Media & Techniques

Innovative Ceramics Ideas (Ep. 181)

Amanda O’Shaughnessy is an elementary art teacher from Kansas City who does incredible ceramic work with her kids. After her wildly popular Art Ed Now presentation, she comes on the podcast with Tim to share even more of her ideas. Listen as they discuss why she brings advanced ideas to her younger kids, the importance of making connections on Instagram, and her best advice for people to advance their ceramics instruction.  Full episode transcript below.

Resources and Links



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.

Today we are going to talk with Amanda O’Shaughnessy. Now, a lot of you know Amanda. She has presented at the past couple Art Ed Now Conferences and she shares a lot of ideas on Instagram. You can find her at ArtOShaughnessy. If you don’t follow her already, A, you should; and, B, we’ll link in the show notes so you can do that so you don’t have to figure out how to spell ArtOShaughnessy.

But I wanted to talk to Amanda on the podcast for a while now because, what was it, back in December I think, I went down to Kansas City while she was filming her PRO Learning packs. It was a long shoot, like really long, but that was because she had so much information that she’s trying to pass along. I was in awe of just how many things that she has to share, how many things that she had to talk about in her classroom that were just spectacular.

She is incredible with sculpture, and, honestly, even more incredible with ceramics. Just great ideas with organization and processes, with how she builds, how she glazes, how was she incorporates all kinds of different techniques, and just everything that she does with her kids.

I was just looking at everything she was doing and saying to myself, “This would be good for high schoolers and she’s got fourth graders doing it.” It’s just impressive that she can take those advanced techniques and distill them down in ways that are simple enough to teach elementary school kids.

Anyway, it’s just really impressive stuff. I wanted to have her share some of her ideas. I’m really excited that she is on the podcast today. I want to talk to her about what she does with ceramics in her classroom, where she gets all of her ideas, what she has coming that’s new, and honestly whatever else happens come up. Let’s go ahead and start the conversation.

All right. Amanda O’Shaughnessy is joining me now. Amanda, how are you?

Amanda: Doing great. Thanks, Tim. Happy to be here.

Tim: Good. Thank you for giving me some time. I appreciate it. I know you’re going back to school really soon, so thanks for giving me some time to chat.

I want to talk a little bit in general, I guess, just kind of get started with the things that you do with ceramics. I’ve just been so impressed with everything that I see from you as far as ceramics. You have some really advanced work that you’re doing, especially with elementary kids. What inspires you I guess to do that type of work and where do you get your ideas for some of the lessons and some of the projects that you’re teaching?

Amanda: Okay. Yeah. That’s a great question. As art teachers, we all know that we have a gazillion different pieces that we need to somehow bring it together in a meaningful way. Things like national, state and sometimes district standards that we have to abide by, subject matter alignments, educational themes and gen ed classrooms, and other variables like students skills and needs, material budgets, time, and probably a couple of other things that I’m forgetting right now. But all of those different variables somehow need to be pieced together and there’s not always a direct answer about how to do that.

I think having all of those pieces creates a challenge for me to put together like a big picture or a puzzle.

Tim: Yeah.

Amanda: That gets me going with like a catalyst to come up with something new or something that I’ve seen somewhere else but doesn’t quite fit for my classroom but to like modify and, I don’t know, come up with something. It’s just like a process of creating that idea.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I like how you kind of tide that together. Like you said, you always just need to kind of adapt for your own situation, your own kids. I think that’s a really valuable lesson.

The other thing that I wanted to ask you about was Instagram, because I know you are on their lot, you share so much on there, and I have lots of questions for you about that. How did you get started with Instagram? What do you love about it? I guess probably most importantly, why do you think it’s such a valuable tool for our teachers?

Amanda: Sure. Yeah. I think another part of coming up with ideas is seeing what other people do on Instagram. I think it’s a really great app for making connections with other people and it’s so accessible.

Tim: Yes.

Amanda: I came from a private school where I was the only art teacher teaching the grade levels that I taught. Now I’m in a school district where there’s 24 art teachers for my grade levels, but we see each other once every while for professional learning events. But with Instagram, we can make connections with other art teachers so easily. It’s a really great tool I think for building relationships, sharing ideas, and just the main thing I think for me is making those connections.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I think that’s why everybody loves it. It’s such a visual sort of platform, which obviously speaks to us as art teachers, especially there’s so many colorful things, so many exciting things. Like you said, it allows us just to make those connections that we don’t always have in the course of our regular teaching, especially if you are on the island, if you’re the only teacher in your district. I think that goes a long way.

The other thing I wanted to ask you. You how the new PRO Learning pack that just came out a couple of weeks ago at the beginning of August. I don’t know if we’re going to talk about how the shoot went or how long it took. You had so many ideas that you shared there. Can you kind of tell everybody about what you’re covering with that ceramics pack, like what they can expect and maybe some of the best ideas or some of the highlights that you’re proud of and that you really want to share?

Amanda: Yeah. As you said, the ceramics pack is packed full of information. You were there and you got to see my countertops filled with boxes of stuff that I’d prepped. You were there for the entire, what was it, like 13 hours of shooting?

Tim: Oh, 13, 14 hours. It took forever.

Amanda: Yeah. It was a long day.

Tim: But it was just amazing. Sorry to interrupt, but there was just so much there. It was incredible for me to kind of sit back and watch and just see you come with idea after idea, after idea. Every single one, even though I kind of knew what was coming, I was just like, wow, this is really good. Wow, this is really good, and just time after time. It was worth doing that really long shoot for it.

Amanda: Thanks. Yeah, I mean, there was a lot that we put in there. We had, I don’t know what, tips on organization storage, talked about some texture tools and how to make them on your own with scrap clay that you might have from a project that you do with your kids, and you know how there’s always a little bit of scrap, talked about techniques like mishima inlays and sgraffito, and trying out waxes, resist transfers, and even screen printing. There was a lot in there that teachers might be familiar with already, or just wanting to refresh on, or I don’t know. I feel like there’s just a ton in there and anybody who watches it can get something.

Tim: Yeah, I think so. Even most of my teaching experience is in high school and even the ideas that you’re doing, just looking at that pack, even though you’re doing them with elementary schoolers, there are things that I would teach in my high school classroom.

Amanda: Absolutely.

Tim: Yeah. I think there’s stuff there for everybody and I think that’s what makes it so valuable I guess.

Amanda: Yeah, for sure.

Tim: Then the other great idea that I really loved and was really popular at the Art Ed Now Conference a couple of weeks ago, you had your presentation on the clay looms. People have been excited about that since the conference and even if they didn’t see your presentation or didn’t go to the conference, they’ve seen it on your Instagram feed, and I know it’s been super popular. You have been answering a ton of questions about that. Can you kind of describe the clay loom project, where the inspiration comes from, and I guess how your kids are doing or what your kids are creating with that?

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. The project is kind of mashups then on a clay loom. It stemmed from a flop on a radial clay loom that I tried a couple of years ago and another successful paper plate semi-circle balloon project that I’d done with my second graders this past school year. I kind of merged those two ideas to fit with one of the themes of the summer camp that I was coming up with, which was titled A Little Bit of Everything. I thought it would be perfect because this clay loom would encompass clay. Kids love painting or glazing. At that point, I hadn’t decided which one I was going to do yet. Then it also has fiber arts and weaving. It’s really got a little bit of everything that I think kids love. It was … Well, it is, it was for the summer camp project a really successful project for grades kindergarten through sixth grade.

I have a feeling with whichever … Sorry, I can’t talk right now. I’m just so excited. I could talk your ear off about this because I love this idea. But with whichever grade level I choose for this upcoming school year, I know they’re going to love it because I had success with all of my kids, kindergarten through sixth grade. Some of them hadn’t had any weaving experience. Some of them had very little weaving experience from things that we’ve done in the school year. Everybody had a really unique idea that they wanted to express. Even though there was this guideline of, hey, we’re making a loom, it’s going to be something along the lines of a semicircle, you get to choose how to express your ideas. If you want an animal, sure. Find a way to make an animal. If you want a spaceship, find a way to make a spaceship.

They came up with a lot of really incredible ideas and even had add-ons. They wanted to use the scrap clay to add a Tabasco bottle to a taco that they drew.

Tim: Nice.

Amanda: I felt like there were just a lot of options. The first project, the paper plate loom, it was kind of a progression of ideas that I’d seen other art teachers manifest on Instagram. It was like TexturizeYourEyes, and then I saw Jesse Armstrong, and Ashley McKee, and Tasha Newton. I’ll do their renditions and then for my rendition, I offered a lot of choice with like color and the colors of the yarn, the colors of the paper plate. They really liked that choice. I really wanted to embed choice with this project. I feel like that’s a really big theme with the clay looms.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really good because a lot of teachers just think that choice of color is enough to really let kids’ voice come through and I don’t know that it is. When you’re allowing them to do more with the subject matter, come up with creative ideas, you just put a couple of constraints on them and then let them go, like you said, there’s just this plethora of creativity and ideas that come out from them. I think that’s a really amazing thing. It’s been fun to kind of track the progress on that and kind of see everything that your kids have been doing.

Amanda: Yeah. Thanks.

Tim: It’s been fun. Now-

Oh, go ahead.

Amanda: I think I have one more thing I can add on that.

Tim: Yeah.

Amanda: A part of the connection to the old loom, the one that I tried a couple of years ago, the radial ceramic loom, we had a lot of problems with that one. I decided I wasn’t going to do it again until something changed. I think the biggest thing that I struggled with with my kids was the holes. We provided holes for the work strings to go through.

Tim: Right.

Amanda: The kids used too small of a straw because I had like two straws sections … Or two straw selections. One was just for decoration, one was for the holes and it was clearly labeled, “Use this for the holes”. They didn’t.

Tim: Of course.

Amanda: The problem was they used the wrong straw and then some of them used glaze too liberally when they were glazing it, so the holes weren’t working.

For this one, going around that part, we just put notches or they could make the design, the contour of their design have zigzags lines or something for the work string to hold, and then they’d strap. It was pretty straightforward, just always going back to the center. That made so much more sense to my kids than what I was trying to do with the other thing. I thought that was a problem solving success.

Tim: Yeah. Nice. No, I think that speaks to something really valuable. So many people expect lessons to go really well the first time and it’s so rare for that to happen. There’s always trial and error, there’s always problem solving. No, I appreciate you sharing that and just kind of showing where things can go, how you need to adapt, and like you said, it’s a problem solving success.

Okay. Like we said, I know you’re going back to school tomorrow, I think. Way too soon. But now that school is starting back up for you, what else are you thinking about for this year? What’s on the agenda that’s new and exciting?

Amanda: Okay. I’m still trying to sip on my last bit of summer right now, but starting tomorrow-

Tim: And you’re stuck talking to me and I feel bad.

Amanda: I know. No, it’s fine. I’m in the air conditioning. It’s great. I love talking to you. I feel like I’m talking to a celebrity.

Tim: Oh, God.

Amanda: It’s true. But as of tomorrow, I mean we’re going back to professional development meetings galore. I’ve tried to really keep things very compartmentalized. Tomorrow is when I’m actually going to start planning out my projects, ideas, mapping out the whole year, and getting together all of my themes and stuff. I’ve really tried to make that my boundary to start when school starts or when teachers go back, actually.

Tim: Then also, I just wanted to say I appreciate the fact that you are setting those boundaries and keeping school at school until you’re actually there. I think that’s something that not enough teachers do. But I do want to, I guess, close with advice for people who are listening. If there’s somebody out there who wants to try something more with clay, try out a new idea, or just even get into ceramics for the first time, what would you say to them? What would be your words of advice?

Amanda: I think my advice would be to pursue learning things that you don’t already know how to do or things that you maybe have a good basis for but would like like to learn more about, and even if there’s not something that’s offered to you, to just go pursue that. I think I mentioned this in my PRO Pack that I was not formally trained in ceramics, and so that all of my learning for clay came from my own pursuit. The main part of that was seeking out other people, like other art teachers. I feel like for me, most of my learning came from my peers or … I don’t even know. My peers that were more experienced. I don’t know what the word for that is. My elders? I don’t know. But I guess I owe a lot of credit to so many educators for teaching me all the tips, tricks, and how to do things. Yeah, I think just pursuing that knowledge on your own and finding ways to learn new things is definitely what I would advise others.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really, really cool. I think that, I don’t know, hopefully that comforts people a little bit to know that even if you’re not formally trained in ceramics, you can still do some amazing things. It’s just a matter of finding what you’re passionate about, finding what you’re excited about, and figuring out how to translate that into your classroom.

Cool. All right. Well, we will wrap it up there. Amanda, thank you so much for joining me and good luck as you start school tomorrow.

Amanda: All right. Thanks so much, Tim.

Tim: I love that conversation about just consistently exploring, consistently learning, consistently looking for new things to do as a teacher. Just really good stuff. I was going to say that’s the hallmark of a good teacher, but I don’t want to go that far. You can be an amazing teacher without constantly trying out new things, constantly searching for the newest thing to bring to your kids.

I’ll say this. I think Amanda’s approach aligns with my philosophy, what I think we should be doing as teachers, constantly reflecting on what we do, constantly looking for new things, trying out what’s working, what’s not. I think she and I are aligned with a lot of stuff and I really admire Amanda a lot for taking that approach and doing all of those great things with her kids.

Anyway, to wrap this up, I needed to tell you to make sure that you check out Amanda’s PRO Learning pack. It just came out like three weeks ago, beginning of August. It’s called Innovative Clay Methods. It’s in the PRO Library now. Like I said, if you are not a member yet, it’s time to get there.

Let me tell you this. This is where you need to listen closely because not everybody’s catching this. Your district can pay for your PRO membership. Teachers always think there’s no budget, there’s no money for us to do anything. But honestly, your district can access funds to pay for your professional development. It can be a little bit of a process, it can take some work, but they can do it. In all honesty, we have over 200 districts I think that are providing PRO to their art teachers because they want their visual arts team to have access to that. We have over a thousand videos, we have over a thousand resources, and, for you, that means unlimited PD, all these new strategies, all these new resources that can go into your classroom right away.

Go visit the site. It’s, you know that part, /pro-in-your-school. PRO in your school. Again, I will also link to that in the show notes. You can go there to learn more about PRO and, most importantly, ask your admin if you can get pro in your district. Check out the show notes. Go look at that and see if you can get that going with your district.

All right, thank you to Amanda. Thank you for listening. Good luck to Amanda and everybody else who is starting their school year this week. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you can take some new ideas.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you so much 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.