From the Archives: Tips for Teaching Art on a Cart

After last week’s mailbag discussion about teaching art on a cart, a number of listeners reached out asking for more content to help them this school year. Today’s episode from the archives can hopefully help, as so many art educators are facing the reality of teaching from a cart. In this episode from 2020, Kit Lang joins Tim to share her best tips and tricks for teaching from a cart, as well as what she’s learned from her experience teaching in Hong Kong. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University. And I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

What happens if you need to teach art on a cart this fall?

My friend Kit Lang wrote an article, sharing her top 10 tips for teaching on a cart and she will be my guest today. She is an art educator in Hong Kong, and she actually finished out her school year teaching from a cart, but her article shares some of those experiences. And she shared so many great ideas about teaching art on a cart, including how to set up and teach your lessons, how to do transitions, ideas for lessons, ideas for classroom management. How to set up what you need for project management and just all of the logistics of working from a cart and teaching from a cart.

And obviously, if you’re faced with that situation, it’s not ideal. It’s not what we want, but there are a lot of things going on right now that are not ideal. And I think the key is to realize that we can make it work. And so I want to talk to Kit about how she was able to make it work teaching from a cart. And just one note here, before we dive into the interview, we’re here doing this conversation, we’re literally halfway around the world from each other. So we’ve noticed there’s a little bit of a delay as we take turns in the conversation, but Kit and I got used to it pretty quickly and I think you will as well. So let me bring on Kit Lang and we will discuss teaching art on a cart this fall. All right. And Ms. Kit Lang is here joining me now. Kit, how are you today?

Kit: I’m doing well. Thanks Tim. No complaints here in Hong Kong.

Tim: Awesome. Glad to hear it. So I guess to begin, can you just tell us a little bit about your teaching situation? What it looked like before school closures? And can you tell us now what your situation is and why you are teaching on a cart?

Kit: Yes. So I am at an American international school here in Hong Kong where I teach lower primary visual arts and I teach levels pre-K to second grade and we actually have 800 students in our school just in lower primary. So we have two art teachers and I teach half of the student populations, that’s about 400 little less than that. And before school closures, I was teaching an average of six classes per day with each lesson being between 30 to 40 minutes, just depending on the grade level. And then after facilitating six weeks of online learning due to school closures, Hong Kong was actually able to allow students back on campus for the last three weeks before summer vacation. Before that happened, before the school resumed and kids could be on campus, each school had to submit a proposal outlining how they would adhere to social distancing measures and heightened standards.

So one of those measures was to reduce students’ transitions to different spaces. So they made the call, our admin to have art music and Chinese lessons pushed into the classrooms and facilitator lessons in the homeroom. So I taught three weeks with a cart and pushed it into each of my lessons. And then we broke up for summer vacation the first week of June. So we’re not sure what the fall will look like, but there is a possibility that I will begin the school year on a cart. So I’m thankful that I was able to try out some of my routines with the cart organization before we start in the fall.

Tim: Yeah. And I want to talk a lot about organization and logistics of all those things that come with this, but first, maybe the most important question. What does your cart look like?

Kit: Yes, it’s a jazzy number, it’s a small and black trolley. So I’ve had to kind of jazz it up a bit, but it has three tiers of shelves and one very squeaky wheels. So you can hear me coming down the hallway. So once I found out we were teaching art from a cart, my first reaction was to just see what I had available. Many teachers might want to just say we need to order a cart, but my suggestion would be to see what you have first. So in my art room, I have one of these Ikea trolleys next to each table pot, which houses basic materials. So I repurposed those to use for my art carts. They’re not very big, but I was able to prep one art cart with the materials I needed for a lesson, and then use that cart in the lesson, but then have the next cart prepped with the materials for the following lesson as it might be different.

So that was really handy, if I had quick turnaround that I could have two or three carts on the fly with the materials that I could just grab and push and go. That also helped when needed to sanitize materials back in the art room, I could pull all the materials out of one trolley, and one cart, have them laid out, sanitized, let them dry, while I went with another cart to the next lesson. If we are teaching the entire school year, next year, from a cart, I might consider investing in something larger, but right now that’s really worked well, having those small Ikea trolleys just to get me started.

Tim: That’s really cool. And I love the idea of just organizing cart at a time and being able to make those quick transitions. I think that’s really cool. And I’m guessing just thinking organization wise, I’m assuming that needs to be just at a premium for you. So can you talk a little bit more about how you organize supplies, your examples, everything else you need and just how you stay organized throughout the day?

Kit: Yes. As you said, organization is key to facilitating lessons from a cart. Absolutely. So I have some top tips to help keep you and your cart organized. And they are, drumroll, sketchbooks trays, classroom layout photos, magnet, and teacher tidy timer. Now, I will expand on each of those, but those are my five top tips. So sketchbooks, utilizing sketchbooks is really helpful, so you don’t have to manage paper, things on drying racks. And it’s actually a nice way of creating a collection of artwork over the course of these lessons. You can also use beans or folios, but the idea is that it’s going to be easy to store, easy to pass out and get back to the students. And those things can stay nice and tidy in the classrooms. So you’re not bringing them to and from on your cart. So that’s a real helpful top tip. I probably put that as number one.

Number two is using trays on your cart. So I use some large plastic trays to put all of the materials like pallets of paint, oil pastels, then those trays would just slot into the cart. That way I’m not bringing up individual pallets from the cart, I could just pull out the tray, set it on a classroom table and then students then could also return their materials on the tray and then I could just pop it back on to the actual trolley cart much easier. So that was really handy. The third is classroom layout. So every classroom is going to be different, you are going to be walking into so many different classrooms and it’s hard to keep straight if they have different arrangement of tables, even if they have a sink in the classroom. So what I did is I put together a little sheet, a reference sheet, that had pictures of each classroom and an area for notes, just so I could reference it before I went into the classroom. Over time, you’ll be able to remember, but just starting out, that was really handy.

Number four is magnets. Magnets are really helpful, especially if you have a metal cart to utilize the sides of your cart. So I would use metal magnet clips to help clip my paper, my worksheets, my examples, to free up space on the cart and utilize all those sides. Also, a lot of times, classroom teachers, they might not have magnets readily available for you to use on their whiteboards for displays and things. So it’s good to have some with you, and that’s the same for dry erase markers as well. Those aren’t always available to you so I would bring those along with you and the magnets as well. And then last, my last top tip for staying organized for you and your cart is to have a teacher tidy timer. This is to make sure that you have enough time for you to get organized before the students start cleaning up.

So what was happening when I was first starting out, it was cleanup time and all the students started cleaning up and I would walk out the door and realize, I forgot a lot of my examples, my whiteboard markers, my magnets and everything that I needed to take for my next lesson. So what I did is I set a timer for myself before the students cleaned up, just so I knew I needed to start pulling down my examples and gathering my things because oftentimes we’ll have to rush out the door. So that was really helpful to make sure I had everything organized before the kids organized themselves to finish the last of event. So those are my top five tips to stay organized our new cart.

Tim: Yeah, those are fantastic. I love it. And one of the things that you mentioned there was the classroom layout photos, which got me thinking about how things look when you’re going into all these different classrooms, classroom management has to look so much different when you don’t have a classroom. So what are some challenges that you’ve run into there and how do you deal with those? What have you found that has helped with classroom management?

Kit: Yes, definitely. When you are pushing into classrooms, you don’t have home turf advantage. So before students were entering your stadium and playing by your rules, but now the game has changed. So if you don’t have a classroom management system, you need one, it’s go time, the time is now. So I have found the four Rs of classroom management to be really essential. So kind of harking back to my teacher ed training, and really relying on the four pillars of classroom management, which is, having rules, routines, rewards, and reinforcement. So just thinking about those four Rs and how you can measure, you have to have a solid management system and a plan before you start walking into all those different classrooms. So when you and your mascot, Mr. Art cart, roll down the hallway, students know that they are playing by your rules. So the first one rule is, classroom rules are going to be different in every single classroom.

So I think it’s important to establish what your expectations are for rules when you start your art lesson in their space, things like, as simple as raising their hand for all voices to be heard, they might not have that rule in their classroom, which is what I found. So although you can control those kinds of expectations in your art room, you need to remind them that even though we’re not in the art room, you’re still following your art teacher’s expectations and following their rules. So that is really important to make sure that you outline those clearly. Then the next is routines. So we know as art teachers, routines are essential for our sanity. So this is ever more important because you’re not in your space. So clearly modeling new routines and explaining them and practicing them is going to be helpful. That is going to be your cleanup procedures, your routines for getting the class started, having your mantra at the beginning of the lesson, allowing for enough time at the end of the lesson for a rapid review.

Those standard routines that you have every art lesson, even though it’s pushing are going to be helpful for the kids and you to find comfort in those predictable routines. So the next is rewards. Rewards don’t necessarily have to be tangible, they can be a token point system. A lot of classrooms that I pushed it, and I noticed already had a reward system established in their classroom, so see you can feed into that. It might be that if the art teacher gives a compliment to the class, the classroom teacher puts the pom-pom in a jar and they have so many pom-poms that equals a class party. So see what classroom management systems are already in place and how you can feed into those. And then lastly, the last R is reinforcement, positive reinforcement, and that is simply making sure that you’re giving praise, giving feedback and could be as simple as giving a compliment and praise in front of the class, to the classroom teacher. And that’s much easier to do now because we’re in their classroom.

So those are really important to make sure to think thoughtfully about how you’re going to approach classroom management, because that is how you’re going to be successful with these push in lessons.

Tim: Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s really good advice again. And I actually want to talk a little bit more, if you don’t mind about routines. Can you share with us just a little bit about your processes for transitions and cleanup? Have those routines stayed similar to what you did before, or have you had to rethink what you’re doing?

Kit: I’ve had to rethink most of my routines for setup and clean up. And that is because I think the biggest change to my lessons is the materials that I can use. So the materials that I’m using are going to affect the processes and transitions and set up clean up. So I’m going to talk a little bit about some suggestions of materials that I have been using and then how the routines, how I’ve created different routines around that for setup and cleanup. So don’t be a hero and out the gate, start with paper mache, start simple and find your footing with your new routines that you’re going to have to implement and think through. So I think it’s important also that your administration see because of these transitions and because of teaching art from a cart, you can’t do some of the same things that you’ve done before. So I think that is also good for the admin to see that.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t provide an amazing art program, it’s just that you have to kind of re shift. So the supplies that I would suggest are markers, pens, oil pastels, watercolor pencils are great, watercolor markers and sorry, watercolor paints and sprays are really handy as well. They are easy to clean and sanitize if you need to be doing that, and they’re easy to store on the cart. So you want to think about those systems and how you’re going to maybe repackage those materials to make it easier to pass out. Think about using those trays for you to easily put your materials on and off your cart. So those are the routines you’re going to have to start rethinking based on your supplies. So, because the game has changed so much, I think it is important to rethink how you do things and why you do them. So pick your supplies, pick your materials, and then start to really consider how your routines are going to look with your setup and clean up based on what you’re using.

Tim: Yeah. That’s again, really good advice there and just important for people to think through those things. Now, I want to ask also about just big picture ideas, thoughts, like when you’re looking at this overall, this experience teaching from a cart, what have been the biggest struggles for you? What do you think people need to prepare themselves for if they are going to be teaching on a cart this fall?

Kit: Right. Yeah, I would say the biggest struggle for me was accepting that I can’t use the same materials to facilitate this same kind of large scale projects, which I already touched on, but we’ve been preparing for this because of distance learning. We’ve been conditioned to have to rethink the way that we deliver our content with limited resources and supplies. So even though that is a new struggle, we’ve already started preparing for teaching on a cart. We’ve had to learn new ways, new platforms, and the cart is just another addition to that. So as I mentioned, you can still build an amazing program, we just have to look at it differently now, and that’s what I’ve been doing right now. So my suggestion would be to let go of some of those projects and art units that you always did every single year, and start to think of how you’re going to do things differently. And use your creativity to figure out how you’re going to still create a dynamic, exciting, relevant art program for your learners.

So I’m in the process now of starting to shift my thinking. So I am thinking about the fall and if I’m going to be on the cart and I am starting to consider maybe having less of my program, being the exposure of different materials and processes, but more about visual culture and art history, design thinking. And maybe focusing on refining some of the drawing and painting skills. And that was always the part of my program, but because I’m thinking more thoughtfully about what I can use from the cart, I’m starting to think how I’m going to shift my program a little bit and the focus. So I think the biggest bit of advice is positive thinking, growth mindset and mental preparation, because this is a new teaching challenge and it’s a big change. So starting to take time to think that things are going to be different and are going to feel different, but how we can be creative and solution focused to still deliver an amazing program for our students.

Tim: Yeah. I can appreciate that for sure. And we do nothing, if not creativity really well, so people can put together some new ways of doing things. And I think it’s good that you can give them a heads up that that’s something they may need to start thinking about. And then I guess just to close the interview here, can you share with maybe just some of your best advice with us, any tips or tricks that will make your life easier? Or can you just recommend some items that people may not know that they needed on their cart?

Kit: Accessories and 20 pieces of flare. So arty pictures, not these wrappings, you need to be a cheerleader for your program. I know you already are, but go ahead and decorate that cart, make it your mascot, heck, even have a theme song, get creative as I know you can, and just have fun with it. Model to your students that you can overcome challenges. We can be flexible, solution-focused and just find the beauty in every new situation. So get those accessories, get that flare and just start the school year, just having fun and making the most of this new situation.

Tim: All right. That is awesome. Kit, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you for your time. All of your advice. I think it’s going to be really helpful for teachers as they head back to school in the fall. So thank you.

Kit: Thank you, Tim. Thanks for having me.

Tim: Thank you to Kit, for all of that amazing advice. We will link in the show notes to Kit’s blog and her Instagram and just whatever other information that we think is going to be relevant. And I want to offer my perspective just really quickly to close out the show. I started out my career as an art educator on a cart. I honestly learned so much from doing that. Just about a lot of the things that Kit discussed classroom management, especially because I was able to be in the room of so many teachers.

And I learned a lot about my own classroom management in just from observing not only what to do, but especially what not to do, what I did not want to do as a teacher. And honestly, I’m grateful for the experience to have taught on a cart for a couple of years. And a lot of years later, much further along in my teaching career, I may not have been so grateful, may not have been so appreciative because like we said, if you have to teach from my cart, it’s not ideal, but it is not the end of the world.

And I would just say that you can make it work and you are providing an incredibly valuable experience to your students still, and your students are going to be better off because of it.

Now, just a final thought. We, as art educators, would all prefer not to be on a cart, we would all prefer to have our own rooms. But the more we talk to each other, the more we share, the more we learn from each other, I think the more confident we can be in our teaching, no matter the situation, and that will be better for all of our students.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.