Learning Through Play and Art Helps Free My Students

Play and learning go hand in hand in my classroom. I like to present topics as opportunities for exploration, the essence of which is enticingly undeterminable. It’s the equivalent of looking up an online word and choosing “explore” over “define” and yielding infinitely more interesting and fruitful results. Play is, therefore, as self-satisfying as it is self-directive and intuitive. So much of life is not that way.

For this reason I welcome the Picasso Head Unit I teach every year with first graders around this time of year. The idea of ‘self’ is a central point of discovery, especially in the world of a 5 year old. For starters, you are an automatic resident expert on YOU! This approach helps cultivate a more edit free zone meaning that you draw a self-portrait of how you see yourself, not as how others see you. This is empowering for a child.

I start by using BrainPop Jr.’s Picasso themed movie. After the developmentally appropriate educational animated video starring Annie and Moby https://jr.brainpop.com/ (a duo made up of an early elementary aged girl and a non-verbal beep only and affectionate robot) and then explore the related resources. Students then move on to explore the Picasso Head maker http://www.picassohead.com/

At first, students are first tasked with playing with the website’s tools in order to see how they work. Asking questions, such as, what happens if I do this? Tweak that? Add this? Take away that? Cause and effect become the guiding principle. At this stage my job is to have students practice making a face by exploring all the ‘options’ or tools available to them. When expectations are low and the goals for learning are high it is a win/win for both student and teacher. In the the subsequent lesson, students create their final Picasso Head ‘for real’ in what is generally a stress-free experience, filled with spontaneity and humor.

Art, like life, is a by product more about unplanned results versus planned. When students are are relaxed and creating something without preconceived expectations they are in the moment, they are present. Who thought abstract art could be so accessible?

 Student Sampling of Picasso Inspired Self-Portraits.

Student Sampling of Picasso Inspired Self-Portraits.

New Media Arts Standards

Nowadays, my students need to be info miners, finding relevance amid the over abundance of sources, all shouting for their attention. Herein lies the need for critical thinking and evaluation. This critical shift in information access denotes the need for today’s students to be able to gauge the reliability, accountability and relevance of the sources they view.

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New Design Standards Made Visual

My intent was to create a visual that was both inviting and encouraging of the concepts that underpin it. I hope that when students see this poster it ignites their passion to delve into a world of exploration, reflection and refining. Design is everywhere and, therefore, a part of our everyday lives.

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First Week Back

How to measure teacher readiness for the first week of the school year? Like parenting, there is no end in what could be done ahead of time. For me the start of school is a leap into the moment...of being present, connecting with my students in order to bridge the divide of who they think they are vs. who/what they are fully capable of. For this reason, the growth mindset is the rock bed of my approach to teaching and learning. I invite students to contemplate that their intelligence and capabilities are stretch-worthy. With time, effort and patience they can improve in any subject or skill they put their minds to. 

When students walk through my classroom door I want them to feel at ease. My computer 'lab' is a place for experimentation of ideas and products grounded in FAIL (First Attempt In Learning). If students can tolerate an outcome that is less than they expected they are, indeed, facing up to endless possibilities. Herein lies the engine for authentic learning and reflection. We all could benefit from such risk-taking. When students are able to remove ego and self from the learning equation they are free to grow.

Our school theme this year is, 'Teaming up with the Arts.' When students enter my classroom they are immediately part of my STEAM Team. I will remind them of this collegiality throughout the year and through all the learning experiences and subsequent challenges that we face along the way. Here's to a great year.

 Summer Sea Foam

Summer Sea Foam