What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein

This was another one for the throne room…this does not mean that books in the bathroom are any less interesting than ones on my bedside table or ones next to the red couch, it just means that I choose a different genre and always something a little less cerebral than my preferred reading, fiction or non-fiction.

Another second-hand-book-find, What Elephants Know ended up next to my other books about elephants.  I liked that Jane Goodall wrote a quick recommendation.  “You will be fascinated, angered, and charmed in turn by this beautifully written story.”

Dr. Eric Dinerstein is the Director of the Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program at RESOLVE and so I was very interested in the fact that he wrote a novel and I anticipated that the book would be written from a unique and knowledgeable perspective.

This was a lovely book that I’d recommend for students grade five to grade seven.  It was a quick read that left me thinking about the vulnerability of our wildlife and ecosystems.  The protagonist, Nandu, is a beautiful character who, through his young life, teaches about the numerous impacts made upon these, while exposing the reader to the vulnerability of humanity, as well.

I think this would be a wonderful book to read aloud to students.  It is refreshing to find a book that is culturally diverse and can open eyes and hearts to a different human experience.  Grade three students, in their study of India, may really benefit from this story.  Nandu’s relationships with his female elephant, Devi Kali and with the plants and other animals of the Borderlands are described beautifully.

This is a two evening (10 potty visits) read for an adult.  I recommend doing a quick review of the book before sharing with your students/children so that you know the sensitive topics that will come along.  Give it a go.

What Elephants Know

 

 

Don’t Give Up…

…without a fight.

Have you ever been put in a situation…or put yourself in a situation…where you lose control, completely.  You find yourself cornered/humiliated/vulnerable/speechless?  You lose your voice?  Loud voices are coming at you.  You see mouths moving and eyes wide open.  But, you really don’t hear a word that the voices are projecting.  You want to catch up on the conversation and what is happening, but you are so shocked that you’re NOT SAFE, that you are deemed useless, defenseless and feel only things in your body?  Oh. I’m sweating.  Oh, my heart is pounding.  Oh. Am I going to throw up?  Am I going to cry?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what is going on in a world where this is allowed to happen.  We become enraged when we remember these collective experiences happening historically, in the unbelievable and horrific impacts of colonization and slavery, of racist and immoral conduct in war.  (Presently watching the Netflix series on Vietnam, with my son.  Watch the entire series, beginning with French colonization…see what atrocities happened there.) We are shocked and freaked out when it happens on the world stage in the forum of politics, religion and foreign policy. (I can’t even name all such horrors.)

The strong prey on others.

The privilege of power; whether that is white or big or strong or conservative or educated or rich…the privilege of power is a demon in the face of building relationship or building community or building trust.

The second clutch of sparrows was attacked on the hottest day of summer.  It might have been a Magpie or a Crow.  I wasn’t home to see the events.  The Crow and the Magpie have youngsters to feed…their aggression is without thought for kindness, but for survival.  That’s the difference between human beings and Crows.  We can choose to communicate kindly, even in the face of conflict.  It is our moral imperative to do so.

Mr.  did not give up without a fight.  How do I know this?  Because his feathers show the scars of the attempt to protect his youngsters.  Mr. and Mrs. have grieved at the empty vent these past two days.

IMG_2371IMG_2368IMG_2367

I ask myself if I had stayed home from book club, would things have turned out differently.  Maybe not.

 

Magic!

I’ve always used the word loosely.  No incantations…nothing showing up out of a top hat.  It’s a way of being…a choice to live in delight…even when, like today, a 2 liter jug of eggnog spills out on the kitchen floor, just minutes before having to rush out the door.  I’ve made an effort now and then to explain…but, it is too much about the un-explainable.

Yesterday, I painted with Grade Ones…tree ornaments…I thought these would be cool with a bit of an aluminum foil embellishment added.  I still paint with kids around the city, every opportunity I get, but have stopped writing so much about it.  Holding a brush is an important action…it’s something important enough to become familiar…to practice…to enjoy.  I like to paint with kids.

Every darned day that I am a guest teacher in someone’s classroom, I am absolutely blown away by the mountain of responsibility and creativity that is observable in just moments of being in that someone’s learning environment.  I am in awe of the magic of the teaching experience, interaction and output, both by teachers and by their students.

I usually go over to the window first and open the blinds.  I like to see how the light changes things.  I also have the time to reflect, something that teachers who are steeped in their careers don’t always have enough opportunity to do.  I like to reflect about the spaces where I find myself enjoying, exploring and filling with hard work.

Yesterday, Amber generously shared her students (little guys) with me.  Grade One!  Wow!  All I can remember about grade one is my coat hook and the fact that my brother ran so fast the first day of school, I felt really really panicked about catching up.  I remember a man walking about the school yard, at a point, raising a hand bell high in the air and shooing us into the building.  I still, to this day, want to call him Mr. Cannon.

I haven’t asked permission (now I have), but would like to share a couple of images I snapped while the students went up to the music room for their very first time.

Just look at these…tell me what you think.

Beautiful. Right?

The students were full of energy, but we enjoyed our time together and really engaged the process of chalk drawing and painting.  (There was no white in the supply cupboard so…I used yellow to brighten some of the colour…but, tints are just so lovely!) The students were very attentive as we went forward and I’ve captured a few little images of their work and their journal responses.  Magic.  And yes!  Could be an Easter Egg…could be a kite…could be an ornament!  In the ‘end’, it is about the means…and NOT the END!  The experience of painting is wondrous.  There!  You heard it from me!

I asked the students if they might do a journal entry about their experience and the resulting pieces were pretty amazing.  Lucas told me he didn’t want me to photograph the following drawing until he had finished the light coming from the window.

 

 

Today, I left my paint bucket out in the car.  I thought I’d meet Jen’s Grade Six students before committing to an art experience in paint, this afternoon.  I wasn’t with them for ten minutes and I knew that they would enjoy and respond well with paint.  Mayhaps it was the fact that the first wondrous thing I noticed, after looking out the window…were these!

DSC_0476GorgeousDSC_0475

Gorgeous, Jen!!  Wowsah!

I decided that I’d use the very same lesson that I did with the Grade Ones.  As I delivered my lesson about tempera paint, I could have heard a pin drop.  The students were totally engaged and I was pretty grateful.  Nice people.  So, as I publish the next photos, I was wondering if my readers are able to notice the differences, schematically.

The past two days have been blessing days.

And, this evening…

Nigel left me a note.  I’m over the moon about it.  I treasured him years ago…and treasure his contact now.

Dear Kathleen,
I will always remember you as “Mrs H”. I don’t know if you remember me, but you taught me grade 7 art some years ago. I have been searching for you for some time, but it is only appropriate that I should find you now, as I am about to embark on a new adventure; teaching art. Would you be interested in a get together and perhaps imparting some of your wisdom to me?
—N
What a beautiful exchange was had…looking forward to many inspiring conversations about art education with this new arts educator!

Painting Spring Lilies With Grade Threes

Goofy how-to videos are out there in abundance.  I actually think the best way to learn how to draw ANYTHING, is to observe it…look at it…analyse it.  But, this morning, I didn’t have a bucket of Easter lilies and after a 40 day journey of Lent, I’d love to leave the children with the anticipation of spring, new life, renewal and Easter.  In this video, I like the idea of drawing the star shape first.  I can’t guarantee that after you do a step-by-step activity of any sort, that you will be an overnight artist!

To begin with, in their visual journals, the students wrote a ‘waiting for spring’ short poem, after brain storming vocabulary words.  On the next page, they drew their lilies.

Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 001 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 002 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 003 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 004 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 005 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 006 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 007 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 008 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 009 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 011 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 012 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 013 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 014 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 015 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 016 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 017 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 018

 

We will use this video as a reference, as well as my own photographs of lilies in my garden, for studies in visual journals.  These will be tucked away once we move into compositions.  Initially, I had thought to paint tulips with the students, but, the limited palette of white and a number of greens will make the preparation quick and easy.

Kath's Canon Back Yard Garden 017Lilies 020Lilies August 2Lilies 007P1060370

I provided a limited palette, having mixed up a variety of tints of green plus yellow and white.  The grade threes began by drawing their images in chalk and then outlining their lilies in a single colour.  Each bucket of paint includes two brushes so two friends share the same colour.  I mixed fifteen colours, knowing that I had twenty five students.  The focus of my side coaching and support was to remind them how unique flowers are and that they are like us, in that there is no single flower that looks like another.

Here are their paintings.

Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 041 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 040 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 039 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 038 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 037 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 036 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 035 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 034 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 033 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 032 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 031 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 030 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 029 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 028 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 027 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 026 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 025 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 024 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 023 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 022 Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 021

After music class and their agenda writing, wee Isaiah came up to me and gave me this little gift…proof of the extended learning and  that made me super happy!

Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 043

Display…ready for proper caption.  Thanks for your class, Jenn!

Kath's Canon March 10, 2016 Lilies Grade 3 Isabella 044

 

Roslyn Elementary School 1937

This is just one of those things I picked up at a second hand shop in Belleville, Ontario…just because it was beautiful, so crisp and nostalgic…a bit of a glare on the photo I’ve included.

Kath's Canon January 2, 2016 New Years Tracks Salmon Sculpture 026

Upon removing the frame, I found a list of what I believe to be nicknames and first names of a group of male students Grade six, 1937.  I love to get these sorts of things back into the hands of descendants if I can, but because the details are not sufficient to do a search, I’m just landing ‘what I do know’ here, in this one place.  If you know anyone who is seeking out this archive, I’d love for it to go to a family member.

Kath's Canon January 2, 2016 New Years Tracks Salmon Sculpture 023

From what I can tell, Roslyn Elementary school was/is based in Montreal.  It seems that if this is the same school, Leonard Cohen attended Roslyn.

“Leonard Cohen, author, poet, and musician, was born on September 21, 1934 to a prosperous Jewish family in Westmount. His grandfather, Lyon Cohen, was the owner of the successful men’s clothing manufacturing firm, the Freedman Company, and was perhaps the Jewish community’s foremost leader during the early decades of the twentieth century. Leonard’s father, Nathan Cohen, died when Cohen was just nine years old, leaving him under the care of his Russian-born mother, Masha, as the family became more dependent on the support of his father’s brothers. Cohen attended Roslyn School and then Westmount High School, while also going to Hebrew school and becoming a bar mitzvah at the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where his family was actively involved. It was during his adolescence that he turned more and more to writing and learned to play guitar. This more introverted, artistic side of Cohen in some ways contrasted with the student who played sports and was a leader in extracurricular activities.”

Back Row: Sweezy, Romney, Schulman, Chisholm, Kosh, Evans, Gurd, Murray, Graham, Tilden

Middle Row: Cummings, Nutter, Casgrain, Williams Chodal Walker Moyle Walls Polcock Oliver

Back Row: Nicholson Bishop Burke Miller Griffith Walls Strachan Waller Cockfield Swaine

Haggett King

Grade  VI Roslyn School May 1937

To update this story, I spoke to Joanne Penhale this morning.

“I’m a Montreal-based freelance reporter and your blog post featuring the 1937 photo from Roslyn School has piqued the curiousity (sic) of my editor at the Westmount Independent – the community newspaper serving the community Roslyn is in.”
If a story does, in fact, run in a local newspaper, the chances are greater that this photo will fall into the hands of one of the boys in this photograph…or one of their descendants. I took a new set of photographs as a result of this connection.  WHOOT!
Kath's Canon January 13, 2016 008Kath's Canon January 13, 2016 005Kath's Canon January 13, 2016 002

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. info@artarenagames.co.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.

DSC_1152 DSC_1151 DSC_1150 DSC_1149 DSC_1148 DSC_1147 DSC_1145 DSC_1144DSC_1141 DSC_1140 DSC_1139 DSC_1138 DSC_1137 DSC_1136 DSC_1135 DSC_1134

 

Welcome to a New School Year!

I am here in my pjs, sipping coffee and checking my e mail.  Max, the border collie, has left no speck of food at the bottom of his bowl.  Outside…a light rain.  Last night’s dishes whir in the dishwasher.  Peanut-the-cat stretches his back leg and washes its length again and again.  We’re all resting back upon the day.  I enter into my third year of retirement.

For me, days like this will always mark the first day of school.  I’ll never forget that feeling of the brand new class of children sitting before me…I’ll never forget that responsibility.  I found an entry I wrote on August 30, 2006 and just want to paste it upon this page…everything still applies.  I pray for my friend-teachers and for the parents and students; for another year of magic…and that they can ‘make meaning’ together.

Making Meaning

Posted on August 30, 2006
Sitting here listening to Ben Harper… I’m so inspired by his music….reflecting back on the work day and the work in the studio and the surrounding ‘energy’ of my children.  I’ve been thinking about “making meaning”.  It’s an expression I used to use solely with my own students and their art.  I worked endlessly at convincing them that unless they could make meaning in their own art, it would somehow have limits as to how it could speak to others.
 
Now I’m thinking about this being a real purpose for my own life this coming year. MAKE MEANING!  I’m so ritualistic and I so love setting goals and MAKING things happen…I like to manifest my life and have for years, been reluctant to just let life swoosh over me.  I know there are pitfalls to this thinking.  For example…what if something bad happens??  What if I was to be challenged by poor health or unexpected loss?  hmmm…I wonder how I would react to these possibilities in the ‘soup’ of the moment?

Back to the subject of this entry,  I think that anything profound and really worthwhile in life requires that it be meaningful.  A relationship is deep and abiding to the degree that you personally invest and make it meaningful.  Your own music, art…your writing is profound because you have decided to make it meaningful.  You ‘show up’ to it.  You commit to it and create it from your deepest joy, sorrow or indifference.  But, you ‘show up’!  Your children grow as you respond to them, connect with them and give, not in superficial ways, but in ’meaningful’ ways.
 
A painting speaks to me when I make my own meaning with it.  It doesn’t necessarily matter that I engage the artist’s intended meaning; but it DOES matter that I, the viewer, bring my energy to it…and manifest something.  Otherwise, I think that art becomes wall decoration.  Perhaps Clive Bell and others would say “Heh, that’s ok…art for art’s sake…a wall decoration is alright.  We can’t all be connoisseurs. Is that how I spell that?  Who cares.”
 
I think that a big reason why my english language arts students have troubles with literature or reading in general, is because they have difficulty taking text and ‘making meaning’ with it.  I think that my goal is to show them the ways/strategies that I have made meaning with literature.  It seems that I love books beyond words!  smiling here…  Rarely do I say, “Don’t read this one.  It’s a book that you could never get into!”  Instead, there is always some MEANING that I have created for myself in the book.  Whether non-fiction, biography, historical fiction…it matters not!  I become that publication’s biggest fan!  Wow!!  Imagine if I can show my students how to do that!
 
Right now I am making meaning in the studio.  I have freed myself over time of all encumbrances around the act of painting.  I am creating works right now that speak to me and speak powerfully.  Now…in a week or so when I deliver them to my galleries (and I can’t believe they’ve shown such patience with me) I will have to be prepared to remain separate….to trust in just how important the art is to me…and how it is ok to protect its ‘meaning’.
 
I think that when we ‘make meaning’ in relationships…in the world of business…in our art….we become responsible to all of that.  There is an investment made.  These become ‘of the heart’.
 
(I remember as I type the word RESPONSIBLE….the context from Le Petit Prince par St. Exupery…such a beautiful way of describing what I’ve been writing about here…”You become responsible for your rose…”)
 
It is my hope that I will be able to create a meaningful school year…that I will be able to continue building upon meaningful relationships and that I can make meaning in my art.  I hope the same for each of you.
Sometimes when I think how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe. Truman Capote

My Boy’s First Day of School

My Son

 

I know!  The photo is out of focus!  What twenty-one year old son will stop squirming while his mother takes a first day of school photo?  This was NOT his idea!  It’s just that I’ve spent the past two weeks looking at First-Day-of-School photos posted by other mothers and I realize (he’ll be glad to know) that those days are behind me!  That doesn’t change the pride that I feel as a parent for this first day and all of the first days that follow.  I have all of the same wishes, also!  I want my young man to be happy, healthy and to enjoy this year at University!  He has worked hard so far in his study of philosophy and economics…I just wish him the very best for this coming academic year and if he sees this in passing, I want him to know that this was the very last time I will ever do this! :0)