Sunday, April 29, 2012

EdcampBoston - More Than Just a Tweet Up!

View from the 11th floor of NERD Center
High atop the 11th floor in the NERD Center (Microsoft's New England Research and Development Center) on Memorial Drive in Cambridge, MA I found myself overlooking the beautiful Charles River.  Early this morning you could see several 'crew' teams practicing in the river. The skyline of Boston was crystal clear.

This breathtaking scenery only added to the excitement of what was about to take place.  Waiting patiently, I milled around chatting and waiting for the EdcampBoston 'Unconference' to begin. 

An 'Unconference' is basically a group of people getting together and setting their own agenda for the day based on the needs of the people attending.  Read to learn more here.  An 'Education' Unconference is for passionate educators, by passionate educators and is free (a word we educators love!).  It is a day filled with sharing and the exchanging of ideas and resources. There is one rule however, called the "Two Feet" rule.  If you are not learning anything new or do not feel the topic applies to you - you may "take your two feet" and leave the discussion at any time - no feelings hurt.  It's all about learning.

Building the Schedule
Introductions were made by the organizers and sponsors were thanked (no vendor booths at Edcamps!). It was time to set the schedule.  Anyone of the 250 + people wishing to present was asked to proceed to the 'schedule board'.  Once it was filled in the others were allowed to come in and start deciding which way to go.  The schedule was also posted live here on Google Docs.  (If you check out the schedule you might notice that I was brave enough to present this year - Skype in the Classroom and Student Blogging - two of my passions!)

Some of the days' event topics included: The Blended Classroom-Structure, Function, Goals - How do you do it?; The Birth and Growth of a PLN; EDTech's Continuum of Skills; Bloggers Meet Up; Flipping the Classroom; Edcamp in the Classroom - Students actually attended to share; and much more - really check out the schedule to see some wonderful offerings. It's a full day of learning, conversations and absorbing boat loads of information.

Paper Tweet given to me by Cybraryman1
One of my favorite parts of the Edcamp was meeting my Twitter peeps face to face (a Tweetup!).  I was finally able put a face to @Cybraryman1, Jerry Blumengarten, who always supplies us with a wealth of resources (Check out Also met @lookforsun, Maureen Devlin, an inspirational fourth grade teacher who facilitated the "Blended Learning" discussion.  Finally introduced myself to Sean Avery, @mr_avery, who is a sixth grade teacher and avid Bruins fan; there was Marialice Curran, Tracy Mercier, Karen Janowski and so many more.  Equally as exciting, I made some new acquaintances, and we now follow each other!

Another favorite part of the Edcamp was having my other Twitter peeps SKYPE into my "Skype in the Classroom Session".  Paula Naugle and Bill Krakower, both fourth grade teachers, helped me present Mystery State Skyping.  The guests in the session asked them each yes/no questions (as our students might) to figure out their location.  Paula (from LA) and Bill (from NJ) then went on to explain how they use skype in their classrooms.  Talk about connecting with some fabulous educators who gave up a piece of their Saturday to help others! 

Skype in the Classroom Session
ANOTHER favorite part of the day is the SMACKDOWN!  Don't worry - teachers aren't wrestling - they are sharing their favorite resources.  Anyone wishing to share a favorite resource has 2 minutes to present to the group.  It's a quick, down and dirty way to learn about new sites. (Smackdown sources shared here!)

I think we need to follow this model at Curriculum and Staff meetings.  There are many people right in our own buildings and districts who have a lot to offer - wouldn't it be nice to be able to share.  If nothing else a SMACKDOWN would be a great way to end a meeting!

Can't wait for my next Edcamp in Connecticut this summer!  As Marialice would say: WHOOO HOO! 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fine Art in the Classroom (and Out)

Still Life created by Sam C. using The Art Zone
"Chiaroscuro!" shouted one of my fourth graders in answer to the question: "What technique did the artist use in this painting to show the contrast of light and dark?"

"ELBOW: Every day life, Light, Brushstrokes, Outside, Weather!" answered another ten year old child to the question: "What are the characteristics of Impressionist's paintings?"

If you ask me, most fourth grade students (and many adults) would not know the answers to these types of questions, yet they are common place in our school when the children are involved in our "Docent" lessons.  This program which started over 15 years ago by one of the teachers and several parents continues today. Parent volunteers, also known as, Docents, visit our 3rd grade - 5th grade classrooms once a month and present a different artist or genre. At that time it is not unusual to see students dissecting the paintings of the Old Masters, Mary Cassat or Picasso.  They explore the American Period (John Singleton Copley & John Singer Sargent), Ancient Egyptian Art, Asian Art and more.  The Docent program takes Art in the Classroom to a new level.  It compliments and expands on what the students are learning during their art classes at school.

Rainbow by Sam C.
The Docent will often have a Powerpoint presentation with slides of the artists' paintings or large prints on cardboard for all to see.  Often there is an accompanying activity where the students get to try their hand at "Cubism" or make "Match the Titles to the Abstract Paintings" or they create their own Asian "woodblock" print. 

The culminating activity in fourth grade is a field trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Students explore the different exhibits with a Docent. Describing and scrutinizing 'up close' those paintings they were introduced to in the classroom presentations.  Asking questions and viewing the sculptures makes art come to life. And always, the most coveted, most talked about portion of the trip is the visit to the Egyptian room which holds real mummies! Such a highlight!

Most people would think that the kids are too young to appreciate "fine art," but I tell you that my students are more knowledgeable than most when it comes to surveying a painting's genre, balance, expressive or formal properties and more.  One needs only visit my classroom during a Docent presentation to see their excitement as they spy new artists.

Does your school have a Docent program? If so, how is it presented?

The Art Zone: For kids: Try creating a Still Life, a Collage, a Mosiac and more with this interactive site from the National Gallery of Art.  
Created using Picassohead
Picassohead: Create your own Picasso-like head. Use for avatars or share in the gallery.

The National Gallery of Art  Visit this Washington DC gallery site to see many of the art pieces online.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (of New York) shares many of its collections online as well.

Web Gallery of Art - a virtual museum started in 1996. 

Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) - Kids and Family programs.  (Check your local museum for similar programs.)

Art Docent Program: This is a fee-based program for grades K-6 which includes lessons developed in 1984 by art educator and author Barbara Herberholz.

Check out this video about the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and see some of the exhibits my students were able to peruse.