Curriculum Approaches

Infinity Cards, STEAM, and Kinetic Sculpture Parades (Ep. 324)

Catie Nasser is back on the show today to talk to Tim about a variety of projects that she and her students have created over the past year. Listen as they catch up from last year’s discussion about Catie’s tiny gallery, then dive into sculpture parades, STEAM projects, and her upcoming presentation at the NOW Conference.  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.

Now, as you may have picked up on over the past few weeks, I have recently been spending a lot of time on the podcast talking to teachers who are going to be presenting at the NOW conference at the end of July here. And we’re going to do that again today, but the conference will be just a small part of the discussion, because my guest, Catie Nasser, does so many wonderful things in her classroom. I’ll make this a quick intro so we can get her right to her. We are going to talk about kinetic sculptures made from cardboard and school-wide parades and social and emotional learning and infinity cards and so much more. Here’s Catie now.

Catie Nasser is joining me now. Catie, how are you?

Catie: I am great, Tim. Thanks so much for having me.

Tim: Yes. Welcome back. I should say it’s been a long time since we’ve talked, but last year we had you on, I think it was in the spring, and we talked about your Tiny Gallery that was ready to open. Fascinating conversation, but can you give us just an update on that project? How is the gallery going? What have you curated so far? What has the reaction been?

Catie: Yeah. I think when we talked, it was just about to be installed. I think it still was being built. And we installed it last June, and it’s been great. Once it got installed, it was the process of, I guess, curating and trying to find artists to exhibit their work, which maybe was the harder part than actually building the gallery, because I really had a mission to have different voices being heard. So I, just through word of mouth and asking people, “Hey, do you want to be a part of this?” started getting different exhibits, so we’re good.

We’ve had an exhibit every two months or so since we opened last June. I’ve had a photographer, we’ve had a sculptural artist. I have a really cool sculptural artist right now who’s creating these tiny worlds inside the gallery. Her name is Heidi Reynolds. She’s local to where I live in Melrose. So some people have been local. Your listeners might know, Don Massey did an exhibit. He sent me some work. I have Candido Crespo, he’s going to be sending me work in November. And now, I’m actually booking for next year, so I’m looking at 2023. And I have some other sculptural artists coming in, a flower designer who’s going to do some kind of installation. I’m not sure how you pronounce her name Yaz Gate, maybe.

Tim: Oh yeah, from Australia. Yaz Gate.

Catie: Yes. She’s going to be sending me… She’s my first international artist, so she’s going to be sending me work next year. So it’s exciting. I think I’m still at the point where I’m asking people, “Hey, do you want to do this?” I’d love people approaching me, but I think I’ll get there eventually. So if anybody’s listening thinks they might like to do a exhibit and be one of the artists, they should definitely get in touch with me, because I’m looking for artists all the time and different voices, different mediums. And I think it’s been received well.

There’s a physical presence, so people in the community that are seeing it and I think interacting with it. And then, I’ll post and talk about it on Instagram, too. But my favorite thing is to see people pop up when I’m driving by and looking in the gallery. This winter I had been by after a snowstorm, and there were all these footprints that had gone up to where it is.

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Catie: So like that was like, “Okay, people are seeing it.” So I think it’s been received well, and I hope it just keeps picking up and moving along.

Tim: Yeah. That’s so cool, such a cool project. You just named a bunch of my favorite people, which is awesome. And I think that’s really cool that you’re putting it out there for artists who may want to join in or be a part of that. So yeah. Like you said, anybody who’s listening, get in touch. We’ll link to Instagram, the Melrose Tiny Gallery, so people can find you. But yeah, I think that’s an awesome opportunity, so we’ll put that call out there.

Catie: Awesome. Thank you.

Tim: I also wanted to ask you about something I saw on your Twitter feed that I thought was just incredible. Okay? I think it was a cardboard kinetic sculpture parade. Can you tell us about, I guess, the cardboard kinetic sculptures, but also what goes into planning a parade of those?

Catie: Yeah. So I like to do crazy things sometimes, and it helps when you have somebody else who likes to do crazy things with you. So I have a colleague, I call her my “what if” partner? And we’re like, “What if we did such and such?” And we just kind of go with it. So, a lot of times we’ll like get a little spark of something that we might see on social media or something and say, “What if we did this?” And I had ordered, I believe they’re called Makedo. They’re cardboard screws and tools that I had learned about and thought they were really cool, so I ordered a set for my classroom. And through them, I think I had seen… They had a costume parade or a costume fashion show, I guess, with some masks that they made. And I said, “What if we did something like that, but made it different or bigger or whatever?”

So we came up with this idea to have these kinetic sculptures. So they had to be wearable and they had to have a moving part in them. And other than that, we challenged the students to have a theme. This was a group project. So there was a lot that went into it, a lot of design thinking. We built the planning process in, we built in feedback sessions where my class might come down and interact with her class. And if my class was ahead or had a certain thing that they had tried on theirs, they might be able to give feedback to her class and figure that out. We had six different classes doing this, so we needed a ton of cardboard. I had just renovated my kitchen, so I took all of the cardboard that my cabinets came, and I saved it all and brought it into school. And that wasn’t even enough, so it was a big thinking on.

So, the actual project was a big thing. It lasted a few months. We see kids for 10 days at a time, and then they go on to a new special, so we don’t see them every week like many elementary schools do. So they worked on part of it with me. I think they started the head in my class, and then they went to her class and worked on the body. And then they came back up to my class and we fine tuned and painted and tried to put the finishing touches on. So this was maybe three, 10-day rotations that we worked on this more or less.

And the kids loved it. I think when you’re in the middle of something, you don’t always know exactly how it is. And it was one of those projects that I was like, “I’m not sure that they’re really getting this, or if this is what we were really envisioning.” But they seemed to really be motivated and still engaged in it, so I feel like that was a sign that it was something worth continuing.

Tim: Yeah, for sure.

Catie: And I happened to post one video on Instagram of one project, just one group. And people loved it, and I was like, “Oh, okay. Maybe it is something that we should do more with.” So after that, my “what if” partner and I were like, “Okay, let’s do something for the families.” And we haven’t really been able to do, because of the last two years, a lot of community, bringing families in or events like that.

So we thought, I don’t know why, but a parade seemed like the best thing to do. So we decided we’re going to have a parade. We put it on the calendar. Once you get something on the school calendar, it’s really hard to back out, so we were truly in.

Tim: Yeah. That’s true.

Catie: We had a parent in our community who’s a DJ. We’re like, “We need music, let’s ask him.” So it was a lot of, “We need this, let’s do this or let’s do this.” So we had parent volunteers come in and help us set up for the day of the parade. We probably had… There must have been between 25 and 30 sculptures as part of this parade, so the entire hallway of our school. It was an outside thing, but they came from the inside, so all the sculptures were lined up by class down the hallway, so there was a lot of organizing of that piece. Troubleshooting, I had parents on hand with tools, ready to fix things as kids were getting into their sculptures, helping them walk down the hallway.

So it was a lot, but it was really fun and they loved it. And I think it was just a really fun, energizing thing. It was for third grade, so for them, for their first year in our school, because this school starts at third grade. So before, they were at a younger school. And I think it just had a lot of excitement. It was fun.

Tim: Yeah. That sounds like a blast. That sounds like so much fun. If I had the opportunity to be in one of those parades, I would absolutely do it, I think right now.

Catie: Yes.

Tim: It sounds incredible. So I was going to say, you’re busy. You have so many things going on, so many different things I want to ask you about. I know you filmed a couple of ProPacs this spring. Obviously, those are not out yet, but can you tell us about the Pacs you filmed, some highlights of things you talked about, what people can look forward to seeing when those do get released?

Catie: Yeah. We had two Pro Packs. One that we filmed was on SEL integration and art, and one was on coding and art. So the SEL one, I think there have been other ProPacs on SEL that talk a lot about theory and kind of maybe teaching more about the theory of SEL. This one, I think, is a little different because it is more hands-on and will show teachers how to integrate that theory into their lessons. So that was the big thing that I wanted to be the takeaway. So using some of CASEL, which is the big SEL, social and emotional learning research and educational site, using those competencies, there were lessons that were designed to integrate each of those into the curriculum. We talked about self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship, communication. So each module or each part of the Pack is going to approach a different competency and ways to teach those things hands-on through art lessons.

And then the other one, the coding and art, now that one was a little bit scary for me. I love coding, but I’m by no means an expert, and I think that’s the key thing that I wanted to be the takeaway for that, that you don’t have to be an expert in coding to bring this into your classroom. So it covers everything from no-tech coding to high-tech coding. It explores different types of robotics and different ways you can integrate lessons using the robotics, integrating choice into robotics, so all different kinds of ways to bring coding into your curriculum.

And actually, some of my favorite ones for that were the no-tech coding: lessons, mazes, or we would create some beading things that teach kids some coding concepts, or a symbol, using symbols to represent letters and how that can teach kids about the basics of how coding is a language and things like that. So, I think when people think coding, you think computers, technology, “I don’t know how to do this.” But a lot of things that you might do already involve basic coding principles, and it doesn’t have to be scary. And so that’s, I think, what that pack is about is giving people a taste of it and, “Maybe you can get your feet wet and then maybe you’ll love it too, and take on with it.”

Tim: Yeah. That’s really cool. I’m intrigued, I’ll just say that.

Catie: Okay.

Tim: It sounds like a lot of really interesting concepts, so that’ll be cool to check out. And of course, we also need to talk about your NOW presentation that’s going to be coming up at the end of July here. You’re sharing an incredible project called Infinity Cards. So I don’t even know if I have the right words to describe what’s going on with those, so can you tell us just about the cards, kind of how they’re created?

Catie: Yeah. So people probably can tell that I love all things construction and engineering. So I have recently become really interested in paper engineering and different paper engineering projects and skills. And this card, I was down a rabbit hole, searching paper engineering, and I saw this card on Twitter and thought, “Oh my gosh.” Or this thing, I didn’t even know what it was at the time. I thought this was so cool. And I was fascinated by how that could work.

And without seeing one, I’ll kind of describe them, but it’s hard to imagine unless you see it. But it’s kind of like a card that folds open, and each time it folds, it reveals a different picture. And it constantly is folding. You would never… Every time you fold it, there’s a new place to fold it or open it up. So that’s why it’s an infinity card, because it’s constantly opening and folding and opening and folding to reveal different pictures.

So I found out they were called infinity cards. I watched a demo on how to make them, and designed a lesson for my third graders teaching them how to make them. And the first video I saw, they look like they’re really complicated, but when you break it down, they’re really not. They involve four pieces of cardstock and glue, and it’s just kind of a matter of putting things and gluing things into the right place. In my NOW presentation, I’m going to be demonstrating how they work, and people that are watching can actually see me creating one, and just kind of see the process of putting it together.

Tim: That’s cool. Just to let everybody know, since I run the NOW Conference. I get to see everything beforehand. I’ve already made my infinity card. It’s such a cool project.

Catie: Oh, good.

Tim: And my kids and I… I was like, “Oh, check this out.” And so yeah, my kids and I made them.

Catie: They’re fun. And they’re kind of addictive.

Tim: Yes.

Catie: I think once you make one, you’re going to make more and more.

Tim: Yes. I did. I made my one, and then I sketched out ideas for three more. I haven’t gotten to them yet.

Catie: Okay, awesome.

Tim: But I’m excited. Cool. And then I guess the other thing I wanted to talk about with those infinity cards, you add in just some elements of social-emotional learning with those. So I guess, can you share with us just kind of a little bit about those connections and sort of how you have social-emotional learning incorporated into that project?

Catie: Sure. So yeah, so the social-emotional piece was kind of the theme of the card. So it was, paper engineering meets a social-emotional skill building. Besides an art teacher, I’m also an art therapist, I’m a licensed mental health clinician, so I’m always looking for ways to tie in that skill set into my classroom. And a lot of times, it’s through SEL.

So these cards, I thought, would be a good tool to teach students about an SEL concept. And we learned about mindfulness, which would fall under the self-regulation category, if you’re thinking about CASEL’s competencies. But students kind of went on a mindful journey too, in the process of creating these cards. So we learned about what mindfulness is, and how it can help you in your school day or with your friendships. They went on a guided imagery journey, and we used the guided imagery process to come up with and visualize a relaxing place that they would then use to be the artwork for their infinity card.

So when I talk about the infinity cards, I talk about the face of the card. So there’s four faces, each surface of the card is like a face. So each surface of their card is a different image that relates to where they went on their mindful journey, and then we drew them into the card. So some students had garden scenes or mountain scenes or beach scenes. But what I really liked about it was that it was really personalized to each student’s relaxing place, which also really represented their interests.

I had one student who just felt really good when he plays sports, so his was sports equipment and maybe a soccer field or a sports field, so that was what he chose to represent. Another student’s relaxing place was a city. So his was all city images. So, you saw that personalized choice built into the cards, where they were able to tap into those relaxing places and use those cards as a reminder for when they might need to think about, I guess, that feeling they got when they were on the guided imagery. So the goal would be that then they could refer back to that when they’re looking at their artwork in the cards, and that way, would be a tool to help them going forward, plus a cool, beautiful work of art.

Tim: Right, right. No, I love that. I think that’s a great way to tie it in. And yeah, such a cool way to just kind of get kids focusing on, like you said, on mindfulness, self-regulation, just all of that stuff tying in is such a cool way to do that. So I guess the last question for you, you have so many things going on, and after all this that you’ve done in the school year, a busy end of the year, obviously you deserve a break. So what are you doing this summer to relax? And for people listening, what would you recommend that other teachers do during the summer when hopefully you’re able to step away from teaching for a little while? What do you do? What do you think people should do to relax?

Catie: Yeah. It’s really hard. I have a hard time shutting my brain off, but I’m trying to make a conscious effort this summer to, I guess, force myself not to think about school or not to think about school too much, because I do want to enjoy my summer. Like you said, I had a busy year, and it’s now the time that I can hopefully sit and do some other stuff for me.

So I think I would suggest that people try to carve out time for themselves and do things that they enjoy. I’m working in my garden. I’m actually taking the AOEU Studio watercolor class in July. I’m pretty excited about that. I think that’s going to help me create and get… I’m a kind of person that likes the structure and schedule of courses, so I’m excited to take that, and have a deadline or prompts or something that I can be accountable for in order to create.

But I also think people need to pay attention to what their body is telling them that they need. If they’re exhausted and just need time to sit for a day or so, I think people should feel not guilty about doing that, because I know that’s hard for me sometimes. I feel like I often over-schedule my summer and feel like, “Okay, I have to do all of these things. I’ll put a to-do list together, or this, this, and this.” And this summer, I’m trying to just be not totally in the moment, I want to have things planned. I have young kids, so we have to plan or else it’s chaos here.

Tim: Right, right.

Catie: But enjoy… Sometimes just if I’m feeling like, “Okay, I just need today to not do a lot and sit and enjoy my garden or sit in the sun.” I’m going to do that if I can. I have a little meme I made that’s on my phone that I have to look at a lot, though. It’s the Bart Simpson chalkboard. And I found one where you can type in your own words. And mine says, “I will not think about school,” because if I don’t look at that a lot, I’m going to constantly be like, “Okay, when September comes, I want to do this, this, this, and this.” And it’s not even July. My school just end ended last week. Now is the time that I don’t have to think about that. But I need a visual to help me remember that.

Tim: No, I think that’s good. And I think it’s powerful for us to give ourselves permission to take that time to relax, to do nothing, to unwind. And so, I think the more the teachers can do that, the more benefit there will be for them. So, yeah. Thank you for being another person that gives us permission to step away and relax for a little bit. But more than anything, Katie, thank you for sharing all of your awesome ideas, all of your advice, and all the cool things that we’re doing. And thanks for giving us some time, even though you just finished school. I appreciate the chance to talk to you.

Catie: Yeah. Well, thank you. I love talking about all this stuff, so it was fun. It was fun for me, too. And now I’ll go back to not thinking about school.

Tim: Perfect. That’s exactly what we need. All right. Thank you, Catie.

I appreciate Catie sharing everything that she’s been doing throughout the school year, just a lot of great stuff. Give her a follow on Twitter, Instagram, we’ll link to those. And as she said at the beginning of the show, in all seriousness, if you are interested in showing your work, your tiny work, at her Tiny Gallery, reach out to her. She would love to hear from you. She would love to have more people, especially teachers participating in that.

And Catie will share more about her infinity cards idea during her presentation at the conference, including some step-by-step instructions on how they’re created, and a little bit more on some of the additional elements that she brings into the lesson. So Katie’s presentation will be part of the After Pass, which is the third day of the conference on Friday, July 29th. Everything will be available there for you to learn on your own. Just an amazing day of asynchronous learning, where you can dive into whatever interests you or whatever works for you.

And again, if you want to be a part of the conference, you can check out all the information you need on the AOEU website. I hope we’ll see you there.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University, with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, and as always, we’ll 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.