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Oh my goodness!  Art created based on a book I’ve never connected with!  The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt Pictures by Oliver Jeffers.  I like the book!  I like the follow-up art work!


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The seven habits…we all need to check in with these.

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Set the students up to go into role!  Group drama, even if it is simple as the labels we use, can make the difference in engagement that we want.  I always refer to the students as artists during art class.  Confidence forming…I like this chart and reminder.

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Way to curb some situational drama.  It’s good for kids to check in before speaking.  But, it’s just as important for adults.  Love this!

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One of the best Hall Pass systems out there!  I’ve never seen this done before! When the student leaves the classroom, they leave the hand sanitizer on their desks…when they return, voila! (just in case they forgot)

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Look at that voice level chart…yummy!

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Who doesn’t enjoy words to live by?  I live by them!

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Our morning art lesson began after greetings and opening exercises.

Recently, I’ve connected with a friend-blogger, Miriam Paternoster, who teaches middle school art in North Italy, and in perusing her lesson ideas, I decided that I’d try out something with my grade threes.

In the grade three social studies curriculum, the students explore Peru, Ukraine, India and Tunisia.  I remembered the rich tiling and mosaic motifs that come out of all of these regions and so decided to focus the children on creating tiles that can be linked together for display purposes.  In order to inspire pattern-making for the ‘doodled’ sections, it’s good to give many exemplars.  When the question, “What is a tile?”  came up, there was a lot of discussion about the tiles in our homes.

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New vocabulary: tiling and motifs.

I printed off templates on large white paper before coming down to the classroom in the morning.  I ticked off six dots on each side of a measured square/ 11 x 17 paper through the copy machine…so, 11″ squares.  These templates provided markers for the grade three students to draw their six woven strands of ribbon.  (dot-to dot across from one another)  Where things had to be thoughtfully done was deciding what particular lines needed to be erased so that the ribbons wove through the piece…I referred to them as ‘unders’ and ‘on tops’.

Once blocked in, the ribbons were shaded at all the ‘unders’.  I taught the grade threes how to apply different pressure with their pencils to go ‘dark and lighter and lighter and lighter’.  I also taught them how to avoid making ‘hairy’ edges, but turning their pencil sideways and making marks along a line edge.  Did I think they would do this?  I wondered.  And yet, there was barely a peep as they invested their energy in creating these drawings.

The expressive component of the lesson was to choose a single coloured thin marker to create repeating and varied motifs in all of the remaining white negative spaces.  We worked on a community piece on the white board as the independent work was happening. “If you invent a pattern that you want to share, you can add it at the white board.”  This is what they created.

The list of statements to the right side of the white board are questions that students might ask instead of, “Is this good?”

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Here are some of the resulting projects.

Students who are older would not require a template for the woven ribbons.

From Miriam’s website…when displaying these, connect the dots and create a collection of tiles.


Thank you for your class today, Courtney!

Calm Can Be Found in Ashley’s Classroom

Monday morning, I wasn’t at my very best.  I knew I was coming down with something…head aching…throat, sore.  I hoped, from the onset, that I would have the energy to give these grade four children a lovely day and a bit of a painting experience.  I was already tickled to be welcomed by beautiful office and instructional staff.  These guys always rock!

I stepped into Ashley’s classroom and immediately felt a sense of calm.  I think that there has to be some sort of link between productivity, learning and an ordered space.  Is it possible to be creative when there is order?  I guess I’ll check out the psychology of that aesthetic as I think of Ashley’s work space.

Hmmm…the Psychology Behind Messy Rooms.

Tidy Desks and Messy Desks..

K…so I’ve wandered a little on the world wide web, sipping grapefruit juice as I go and what I can surmise is that our living and working environments need to be constructed/designed/maintained in a very individualized way, to suit our very personal way of functioning and creating.

On Monday, this ordered space was absolutely what I needed.  I have Ashley’s permission to welcome you into her space.

Love is in the air…first of all, it’s February!  Gracie was my #1 assistant all day.  Thank goodness for her efforts.  She really took up the slack!

?????????? ?????????? I just really like the philosophy behind these seven habits…language that grade fours can understand…but, ideas that we might all put to good use.DSC_2258A sense of space and order as I entered the classroom…I think I actually vocalized…”Ahhhhh” as I breathed out.  The new buildings are so wonderful because the flooring allows for spills, building, exploration and easy tidy-up.DSC_2257Winter art was cheerfully displayed.  I think that mats, while very inexpensive, somehow emphasize the individuality and the special nature of each creation.  Once the display comes down, the other side can be used for the next piece of art…so reuse!

DSC_2256 Light…so wonderful and necessary for a peace-filled day.  I like the touch of personal objects that give the children a sense of home and community.  A place for those teacher’s gifts.

DSC_2255 Storage buckets with a sense of humour.  These make me smile just looking at them.

DSC_2254A nook for spirtual objects contributes to a sense of calm.

DSC_2253 Ideas for daily physical activity!  Good stuff!

DSC_2251 Students like to know how they’re doing.

DSC_2249 DSC_2248 DSC_2247 DSC_2246I liked how every thing had its place.  I felt in control, even in moments when I would typically be feeling anxiety.  The desks were in such an arrangement that it made very quick work to move them into pods of two students for easy access to the paint station.  The how-to of this lesson can be found here.   Here are just a few of the students’ creations.  Thank you, Ashley, for a day with your class.

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Other Classrooms…

Elisa’s Classroom

Carli’s Classroom


Grade Four’s Homage to Ted Harrison

A beautiful person and artist, Ted Harrison passed away on January 16, 2015, at the age of 88.  The world is losing so many heroes…and Ted is one.  Having a beautiful heart and eye for simplicity, he loved the northern skies of the Yukon and never failed to share his delight with anyone he met.

One of my big encounters with his illustrations was in the beautiful version of The Cremation of Sam McGee…a poem I used to challenge my grade sevens to memorize from beginning to end.  And every year, at least three students did!

I recommend that you introduce Ted Harrison to your classes.  For years, Ted’s work has inspired works by school children of every age.  When scented coloured markers came into vogue, so did another lesson based on Harrison.  It’s wild what variety of lessons we invented as art teachers.  The students loved it all!

Ted Harrison in Grade One Ted Harrison in Oil Pastel Ted Harrison in ChalkSomething I appreciate Ted saying in the video below is that if one is ever tired of life or inspiration, try looking up at the sky.

So, today…I looked up at the sky.

This morning, driving to school, I noticed a dappled sky above the rising sun…brilliant yellow, pink and orange, with a soft cerulean blue below an arch of cloud and an electric blue, above.  That was it…in the afternoon, I would paint the SETTING sun with the grade fours…thinking about chinook arches and dappled clouds over the mountains.  And so it went.

I line the back of construction paper with masking tape, when I can find the time.  This allows some durability.  Tempera paint tends to make paper, especially cheap paper, a bit crunchy after a while.  This way the work can be preserved for those folks who like to save things forever. (pointing at myself)

??????????Always use coloured paper for these paints as it creates a bit of an ‘under painting’ and activates the surface, taking away the intimidation of white or that ucky beige.  Below…see my favourite yogurt buckets.  Every art storage room needs at least twenty of these to be shared around.

DSC_1942Recess and the painting pods are readied…that, and a piece of chalk for drawing, placed at each desk.

??????????A paint station (Palette) is readied…two brushes in each bucket.  Students travel back and forth with colours agreed upon by every pair…back and forth they go.  The place is like a HAPPENING!

DSC_1945 DSC_1946I always work through a sample…don’t expect to have the students do something that you haven’t…how else will you know their struggles or the pitfalls of the lesson?

First…the short ‘review’ of dip, wipe and stroke.  Surprise!  You always discover that a lot of students haven’t handled a brush very much.  (Painting IS MESSY!!) Show them where to hold the brush…not at the white tip.  :0)  Explain how to share the paint center and remind them to keep two hands on the bucket on each journey to and from.

Regarding the composition, first I spoke about portrait as compared to landscape format and explained that just for today, the composition would be landscape.  I explained how clouds that are closest to the horizon line appear smaller…and as they are found higher in the picture plane, they can be depicted as larger and then they almost seem to come over our heads.  “Often, Ted Harrison outlined some basic shapes in his paintings and serigraphs…instead of painting up to the chalk lines, how about leaving some of the paper unpainted and the coloured paper will become the lines?” (some of the students got this)

“No…I don’t want you to do a giant sun.  No…no sunglasses…no rays…not today.”  I went back to describing how the morning sun had not yet shown itself, but that there was a really bright light next to the land.  I knew the sun was coming up.  So…for the sunset paintings, I hoped that the sun would be almost gone from the sky.  The teacher can always drive the vision…as long as he/she has one.  I’m sharing mine with my readers.  The teacher also benefits by allowing freedom within the vision.

“OH!  Why are those small clouds near the mountains the brightest?  YES!  The light from the sun is hitting them first because they are the closest to the light!

I explained that because the students were focused on the sky, the mountains needed to be located below the one third line. (Yes!  You’ll have to talk about dividing the landscape into thirds.)

The chalk is picked up and the students begin drawing, planning, and problem solving.

“Yes!  As soon as you’re ready, you can get your first colour. PLEASE, don’t everybody begin with the mountains!  Choose any colour and away you go!”

Magic happened.

DSC_1948 DSC_1949 DSC_1950 DSC_1951 DSC_1952 DSC_1953 DSC_1954 “Pick up a paper towel with your first bucket of paint.  This will be your place mat…slip it along the edges as you go and then you won’t have to wash your desk!  If this gets super sloppy, you might need a second place mat.” DSC_1956I asked the kind caretaker if I might have a bucket half filled with water in my classroom.  This would provide a portable sink.DSC_1957 DSC_1958 DSC_1959 DSC_1960 DSC_1961 ??????????Tonight, as I walked Max at the pond…I captured some of the clouds.  We had an energetic hike about the area.  It was so darned beautiful!

DSC_1968 DSC_1967 DSC_1966 DSC_1964A wonderful class!

A Space to Inspire: Elisa’s Classroom

Are grade twos always wonderful?  I’m beginning to think so!  I only had an afternoon with these students and, again, I felt as though the children could run the show.  Things felt so zen-like and orderly that the space created a sense of calm.  Attendance…the trading of home reading books and the exchange of book cards…and then, reading from the collection of ‘winter books’.  I was asked if I would read a book aloud and so I did.  The Snow Child: A Russian Folktale by Freya Littledale. 

Snow Child

I’ll tell you what…if I had ever read this beautiful folk tale before, I would have made art based on the invention of snow children…but, as it was, I ended up slightly revising an earlier cardinals in winter trees activity that I have previously posted, but on half sheets of blue paper.  The students in Elisa’s class work in table pods and so sometimes art lessons have to be modified.

Since I’m featuring Elisa’s class here, I wanted to show you some beautiful ideas for organizing…and it feels as though there is a real focus on numeracy and literacy in this space.  I love that the children have access to lots and lots of books.

??????????Winter theme…lots of amazing stories!  Personally, I LOVE Owl Moon!  Read it!
DSC_1843Word walls…first dictionaries! DSC_1842 Teacher’s books saved up for each theme…love the amount of shelving in these newish classrooms, don’t you?DSC_1841 Math manipulatives of every sort…when I took on a contract with a grade one class, I fell in love with linking toys for the sake of practicing grouping.DSC_1840I like the caddies on the backs of the chairs…they keep things in order.  I’ve seen these in several Division I classrooms (that would be grades one, two and three for my international readers.  lol)DSC_1839 DSC_1838 ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ??????????
A great space…and then we created our own particular magic!  We got the chalk drawings and white painting done prior to music class and in the remaining twenty five minutes before home-time, we tackled the cardinals…this, after having practice sketching in sketchbooks. Didn’t get those archives as I was on the run.  lol Cardinals are whimsical and based on Charlie Harper’s illustrations.  See the lesson, in detail, here.
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Art-Based Games

Recently, I had opportunity to be a guest teacher in a junior high Social Studies class where the teacher is using an Art Arena Game to teach concepts around the colonization of land.  There are three art games going on, one for each of his grade seven classes.  I won’t speak directly to his process, just write as an observer and to share some of my past experiences with this type of learning.

Art-Based Games by Don Pavey


The use of the term, handicapped, on the back cover of the book is merely a reflection of the time…published in 1979.

I read Don Pavey’s Art-Based Games a zillion years ago and in my practice, incorporated role playing and key concepts that are outlined in the book, but sometimes with a spin.  That’s the point to Art-Based games.  I have no archive of the completed murals created by my students, but will post an image of a completed mural from Art Arena Games UK.

Energy Art Arena Games

From the UK site, this…

Art Arena is a team game format designed to develop social interaction and group skills.  The game process creates large works of art such as paintings, drawings, wall murals and  composite prints.

While there are all sorts of art games, beginning with simple group games like the Exquisite Corpse, tessellation games and fractal games, for the purpose of this post, I’m writing solely about those leading to the creation of large gridded murals, no matter the media produced through role play.  (these may also be produced as three dimensional or relief sculptures).  I have taken some digital photos of images in my Art-Based Games book…likely a huge infringement of copyright.  They just help me to explain this process…and yes, eventually, I will post images of the Social Studies project.

??????????The process of creating an art game and then producing the resulting art involves productive communication and requires a variety of skills.  Some might call the process a group drama as participants go into role as master planner, production line managers, communicators, colour mixers and artists.  The art game might take place in a single afternoon, but my students typically worked on their arena over a period of a month, sometimes longer.

????????????????????The largest mural project created during one of my Art Arena Games was the creation of a huge bridge down the entire length of a hallway at St. John Fine Art’s School here in Calgary.  This was a great game because it expanded from one space to another and involved journeying between those spaces.  The master planner did not have visual access to the large project (in fact he was seated, like the REAL Wizard of Oz, behind a tri fold that contained a window where instructions were passed in and out to the department managers).  In fact, the managers of the project and the master planner did not see the physical art until after each day’s class had ended and they were using the hallway to move to the next scheduled class. I think that the young man who was in role as the master planner was the son of an architect here in town who was, in part, responsible for the design of the 10th St and Memorial Drive pedestrian and LRT bridge, very cutting edge for the time.

?????????? ??????????Wh ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ?????????? ??????????When these experiences happen, it is amazing.  It is empowering to students and also teaches a huge responsibility to ones own vision and contribution to a community.  It requires risk from educators to leave a traditional approach and to allow for a more grand learning experience.  These can be fashioned to each particular classroom culture, space, size and can be used in order to teach any number of concepts, whether that be in math, social studies, science, pure art, drama or any traditional ‘subject’.  The greatest fear that most teachers have is a loss of control or management.  These scenarios, once designed, place that management on the learners.

The following is a series of photographs I took of the social studies game that is happening in grade seven.  It involves trading up and colonizing a physical space, much as Europeans would have experienced.  Included here…farming and grain, flora and fauna, trapping and hides.  It was easy for me, as a guest teacher, to step in and watch the game happen.  Each class was broken into three clans…the Anishinabe, Haudenosaunee and Mi’kmaq.  Each of the clans had three clan leaders.  There were three Trustworthy People in each class.  Each participant in the game had their own personal icon and avatar and contributed to the game through their trading.  A conference was shared in each clan as clan members made decisions amongst themselves regarding their moves on the game and the trades that they would make.  Absolutely amazing to watch!  I hope to visit to see the final outcome.  The blue spaces on each board represent the water bodies…lakes…rivers.  These were determined on the boards before the games commenced.

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