What is Home?: An Illustrator Study of Carson Ellis

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We recently received a Donors Choose grant for an education set of 3Doodler pens. These pens allow you to design 3D sculptures.  Think of them as hot glue guns that aren’t quite as hot and have more design control.

The education set is great because it comes with books of design ideas, multiple filament strands, 12 rechargeable pens, and several molds to use for creating pieces.

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As soon as the pens arrived, I showed them to our art teacher and let her borrow one of the design books.  We didn’t immediately plan a project because many times an idea will appear out of nowhere over time.  That’s just what happened.  One day I pulled some Carson Ellis books to show to a class and Home was at the top of the stack.  Ms. Foretich started looking through the illustrations during BTV and her creative wheels started turning.

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Before long, she came back to me with an idea for 5th grade.  What if we explored the idea of home with our 5th graders and had them create a sculpture that symbolized what home meant for them?  The sculpture would have multiple parts and multiple materials that would come together for one piece of art from each 5th grader.  The 3D pens could be a tool that students used to create a part of three-dimensional sculpture.  They would also use paper and cardboard along with other art materials.  That’s where it started.

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We booked multiple times on the library calendar for the project and Ms. Foretich made plans for work that would be done in the art room as well.  This week, during art, 5th grade came to the library for the initial lesson.  We wanted to use this time to look at Carson’s work as well as read Home.

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We looked at a variety of art on her site and in her books.

Students made many noticings such as the mixture of dark and bright colors.  They noticed how often times there is a bright color that seems to pop off the page.  We also noticed that her work had an embroidered or handmade quality to it as well.

After reading Home, we watched a short video to see Carson’s actual home and hear a bit about the environments she put into the book.

This brought us to a discussion of the word “home”.  Most students started by talking about a physical structure, but then Ms. Foretich asked them to think about what they missed when they weren’t at home.  This brought many students to bring up things like smells, objects, people, foods, pets, and more.  We referenced that in Carson’s video, she zoomed in to things like a fireplace, apples hanging from a tree, chickens strutting through the yard, and a guitar propped against the wall.  Ms. Foretich told students she wanted them to stretch the idea of “home” to go beyond the physical structure.

Next, we gave students some planning and exploration time. We split the class in half.  One half worked on brainstorming.  

They made a list of possible things that represent home and then selected what they would focus on the most for the art piece.  They also sketched their image as well as what part of the image they would use the 3Doodler for.  This brainstorming step is a step students will continue in the art classroom because they only had enough time to begin their planning.

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The other half of the students explored the 3Doodler pens.  I showed them the basics of how they worked as well as some examples of things that could be made based on the instructions in the books.  Each student got 1 strand of filament to experiment with.  I encouraged them to try writing their name or making a cube.  Some of them created their own designs as well.  Since this was a tinkering session, they did not have to create anything specific.  I wanted them to see the possibilities and the limitations of the pens so that they could do better planning back in the art room.

After about 10 minutes, each group switched so that students visited both areas.

We are so excited about the possibilities of this project and the many standards that it will include.  I can’t wait to learn more about the students by seeing what represents home for each of them.  We will continue to revisit the work of Carson Ellis as we go.  Planning will continue in art as well as the creation of the paper and cardboard pieces of the sculpture. Students will return soon to begin working with the 3Doodler pens.

It’s always so much fun to collaborate with art. Ms. Foretich plans the most meaningful projects for our students and I can’t wait for them to get to showcase these in multiple ways at school and in our community.

Mo Willems Seriously Silly Exhibit at the High Museum of Art: Let the Planning Begin

Now through January 10, 2016 you can see an incredible exhibit of artwork by Mo Willems at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA.  As soon as I saw that the exhibit was coming last spring, I shared it with our art teacher, Rita Foretich.  We immediately began talking about a collaborative project and field trip.  She applied for a grant and both of us began thinking about which grade we might target and which standards we could weave in.

On July 11, the High offered an educators day which allowed educators and one guest to get into the museum for free.  This was a perfect time for me to see the exhibit without 100 elementary students and also to start thinking more about our project.  Thank goodness my wife went along so that I could take a moment to see the exhibit without chasing a 3 and 5 year old around.

As soon as we arrived in the parking deck at the High, we began seeing the Pigeon.  He was even in the elevator to the ground level.

And on the revolving doors at the entrance.

Before you even get to the main exhibit, there are some teasers along the way and some great photo opportunities.

You really have to keep your eyes open because there are characters and illustrations hiding everywhere.  Even this aspect could be woven into a field trip.  The museum provides its own scavenger hunt, but I think it would be fun for kids to write down all of the characters that they find along the way or count the number of pigeons they find and write down the locations that they found them in.  Of course, to recognize all of the characters, the kids would need to read all of Mo’s stand alone books and at least one of each of the series books.

The actual exhibit is grouped by series as well as stand alone books.

I loved the wall of ice ream where the Elephant and Piggie illustrations are found.  There’s even a pigeon hiding on this wall just like the end papers of the books.

One of the things that I immediately noticed was the pairs of illustrations that showed a sketch by Mo Willems followed by the final drawing before color was added.  This would be a great process to replicate with students in our project by having them create first, second, ….drafts of their art before drawing the final art.

I also noticed the illustrations from Knuffle Bunny.  The drawings were done without the digital photographs.  I could see this being incorporated into a project on mixed media and layering drawing and digital photographs together.  Having this image to show students can give them an idea of how to imagine the digital photograph in their illustration before adding it.

Of course, the thing that I love most about Mo Willems is how simple his artwork is without being oversimplified.  In Elephant and Piggie, for example, there is very little on the page other than speech bubbles and the characters.  However, each line drawn around the characters, each raised eyebrow, upward looking eye, outstretched arm, etc gives life to the character and reveals the thoughts, emotions, and actions of the characters.  To me, there is great potential in a project around this aspect of Mo Willems.  I could see us studying his artwork very carefully for all of the subtle details that allow us to know a character’s emotions and actions and implement those same ideas into our own characters, stories, or new versions of Mo’s stories.  The exhibit is filled with numerous illustrations to show these details up close.

The exhibit continues in the Greene Family Learning Gallery where you can learn the steps to draw the Pigeon as well as practice drawing him with different emotions.  I snapped a picture of the directions because I plan to incorporate this into either a center in the library or a lesson in our project.

In the learning gallery as well as the exhibit, you can pick up a scavenger hunt to do while you are in the exhibit, but this scavenger hunt could also be used as a way to look closely at the whole body of Mo’s work.

I loved that the gallery included a bus driven by the Pigeon so that you could take a fun picture like this one.

As soon as we get back to school, I’m going to debrief my experience with the art teacher.  We’ll start looking at our own standards as well as the standards of other grade levels and narrow down to which grades, what project, and which standards we will weave together.

Collaborating brings together the expertise of everyone involved.  I love that I can bring my knowledge and observations as a reader and pair it with the art teacher’s expertise in art terminology and technique.  When we put that together with the interests of the kids and the expertise of the grade level teachers, we have a crowdsourced project that is fun, enriching, authentic, supported, and driven.  I can’t wait to see where this project goes this year.

Think about who you could collaborate within your school.  If you’ve never done a project with the art teacher, I recommend it.  I love that a project can flow from the library to the art room to the classroom and back.  Even if you don’t have a big museum exhibit like this near your school, there are endless possibilities when educators work together with students.

Voices of Reading: Our Contribution to the GA Children’s Literature Conference

Meeting Patricia Polacco several years ago at the Children’s Literature Conference

This weekend is an exciting weekend in Athens, GA.  It’s the annual GA Children’s Literature Conference.  This conference always offers an amazing lineup of authors who share their craft with educators as well as spend lots of time autographing books.

I’m excited that the conference is really thinking about how to bring student voice to the attendees.  Giving students this authentic space to share their voice is not only empowering, it also centers all attendees (including the authors) on why we all do this work.

My students along with Anne McLeod’s students at Burney Harris Lyons Middle School collaborated on a video that we called “Voices of Reading”.  This video was played at the opening of the conference.

It’s fun to see colleagues already talking about the video at the conference.

We also worked together on a Flipgrid sharing our favorite books.  Many voices came together for this Flipgrid, and these voices will be played on a screen on the exhibit floor.

Click on the picture to hear lots of favorite books!

I hope that this conference continues to find ways to empower student voices.  This is definitely a step in the right direction.

Techno Poetry: A Presentation for the Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature

I will be presenting at the Georgia Conference on Children’s Literature on Friday March 23, 2012 at 10:15AM in room T/U.  The conference is held at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education at UGA.  Here is a link to my presentation wiki.

Techno Poetry Wiki