Professional Practice

Getting in on the Art Room Hacks (Ep. 317)

With the AOEU Magazine and YouTube page publishing some of their best art teacher hacks recently, Tim wanted to get in on the action. Listen as he shares some of his favorite art teacher hacks, including ideas for storage, organization, and strategies for dealing with different media.  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.

So we are coming close to the end of the school year and I think everybody is just trying to get through it. And so we spent a lot of time at AOEU thinking about how we can help. How we can assist teachers in making their life a little more simple when they’re in the classroom, saving them some time, saving them some energy. And a lot of different things we’ve formed have developed into art teacher hacks. And I kind of want to get on the bandwagon today. So we’re going to do an episode about art teacher hacks today. And I want to also open it up to some of the other really cool things that AOEU has been doing.

You may or may not have seen them, but there are some great tips, some great tricks out there that, like I said, can make your life a little bit more simple. Maybe save you some time, save you some energy, which is what we really need right now. And it’s what teachers need right now just to get through these past last few weeks of school here. And I love the idea of sharing those tips, sharing those tricks, sharing those art teacher hacks because we’re all in this together. And we need to be helping each other and just kind of getting our ideas out there so more people can use them, so more people can share them, can hopefully pay dividends for everybody who sees them or hears about them, or wants to implement them.

So to start with, I want to share just a few hacks. I may or may not have talked about these before on the podcast. I’ve done a lot of these episodes. So I think most of these are new, but I may have mentioned them in passing before, but a couple of my favorite hacks that really help in a plethora of ways. I think the biggest one for me, a big aha moment was just figuring out that I could sort markers and especially sort colored pencils by just warm and cool colors. And a lot of people do them by color and that’s great. And it works really, really well.

I’m a little bit lazy. I’m going to be honest. And so I don’t love having to sort everything by color, but if I can just throw the blues greens and purples in one tub and red, yellow, and orange in another tub, it saves me a whole lot of time. And when kids are looking for a particular color, it works really well. They know where to go to find the cool color they need. They know where to go to find the warm color they need. And it’s very easy and quick for them to put away too.

Because a lot of times your students are lazy as well. Let’s just be honest. Like they don’t want to spend a ton of time cleaning up. So if you can just sort everything by warm colors and cool colors, leave it that way. You have the benefit of things being sorted without needing a bunch of different containers or spending a ton of time sorting those. So just sorting things, colored pencils especially, but also markers by warm and cool colors is a huge benefit. Something that’s really easy to do. And something, like I said, that can make your life and your students life a little bit easier.

All right, another hack that I love is rather than cleaning paint palettes all the time, I love using discarded books or discarded magazines as a paint palette. Now, discarded books obviously have a lot of different uses. You can turn them into sculptures. You can use those pages as backgrounds for paintings, for drawing surfaces, a lot that you can do with them. But I love using them for paint palettes as well, because every day you just take a page out of the book.

I usually have kids tear the front cover off, but you can do it however you want. Then on the top page, you just set your paint out for the day. Make sure your kids don’t have too much of it. But just put it on that top page, take the book back to the table with you, and you have all of the paint that you need for the day. And then when you are done, rather than trying to wash off a pallette or cover a pallette and save that last little bit of paint, just tear the whole page off, throw it away and you’re good to go. And it saves so much time. It makes things so much easier.

And I mentioned magazines. I think they might work actually a little bit better because the pages generally are a little more glossy and they’re not absorbent. And so you’re not wasting quite as much paint. It just sort of sits on top of there rather than soaking into the page, soaking into the paper. So it’s a little bit easier to use up all of the paint you have, but no matter what you choose, either a book or a magazine, just using that as a paint palette can save a ton of time, a ton of energy, a ton of chaos when it’s time to clean up.

And then another hack that I think is vitally important when it comes to storage and organization is just to put labels on everything. Like anything that you think might need a label, put a label on it. And it is hugely beneficial for organization. Anybody who’s in your classroom, whether that be beginning students, students who’ve been there for a few years. Even a sub coming in, like they know exactly where to find items and more importantly, where to return items. And there’s a ton of great ways that you can do that. But whether it’s cabinets or shelves or whatever type of storage you have, the more things that you can label, the better off you’re going to be.

So I would encourage everybody to spend some time putting together labels, putting them on their classroom, just all over their classroom with just about everything you have. And like I said, it helps kids find things when they’re looking, it helps them put them away with a lot less hassle and they bother you less than they would otherwise. So yeah, I can’t talk enough about how much labeling can really change things as far as organization, even classroom management. Just kids are feeling comfortable in where they belong. I feel comfortable because they know where things go. There’s a sense of order.

And for a lot of kids, that brings them a little bit of relief and they also feel confident because they can work more independently, they can grab what they need and continue to work. They don’t need to bother you for every little thing asking, “Where’s the glue? Where’s the pastel? Where can I find paper for this?” Hey, if it’s labeled, if it’s out, you’re still going to have kids asking you, but you can point to where things need to go. And like I said, that helps kids develop a little bit more independence, a little bit more confidence because they know how to handle materials. They know how to handle things. They know how to keep things organized as they’re finding what they need, using it and putting it back away.

So once again, labels, amazing. And just one last little tip that I pulled from an old AOEU article that I think works really well. The black binder clips that you would normally use to like clip together drawings or a bunch of papers, those big binder clips. You can use those and you put them on the edge of a shelf or the edge of the drying rack and you can put a label, either a sticker or like a metallic Sharpie and write on them. And then you can attach them, detach them, move them around, whatever you need to do with them. Those binder clips are very versatile when it comes time to organizing and marking some different things.

Okay, so moving on from organization, I want to talk a little bit about materials. So I have a few favorite materials that save a lot of time and a lot of money. The first couple have to do with cutting cardboard. There are electric scissors, which, oh my goodness if you’ve never used them, I highly recommend it. They are life-changing. If you find some electric scissors and you start cutting cardboard with those, oh my goodness, you’ll regret all of the days you’ve not had them before then.

However, those electric scissors can be a little bit pricey. So if you don’t have the budget or can’t afford those, there are a lot of really good manual box cutters out there. I love the Canary cutters. They have been sponsoring the NOW conference for a couple years now. And man, they work so great. They cut through cardboard like it’s butter. It’s amazing. Just a simple serrated edge that comes out in retracts. It’s pretty safe.

I mean, you got to work at it, but you can cut yourself with them. But for the most part, they’re pretty safe so I would recommend some kind of gloves, like the mesh safety gloves work best, but some kind of protection when you are cutting cardboard.But the Canary cutters are beautiful. They work like a charm. You can probably afford a few of them. If you do have the budget, I would definitely recommend some electric scissors. You can do amazing things with those.

The other good material hack that I think is really worthwhile is just giving kids a limited number of items to use throughout the semester or throughout the year. I started this with paintbrushes. I got very tired of kids not taking care of paintbrushes and they would not do a good job with cleaning. We had a lot of like acrylic brushes that got ruined because there’s just paint left on them. And that stuff is very, very difficult to get out.

And so what I did was I bought a huge class set of brushes and I gave every student three brushes for the semester. They got a flat brush, a round brush and like a small detail brush. And I had them just put a piece of tape on the back end of that with their name and then they could keep them on their shelf. I mean, they can keep them wherever they have storage. And just tell them like, “These are your brushes for the semester. Make sure you take care of them, make sure you keep them clean. They are your responsibility.”

And again, that goes back to the idea of helping kids feel independent, helping them build confidence with what they’re doing, because they have some ownership over that and they start to care. And kids take great care of their materials if they know that’s all they’re going to get for the semester. And so that was a game changer for me is just giving kids, like I said, a handful of brushes and telling them that’s what they have for the semester. And you can do that with drawing tools as well. Maybe put a few different pencils depending on what you have, what you usually use. A couple erasers, a couple blending stumps or tortillon or whatever you like to use. Put that all together and just say, “Here are your drawing materials for the semester” and that can work quite nicely.

Same thing with clay tools. If you’re teaching ceramics, you can do that for each kid or you can just put like a small container of tools at the table and let those kids use those. Because there are some basic tools that work both for wheel throwing and for hand building. And I’m just thinking like needle tools, sponges, ribbon tools, ribs, slip containers, just a lot of different things I use no matter what type of ceramics I am making. And I used to organize them by type. All the ribbon tools go here. All the sponges go here. But as much as I love to label those containers and set them right next to the sink, they did not always get back where they needed to go. Everything was just mixed up at the end of the class.

And so I’m sure people have systems that work well for them. And I tried, but it really did not work for me. And so if you can put together just a set of tools, like a small container with a toolkit with different clay tools. Any kind of container that you have handy, bonus points if they stack or fit into one another to save yourself some space. But like I said, you can give those individual students, you can give them to tables. But really just keeping things organized a little bit more individually rather than the big buckets of each tool can be really worthwhile.

And also you can do a ton of stuff like making your own tools. I know ceramic tools can get expensive. And so there are some hacks as far as making your own tools and John Post, he is a retired teacher from Detroit. I believe he lives in Arizona now. I learned so much about teaching ceramics from him when he worked with the Art of Ed on a few things a few years ago. And he had so many great ideas for building your own tools. And I’m sure a lot of other teachers have great ideas too, but most of these come from John. And I need to give him credit because this is where I learned about a lot of these.

You can use plastic silverware. Plastic forks are great for scoring. Knives work really well for cutting things. And even spoons you can use to smooth out your clay. If you’re teaching advanced kids, you want to teach them about burnishing, those types of things can work really well. You can make your own ribbon tools. Just put a paperclip at the end of a Popsicle stick or the back of an old paintbrush, or the back of one of those plastic spoons that you might be using. And just a simple paperclip can work as a ribbon tool or even a needle tool at some point.

You can take some electric tape or some duct tape, tape it to whatever support you have and you can create your own ribbon tool there. You can create your own wire cutters. Put a binder clip of like dental floss or like what’s called monofilament, put a binder clip on each end so you have some place to grip. Make sure it’s secure. You can use that to cut clay. I’m trying to think. Oh, ribs. Like you can use old gift cards or those weird credit cards that they send you in the mail every once in a while. Any kind of flexible plastic materials.

Honestly, I’ve even made ribs out of like old gallon containers, like gallon milk containers. You can cut those to the size and the shape you need, and those can be used as smooth ribs. So there’s a ton of things that you can do when it comes to ceramics, making your own tools, keeping those tools organized. Yeah, just a ton of ideas there for me. But as I said in the beginning, I also want to share a few things that AOEU has been doing because I think there are a lot more ideas to explore, a lot more than I can cover in 20 minutes here.

So YouTube, AOEU has put together an incredible miniseries. There are six episodes of art teacher hacks and they are really entertaining to watch. They are great teachers sharing some really, really cool things. But it’s all, like I said, really fun. And from supply organization and classroom management games to shortcuts for art shows and new ways to use different mediums. So like I said, great teachers, Laura Gardner, Andrea Wlodarczyk and Matt Young. They have just a ton of ideas to save you time, to give you some fresh new perspectives on things.

And on the YouTube channel, you can find six different episodes. Number one is all about supply and organization. Number two is storage ship tips. Number three is how to streamline your grading. Number four are the tricks for different media and different techniques. Number five is all about hacks for displaying artwork, which I think can be a huge time saver. And number six is all about classroom management and some cool things that they do there.

And so I was just thinking just to give you an example, I want to give you a rundown of the first episode. It’s all about, like I said, supply and organization. So in their Laura Gardner is talking about FIFO bottles that they like to use in restaurants, first in, first out. They usually use them for condiments. She talks about how she uses them for paint and shows her kids in action using them. It’s super interesting to see what she does. And yeah, I think it’s a really cool idea, saves a lot of waste and a really, really nice idea that I think is worth pursuing. And you can see exactly how she uses them in her classroom. She also talks about how she customizes watercolor palettes for various reasons and shows you how to do that.

And then Andrea Wlodarczyk, she talks about organizing and using her sharp tools, cutters, needles, things like that, how she keeps them safe, how she keeps them organized, how she keeps them stored. Some great ideas there that I had not thought of before. I really likes that. She also talks about labeling shelves and supplies, which I discussed a little bit earlier, but A, her ideas are better. And B, multiple perspectives are always worthwhile so I would encourage you to check that out.

And finally, Matt Young at the end of the episode, talks about the clay boards he uses, which when he is teaching ceramics saves just a ton of time with cleanup. And then he is got a lot of cool ideas on what you can do with a 3D printer, how versatile it can be, how it can help you in multiple classes. He talks about creating custom textures, stamps just a lot more. And honestly, that’s just one episode.

So there are another five episodes of the art teacher hacks series on YouTube. And I would definitely encourage you to take a look at all of them. We will link to everything that I talked about here in the show notes so you can have some quick access to all the hacks, all of the ideas that maybe you want to incorporate into your art room long-term or maybe is just going to get you through the last few weeks of school. I don’t know how you want to use these ideas, but they’re out there and they’re available to you.

So between the YouTube series, some new articles that we’ve published recently, some old articles and maybe a couple of podcasts, I’m hoping that you can find a few ideas that, like I said, maybe will help you long-term or maybe will just get you through these last few weeks of school. So please check them out. Please try out some new ideas, see what might help you. And like I said, we love sharing all of these things and would love to hear any hacks you have as well.

So if you’re in the YouTube videos, check out the comment section, see what other things teachers are sharing. And if you have something that you want to share also, jump right in. Like I said, we’re all better when we do these things together. And so anything that you want to take, take it. Anything you want to give back, give it back. And sharing our ideas, sharing our tips, our tricks, sharing our art teacher hacks is going to make everybody better. So we appreciate everyone who does that.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you as always for listening and we will talk to you next week.

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.